THE entry of Her Majesty the Queen to York through Micklegate Bar last week - and the simple but moving ceremony of the touching of the State Sword - will have reminded the thousands of people who turned out to welcome their sovereign of the bar's historic association with royalty.

For centuries, Micklegate Bar has been the traditional point of entry for the reigning monarch to York. The connection may well have begun as a practical one. For centuries - in fact, up until 1863, according to David Mason of the Micklegate Bar Museum - the Ouse Bridge was the only way across the river. That fact alone may have dictated that Micklegate remained the principal route into the city for travellers coming from the south.

The sword ceremony that is such a feature of any monarch's visit may have begun with King Richard II. Richard visited York in 1389 to "deal with a dispute which had arisen between the ecclesiastical and civic dignitaries of the city", as Charles Brunson Knight puts it in his History Of The City of York.

Having settled the dispute - "on terms very favourable to the citizens" - he took the sword from his side and presented it to William de Selby, then the Mayor of York, declaring that he and his successors should in future bear the title Lord Mayor.

Not all the royal associations with the ancient bar have been quite so happy. Among the royal heads that have adorned the bar is that of Richard, Duke of York - father of Edward IV and Richard III.

"He wanted to become King - which was a bad career move," explained David, in typically colourful fashion. "He came second!"

Richard was defeated by the forces of reigning monarch King Henry VI in the Battle of Wakefield and his head set on the bar as a grim warning to other would-be pretenders.

King Charles I also had unhappy memories of the bar - until his head was chopped off following a little local trouble with Oliver Cromwell, that is. He twice entered York through Micklegate. The first time, in 1633, he was at the height of his popularity. "As the King entered the city gate," one local history records, "the Lord Mayor in a grandiloquent speech to his 'dread sovereign lord' ... spoke of the gay Charles 'as the light of his subjects' eyes, the glory and admiration of the known world'."

By the time of his next visit in 1639, though, the King's popularity had evaporated as tension mounted. "The political situation was dark and ominous," the history reports, "and the kingdom in a state of unrest and rebellion. For the King's safety, and other causes, six hundred soldiers, belonging to the trained bands of the city and the Ainsty, formed a protecting guard of honour and were drawn up on each side of Blossom Street as the King approached the bar."

It was all a far cry from the euphoria that surrounded the first visit of Charles' father, King James I of England and VI of Scotland, to York less than 40 years earlier. In 1603, on his way from Scotland to London to take possession of the crown of England on the death of Elizabeth I, James stopped at York, where he was "welcomed with demonstrations of loyalty".

The reception of the King by the Lord Mayor and Corporation at Micklegate Bar is reputedly depicted in stained glass in one of the windows in the Guildhall. Howes gives a colourful account of James' reception.

"And when the king came to the cittie, which was well-prepared to give his highness and his royal trayne entertainment, then the lord mayor with the twelve aldermen in their scarlett robes, and the foure and twenty in crimosin gownes, accompanyed with many others... met the king at Micklegate Bar... his majesty going between the Duke of Linneox and the Lord Hume.

"And when the king came near to the scaffold where the lord mayor with the recorder, the twelve aldermen and the four and twentie all kneeling, the lord mayor said: 'most high and mightie prince ... in token of our duties, I deliver unto your majestie all my authoritie of this your highness' cittie,' and then rose up and kissed the sword and delivered it into the kinge's hand."

It's a scene anyone who was present last week as the Queen arrived at Micklegate Bar would recognise instantly. All the more pity, says David Mason, that a street with such a long and illustrious history should now be all but forgotten: damaged by its reputation as the home of the notorious Micklegate Run, and killed off for tourists by the monstrosity that is Victoria House.

It's not only the street's place in York's history as the point of entry for the reigning sovereign that make it of interest, David points out. Since Roman times at least - when the Roman colonia, or civil town, was sited there - it has been an important and central part of York.

The Vikings named it the Mygla Gata, or 'great street' (from where the modern name derives) and during medieval times it was a thriving and prosperous quarter. For centuries, the Mystery Plays started from Holy Trinity Church. The Benedictine priory was here, Jacob's Well on Trinity Lane was a thriving pub ("It never ran out of beer - it was as deep as Jacob's Well," David said) and a host of local industries, from tanning to comb-making, were based in and around Micklegate.

In Georgian times, Micklegate was one of the most fashionable and wealthy quarters of York. To this day, Micklegate House, built by John Carr for John Bourcher, a descendant of the John Bourcher who was one of the signatories to the death warrant of Charles I, remains the largest Georgian building in the city.

It was really, David says, the coming of the railway that marked the beginning of the end of Micklegate's heyday. A new road into the city was built and Micklegate was sidelined. Despite the best efforts of traders today, it all too often remains so.

There is one more interesting connection that is sadly appropriate to the street's reputation today.

St Martin, a Christian soldier in the Roman army of Constantine the Great after whom the church of St Martin-cum-Gregory is named, was, says David, the 'Patron saint of unrepentant drunkards and landlords'. Sad, but fitting.

PICTURE: This postcard of Micklegate in York dates from 1905