Petergate

Plaque on Galtres Lodge Hotel 54 Low Petergate, York YO1 7HZ, UK

Site of the plaque opposite the junction with Grape Lane

Petergate has always been a major route of central York. It preserves the line of the via principalis in the Roman fortress between the porta dextra and porta sinistra gateways. Roman street levels have been uncovered in excavation and were found to be covered by 1.8m of dark silt deposits. There can thus be no possibility of direct continuity of use between the Roman and medieval periods. The re-establishment of Petergate as a street must indicate a period, probably associated with the development of the Minster (ad 627), at a time when the Roman fortress walls still survived and before the late 10th century, i.e. the Anglian period. The street provided the shortest route between the old Roman gates at Bootham Bar and beneath King’s Square. By the time the remains of the south-east defences were buried under accumulations of Anglo-Scandinavian occupation debris, the route had become a permanent feature of the topography of the city. The street name, used in a charter of 1189-95, is from the dedication of the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter, called mostly York Minster, plus Anglo-Scandinavian “gate” meaning street. Sarah Rees-Jones’ extensive analysis shows that Petergate’s property alignments were fixed from the 10th century but landmarks such as the Bar or church property were used rather than the name Petergate.

Apart from a short part of the south-east end, the street lay in the parish of St Michael-le-Belfrey and within the Liberty of St Peter. The distinction between High Petergate, west of the junction with Stonegate and Low Petergate to the east, was made as early as 1736 by historian Francis Drake but did not become commonplace until about 1800. High Petergate is now split because of the formation of Duncombe Place (1859-64) which involved the removal of houses at the top of Lop Lane, Blake Street and in Petergate itself. Burials found where Petergate joins Stonegate indicate that the pre-Conquest cemetery, excavated under the south transept of the Minster in the comprehensive investigations of 1967-72, extended there. The distortion of the street from the Roman line, most pronounced around the junction with Grape Lane, may go back to destruction caused by the Danish conquest in ad 866/7. The north-east side of Petergate was occupied by houses built against the precinct wall of the close of 1285, pierced by two gateways opposite modern Duncombe Place and Stonegate.

The street contains many fine buildings, now all used for commercial purposes. Nikolaus Pevsner records No.62 Low Petergate, built c.1725 for John Shaw, Proctor of the Court at York, as the best in the street. In 1908, it became the York College for Girls and is now an Italian restaurant. Some late 14th century timberwork is still in place at Nos.71-81 Low Petergate and at No.8 High Petergate. Sarah Rees-Jones emphasises that the corners of Stonegate with High and Low Petergate were seen as prestigious, valuable and important for the church and laity from the Conquest onwards.

Sources

‘Houses: Petergate’, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 5, Central (London, 1981), pp180-199. British History Online, www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/york/vol5/pp180-199 [accessed 6 September 2018].

D.M. Palliser, ‘The Medieval Street Names of York’, York Historian 2 (York, 1978)

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)

D Tweddle, J. Moulden and E. Logan, Peter Addyman (ed.) The Archaeology of York, Anglian York, A Survey of the Evidence. (York: York Archaeological Trust, 1999)

© Margaret Scott