York Civic Trust plaques


One of York's earliest paved streets

Pavement today is a fairly nondescript street: the sort of place you're more likely to walk through on the way to somewhere else than visit in its own right (unless you're a student of history who wants to have a pizza in the building where Joseph Rowntree Senior first opened his York shop in 1822, that is).

But back in medieval times the street was altogether more prominent. Pavement is possibly York's oldest 'organised' public open space. The two churches which marked each end of Pavement (All Saints and St Crux, which was sadly demolished more than a century ago) both feature in the Domesday records. And in early medieval times, the street was - along with Shambles and with Thursday Market (now St Sampson's Square) - part of an area of the city known as 'Marketshire'. It was both the site of one of York's two main markets (the other was Thursday Market) and also a gathering place where proclamations were made and punishments meted out.

In 1572 Thomas Percy, the 7th Earl of Northumberland, was executed on scaffolding in Pavement for having rebelled against Protestant Queen Elizabeth 1 as part of a Catholic uprising. Far from repenting, he is thought to have publicly declared his readiness to die as a Roman Catholic. Margaret Clitherow, a young wife living around the corner in Shambles, may have heard him and herself been inspired to adopt the Catholic faith.

Pavement was much wider than most medieval streets, and is thought to have been one of York's first paved streets (hence the name). The paving was probably maintained by the York Corporation: in 1497 a payment was levied on each wain or cart with iron-bound wheels which used it: an early form of road tax.

Market days varied down the years, but from medieval times it is likely that markets were held in Pavement on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Produce sold will likely have included vegetables, rabbits, poultry, wildfowl, eggs, butter, roasting pigs, corn, sieves and baskets, wooden ware, shoes, leather goods and cloth.

In the 16th century, orders were made for the city's markets to be used exclusively by 'foreigners' - ie by farmers and country people coming into York from outside the city. The Freemen of the city (who were effectively licensed to trade in York) were expected to sell goods only in their own shops. 'Foreigners', meanwhile, could sell only in the markets, and were forbidden to try to hawk their goods in other streets.

Exceptions were sometimes made in times of crisis. In 1550, when there was an outbreak of plague, 'foreign' butchers were allowed to sell their meat at Foss Bridge and in the grounds of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, as well as at the established markets, so as to improve supplies of meat.

But there was clearly a long-running tension between 'foreigners' and freemen of the city about who could sell what where. The online History Of The County Of York gives a vivid description of the situation in the early 1800s."The restricted space of Pavement was being increasingly used for stalls of city shopkeepers, and by hawkers and pedlars, to the exclusion of legitimate stall-holders from the country: the corporation had neglected to enforce its regulations, and the offenders were well entrenched," it says.

In 1827, in an attempt to resolve the problem, the York Corporation sought an Act of Parliament to enable "the linking of Pavement and Thursday Market by a broad new street, and the extensive demolition of old property."

The Act of Parliament was granted in 1833. Old buildings were demolished and the new street opened in 1834. It was known as Parliament Street because of the Act of Parliament that had been required to build it: and it became York's principal market street from then on until comparatively recent times.

There were to be further changes to Pavement. The church of St Crux - the only church in York with an 'Italianate' tower - was demolished in 1887. And then, in 1911, a row of old buildings on the south side of Pavement were demolished when Piccadilly was created.

Stephen Lewis