VISITORS to York are being urged to go underground to explore the city's little known secrets.
The city's tourism agency Visit York is keen to show visitors and residents alike that, while it is often key features above ground level – the medieval walls that surround the city, or the soaring tower of York Minster – that draw the eye, a host of attractions, cafés and restaurants are making the most of what lies beneath the pavements; areas that never now see sunlight but which showcase many different aspects of the city’s history.
Kate McMullen, Head of Visit York, said: "York today is a beautiful historic city and a thriving tourist destination – and we are very proud of that – but over the centuries, it has played many different roles, and no-where is this more evident than in the underground spaces, which shed new light on the city. By exploring York underground we hope visitors will discover a brand new dimension, discovering still more of York’s rich heritage."
‘Must-see’ places on an underground tour of York include:
• The undercroft of the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, once an almshouse and hospital to the poor citizens of York, the medieval floor level can still be seen, almost two metres below the modern streets of York
• Viking-age York was around 6.5 metres below the current street level, and this is where visitors will find JORVIK Viking Centre’s recreation of 10thcentury Coppergate – a key trading street in Viking-age York. The recreation is built at the same level where archaeologists uncovered preserved timbers from Viking buildings – and some preserved timbers can even be seen beneath a glass floor
• The York Cold War Bunker uncovers the secret history of Britain’s Cold War and is the most modern and spine-chilling of English Heritage’s properties. Designed as a nerve-centre to monitor fall-out in the event of a nuclear attack, this fully restored building is equipped for life underground including a fully equipped operations room with vertical illuminated perspex maps
• The cellar of what is now The Blue Bicycle restaurant was once a brothel of some repute! Whilst now the approach is more romantic than raunchy, downstairs are displayed photographs of some of the girls who may have plied their wares in the riverside cellar!
• Bathtime was a leisure activity for Eboracum’s Roman residents, and one of their bath houses can be seen preserved beneath the Roman Baths public house in St Sampson’s Square. Now open to visitors as a museum, it tells the story of grooming in the Roman era – which has many parallels with today’s metrosexual male, including massage and even body hair removal!
• The Oak Room Café at Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms in St Helen’s Square is a real throwback to the 1940s, when it hosted a dance club for servicemen and their guests. The room has changed very little and on the wall can be seen the original 1940s mirror, etched with the signatures of 600 servicemen who visited the venue
• The air in the cellar of the Treasurer’s House has a definite chill – possibly for its reputation as one of the most famous haunted sites in York. In 1953, Harry Martindale saw Roman soldiers – but only from the torso up – marching through the cellar. Nowadays, visitors can enjoy hard-hat tours into the deepest part of the house, or pop in for refreshments at the Below Stairs Café
• Reflecting the spaces that would have housed cells in times go by, the York Dungeon is almost entirely underground – with 11 live shows and eight live actors that are frighteningly funny, with a new Terrible Tudors show for 2014
• Although it was only created in the 1970s when experts were trying to save the central tower from collapse, York Minster’s Undercroft now hosts a spectacular new visitor attraction, Revealing York Minster, tracing 2000 years of the site’s history, from the Roman barracks with walls still on display below a glass floor, to the modern day heroes who keep the building running like clockwork
• Each Tuesday and Thursday, visitors to 18thcentury Beningbrough Hall, Gallery & Gardens can take an unusual tour ‘below stairs’ to see where all the work took place in this grand mansion – the butler’s and housekeeper’s quarters, and where the kitchens once stood
• After a serious day of visiting underground York, unwind with music and comedy in The Basement, an intimate 100-capacity venue that hosts the Hyena Lounge Comedy Club each Sunday, and at other times is a popular live music venue in the heart of the city, beneath the City Screen Cinema
For more information on exploring underground York, please visit www.visityork.org or send Visit York your top tips @VisitYork with the hashtag #undergroundYork