Davygate is a much-altered street between St Sampson’s Square and St Helen’s Square. Excavations have revealed the remains of legionary barracks and the Roman fortress wall lies under the buildings along the south-west side. The name arises from Davy Hall, the large establishment of the King’s Larderer, a hereditary office, and Davy Hall derives from David le Lardiner; a charter was witnessed by David Larderario between 1160-80 and a location is identified around 1200 by the reference in vico David le Lardiner.
The king’s larder
By the 1130s, the king had a larder in York for provisioning his household with venison from the Forest of Galtres and other food such as freshwater fish from the King’s Fishpool on the River Foss. The hall and larder lay within the angle of the southern walls of the former Roman fortress; the walls on two sides survived to a height of several feet above ground level into the 13th century, making it a clearly marked and defensible site. Access into the corner of Thursday Market – now St Sampson’s Square – was convenient; not only did the larderer act as the king’s forester, he also presided over the sale of meat and other victuals in the city and, naturally, had first call on produce.
Provisions for the king’s larder had to be provided free of charge, so the larderer was not popular in York. John le Lardiner, David’s father, is said to have come to England following the Norman Conquest as the steward of the king’s larder and he became established in York. On his death, his son, David, inherited the position of larderer followed by elder sons in subsequent generations, several of whom were also called David. In the reign of Henry II, the city council attempted to have the larderer’s ‘liberties and privileges’ removed, so the king asked that David le Lardiner’s and his ancestors’ rights be proved in court at the York Assizes. David le Lardiner attended in person on 30 September 1168 and stated that, in addition to venison and corn from the Forest of Galtres and the daily payment of fivepence from the ‘King’s Purse’, he was entitled to the following:
to receive of every Baker who sells Bread there every Saturday, a Halfpenny loaf, or a Halfpenny; and of every Brewer of Ale there, that sells any Ale, a Gallon Flagon of the best Ale, or the Value of it; and of every Shamble where Flesh is sold, and of every one that sells Flesh there, a Pennyworth of Flesh, or a Penny every Week; and of every Carrier of Fish at Foss-Bridge, four Pennyworth of Fish, or Fourpence, as the same was brought at the Sea upon their Words; and of every Summage of Horse [horse-load] carrying Fish, a Pennyworth of Fish or a Penny …
Although the jury found that David le Lardiner and his ancestors were entitled to these privileges, York’s mayor and corporation maintained its opposition until, in the reign of Henry III, on 30 April 1253, the rights of the king’s lardiner in York were once again challenged by the current lord mayor, John de Selby. The Lardiners relinquished their entitlement to receive free provisions for the king’s larder in exchange for compensation of 20 marks but retained the title of Keeper of the King’s Larder and Gaol.
As the larderer was an official of the king, the corporation’s jurisdiction did not run to the larder or to the Forest of Galtres, and the establishment in Davygate, by 1246, included a court and a prison as well as the larderer’s dwelling. Poachers caught in the forest were the main occupants of the prison. By 1427, Davy Hall was in ruins and was divided into tenements after 1679.
Demolition of Davy Hall
Davygate ran to the end of Stonegate and St Helen’s burial ground was an interrupting feature. Construction of the new Assembly Rooms in Blake Street began in 1730. In October 1729, the churchwardens of St Helen’s Church proposed to York corporation “to cutt of[f] part of their churchyard so far as to answer to the opening of Blake Street and to lay it to the street so as a coach may drive with greater ease and conveniency” to the new Assembly Rooms. However, it was not until 1745 that the demolition of Davy Hall provided a site for a new burial ground, allowing the old churchyard to be levelled and paved to form part of St Helen’s Square, an impressive civic square in front of the new Mansion House which had been completed in the 1730s. So, today, the site of Davy Hall is now occupied by St Helen’s burial ground, Cumberland Row and the north-east end of New Street.
Properties in Davygate which had been donated or bequeathed to St Leonard’s Hospital are recorded in 1542 as constituting about 12 per cent of the hospital’s income from York rents. The ornate canopy bracket, now above the door of Jacob’s Well in Trinity Lane, was once part of the old Wheatsheaf Inn in Davygate and is the last surviving grand entrance marker in York.
The south-east part of Davygate was widened soon after 1891 and nearly every building in the street has been erected since 1900. Brown’s department store was founded by Henry Rhodes Brown, Lord Mayor of York 1914-5, in 1891 and moved to its present site in 1900. The half-timbered façade of No.15 – originally the Davy Hall Restaurant, now Hobbs – is of 1927 by Brierley and Rutherford, but the Art Nouveau restaurant interior by Walton and Penty which lay behind was destroyed in the 1950s
Francis Drake, Eboracum: or the History and Antiquities of the City of York, From its Original to the Present Time (London, 1736)
William Combe, The History and Antiquities of the City of York, From its Origins to the Present Time (York – printed by Ann Ward, 1785)
Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave, The Buildings of England, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding (London, 1995)
Sarah Rees Jones, York, The Making of a City 1068-1350 (Oxford, 2013)
© Margaret Scott