‘The Most Medieval Street in England’
Located in the heart of the city of York, The Shambles is mentioned in the 900 year old Domesday book, making it the oldest street in England. With its overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century, it is often referred to as the best-preserved medieval street in Europe.
For centuries The Shambles was a street of butchers and houses, ‘The Great Flesh Shambles’– as it was known- an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market where local people bought their meat and fish, with many houses operating slaughterhouses from the back of their premises.
The meat was hung up and laid out for sale on shelves or stalls from the shops on the street. The pavement was raised on either side of the cobbled street forming a gutter in which the guts, offal, and blood were thrown- including domestic waste, which was thrown from the windows above- adding to the unsanitary conditions. The waste was washed down the slope towards Fossgate- leading to the River Foss.
Fossgate dates back to Roman times and was home to York’s fish market, with traders coming from the east coast with supplies to sell- a tradition that continued right up to the Victorian era.
Although all the butchers have now vanished, a number of the shops still have meat hooks hanging outside, and below them the shelves on which meat would have been displayed.
Other towns in the UK with streets called Shambles include: Chesterfield, Chippenham, Whitby, and Worcester. The Shambles in the market town of Stroud– Gloucestershire, still hosts a regular local market dating from the 1500s- where John Wesley the founder of the Methodist Church preached from the butcher’s blocks outside the Church Hall in 1742.
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