North Street Gardens forms part of a pleasant linear walk beside the River Ouse close to York city centre. The route links Skeldergate Bridge (near York Castle / Clifford's Tower) and Lendal Bridge (near York Railway Station and Museum Gardens) via Tower Gardens, South Esplanade, King's Staith, Ouse Bridge (near the city centre), North Street Gardens and Wellington Row. However, please note that this entire walking route lies within the functional flood plain of the River Ouse and that it may be inaccessible when the river is in flood and for the duration of post-flood clean-up works.
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North Street Gardens
This pleasant oasis beside the River Ouse was donated to the city of York in 1959. The site was previously occupied by a flour mill and Rowntree’s Cocoa Works.
During the Roman Period, the main road into the legionary fortress from the southwest crossed the River Ouse at this location. In the first century A.D. the river narrowed significantly at this point, making it an ideal bridging point. The river was tidal at this time and the land surface at the water's edge would have been approximately nine metres lower than the present-day paths in the gardens. The river was also much wider than it is today and the shoreline was on the far side of North Street. Archaeological evidence suggests that the riverbank in that area was lined with wharves, while the higher ground immediately to the southwest was probably used for manufacturing and other commercial activities.
From the second century A.D. onwards, a series of revetments and retaining walls were built to stabilise and formalise the river bank and to improve access for loading / unloading cargo. An archaeological excavation in 1993 found evidence that, by the tenth century, the waterfront was only circa 20 metres further inland than the current riverside retaining wall. Over the course of eight centuries, the area now occupied by North Street had changed from riverbed to reclaimed land.
During the late Medieval Period (i.e. the 14th and 15th centuries), there were three passageways leading down to the river from the southwest. The alignment of the most northerly passageway is still evident today and it forms the south-eastern boundary of the gardens. In 1540, this riverside access route was wide enough to accommodate a horse and cart, so it was known as 'magna venella' or 'Broad Lane'. The current riverside walkway crosses it via a footbridge (opposite All Saints Church).
A memorial to Dr. John Snow was installed in the gardens in 2017.