If one street could exemplify York in England, its character, beauty and incredibly rich history, then it is definitely the Shambles.
Setting foot on the ancient cobbles I was greeted by the bustling hubbub of locals and tourists, it looked like this is THE place to be when you are in York. Even before I entered the famous little street called the Shambles I stopped and admired the quaint timber-framed buildings. These old buildings actually lean into each other over the narrow cobbled road, and some look quite close to falling over.
Not only is the Shambles one of York’s most photographed streets, it’s actually one of the most photographed in the word. I immediately saw why everybody who came upon this street would want to photograph it and can imagine that people even travel miles just to do so. The buildings are 600 years old, and although they look like they are a bit unstable they are still used by York shopkeepers.
The overhanging buildings were actually designed this way and it was not constructed to look decorative, but to solve the purpose of protecting the shop products from the rays of sun or downpours of rain.
In some sections of the Shambles it is possible to touch both sides of the street with your arms outstretched….well for tall people this is possible but it was not possible for me with my short arms.
Today the shops are filled with souvenirs, food and clothes shops but there is a plaque up in the street that announces that this beautiful street was once filled with butchers and that is actually where the name Shambles comes from.
The name “Shambles” used to describe something messy, a jumble, and probably came from the medieval word ‘shammel’ meaning wide wooden bench, such as workbench or worktop. The low windows of the street were originally open-fronted workshops with low down counter tops, many of them used for killing, hanging, butchering and displaying different meats and animals. It is possible to see some of the original butchers meat-hooks attached to some of the shop fronts.
It is quite disturbing to think that the today pretty-looking cobbled road would have, in medieval times, been used to drain blood away from the many butcher’s shops, reportedly 26 lining the street in 1872. Luckily the butchers stalls are long gone, the stone channels to the roadside carry away little more than rainwater from the usual British downpour.
I stood in this beautiful historic street and imagined how life on this little cobbled street has changed so dramatically over the years in one of Europe’s oldest and best-preserved medieval locations. I fell in York the very first time I stepped foot into this medieval street and was lucky enough to visit this beautiful city more than once while living in England.