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The Minster Gatehouse straddles the original alignment of College Street. The gates controlled access into the precinct of York Minster from Goodramgate.
The gatehouse building was probably built in the 14th century, then rebuilt in the 16th century (when it was incorporated into what is now number 32 Goodramgate).
According to Pevsner & Neave, the rather odd-looking first-floor projection over the pavement above the entrance doorway to number 30 Goodramgate (see Image 4, extreme right) might be the remains of a bridge constructed in 1396 to allow the Vicars Choral (i.e. the paid members of the Minster Choir) to walk between the Minster precinct and their houses, hall and chapel in the Bedern area, without having to venture onto Goodramgate.
: Pevsner, Nikolaus & Neave, David: "The Buildings of England- Yorkshire: York and the East Riding" published by Yale University Press (2005).
Prior to 1901, there were buildings on both sides of the gatehouse. The building to the southwest was demolished to create room for a new road (Deangate) and the gatehouse was also scheduled for demolition. It only survived as a result of the timely and selfless intervention of a wealthy York citizen, Mr. Frank Green. When he heard about the proposed demolition, Mr Green chained himself to one of the gatehouse's mighty oak pillars and he only agreed to move after the authorities agreed to his proposal for an amended route for the new road (a few yards further south).
Why did the Minster need a gatehouse?
Like most medieval English cathedrals, York Minster lies at the heart of a cluster of church-related buildings within a specially designated 'precinct'. In York, the Minster precinct was known as the 'Liberty of St Peter' and it had its own laws, police force, courts, prison and gallows (for executions). During the Norman period, the boundary of the Minster's estate - and the extent of its authority - was delineated by the City Walls (to the northwest and northeast) and by a ditch (to the southwest and southeast). Most of the Minster's senior personnel lived within this enclosed area, including the Archbishop of York, the Dean of York, the Treasurer, the Precentor, the Canons and the chantry priests. (As mentioned above, the Vicars Choral lived in a separate enclosed area on the opposite side of Goodramgate known as Bedern.)
In 1283, King Edward I granted the Dean and Chapter of York a licence to build a twelve-foot high wall (with gates) to enclose and protect the cathedral precinct and, by the early eighteenth century, there were four gateways into the area. Writing in 1736, the historian Francis Drake describes the enclosure and its gates as follows:
"The close of the cathedral church of York, commonly called the Minster-yard, or Minster-garth, is situated in the north east angle of the city; whose walls make one part of its enclosure; and anciently it had its own wall to fence it from the city. The circumference of this district is near three quarters of a mile; beginning from Bootham-bar, along Peter-gate, and ending again at the same gate by a large circuit of the city walls. . . . It has at this day four, large gates to it. The principal gate which leads to the south entrance of the cathedral is in Peter-gate, facing Stone-gate; the next is in the same street, facing Lop-lane; a third is in Gotheram-gate, facing the Bedern, and a fourth in Uggleforth. Anciently these gates were closed in every night, but now they are constantly open."
Source: Drake, Francis "Eboracum: or the History and Antiquities of the City of York”, printed by William Bowyer (London, 1736).
However, in a later edition of the same title (printed in 1788), the second part of this description has been altered - and the change suggests that three of the gates were removed during the intervening 52 years:
"the principal of which, leading to the south entrance of the cathedral, are in Petergate, facing Stonegate; the next are in the same street, facing Lop-Lane; the third are in Goodramgate, facing the Bedern; and the fourth in Uggleforth; but the latter are now taken down, and in their place on one side is fixed a post, and on the opposite side the arms of the see are cut on a stone in the wall, in order to ascertain the extent of the liberty. "
Source: Drake, Francis "Eboracum: or the History and Antiquities of the City of York”, printed in York for T. Wilson and R. Spence, High Ousegate, 1738.
The gate described by Drake as being in "Gotheram-gate" or "Goodramgate" is the subject of this webpage, i.e. the 'Minster Gatehouse'.
Since Drake's time, the character of the Minster Precinct has changed significantly:
- The minster's walls have been demolished and the gates have been removed.
- The Dean's Park has been created on the site of the former Archbishop's Palace.
- Numerous buildings have been demolished and a handful of (relatively) new buildings have been erected. (The latter includes the Minster School, the Deanery, Purey Cust Chambers and the adjacent Purey Cust Hospital building).
- A new road (Deangate) has been created through the precinct, although this has since been closed to vehicles and resurfaced to create a 'shared space' for cyclists and pedestrians.
Despite all of these changes, the area around the Minster still feels both different and special and it is still home to a number of key personnel associated with the Minster, including the Dean of York (whose official residence is the Deanery).
York Minster also still has its own police force (its members are now known as "York Minster’s Cathedral Constables"). Thankfully, executions are no longer considered a reasonable form of punishment.
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