Voicing the Hidden is a York Civic Trust creative project exploring the rich relationship between heritage and the imagination.
Held at the beautiful and historic St Denys Church at the heart of the Walmgate community, Voicing the Hidden: Live Event featured short films and live readings that showcased the poems, writings, and photographs produced through the Trust’s Heritage Open Days 2021 creative heritage walks around the historically rich streets of Walmgate and Fossgate.
It was fantastic to see people out on the streets of York directly engaging with heritage beyond the big tourist hotspots. Fossgate and Walmgate have a real working class history which the tours and follow-up event helped to unearth and keep alive.
In collaboration with award-winning York-based poet Robert Powell, the project asked questions about how imaginative responses to the past influence our sense of place and how we understand our city.
“Some of York’s history is famous and well-known, but lots of it is hidden and anonymous. Through imagination, writing, photography and art, we can help bring this ‘hidden’ aspect of the past to the surface in exciting ways. I was really impressed by what the Civic Trust ‘Creative Walk’ participants produced!”Robert Powell
As well as members of the public who joined us on the heritage walks, it was especially encouraging to see so many members of the St Denys congregation and Walmgate community get involved.
Thank you again to everyone who contributed and came along to support the tours and follow up event. The Trust hopes to build on our productive relationship with the Walmgate community, and continue to collaborate on future projects that celebrate and redefine York’s heritage.
- Click here to read Robert Powell’s original poem based on St George’s Churchyard and the grave of the infamous Dick Turpin.
- Click here to read the fantastic poetry and prose sent in from participants on the heritage walks.
- And finally, click here to view the video montages the Trust put together to showcase photography inspired from the walks.
Please enjoy these evocative short films produced using the poems and photographs sent in by participants who were inspired by the Voicing the Hidden heritage walks around Walmgate and Fossgate. The walks were carried out in September 2021 as part of our Heritage Open Days programme.
Please enjoy reading the variety of poetry and prose produced by the creative contributors who attended out Voicing the Hidden creative walks in September 2021. The writing is inspired by the hidden heritage around Walmgate and Fossgate, two historically rich York streets with strong working-class roots.
Simon Mattam – ‘Hidstory’ at Fishergate Bar
Where is the hidstory in this still place?
Though nothing's moving now, there are some signs:
broad grooves beside the arch and red-stained stone
could tell us that a slide-down gate was burned
by countrymen five hundred years ago.
The commons took the city, burned two bars
-but then, perhaps, the rest is hidstory.
Peter Pexton – River
Now the silent River Foss
Flows with its verdant summer gloss
The forge and hammer are silent now
That rang beneath the sweating brow
The B.T. mast erected for generations new
From Walmgate Walls obscures the
Lyn Cowles – A Walk-Through Time
From the sulking lion of Merchant Gate, through workshop yards
and then, St Margret’s Parish the now gentrified George Street
curves away to where passion fruit grows on railings
and then, to Ebenezer Place along the walls the smell of cattle,
beer & urine to the pigsties atop Walmgate Bar
and then, back in the 21st century you notice the hustle & bustle
of tourists, students & shoppers crowded pavements, cafes & bars,
where only hens cluck in IL Paradiso
and all the while the gentle Foss winds its way beneath us,
as quiet as the Mute Swans of Wormald’s Cut.
John Gilham – Walmgate/Fossgate
Famine drove them from Eire,
that, and the English – to crowd here
in dank rookeries, still hungry.
Now the street holds many peoples,
a hundred kitchens, a hundred stories,
of hope, of speculation.
Some flee war or poverty, drought,
for a dream of being someone new,
of maybe, sending money home.
Along the walls the Council houses
bound this bright kaleidoscope
of industrious servants
whose trades define our times –
electronic bleeps, the waft of spices,
scents and sounds unimagined
when the shit-brown river was an open privy,
the air smelt of hammered iron and dung,
the cobbles rang to horseshoes, blakeys, segs.
Walmgate – Lyn Langford
A street of merchants, haberdashers, the rich,
but there’s the other side,
--the class divide- refugees from famine,
the stench of rags and bone,
the thump of hammer on stone.
From Hope to Speculation street,
from Speculation to Hope.
Foundries lost, factories found and lost,
A hard life, still lived.
