The Shambles—York’s Famous Medieval Street

We can learn a lot about the history of a place just from its name.

“Shambles” is an archaic term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market.

Aptly named The Shambles, this beautiful medieval cobbled street in York was once lined with butcher’s shops and stalls, or benches, for displaying meat known as “Shamels” in Anglo-Saxon.

The Shambles, Heritage Plaque, York. Credit Peter Hughes
The Shambles, Heritage Plaque, York. Credit Peter Hughes

As you walk down the ancient street and look up, the overhanging timber-framed buildings—some dating from the 14th century—appear to almost touch in places.

Jettying was a building technique used in medieval times in which the upper floors projected beyond the lower floors, thus increasing available space without obstructing the street.

It had the added benefit of not raising property taxes, which were based on the ground floor area.

The Shambles, York. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
The Shambles, York. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
The Shambles' overhanging buildings. Credit Nilfanion
The Shambles’ overhanging buildings. Credit Nilfanion
The Shambles, York. Credit Neil Howard, flickr
The Shambles, York. Credit Neil Howard, flickr

In 1872, there were twenty-five butchers’ shops lining the street, but now there are none.

The Shambles, York. Credit Chris Combe
The Shambles, York. Credit Chris Combe
Shambles in Snow. Credit Matt Cornock
Shambles in Snow. Credit Matt Cornock

Today, the Shambles is a wonderful place to stroll, to shop, and to eat.

Quaint little shops, cafes, tea rooms, and restaurants line the street—winner of Google’s Most Picturesque Street in Britain for 2010.

No. 1 Shambles. Credit Tim Green
No. 1 Shambles. Credit Tim Green
Shop window in The Shambles, York. Credit Jhsteel
Shop window in The Shambles, York. Credit Jhsteel
Shopping in the Shambes. Credit Poliphilo
Shopping in the Shambes. Credit Poliphilo
The Shambles. Credit Jhsteel, Richard Croft
The Shambles. Credit Jhsteel, Richard Croft
The Shambles Tea Rooms, The Shambles, York. Credit Poliphilo
The Shambles Tea Rooms, The Shambles, York. Credit Poliphilo

And with street signs like this, you won’t have to worry about losing your way.

Signpost at the bottom of The Shambles. Credit Peter Whelerton
Signpost at the bottom of The Shambles. Credit Peter Whelerton

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Several “snickelways” lead off the Shambles. In his book A Walk Around the Snickelways of York, author Mark W. Jones coined the word Snickelway from the words snicket (a passageway between walls or fences), ginnel (a narrow passageway between or through buildings), and alleyway (a narrow street or lane).

Take a little snickelway off the shambles called “Little Shambles” (they thought of everything), and you walk into Shambles Market, a historic and vibrant open-air market complete with fresh produce, unique crafts and essential merchandise. Sample the street food and enjoy courtesy seating and even Wi-Fi!

Little Shambles, York. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Little Shambles, York. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The Shambles Market, York
The Shambles Market, York

The Shambles Street View. Take a virtual walk back in time to medieval York.

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