York’s history really is all around. Find a spot outside the art gallery in Exhibition Square, facing the city walls. In front of you is Bootham Bar, a Norman arch with later medieval fortifications on top. Behind that, the west towers of the Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. To the right is the white plaster facade of the De Grey Rooms, an early Victorian ballroom constructed for a cavalry regiment. Next to that, the Theatre Royal, which has been in operation since 1744.
Now begin to turn gradually clockwise. Opposite the theatre is a crescent of townhouses built by George Hudson, the ‘Railway King’ who brought the profitable east coast mainline to York. Keep turning. Behind the crescent is the King’s Manor, originally a 13th century Abbot’s House and later redeveloped in the 16th and 17th centuries as a royal residence where Charles I sought refuge during the Civil War. Alongside the King’s Manor is the city’s art gallery, built in Florentine renaissance style, and the first public building in York to be lit by electricity. To the right of the fountains you can see a portion of the 13th century perimeter wall of St Mary’s Abbey, one of the largest monastic houses in the north of England, which was dissolved by Henry VIII.
That brings us round to Bootham Bar again, which stands on the site of the original Roman gateway to York whose foundations are visible through the glass floor of the cafe alongside. We have completed a sweep of almost 2000 years of history, simply by turning in a circle.
York is unique in this respect. The entire story of the city - and the country - is visible in one place.
Imagine how much more there would be to discover if we actually walked somewhere….
360 degree panorama of Exhibition Square, York