YORK: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1829.
"YORK, a city, situate near the centre of the county of which it is its ancient capital; the district, above thirty miles in circumference, lying principally on the south and west sides of the city, is called the 'ainsty of York,' and forms a county of itself. The city is 196 miles from London, 66 from Manchester, 44 from Richmond, 38 from Hull, 29 from Wakefield, 25 from Leeds, 15 from Boroughbridge, and 10 from Tadcaster. It is situated in a rich and extensive valley, on the river Ouse, over which is a fine bridge, and at its foot a spacious quay, and the river is capable of admitting vessels of ninety tons burthen up to it. The origin of this city, as is the case with most ancient towns, cannot be traced with any degree of accuracy, but it is certain that it was once a Roman colony. Some writers have said that Ebraucus, the son of Mempucious, the third king from Bruto, built it, or a city north of the Humber, which is supposed to be York, and called it after his own name, Caer Ebrauc, the city or town of Ebraucus, and this is stated to have been 1,200 years and upwards before Christ; but the first account or record that can in any shape be relied on is, when the Emperor Severus and his two sons came to Britain, about the year 200, and made York their principal place of residence; where it is said the emperor died and was buried. After the Romans had left this kingdom, to the year 1070, the city of York had its full share of troubles, owing to the unsettled state of the island, and at this period, William the Conqueror besieged it, when after a most gallant defence it surrendered; this monarch, enraged at being opposed for about six months in the siege, ordered the city to be immediately razed to the ground, and many of the principal inhabitants were put to death. In the year 1160, the first parliament that appears in history, called by that name, was held in York, in the reign of Henry II.; and in the succeeding reign of Richard I. in 1189, at his coronation, a most dreadful massacre of the Jews (who were at that period very wealthy and numerous in York) took place; owing to some mistaken idea the people there possessed, through the king's orders that no Jew should be present at the ceremony. In the reign of Edward III. it was reckoned a sea-port, and furnished one vessel with nine men to the fleet, but afterwards the navigation of the Ouse was greatly neglected, until the reign of George I. Since that time the city has gradually recovered itself from the effects of its former and various revolutions, and progressively improved; many of the streets have been widened, well paved and lighted, and a number of old houses have been taken down, whose upper stories almost met each other; and although the city still bears the semblance of great antiquity, yet it has an air of great respectability, and, indeed, is embellished with many elegant public as well as private buildings. Vast improvements are at the present day in progress of execution, carried on with a spirit unbiassed by contemplation of the expense, and worthy the inhabitants of this interesting city. Amongst those improvements now going on, may be especially noticed the removal of old houses, in Peter's gate, which, when entirely effected, will be the means of throwing before the sight of the admiring stranger an unobstructed view of the grand west front of the cathedral. The castle walls are also being rebuilt, at a great expense; a new deanery, in the minster, is erecting, and promises, from its present state, to be, when completed, an elegant appendage. The keeping the ancient gates in repair, and the preservation of the minster in its pristine beauty seems to be the peculiar praiseworthy province of those who are clothed with the important powers of improving their city. The first object of attraction to the stranger who visits York, is the justly celebrated cathedral; this superb edifice is the largest Gothic structure in England : its origin is too remote to speak upon, but as it now stands it is pre-eminent. It was built at various periods, and the last part that was erected, which is the tower, was completed about the year 1370. The whole length of this magnificent pile, besides the buttresses, is 524½ feet; length of the cross aisle from north to south 222 feet; from the west end to the choir-door 261 feet; height of the lanthern steeple to the vault 188 feet. The west front is adorned by two elegant towers, between which is a beautiful painted window; the southern tower contains ten bells, the largest weighing fifty-seven cwt. Though the great window on the west is a very noble light, and the tracery extremely beautiful, the east window, both for masonry and glazing, has been justly considered as the greatest curiosity in the island : it has 117 partitions below the tracery, representing so much of holy writ as nearly to comprehend the whole history of the bible. The pavement and internal decorations are of correspondent grandeur; and many of the ancient nobility as well as archbishops were buried here; and some of the monuments are truly magnificent. The chapter-house is a fine piece of Gothic architecture; and in the vestry-room are several curious and unique antiquities. This beautiful structure appears to have been built in the reign of Richard 1. the former one