York is a beautiful city full of amazing historical sites, museums, archives and libraries. It’s like a history chocolate box and I’m spoiled for choice whenever I visit! From the gothic Minster to York Explore there is something for everyone, and if you decide to walk down Coffee Yard (a side street of Stonegate) you’ll find Barley Hall.
This hidden gem is a reconstructed medieval townhouse run by the Jorvik Group (who also run Jorvik Viking Centre, DIG, Richard III & Henry VII Experiences). The medieval structure was only discovered back in the 1980s when the area was about to be bulldozed. Thankfully for us, plans were halted and in 1987 the site was bought by the York Archaeological Trust (YAT) who began a full restoration. Their earlier excavations of the site has revealed “a large L shaped medieval house with a 14th-century range with bedchambers and a 15th-century range containing a great hall“. Their continuing excavations during the late 1980s – early 1990s uncovered further information, for example the location of the staircase leading to the great chamber.
The team also used archival sources to uncover how the property was likely to have been furnished. The house was used originally by the Priors of Nostell Priory (located near Wakefield) as the priors needed a residence in York when they had to attend ecclesiastical affairs at York Minster. Later financial troubles meant the priors had to abandon the property, and it was eventually taken over by William Snawsell a prominent York citizen. Snawsell rose through the political ranks eventually becoming Lord Mayor of York in 1468. He was witness to the power struggles between Lancastrians and Yorkists during the violent Wars of the Roses, eventually swearing allegiance to King Henry VII in October 1486 after the decisive Battle of Bosworth.
Archival sources relating to the Snaswell family and other similar upper middle-class families provided the inspiration for the furnishing of Barley Hall. For example “the rose motif on the painted cloth in the great hall is derived from the illuminations of the Bolton Book of Houses, produced in York for the Bolton Family“, this manuscript is held at the nearby York Minster Archives. With the information provided by archival records, pieces for Barley Hall “were created using medieval techniques, and historically accurate materials“.
The result of all this hard work by YAT is a stunning reconstructed medieval residence, the only one of its type available to the public in York. Alongside this reconstruction of the original property there is a large exhibition space on the above level which changes every few years. During my recent visit the exhibition was ‘Magic and Mystery‘ which allowed you to “explore the fine line between science, religion and magic in medieval society“. It was incredibly eye opening and allowed me to explore herbs, dreams and alchemy (among other subjects) and discover how these were viewed in medieval times. The exhibition will be on until 22nd June 2020 – and I’d highly recommend viewing it before it goes!
Have you visited Barley Hall? If so, I’d love to your thoughts in the comments below!
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For information on visiting times and how to access Barley Hall please visit their website.