York Walks /3

Narrow lanes and snickelways

Photographed on 29 July 2004

Black Horse Passage, Stonebow

Apparently this was once a seedy alleyway used by people frequenting houses of ill-repute in the Hungate area. Photographed on a sunny morning in July 2004, it doesn't show any signs of its shady past. This was a relief, as I was down here on my own. It was quite a mess in the 1980s, when originally featured in Mark Jones' Walk Around the Snickelways of York , and perhaps because of this new-found fame it was spruced up. The old telephone exchange – a dramatic 20th-century building – is just visible at the far end of the alleyway.

  Black Horse Passage

Mad Alice Lane – Swinegate to Low Petergate

Mad Alice Lane, view 1   Mad Alice Lane, view 2
Mad Alice Lane, towards its Low Petergate entrance  

I forgot to read the sign, but I think this well-known snickelway has two names, one of which is Mad Alice Lane. I didn't meet anyone "Mad" along here, or even anyone a bit stressed out, indeed I met no one at all, which was nice, as the streets at either end were far too busy for comfort. Perhaps "Mad Alice" was someone who had just had enough of fighting her way through tourists and shoppers, and ran down here to escape.

'The streets themselves are often no more than slits in the dense texture of buildings, or alleys running off under low openings to dwellings and workshops giving on to tiny yards.'

Lord Esher, 1968

Three Cranes Lane – Swinegate to St Sampson's Square

This alley leads from Swinegate to St Sampson's Square, which was once a market square, called Thursday Market. Apparently at one time this lane was a busy thoroughfare through to the market, as Church Street, now running parallel, stopped at the junction with Swinegate.

  Three Cranes Lane

It's never been one of the best-kept alleys, though it is featured in the Snickelways book, so must have some visitors. I remember it being one of the places you could hide down on Saturday afternoons to have a cigarette where your parents and parents' friends wouldn't see you. It wasn't very nice then either. I can report that it's still rather grotty, often filled with rancid bins, and that it smells of pee.

  Three Cranes Lane

Finkle Street – Back Swinegate to St Sampson's Square

This "street" (actually a snickelway these days) is opposite the windows of the Slug and Lettuce, and on many occasions in recent years I've stared out of the windows of the Slug at the buildings on the left of this photo, where vans used to pull into a rather narrow entrance. I meant to take a photo of the building that was there, but suddenly it had scaffolding on it, and now it's being turned into something new. The wall to the left belongs to the York Central Mission Hall, now Elim Church.

  Finkle Street

'Conservation now has to be carefully balanced against commercial economics which demand large buildings of a size inappropriate for an historic city whose attractions are based on the small-scale, informal, and irregular styles of previous centuries.'
– Hugh Murray, 1990

St Martin's Lane  

St Martin's Lane – Bishophill to Micklegate

A narrow lane, at one time rather charmingly unkempt and unselfconscious, now home to a new and rather stylish residential development. Or maybe a few, I've lost track. When I go along here I'm usually on my way to the Ackhorne pub, so focussing on other things . . .

Barker Lane – Toft Green to Micklegate

On the other side of Micklegate, another ancient lane. Happily apparently untouched by modern development, though I guess it can't be long now. I didn't spot any planning notices, but there's bound to be one down here somewhere.

On this lane there's another of these nicely weathered red brick buildings that I love so much, and the wall advertising "Harvey Scruton Ltd". It's one of the few parts of York in the central area that appears to have been forgotten about, and when you walk along here you feel like it could be the 1950s, with people in this building still using index cards instead of computers.

  Barker Lane

A website visitor who used to work for Harvey Scruton, here in Barker Lane, emailed me, saying "Very spooky place at 6am on a misty morning was Barker Lane, and we never knew what we would find next in the carpark!" – and also sent me the following description of the building's interior:

"It was a family run manufacturing chemist. Inside, it was really old fashioned, but there was something about the place that just made it homely and happy. The inside walls wre painted dark brown to waist height, thin black line, then cream on top, very old fashioned, but just looked right. At the back of the building, out on Tanner Row, there was still the marks on the wall where the hay racks used to be. This dates back from when it used to be a coaching in and stables – a very cold flagged floor down there too. As you entered from Barker Lane, that was were the finished product was stored on the left hand side, to your right, through the door, the ladies loo, past that, the boiler, which was too say the least, iffy. Past that, were some of the ingredients, bags of sugar usually. Continue walking down the warehouse, on the back wall was were the bottles were stored, to the right of this a door into where the product was made, and to the rear of that an office that was used by the person who made the product, within the office, was a door leading into the yard, this too was owned by Harvey-Scruton."

Barker Lane building   Harvey-Scruton Ltd, on a wall on Barker Lane

Straker's Passage, Fossgate

I've already devoted a whole page to this alleyway, but previous photos were taken in winter, when it looked a bit gloomy. The summer light does brighten it up a bit, though it's still quite dark and narrow. I can confirm that the graffiti I'd photographed previously has been painted over with new white paint, which has since been graffiti-covered again, less artistically.
More photos of the wonderful Straker's Passage: in York Walks /1

  Straker's Passage

There are so many of these narrow lanes and alleys, and I love them all – even the one that smells of pee. They're not all covered yet, as there are so many. The star of them all is perhaps Carr's Lane on Bishophill, and that has its own page: York Walks /3: Carr's Lane.