A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.
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YORK IN THE 17TH CENTURY
Topography, p. 160. Population, p. 162. Economy, p. 166. Relief of Poverty, p. 170. Civic Government, p. 173. Politics and the Civil War, p. 186. Social Life, p. 198. Religious Life, p. 200.
There was no substantial change in the appearance of York during the 17th century. Several contemporary writers, whose evidence was confirmed in the early Georgian period by Drake and Defoe, produce a picture of a city containing a preponderance of half-timbered houses and shops with projecting upper stories, standing in narrow, medieval streets, and possessing some handsome buildings, public and private. Houses were more closely packed on the east bank of the Ouse, but within the walls generally clusters of buildings were separated by gardens, orchards, and open spaces. From the general opinion that York was a well-built place of pleasant aspect only Celia Fiennes dissented, for she thought the narrow streets and 'indifferent' buildings gave it a mean and cramped appearance which was not fully redeemed by the splendour of the minster or by the fine bridge and parish churches. (fn. 1)
Some parts of the city suffered damage during the siege of 1644. (fn. 2) After the fighting ceased the corporation had to undertake prolonged and extensive repairs to the bars and the walls, which had been breached in several places. (fn. 3) Skeldergate and Castlegate posterns remained blocked until 1645, but the defensive works beyond the walls were demolished in the same year. (fn. 4) The churches of St. Olave, St. Maurice, St. Denys, St. Sampson, and St. Cuthbert were all damaged by military action and were restored only after some time had elapsed. (fn. 5) The churches of St. Nicholas and St. Lawrence were virtually destroyed in the royalist attack on Walmgate which inflicted heavy damage on property within the bar; the former was allowed to remain in ruins, and rebuilding of the latter was delayed until 1669. (fn. 6) Above all, the defenders burnt the houses in the suburbs. There is evidence that reconstruction was taking place outside the bars before 1660, and the horse-fair outside Walmgate was allowed to resume in 1649 after the area had been cleared and buildings replaced; Drake suggests, however, that the suburbs had not been completely rebuilt even by his time. (fn. 7)
No public buildings of major architectural or historical importance were erected during the century, but a number of new minor buildings reflected different aspects of the city's life. Most notable were the hospitals or almshouses built before 1700: Watter's near Fishergate Postern, Agar's in Monkgate, Ingram's, brick-built and still surviving, in Bootham, Thompson's in Castlegate, and Middleton's in Skeldergate, a brick building round an inner courtyard. In addition, the medieval hospital of St. Catherine was rebuilt to form four almshouses. (fn. 8) Again, two groups of dissenters obtained their own places of worship: in 1674 some dwellings in Friargate were converted into a Quaker meeting-house, and St. Saviourgate Chapel, endowed by Lady Hewley for an indepen dent congregation, was built in 1692. (fn. 9) Five other buildings which modified the appearance of the city were an assize court in the castle (c. 1670-85), the bagnio or turkish bath near Coney Street (1691), the staith built in 1660 on the west bank of the river at the expense of Alderman Topham, the fine market cross in Pavement erected in 1671-2 and paid for by Marmaduke Rawdon's legacy, and the Haberdashers' Hall provided by Sir Robert Watter early in the century. (fn. 10) In addition to maintaining the walls, bars, prisons, bridges, staith, common crane, and the Guildhall, (fn. 11) the corporation occasionally made alterations to public buildings to serve new purposes. St. Anthony's Hall, for example, was altered for use as a hospital and a 'house of work'; (fn. 12) some houses on Ouse Bridge were replaced in 1635 by shops; (fn. 13) and in 1622-3 modifications were made in the building on the bridge housing the council chamber and exchequer court, in order to provide a bourse or meeting-place for merchants. (fn. 14) Finally, the aspect of the city was perhaps enhanced by the rebuilding of the decayed church towers of Holy Trinity and St. Martin in Micklegate, St. Mary, Bishophill, Senior, St. Crux, St. Denys, and St. Margaret, brick being used in some of the work. (fn. 15)