having been destroyed. We have now only to add, that whoever may be induced to visit this city, will enjoy the sensation of suprize most agreeably softened down by the commixed feelings of admiration and delight-stupendous castles, splendid monasteries, and massive towers, reared through many ages subsequent to the erection of this beautiful pile, have long since mouldered away, and their site ceased to be known; but the withering finger of time has failed to devastate this elaborate erection-here 'The chisel's labours through the fretted aisle, The lofty arch that props the sacred pile, Are just as fresh, when from the artist's hand, They rose to ornament, and dignify the land. Besides the cathedral, there are-twenty-four churches in the city, principally in the gift of the crown, and others in the dean and chapter or prebendaries of the cathedral. The various sects of dissenters from the church have seven chapels, and the Roman Catholics have two. York vies with most cities in public charitable institutions-there are two lunatic asylums, the county hospital, a new dispensary is now erecting in New-street; and various well supported charity schools form part of the charities. A philosophical society has lately been instituted, and a large building erected for a museum; a college has also recently been founded for educating young men for the Unitarian ministry. There are four newspapers published in York weekly, all most respectably and ably conducted; and they enjoy a circulation corresponding with the talent with which they are edited-they are the Chronicle, published on Thursday; the Courant, on Tuesday; and the Herald, and Yorkshire Gazette, on Saturday. Richard II. incorporated York into a city and county of itself, and conferred the honour of lord mayor upon the chief magistrate, the only one in England except London; the other corporate officers are a recorder, two city councils, twelve aldermen, two sheriffs, twenty-four assistants, seventy-two Common councilmen, and six chamberlains.' This city sends two members to parliament, the election for whom are vested in the freemen of the city, that is, all who have served an apprenticeship to a freeman; the sheriffs are the returning officers, and the present members are Marmaduke Wyvill, of Burton Constable, Esq. and James Wilson, of Sneaton castle, Esq. The assizes are held twice yearly, both for the county and city, in March and August; the quarter sessions, before the mayor, aldermen and recorder, in January, April, July and October; and petty sessions are held three times a week. There is also a court for the recovery of debts held before the sheriffs every Thursday, in the guildhall. The principal public buildings, exclusive of those appropriated to the purpose of divine worship, are the mansion house, a fine spacious erection; the guildhall, behind the mansion house; and the castle, a large noble building, used as the gaol, which is considered to be the most spacious and best contrived place of confinement in the kingdom. Adjoining the castle is a very high mount, on which stands a tower, which derived its name from one of the Clifford family, who was first made governor of it, and built by the Conqueror; and though now a ruin, is a considerable ornament to the city, and furnishes the spectator with a complete view of the city and surrounding country. This erection has lately been purchased, and is repairing, for the purpose of making it an appendage to the castle. The inhabitants seek amusement from the theatre, which, when open, is well supplied with the first-rate performers; there are also the assembly rooms; and races, which are held in the spring and autumn, are most respectably attended; but the most attractive, and producing the greatest importance to York, under the designation of amusement, are the musical festivals held triennially in the minster; at these periods a complete jubilee pervades the city, and congregates together personages of the first rank and fashion. The trade of this city is not confined to any particular manufacture; several linen factories, on rather a large scale, have been recently established; gloves are also manufactured to some considerable extent. The principal trade, however, enjoyed, is retail, which is generally pretty brisk, supported by the many genteel and opulent families resident in York and its respectable vicinage. The appearance of the country around the city is flat; the nearest hills are the Yorkshire wolds; the immediate neighbouring land is principally in grass, and much excellent corn is likewise grown. There are many pleasant walks about the city, particularly along the banks of the river Ouse, which walk is shaded by trees, and kept in excellent repair; and an object of great attraction to the antiquarian visitor are the ruins of St. Mary's abbey, near the city. The principal market day is on Saturday; a fair for cattle is held once a fortnight, and one for leather monthly. A large horse shew takes place in the first week before Christmas; also horse and cattle fairs at Whitsuntide, Martinmas and Candlemas. The population returns for York, by the census of 1821, were as follows- 'Liberty of St. Peter of York,' 9,204 inhabitants; 'Ainsty of the city of York,' 8,740; 'York city,' 20,787-total, 38,731."
[Transcribed from Pigot's National Commericial Directory for 1828-29 ]
by Colin Hinson ©2007