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.