Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

The Shambles (York)

The Shambles is a very attractive street in the ancient city of York, and is probably the most photographed of all the old streets in England.

Situated in the centre of the city, it is extremely picturesque, with the upper floors of the houses almost touching each other.

But the historical background is less attractive.

Most market towns, including for example Leicester and Market Harborough, had a shambles. This was where live animals were brought in and converted into meat, which was then sold to the public.

It was thus an amalgamation of slaughterhouse and butchers shop.

The state of the floors while this was going on can only be imagined, and not by the squeamish. If we encountered such a scene today, we might well exclaim "What a shambles!" And that is why we call a mess a shambles today.

The Shambles was still full of butchers shops until the 1930s, and along the street are the counters, looking like benches, where the meat was displayed.

In one of the houses in The Shambles is the shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, martyred for her Catholic faith in the 16th century.

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