As one of the best preserved medieval streets in England, 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 the Shambles in York.
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. Being timber framed, they 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 The Shambles York's Butchers
The area's meat markets flourished for a number of centuries. As recently as 1881, there were 31 butcher 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They have been replaced by bakeries, pubs, jewellers, pie shops, cafes, fudge pantries, York Ghost Merchants and another, more enchanting trend.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!
The whimsical old street is thought to have been the inspiration behind Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. At a glance this makes perfect sense, the charming cobbled street and its leaning Tudor buildings look like they've been ripped straight out of a fantasy novel.
J K Rowling (the author of Harry Potter) however, denies this is the case. In fact she claims she has 'never seen or been to the Shambles'. As a result, the street joins a long list of places that can only claim to be the notorious Harry Potter shopping hub.
This hasn't stopped it from profiting off of its reputation. Since 2017 a grand total of four wizard-themed shops have opened along it. On weekends, York is frequently buzzing with kids and adults dressed in cloaks, hats, scarves and other Harry Potter merchandise from The Shop That Must Not Be Named and their competitors.
Regardless of what Rowling might say about Diagon Alley, Harry Potter frenzy is alive and well on Yorks' Shambles!
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 meat 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.