Workers went for solace and ale
to the Bluebell, the ‘Spread’, the Red Lion
-a red line drawn by mothers and wives
against drunkenness, disease,
The Georgian Dorothy Wilson hospital,
the Bowes Morrell House,
the spicy yellow Almaz eaterie
alongside faceless flats,
shops with no name
Further up: the Chopping block
once a saddlers, a hangman’s noose makers.
down Strakers Passage, Black Horse Passage
running in blood
to brothels, slaughterhouses,
past the no-time clock.
The Foss, covered with algae and litter
on boxing day 2015 flushed through the cellar-
-once a renowned brothel -
of the fine-dining Blue Bicycle.
Opposite: Loch Fyne, the former home of Stubbs
where nails, hammers, drills and screws
shone like crown jewels.
We are museums as time goes by;
memories furled, shelved, fading,
But here at the top of Fossgate there’s a display
of food and drink from around the world.
The old and new buildings stand side by side
Some old buildings try to hide
A few have ghost signs on them to show what they
were in a former life
Many have gone
No more to be seen.
It’s time to get the cattle on the road
It will soon be daylight don’t you know
Four people in front
To warn the traffic of what’s ahead
Driving the cattle through the centre of York
Would defiantly make the people talk
With the smell and sound
Left on the ground
It would defiantly make the motorists shout
Get them b--------- animals out
The cattle market is no more
This is a poem of now and before.
In and out of the city walls
People come and go
Wonder how much history
They really know.
Echoes – Brian Coleman
There is a magic here
Not just the Harry Potter kind
It is in the fabric of the place
Deep cut, etched eternal, in its stones
It speaks to me in quiet bricked corners
Just beyond the daily clamour
It is history you see
It hangs as cobwebs hang
Pure and elegant
Sometimes glimpsed in early dew
More often swept away
I feel it now
As if turning a corner turns a key
And I unlock the past
These cobbles ring cacophonous
With steel rim or hob nail
With cries and laughter pain and pleasure
A glorious hubbub
Can you hear it
Or taste it
Or smell it
But you can
Of course you can
And feel it
I feel it
Walmgate – Evelyn Watson
I wander down the street admiring the rich variety of buildings
whose facades reflect the changing fashions in building design
over time. As the style of buildings changed, so too did the
goods in the shops to meet the demands of the people of their
Stubbs ironmongers replaced by a fish restaurant.
The fish shops that could have supplied the restaurant
have been replaced by the type of shops that are prevalent
today: such as charity shops and book shops. Above all,
eating places now dominate the street largely run by
people who have come to this country looking for a better life.
That is not a new development. Previously people came to the
street from Ireland driven out by starvation following the
potato famine. The slums they inhabited are long gone but
the memory of that time lives on. The unsung heroes of the
wealth they created. The buildings they worked in, tucked away
behind the street, are still in use, albeit the nature of
their businesses is very different today. Thankfully the
lives of those who work there now are very different too.
Thoughts – Johnny Hayes
I found the walk really got me thinking about what is
precious and what needs to be resisted and objected to.
It is really good to open your eyes and see the familiar
afresh. To smell and sense the atmosphere.
I loved that superb view down the Foss with views of
Rowntree Wharfe and the Foss Bridge. I had never been
there before and it was a revelation and a lovely view
on a lovely day in York.
But unfortunately it was a negative image that has stuck
with me most. It was the horror of seeing the immensely
ugly BT building at the end of Strakers Passage again my
first visit down that passageway. The BT building is hard
to look at as it is so ugly, uncared for and mutilated.
It had all the atmosphere of a vandalised public convenience
on a huge scale. It reminded me of how important it is to do
our utmost to protect York from ugly soulless developments.
I had never seen this up close before and it was truly a shock.
We need to remind ourselves of the worst of York as well as the
best. I did not take any photos of it at the time but I intend
to go back and take some now. I will include it in anything I
finally write as a warning. We all need to do what we can to
stop bad buildings being built.
Views on Time and History While Walking York Walls
Walking the walls - or time-walking -
Time as collage mashed together by history.
Culture hungry, we hunt avidly for picture perfect perspectives,
But imperfect histories of hardship and necessity interfere.
Modernity mars the tourist-craved ‘Yorkness’
The ineffable quality, the quintessential quirk -
Who is it for?
