Unveiling the Secrets of the Guildhall in York: TV Historian Emma Wells Uncovers a Priceless Legacy

in York

Another site which has played witness to a large portion of York’s history, the guildhall is a 15th-century building, perched right beside the River Ouse and behind Mansion House. Originally constructed in 1445 for the ‘Guild of St Christopher and St George’ and the City Corporation (an early form of the modern council). Just over a century later, the corporation took full ownership of the hall and council meetings commenced there. In fact, they still are, though now in the Victorian addition completed in 1891.

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(c) Robert Andrews

Besides acting as a council chamber, the hall played host to many civic and judicial functions, particularly when royal guests came North. The year 1483 saw Richard III entertained here with a lavish banquet, then all of England’s successive monarchs up to Charles I following suit at least once. And they weren’t the only notable visitors: After Shakespeare’s death in 1616, his touring company, the King’s Men, performed several times during the reign of Charles I.

In addition to jovial times, however, the guildhall has also witnessed some of York’s bleakest events. As another venue for the Court of Justice, it hosted the infamous trial of martyr Margaret Clitherow, who was tried for harbouring Catholic priests in 1586. Despite an attempted intervention by Elizabeth I herself, Clitherow was put to death by crushing. Then, in 1647, at the height of England’s Civil War, as Charles I was being held by the Scots, the Parliamentarians agreed to pay a ransom of £200,000 in exchange for his release. And it was in the secure surroundings of the guildhall that the huge sum of money to do so was counted out.

The guildhall itself was almost eradicated during World War II, when German bombs during the so-called Baedeker Raid of 1942, hit and badly damaged the building. It took 18 years to see the restoration completed which was re-opened by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, on 21 June 1960.

Books by Dr Emma Wells

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