Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers

Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers

Voted Britain’s most picturesque street in the 2010 Google Street View awards, The Shambles, together with adjacent Colliergate and King’s Square, is the focus of the 8th book in York Archaeological Trust’s popular Oral History series. The designation ‘picturesque’, although appropriate today, belies a rich and earthy history which has been brought to life once again by Van Wilson, using recollections of local people, historical research and archive images.

Most famously, The Shambles has a long tradition as a street of butchers, going back some 800 years, and butchers and butchery feature heavily in the book. York street directories list 24 butchers in The Shambles in 1830. Today the York Sausage Shop is all that is left to remind us of this important trade, although several present-day shops have stall risers, meat hooks, shamels and canopies.

Some of the text requires a slightly strong stomach- how about reviving the delicacy of cow’s udder, cleaned in oil and sliced, for supper? Or making footballs for children from pigs’ bladders? It’s remarkable to think of animals being herded into central York. We learn of animals left to ‘pine’ or starve for 24 hours before slaughter, since it was believed that this helped reduce the impurities and keep the flesh fresher.

Shambles book coverColliergate, also covered in the book, was home to the well-known Bleasdale’s Manufacturing Chemist, founded by John Dales in 1780 and operating in the street for some 200 years. Interviewees describe the manufacture and supply of goods such as ballroom floor polish, gripe mix, fever mix, zinc and castor oil cream, borax and honey ointments, Blue tins were for chemists and yellow tins for co-operativestores, and aspirins were of different colours for different strengths. Much of the work described would never get past health and safety regulations today, such as and boiling opium (which apparently smells of potato peelings!) and making a hasty exit from the clouds of chilli gas that would burn exposed skin on impact! 

Included in the books are the butchers, bakers, candlestick makers of the title, as well as aspects such as weavers, rope makers and booksellers, churches, pubs and cafes, leather workers, second-hand shops and ironmongers. The foreword has been written by David Clapham, current Master of the Butchers’ Gild, which features in the book

Priced at £9.99 and available from the JORVIK Viking Centre gift shop located here


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