Mysterious nooks entice
The imagination at every turn.
Callings from courtyards - a parallel universe, perhaps?
More likely full of washing lines, playgrounds for cats.
Purpose no more, but pursuits of pleasure and perusal,
Idle conversations during idle afternoons
Transient pleasures replace practical possessions.
Working-class worries become after-work cocktails.
York-based poet Robert Poet collaborated with the Trust on our Voicing the Hidden creative heritage project, from the walking tours in September 2021 to the live showcase event in January 2022. He has treated audiences throughout to multiple readings from his repertoire of locally-inspired poetry. Robert also produced an original poem inspired by St George’s Churchyard and the supposed grave of Dick Turpin, one of the stopping points on the heritage walks.
At The Unofficial Dick Turpin Dog-Training Facility
at the supposed site of the highwayman’s grave
On a leaden-grey York Wednesday
two women drill their pets in the ghost-church yard,
heaven’s gates bound shut with a spare dog-collar
lest pouncing pooches plot a prison-break.
You could say it’s sacrilegious, but hey –
why let the green and pleasant just go to waste-land?
Both owners and dogs take the Heritage Tour Group
in their stride: the women shout, the canines leap.
The past is more unknown than known, says the guide,
hopefully helpfully, and sure enough, in this old city
of steeples and walls and blue plaque recollections,
under everyday trainers and paws another local history lies,
dropped just yesterday by soldiers, servants, shoppers,
serfs, washerwomen, tradesmen, dreamers and drinkers –
coins with the profiles of emperors and queens that slipped
from slurring pockets, a slow, lost rainfall of nails,
hairpins, buttons, buckles, bottles, and various
plastics bound for immortality – silent as these graves
but ever-ready for rousing and resurrection
into new histories cobbled for tourists and citizens.
The Tour Group wanders, wondering Where are the dogs
of yesteryear? while at the far end of the plot,
beneath an upright stone, cunning Dick lies low,
bones deep in dirt and legend, maybe.
You can find out more about Robert and his poetry here.
Click here to view the other poems produced from the heritage tours.
13 Stonegate, York YO1 8AN
No. 13 Stonegate, is a 15th century house with additions of the 16th and 17th centuries. At an unknown date a wooden female figure was attached at ground-floor level to the house on its corner with Little Stonegate. Usually now referred to as a “ship’s figurehead”, close inspection shows that the bare-breasted lady – anatomically endangered by passing traffic – has only one arm and one feathered wing and is much more likely to have come from not the prow but the stern of a sailing ship, probably having been attached to the side of a projecting quarter gallery. This female figure – is she arising from the sea like a mermaid or is she a protecting angel? – dates from the mid- or late seventeenth century, a time when formerly open quarter galleries at the ship’s stern were now being enclosed and had windows added.
It was always thought that women, bare-breasted or not, would bring bad luck if they were aboard a ship, so why use them so often for decoration? Sailors believed that the gods of the sea would be so taken with such images that they would calm the wind and waves and give the ship safe passage. Just why this stern figure was removed we shallprobably never know. It could have been that the ship had merely come to the end of its days or was, perhaps, too large to enter port with the silting up of the River Ouse and was then dismantled. We can only speculate.
Haven for ships
York grew up at the junction of two rivers: the Ouse and the Foss, and thus was readily supplied with transport and communications links to the outside world via the Humber Estuary and the North Sea. The Romans built jetties here, with wharves and warehouses on both rivers. In the eighth century, the Northumbrian scholar Alcuin confirmed York as being built by the Romans ‘to be a merchant-town of land and sea’ and ‘a haven for the ships from distant ports’. A century later, further developments came with the Vikings whose larger ships and skills in navigation opened new routes, allowing York to export its own timber and import goods from as far away as China. Archaeological finds from Viking York include amber and furs from Scandinavia, silk from China and the Middle East, copper alloy pins from Ireland, a cowrie shell from the Red Sea and pottery from Germany.
