It was nearly flattened twice but these days, Gillygate, with its varied selection of businesses, is on the up. Matt Clark discovers why
Named after the long-departed St Giles Church, Gillygate is an ancient, historic York street – not that you’d know it by looking at the buildings. Being outside the safety of the city walls, Gillygate was virtually destroyed during the siege of York in 1644 and the bar walls have been on the wrong side of the road ever since.
During the 1970s there were even proposals to clear the buildings for the new inner ring road.
Gillygate may have been a magnet for Cromwell’s soldiers, but for years tourists were drawn to the more glamorous Stonegate and Petergate.
Now things have changed. Gillygate is resilient and today it has never been in ruder health. Smarter than ever, this is a sanctuary of independent shops and bistros as characterful and varied as the buildings themselves.
Café No8 bistro epitomises the rise of Gillygate. When Chris Pragnell first opened the doors ten years ago, his was the only eatery. Now café culture has firmly come to this part of York.
“I thought it was an interesting street and this place had the potential for a garden,” says Chris.
“Gillygate is a great street and you’ve got just about everything here.”
He’s right. This could be a high street in its own right, albeit without the chain stores.
Anna Sutton who runs Look What Mum’s Made says Gillygate is a vibrant, individual street.
“A lot of people tell us they never normally come to this part of York, but when they do, they say they’ll definitely be back.
“We also get a lot of people saying I was sitting in the traffic jam and I saw your window. That’s why I’m here.”
Look What Mum’s Made has been going for eight years and began with mums looking to do something while their children were at school.
Inside it’s an eclectic mix and if you see something you like but want it in a different colour or pattern, that’s no problem at all.
“Two years ago we took the plunge and decided to get our own premises here in Gillygate,” says Anna. “Everything we sell is handmade rather than homemade.”
Julian Merritt is a relative newcomer. As a lad he hated cheese, now he makes his living by selling it.
“A friend took me down to Neal’s Yard in London and it was a sensory overload,” says Julian.
“At the time, I had been looking to run my own business but I didn’t know what. On the way back up, my wife said to me ‘why is there no good cheese shop in York?’ Well now there is; Love Cheese where Julian stocks around 70 varieties at any one time. There is a café at the rear of the shop, plus a garden overlooking the Minster and Bar Walls where Julian offers tempting taster platters with a glass of wine.
Then there is fine artisan bread and even crackers designed to be paired with particular cheeses.
Love Cheese and its platters were highly recommended at this year’s British Cheese Awards and with good reason. If you only buy cheddar from a supermarket, you’re in for a treat.
“Theirs is pre-cut, vacuum sealed and sweating in little bags,” says Julian. “With ours the flavour is stronger and more wholesome. And we stock cheeses you will never have tried; some are cloth-bound and when you cut into them you can immediately see the difference.”
Sebastian Hopkinson says he’s certainly seen some changes to Gillygate. He first opened Cut hairdressing salon 13 years ago and back then, many of the buildings were charity shops or derelict.
“Now it’s completely turned itself round,” says Sebastian. “It’s an independent street for individual people and there is a real community feel. We also have a really good thoroughfare from the university, The Groves and hospital. All of which makes this a really vibrant little place.”
There’s never been a better time to be in Gillygate and at Tarts and Titbits, Joe Rowson is clearing up after a manic couple of hours.
“We get a lot of regulars,” says Joe. “For me it’s more like helping a friend than serving a customer.”
Which sums up Gillygate’s shops and bistros perfectly.