Some increase in the amount of new domestic building in the later years of the century is possible (fn. 16) —houses were erected in the Mint Yard after 1675, for example (fn. 17) — but there is no evidence that York experienced the 'great rebuilding' of the period. (fn. 18) The quality of housing in every parish ranged from the mean dwellings of the ubiquitous poor to the comfortable houses of the more substantial citizens, the latter with several rooms and outbuildings, porches and splayed windows, and decorated plasterand wood-work. (fn. 19) Although most were half-timbered, brick was probably increasingly used later in the century, especially for foundations. (fn. 20) Many buildings combined livingquarters with a shop for trade or manufacture, and there were forges and smithies in all parts of the city. The corporation, however, discouraged the exercise of the more noisesome crafts in the streets most frequented by visitors and occupied by the 'better sort' of citizen. (fn. 21) Inns and alehouses were to be found everywhere. (fn. 22) There were four very imposing mansions in the city: the King's Manor, extended and embellished in the 17th century; (fn. 23) the Treasurer's House, which was also improved; (fn. 24) Buckingham House (now demolished), formerly a home of the Fairfaxes, in the parish of St. Mary, Bishophill, Senior; (fn. 25) and Sir Arthur Ingram's house opposite the west front of the minster, which, with its orchard, gardens, statuary, fishponds, and walks was often commented upon by visitors and became one of the sights of York. (fn. 26)
Fire was an ever-present danger, but there were apparently few outbreaks during the 17th century. Apart from the fire which gutted Clifford's Tower after an explosion in 1684, the worst outbreak occurred in 1694 when many houses were destroyed in Upper Ousegate. (fn. 27) Before that date the corporation had tried to minimize the risk by providing a pump and ordering that hooks, ropes, ladders, and leather buckets should be kept in readiness in parish churches; as a result of the fire of that year a new fire engine was bought. (fn. 28) Provision of a public water-supply no doubt improved the city's fire precautions. The first undertaking for pumping water along certain streets in wooden pipes was begun in 1617 and maintained until the 1630's, and in 1677 a similar but permanent scheme was launched. (fn. 29) Furthermore, the corporation was always conscious of the need to keep the streets repaired, cleansed, and free of obstacles. The obligations of parishioners to repair the streets were enforced, and householders were frequently ordered to mend pavements in front of their dwellings; the city husband was responsible for the upkeep of certain streets and of pavements adjoining civic property. (fn. 30) The corporation also tried, perhaps ineffectively, to prevent the accumulation of dirt in the city by ordering householders to sweep the streets regularly and to keep the open drains clear of garbage, offenders being punished in the courts. (fn. 31) In order to facilitate the passage of traffic, Skeldergate and Castlegate Posterns were widened, and the corporation found it necessary to prohibit additions to houses and shops which encroached on thoroughfares; it endeavoured to help pedestrians by requiring parishes to hang lanterns in the streets at night during the winter months. (fn. 32)
It is impossible to make any accurate assessment of the population of 17th-century York, for parish registers and the hearth tax provide only incomplete figures, and estimates based on each source do not fully coincide. An estimate (fn. 33) based on the registers for York and The Ainsty suggests that the population of the city alone was approximately 10,000 in 1600, had risen by 1630 to 12,000, and remained at about that figure for the remainder of the century, possibly reaching 12,400 by 1700 (see Table 1). The registers show such a marked preponderance of burials over baptisms that it seems likely that only substantial immigration could have caused even this modest increase in population. So many people were carried off in the most severe visitations of the plague, in 1604 and 1631, that the level of population may even have been falling before 1650.
