The plaque marking Minster Gates could be regarded as at the heart of York. At this point Petergate and Stonegate, along the line of the old Roman routes, intersect and the gateway leads into the cathedral precinct at Minster Yard. It
is one of four gates described by historian Francis Drake in 1736: the principal one at Minster Gates; at the end of Lop Lane, later Duncombe Place; opposite Bedern, where College Green meets Goodramgate and the timber-framed building on the corner still resembles a gatehouse; and in Ogleforth where it joins Chapter House Street, which is the Roman via decumana.
Posts blocking the passage to vehicles, as now, are mentioned in 1370. Around 1470, it was known as Bookland Lane and later as Bookbinders Alley. This is because the clergy of the Minster and the other central parishes were the main commissioners and users of books. In 1662, Charles II passed an Act allowing only London, Oxford, Cambridge and York to publish and license books. A drinking fountain existed here in c.1470. The gateway itself apparently still existed in 1736 but was destroyed about 1800 without any plan or illustration surviving. The houses on either side of the passage are now mostly of 18th or 19th century date. At 1 Minster Gates, the building is of the 15th century although the front is 1800; York Civic Trust funded the refurbishment of the carved figure of Minerva, the goddess of learning and wisdom, who reclines and rests her arm on a pile of books, at first-floor level.
The high number of shops in this area continues the medieval situation. So valuable was the approach to Minster Gates as commercial space that, by the mid-14th century, the whole street frontage in front of both St Michael-le-Belfrey Church, around Minster Gates, and along the perimeter of the Deanery in Low Petergate was crowded with small shops and stalls. It seems likely that this development encouraged the dean to both enlarge his residence and make it more secure. In 1300 he claimed that murderers and arsonists were gathering in the narrow lane that led off Petergate beneath his kitchens into the Deanery and the Minster Close. He acquired a licence to enclose the lane and in 1302, a further licence to crenellate the deanery. An indentation in the street line is still visible at Nos.50 and 52 Low Petergate where the walling contains remains of an archway – currently between Azendi and Café Rouge. This way to the Old Deanery (itself demolished in 1831), although closed for 700 years, is still visible in York’s streetscape.
‘Houses: Market Street-New Street’, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 5, Central (London, 1981), pp158-170. British History Online, www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/york/vol5/pp158-170 [accessed 3 September 2018]
Sarah Rees Jones, York, The Making of a City 1068-1350 (Oxford, 2013)
© Margaret Scott