The Shambles - History and Facts | History Hit

The Shambles

United Kingdom

Lily Johnson

26 Jan 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Shambles

The Shambles is one of York’s oldest streets, and is a must-visit for anyone looking to immerse themselves in history while visiting the city. Likely deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘fleshammels’, meaning flesh-shelves, the Shambles was a key area for meat vendors and butchers to sell their wares for many years.

Today it hosts a number of other businesses, yet its medieval overhanging buildings and narrow passageways give the impression of being transported back in time.

The Shambles history

Although not officially named in the Domesday book, the presence of two butchers shops suggests that the practice had been established on the street by 1086. From the 13th century, the broader area had been known as Marketshire, owing to the various trades that inhabited its streets, and the Shambles itself was given various names throughout the years.

From 1240 it was referred to as Haymongergate, yet by 1394 it was Nedlergate, a reflection of the changing trades that occupied it. In 1426, it was widely known as the Great Flesh Shambles, a name that stuck and was shortened to its present-day title.

Margaret Clitherow, who was martyred in York in 1586, lived on the Shambles with her husband who was a butcher. She harboured Catholic priests escaping persecution during Elizabeth I’s rule, and was pressed to death on the nearby Ouse bridge when this was discovered.

The Shambles today

Today the Shambles is occupied by a number of different businesses from restaurants to beauty parlours. Recently, the street has been overrun by wizard-themed shops, owing to its significant comparison to the fictional Diagon Alley of Harry Potter lore.

In certain parts of the Shambles you are able to stand with one hand on either side of the street, owing to the medieval layout of its buildings dating back to 1350-1475. The intriguing timber-framed structures that hang over the walkway are a reminder of the street’s original function in keeping the hot sun off the butchers’ displayed meats.

A shrine to Margaret Clitherow is also open to the public and conducts Mass at 10am on Saturdays, while a short jaunt down one of the Shambles’ snickelways (short narrow passages) leads to the Shambles Market, an open-air food and goods market.

Getting to the Shambles

The Shambles is located in the centre of York, and is a 15-minute walk from the train station. The nearest carpark is the Q-park Shambles, and York also provides various Park and Ride services into the centre. Many bus services are available to the centre, with the stop at Stonebow a 3-minute walk to the Shambles.

Featured In

Historic Sites in York

Discover some of York's best historic sites, from the breathtaking York Minster to the meandering medieval City Walls. As one of the oldest cities in the UK, York's history spans everything from the Romans to the Cold War, leaving history fans of any era spoilt for choice!