The hearth tax of 1672 enumerates 2,124 householders, which, with a presumed average of 4½ to 5 persons per household, gives a figure for the city at this date of between 9,558 and 10,620 people; to this may be added an allowance for the considerable number of servants in the richer households, and a reasonable estimate would, therefore, be for a population of from 9,800 to 10,900. The 'religious census' of 1676 (see Table 2) gives a total for 17 parishes which accords fairly well with the estimate for those parishes based on the hearth tax. It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that the population of the city had settled at a level between 10,000 and 12,000 by the latter part of the century, and the fairly constant numbers of admissions to the freedom may be a further sign of a static population. (fn. 34)
Tax assessments of the early 17th century, despite all their recognized imperfections, permit two general observations about social groupings within the city. First, Bootham was the most generally prosperous ward, and the majority of the poorer parishes were in Monk and Walmgate Wards. Secondly, civic dignitaries, actual or potential, were to be found throughout the city, but they congregated to a marked degree—at first in the parishes of St. Crux and St. Martin-cum-Gregory and, by 1640, in St. Michael's, Spurriergate, St. John's, Micklegate, and All Saints', Pavement. In the parishes of Bootham Ward there were many people of some social standing, including lawyers, church dignitaries, and gentry. (fn. 35)
The hearth-tax assessment of 1672 affords more detailed evidence of the distribution of social classes in the city and of their wealth as measured by the number of their hearths (see Tables 3 and 4). For the whole city, 6,277 taxable and 456 non-taxable hearths are enumerated in 2,124 households, giving an average of 3.2 hearths per household. The non-taxable hearths, which were in 433 households, were exempted either because the householder was too poor to pay church or poor rates, or because his property was worth less than 20s. yearly. On this basis, therefore, approximately one-fifth of the city's householders were regarded as poverty stricken. Of the 2,124 householders enumerated, however, 700 (or approximately 33 per cent.) had only 1 hearth, and although some of these households were taxed they can only be classed as poor; they formed probably the dependent labouring population of the city. A further 37 per cent. of the households had 2 or 3 hearths and probably consisted of better grades of workmen, small shopkeepers, journeymen, and humbler craftsmen enjoying a slightly higher standard of living. The remaining 30 per cent. of households had 4 hearths or more and comprised the families of wealthier craftsmen, prosperous shopkeepers, merchants, professional men, and gentry, whose living standard ranged from modest comfort to a high degree of affluence.
The parishes of York fall into three well-marked groups when their average of hearths per household is compared with the average for the city as a whole. The first group comprises the 8 parishes lowest in the scale (nos. 22-29) which averaged fewer than 2.5 hearths per household, and, with the exception of St. Peter-the-Little, lay close enough to the walls to be regarded as outer parishes. Three other characteristics lend weight to the conclusion that these fairly small outer parishes, containing about a third of the city's households, were largely inhabited by the poor. They had a high percentage of exempted households (ranging from 22.8 to 59.6) 7 of them being markedly above the city's average of exemption; between 40 and 60 per cent. of the households had only 1 hearth, most of the remainder having 2 or 3 hearths; only a small number of households, nowhere exceeding 20 per cent., had 4 or more hearths and could be classed as comfortable. Nevertheless, in all these 8 parishes, citizens enjoying some degree of prosperity lived close to many of the poorest people in York. (fn. 36)
In the second group, 13 parishes (nos. 9-21) had an average ranging from 2.5 to 3.1 hearths per household and contained 49 per cent. of the enumerated households. The parishes in this middle group show evidence of a higher level of comfort and prosperity, as well as some poverty, for in most of them between a half and two-thirds of the families possessed more than 1 hearth, while in the parishes nearest the top of the scale (nos. 9-12) the proportion is larger. Although the majority were households with 2 or 3 hearths, about a quarter of all the householders in this group possessed 4 hearths or more, and the dominant class was clearly the 'middling sort' of shopkeepers and craftsmen. Nevertheless, these parishes had a substantial number of families exempted by reason of poverty, ranging from 6.5 to 45.9 per cent.; 6 parishes had a percentage of exemption below the average for the city, but in 3 (St. Mary, Bishophill, Senior, St. Saviour, and St. Mary, Castlegate) the percentage was much higher.
The group of 8 parishes heading the list (nos. 1-8) fell at or above the average of 3.2 hearths per household, the first 5 of them being parishes where the average of 4 to 6 hearths betokens a very comfortable standard of living for a large proportion of the resident families. In the remaining 3 the average suggests a fair degree of comfort, and in all these parishes there were many houses which, on the basis of the number of hearths taxed, show real affluence. (fn. 37) These leading parishes, with the exception of All Saints, Pavement, had a percentage of exempted households markedly lower than the average for the city and formed a compact area in the centre of York, together with the most prosperous parish on the west bank of the Ouse; in the rich centre of the city the dominant class of residents consisted of the wealthier craftsmen and merchants, professional men and gentry. (fn. 38)