York continued as an important trading port after the 11th century Norman Conquest and by the 14th century the city was England’s richest city after London and the Merchant Adventurers its richest guild. York’s merchants exported wool, grain and cloth to Northern Europe and continued to import luxury items from overseas such as olive oil, figs and raisins from Spain. By the late-16th century, however, larger sea-going ships could no longer navigate York’s rivers partly due to their greater size and partly due to the increasing build-up of sediment in the Ouse. Only smaller, lighter boats could now reach York and, as a result, Selby and Hull began to assume much of York’s trading importance. As the wool trade of the West Riding increased, the shorter land route to these ports became preferable, as did the later canal route via the Rivers Aire and Calder. The Corporation of York was under pressure to act and, after much debate, Naburn Lock was finally built in 1757 and the river Foss canalized, but the river trade failed to revive.
Now the River Ouse is primarily used for pleasure and recreation. It is one of the key attractions in York’s tourist trade with leisure cruisers, canoes and rowing boats plying the routes once used by the city’s trading ships. Many of the wharves and jetties have gone giving place to restaurants, cafés and pubs and paved riverside walks provide a welcome escape from the bustle of the city.
Master woodcarver and stonemason Dick Reid OBE restored the figure on behalf of the York Civic Trust in 1978.
L.G. Carr Laughton, Old Ship Figure-heads and Sterns (originally published in 1925, reprinted New York, 2011)
Baron F. Duckham, The Yorkshire Ouse, The History of a River Navigation (Newton Abbot, 1967)
Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave: The Buildings of England, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding (London, 1995)
‘Houses: Stonegate’, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 5, Central (London, 1981), pp.220-235. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/york/vol5/pp220-235
© Dinah Tyszka
FREE WALKING TOURS
by York Civic Trust
(for potential new YCT members)
Friday 21 June 2019
St Crux Hall, The Shambles, York
This is an opportunity for people interested in York – its present, past and future – to learn about the history of York, as well as a chance to chat with volunteers and learn about the events, activities and membership benefits of York Civic Trust, whilst supporting us by purchasing refreshments, homemade cakes and sandwiches.
Visit our displays at St Crux Hall to book on a walk and chat to York Civic Trust volunteers.
The 2019 walk schedule can be downloaded Get To Know Your Your Walk Details leaflet.
There is no pre-booking for these walks except on the day at St Crux Hall.
As walks will be limited to manageable numbers, please arrive early to avoid possible disappointment.
Help us to promote this event by downloading the 2019 A4 Get To Know Your York poster.
Get To Know Your Your Walk Details leaflet or collect a leaflet detailing walk times and descriptions at the Reception area of Fairfax House, Castlegate, York, YO1 9RN.
We hope you enjoy the walks and marquee displays, and are tempted to become a member of the York Civic Trust
The purpose of the weekend is to give the opportunity for members of the public to discover more about York Civic Trust and the heritage of the city of York through guided walking tours. Priority will be given to non-members of YCT.
Plaque in Library Square, Museum Street, YO1 7DS
The Association of Voluntary Guides to the City of York (AVG) was formed in 1951 as a part of the city’s contribution to the celebration of the Festival of Britain. Although the main site of the Festival was in London, at a site on the South Bank, the festival was a nationwide affair with exhibitions in many towns and cities throughout Britain. The City of York Council’s librarian suggested the idea of using knowledgeable citizens to show both the people of York and visitors around their historic city. This idea was quickly supported by the council and a public meeting called to promote the idea. A group was formed at the very first meeting and a walking tour devised.
Over the years, as more and more tourists began to arrive, so more and more walks were planned, until now there are between 80 and 90 voluntary guides, mostly retired people, with a detailed knowledge of the city. In 2017 the Association guided 13,300 visitors to the city around their tour which has remained virtually unaltered since 1951. The AVG trains its own guides following a five-day course culminating in an oral exam. There are tours of the city every day of the year except Christmas Day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with a third on summer evenings. They all leave from outside York Art Gallery in Exhibition Square, last two to two and a half hours and are free of charge. The standard tour starts from Exhibition Square and ends in the Shambles, looking on the way at Roman fortifications, St Mary’s Abbey, King’s Manor, Bootham and Monk Bars, the Treasurer’s House and St William’s College. The AVG tours do not include the Minster which has its own guides.
For more information visit www.avgyork.co.uk
Our sincere thanks to Barrie Ferguson, Secretary of AVG, for information about the voluntary guides.
Photos by Rachel Semlyen
© Dinah Tyszka