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Between the late 13th and the early 18th centuries, Ogleforth was home to one of the gateways that separated the Minster Precincts from York city centre.

A brief history

Ogleforth lies within the northeast quadrant of the Roman legionary fortress, close to the Via Decumana (the main road from the principia to the north-east via the Porta Decumana). Based on typical fort layouts and fragmentary archaeological evidence, it is likely that this area included at least one set of barrack buildings.

It is not known exactly when a roadway was first laid out on the current alignment. However, Roman period structures excavated on the southwest side of Ogleforth and on either side of Aldwark (the continuation of the street on the opposite side of Goodramgate) seem to follow broadly the same alignment as the current streets. Some of the current property boundaries on Ogleforth still appear to respect medieval burgage plots and excavations at several sites have produced evidence of occupation and industrial activity during the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods. A feoffment (a legal land transfer) dating from 1108-1114 refers to St John's Church on "Ugleford"[1]. This is the first known documentary reference to the street now known as Ogleforth and it suggests that the thoroughfare was already well established by the start of the 12th century.

An archeological investigation on the site of Number 2 Ogleforth during 2007-8 concluded that a timber-framed building aligned with the street remained in use from the 14th/15th century until the late 18th century.

It is worth noting that John Speed’s 1610 map shows buildings along the full length of the street on the northeast side only, whereas James Archer's 1682 map shows buildings along the full length of both sides of the street. However, these maps are highly stylised and their depictions of land use are not necessarily accurate.

In his 1736 publication "Eboracum"[2], Francis Drake described the street in the following words:

"The street is little, but there are now few in the city better built."

Drake's opinion is certainly supported by the grand double-fronted facade of Cromwell House (built circa 1700 - see Image 1 below). However, the Victorian period saw considerable changes and the grandeur began to fade a little. On the southwest side of the street, Hunter & Smallpage Ltd. had a warehouse for its furniture business in 1840 and Henry Tucker's 1852 plan of York shows a large "Coach Manufactory" opposite Numbers 15 to 19. By 1919, these had been joined by "March's Brewery" (located behind the Dutch House). On the northeast side of the street, an attractive but relatively modest terrace of three-storey brick-built houses was constructed in 1859 (numbers 17 to 25). By 1913, number 15 was being used as the York Maternity Hospital. In recent years, the tide has turned once more and all industrial activity in the area has ceased. The brewery building has been converted into apartments and this part of the city is gradually reverting to quiet residential use.

What does 'Ogleforth' mean?

This has been a subject of debate for at least four centuries. As yet, there is no conclusive answer, but the following have all been proposed:

  1. It is derived from Anglo-Saxon words meaning 'ugly passage'.
  2. It is derived from an Old Norse word 'ugla' (meaning 'owl') or an Old English personal name 'Ocga' or an old Viking name 'Ulchel', plus the Old English word 'ford' (meaning a shallow water crossing and supposedly a reference to a nearby open ditch that drained this part of the city until at least the 16th century).
  3. It is derived from the British word 'uchel' (meaning 'high') and 'Poth' (now written and pronounced forth, meaning a 'gate'), thereby giving 'Highgate': the whole referring to a gateway that provided access to the medieval Archbishop's Palace (which was located within the Minster Precincts).[3]

All of these seem reasonable, so take your pick. Personally, I like to think it means 'look around while wandering round', but that's probably just my warped sense of humour. That said, it has become my motto for every trip to the city:

"Visit York and Ogleforth!"

Where was the gateway?

Many well-respected sources state that the gateway was located at the northwest end of the street, where Ogleforth meets Chapter House Street. However, it is also possible (and perhaps more likely) that it was located part-way along the street, possibly near numbers 13-15. The latter hypothesis is based on

  • the position of St William's College (which was most definitely within the Minster Precincts),
  • a statement attributed to the well-known York antiquarian Charles Wellbeloved (b.1769, d.1858) that the remains of a gateway were found "about the middle of Ogleforth"[3] and
  • a map created by Francis Drake in 1736[4].

Drake's cartographic representation of this part of the city includes a solid line depicting the boundary of what he calls "the Minster Close". This line curves from the known gateway (Minster Gatehouse at the junction of Goodramgate and College Street) to cross Ogleforth approximately half-way along its length. It is reasonable to believe that Drake knew the exact location of all four gateways as he mentions them specifically in his 1736 publication. (For the extracts and further information about these gateways, see "Why did the Minster need a gatehouse?" on the Minster Gatehouse page.)

Noteworthy buildings

Ogleforth includes at least eight listed buildings, the most noteworthy being:

  • Number 2 (the 'Dutch House') - Grade II* listed: This building (see Image 2) is believed to be one of the oldest surviving brick-built houses in York. It was originally built circa 1650, but the flemish-style gables are a later addition (possibly late 17th century) and the structure has been substantially altered over its lifetime (including a partial rebuild during the 1950s).
  • Number 13 (Cromwell House) - Grade II* listed: This double-fronted Georgian townhouse was built circa 1700, although it too has undergone alteration and rebuilding works over the centuries.
  • Numbers 16, 18 & 20 (and 5 Chapter House Street) - Grade II listed: This jettied, two-storey timber-framed building dates from the 16th century, but it was rebuilt in the 18th century. It has also been modified since, most notably to replace a substantial portion of the ground floor living accommodation with a set of three garages, each accessed via an up-and-over door. Parking vehicles in the front rooms of houses might seem like an odd thing to do, but finding somewhere to keep your car (or coach & horses) has always been a challenge in this compact city.


[1] The document was written in Latin and this extract refers to the medieval parish church of St John-del-Pyke, which was located behind what is now number 23 Ogleforth. St John's church had become redundant by 1586, when the parish was merged (for ecclesiastical purposes) with Holy Trinity Goodramgate. Between 1547 and 1858, the site was home to Archbishop Holgate's School.

[2] Source: Drake, Francis "Eboracum: or the History and Antiquities of the City of York", printed by William Bowyer (London, 1736), Book I, page 316.

[3] Source: Whellan, T: "History and Topography of the City of York", (1857), page 358:

Uggleforth or Ogleforth is a small street leading from Goodramgate to the east end of the Cathedral. Dr. Langwith conceives the derivation of this name to be from the British word Uchel, denoting High, and Poth, now written and pronounced forth, a gate, together meaning Highgate; and hence we may suppose that a principal gate entrance to the Close of the Cathedral formerly stood hereabouts. Mr. Wellbeloved says, “The remains of a rather large gateway to the Close of the Minster was found a few years ago about the middle of Ogleforth.”

[4] The York Museums and Gallery Trust holds a copy of Francis Drake's map entitled "A Plan of the City of York"  (dated 1736) in its collection: Object number YORAG 2002.4, ID 20001086.

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Longitude: -1.079538000000

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