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The Shambles

York, England

The pleasant cobbled streets of York's Shambles once ran red with blood and guts. Now, it's the perfect place to buy a wand. How times change!

The area offers a unique window into the past. Whereas most of the city's streets have been widened and updated, it remains true to its 1,000 year history. It is older even than York Castle's Clifford's Keep.

The Great Flesh Shambles

Since at least 1086, butchers have sold their wares in what is now Shambles Market.

Prior to being the best way to describe my average morning, the word 'shambles' meant open air slaughterhouse. And this is what the market used to be. People would buy, sell and kill their meat there.


Evidence of its grim history can still be seen in the he main street's design. It was built at a slight incline. Why? To help the rain to wash away the blood and innards of dead animals, of course.

More Than Just Blood And Guts

The Shambles has a lot going for it beyond its 1,000 year history of slaughter, however. It is dotted with buildings from across the Centuries.

The oldest of these are so ancient that they pre-date good fire practices. Their (flammable) timber frames were most likely built in the 14th Century. And they are still standing today!

Other than these, there are buildings from the 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th Centuries, making Shambles Market a dream for fans of English architecture across the ages.

And there is also a 14th Century shrine.

Boom And Then Bust For Shambles Butchers

The area's meat markets flourished for a number of centuries. As recently as 1881, there were 31 butchers shops along the street. Now, however, there isn't a single one left.

They have been replaced by bakeries, pubs, jewellers, pie shops, cafes, fudge pantries and another, more enchanting trend.

The Shambles And Magic

More recently, The Shambles has witnessed a convergence of old and new to bring us... Harry Potter!

It is hardly a surprise that the whimsical old street is thought to be an inspiration for the wizarding world of Diagon Alley. J K Rowling (the author of the series), however, denies that this is the case.

True or false, this still hasn't stopped a grand total of four wizard themed shops opening along the street since 2017.

One More Thing...

In some places the street is so thin that it's possible for many to touch the buildings on both sides with outstreched arms. This comes across as quaint and charming nowadays, but it would originally have served a more practical purpose. The close walls and overhanging fronts would have been perfect for keeping meat under. In fact, you can still see some of the sheltered hooks that carcasses would have been hung from all those years ago.

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our York Treasure Hunts - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of London.


What you need to know

The Shambles
Shambles, York, North Yorkshire, UK
Tips before you visit


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