Plaque on the pillars in Deangate YO1 7JA
The Minster Close plaque was installed in 1995 by the Friends of York Minster on new pillars in Deangate. The term Minster Close as the name of an area around the Minster is not recorded before the late 13th century. In a 1276 survey mentioning both houses and tenants, it is clausum cimiterii ecclesie Sancti Petri. Buildings around the Minster accumulated and obscured the church, particularly at the south side. When Augustus Duncombe became dean in 1858, he found that there were no open views of the Minster except from the north – in fact from the Deanery garden – and he resolved to improve this by removals and demolition. As part of the programme, Dean Duncombe purchased and demolished houses between 1859-64 to form Duncombe Place out of the narrow Lop Lane and top of Blake Street.
Creation of Deangate
By 1880, the topography of the precinct was much as it is now, but cutting the street from Petergate to Goodramgate in 1903 was the last part of a plan to open up the precinct to improve traffic flow. Nikolaus Pevsner describes this as ‘destruction of the Close’ and the laying out of Deangate as ‘particularly disastrous’. Deangate is an interesting example of a route formed in the 20th century but deliberately named by the old York form “gate”. The street became the A64 main trunk road and, as road usage increased, heavy traffic thundered past the Minster in the mid- to late 20th century, the vibration and pollution causing much damage to the structure of the medieval cathedral. This became recognised as an issue and campaigning, including by the York Civic Trust, was eventually successful. Deangate was pedestrianised in 1989.
The Friends of York Minster were keen to landscape Deangate which they thought ‘a dreary great tract of asphalt’. In 1993, they allocated £30,000 to make improvements. The 1995 annual report of the Friends reports that, ‘the brick pillars [on which is the plaque] capped by finials of Cadeby Stone announce the entrance to the Minster Close, whilst nearer the South entrance two more pillars of stone with gothic detail … mark the point where traffic is no longer permitted’.
Liberty of St Peter
It is not now obvious that the Minster used to be in a walled precinct, part of the Liberty of St Peter where the archbishop’s law, not the corporation’s, was in force. In 1285, the Chapter was licensed to enclose its churchyard and precinct with a stone wall 12ft high, provided with gates or posterns. The Victoria County History shows a map of this precinct and suggests, ‘A boundary which would have reached the [four known] gates and at the same time included the Old Deanery could have followed the parish boundary of St John-del-Pyke as mapped by the Ordnance surveyors in 1852 and it is perhaps not too much to assume that such a boundary discloses the ancient precinct’. The brick pillars seem to reflect this map, the St John parish boundary and the lost precinct wall.
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)
‘The Minster and its precincts’, A History of the County of York: The City of York, ed. P.M. Tillott (London, 1961), pp337-343. British History Online, www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/city-of-york/pp337-343 [accessed 3 September 2018]
Friends of York Minster, The Friends of York Minster Annual Report (York, 1990-1995, York Minster Library SC 39-2)
© Margaret Scott