York Walks /4


Photographed in October 2004

St Denys' Church, Walmgate

St Denys' church, Walmgate

St Denys' Church, from St Denys' Road

Walmgate isn't really on the tourist trail, but it's one of York's more interesting and varied streets. It's a mix of some historic and attractive buildings alongside more modern buildings. This was a notorious slum area in the 19th century. In the 20th century the overcrowded housing areas were cleared and new flats built in the area around Walmgate Bar. Residential developments continue to be built. For more information on this street, see www.yorkarchaeology.co.uk: the archaeological and historical background of Walmgate.

This is St Denys' church, which is a charming church in the middle of Walmgate. For historical fact I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere, as I'm too busy taking in all the interesting goings-on in Walmgate to have time to research the facts. But it's obviously old, this church.

  St Denys' Church, from Dennis Street

Whereas this is new. Strikingly so. My attention was alerted to St Denys Court by a visitor to this website. It's just over the road from St Denys church. Being modern, it could have ended up being one of those twee pastiches of mock-Georgian style that seem to spring up everywhere, but thankfully it shouts "I am modern! And I'm painted blue!" – and it's a very good shade of blue too.

My attention was grabbed by this stunning shrub in one of the forecourts, its leaves turning to orange autumn colours. It's a type of shrub we used to have in the front gardens of the street of modern bungalows I grew up in, but it never looked so good there. The contrast against that blue is brilliant, don't you think?

  St Denys Court, from Walmgate
  St Denys Court, detail, from St Denys Road entrance

I've also realised that the area now occupied by these smart new buildings was the site of one of Channel 4's Time Team digs in 1999, before the redevelopment of the site took place. York Archaeological Trust also investigated the site, and their website gives in-depth information about the YAT excavation in 2000.

Melrose's Yard  

Also on Walmgate, in a little yard off the main street (there are a few of these yards on Walmgate) is another building with a lot of blue paint. From a different period, but handsome too I thought. I've got no idea what goes on here. It seems to be just another of those Victorian red-brick buildings that we take for granted. I thought this one should have a moment in the limelight.

Walmgate shops  

An interesting jumble of shops, with buildings from different periods. One of the shops in this stretch was, I think, once home to York's Community Bookshop, a fabulous place that I visited often in my teenage years in the 80s. From here I bought, at fifteen, a copy of Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, and lots of CND posters and badges.

To St Margaret's Church  

And between modern flats further down the road is the gateway to St Margaret's Church, as it proclaims in gold lettering. A wonderful building, I've heard, but unfortunately not visited yet, so maybe another time. For now this gate, which I think is probably another example of the work of the Walker foundry.

Walmgate bar – 1   Walmgate bar – 2

And at the bottom of Walmgate (or the top, depending which way you're looking at it) is Walmgate Bar. The only bar which has managed to retain its barbican (for people who, like me, have trouble with this architectural terminology, that's the bit that is shown here sticking out from the front). The other bars lost theirs because they got in the way of progress. Whatever progress is. In this case, the need to travel in vehicles.

The Walmgate Bar barbican now stands in the middle of one of York's busiest junctions, and it's difficult to get a photograph of it that makes it look impressive, because it's littered with road signs and surrounded by cars. Occasionally lorries get stuck trying to go through it.

The day I visited, a Sunday, a team of council workers were apparently resurfacing the road just inside the bar. There were several vehicles parked up and various bits of machinery flattening out tarmac.

Despite this I thought I had to get a photo of the rather impressive inner face of the bar, a later addition. Normally I might have been rather nervous about producing my camera in front of a team of workmen, but I was high on endorphins after a mammoth jaunt right up Lawrence Street, across Walmgate Stray and back down Fulford Road and then around York Cemetery, and I felt giddily uncaring. Just as well, as a vehicle pulled up just by my elbow as I took this photo, and at least three people watched me take it.

  Walmgate bar, inner face

When I turned around one of them was standing right behind me, and he said "Aye, I'd take a photo of it now while you've got chance – it's coming down today".

Knowing full well that they were just resurfacing the road and doing something with the traffic lights, I thought I'd join in with the joke, and asked "Is that what you're doing today?" They said yes, and I said "I don't believe you", and laughed, and was walking off as they were shouting that I should get on the phone and complain.

I was laughing all the way up the road, thinking about the assumptions that get landed on you when you're seen with a camera in York, where there are so many tourists with cameras. I think that as soon as I opened my mouth it would have been obvious that I was "local", and knew that they were having me on.

Just as well, really. I can imagine some poor misled tourist phoning the Evening Press and telling them the shock story about the imminent demolition of Walmgate Bar, as heard from council workers.

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Nearby, on the other side of the bar, is Lawrence Street