The twelfth and thirteenth centuries: Owners of city property

A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.

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'The twelfth and thirteenth centuries: Owners of city property', in A History of the County of York: the City of York, (London, 1961) pp. 49-51. British History Online [accessed 13 April 2024]

The Owners of City Property

It was not only citizens and Jews who dealt in city tenements: churches and lay landowners also had extensive property in York. The importance of this interest was nothing new, for it was already marked in 1086. It was, however, an interest which waxed rather than waned. The growing wealth of the chapter, St. Mary's Abbey, St. Leonard's Hospital, and other religious houses in the city found one expression in the acquisition of property there. The fact that York was a centre both of secular and ecclesiastical administration encouraged religious houses and laymen of importance in the county to obtain city houses. No less compelling was the fact that property in York was a good investment. Messuages were worth 10, 12, 27½, even 30 marks when put up for sale, and yielded high rents. For two messuages which they acquired in 1290 the vicars choral paid rents totalling 58s., but still drew from them 46s. 8d. yearly over and above. (fn. 1)

The spread of ecclesiastical ownership, in particular, was a feature of the period. The minster already had extensive possessions in 1100, and St. Mary's Abbey had secured its hold over Bootham. From this base, by 1215, the latter church had extended its holdings into some dozen streets within the city. By that same date, St. Leonard's Hospital had interests in Ousegate, Coppergate, Coney Street, Hungate, Castlegate, The Marsh (west of the fishpond), Thursgayle (now Cumberland Street), Stonegate, Lop Lane (now Duncombe Place), Aldwark, Blake Street, and St. Andrewgate, all north-east of the Ouse; Walmgate, 'Little Bretgate' (possibly off Walmgate), and Fishergate, over the Foss; and 'Lounelithe' (probably near the Old Baile) across the Ouse. (fn. 2) In a survey made c. 1230, over 30 religious establishments were credited with having acquired, during a period going well back into the 12th century, 163 properties in the city. The city houses were naturally well to the fore. St. Leonard's had obtained 39, the chapter 16, Holy Trinity Priory and St. Mary's Abbey 15 each, St. Andrew's Priory 12, and Clementhorpe nunnery 7. Besides the city houses, however, Durham Priory, Godstow (Oxon.), and the Yorkshire houses of Selby, Guisborough, Healaugh, Fountains, Nostell, Nun Monkton, Rievaulx, Kirkham, Bolton, and Bridlington had all been similarly occupied. (fn. 3) This document, moreover, does not reveal anything like the full extent of Whitby Abbey's property in York. As early as 1170 it had a number of properties in Fishergate, and others in Walmgate, at Foss Bridge, in The Marsh, in Ousegate, Stonegate, Blake Street, and Skeldergate. To manage its property it had a bailiff and rentcollector resident in Fishergate. (fn. 4)

Generally, no doubt, these properties were valued for the rents they paid; but at the beginning of the 13th century the Abbot of Easby reserved a hospice for himself in his Bootham property, (fn. 5) and the Abbot of Sallay made a similar arrangement in North Street, though later he moved his lodgings to property outside Micklegate Bar. (fn. 6) Church property, however, might have another sort of economic significance. Bargains between Yorkshire monasteries and Italian merchants frequently provided for the delivery of wool to Clifton; and one agreement between Rievaulx and a Florentine company in 1287 specifically laid down that wool was to be delivered to the abbey's house in York. (fn. 7) In other words, the fact that York was a regional market also encouraged investment in city tenements. For this and the other reasons noted above, ecclesiastics continued to acquire property in York in the later part of the 13th century, most notably in those years the vicars choral. Incorporated about the mid-century, they had by the end of it property in some 18 streets, particularly in the northern part of the city between Bootham Bar and Layerthorpe. (fn. 8)

Laymen, too, are to be found among the owners of city tenements. In many cases their claims had already been staked in the 11th century. The Arches family, benefactors both of St. Mary's Abbey and the minster, had property in the city in 1086; (fn. 9) and the same is true of the Percies. House property and the advowson of St. Mary's, Castlegate, belonged to the Percy barony in 1176, and in the 13th century their interests extended into Stonegate, Ousegate, and 'Haymongergate' (possibly The Shambles). (fn. 10) The Mowbray interests in York probably derived from the fact that they obtained the Domesday holdings of Robert Malet and Cospatric son of Archil; (fn. 11) while the Trussebuts succeeded to those of Erneis de Burun, (fn. 12) and the Paynels to those of Richard son of Erfast. (fn. 13) The Fossards, on the other hand, were enfeoffed in their York property by the Earl of Mortain, and the Hagets were probably granted theirs in Coney Street by the Mowbrays. (fn. 14) Thus the Norman settlement continued to leave a mark on the distribution of property in the city, though doubtless modified from time to time by purchases and exchanges. Lay dealings of this sort seem comparatively rare by comparison with the vast acquisitions of the churches, though it has to be remembered that churches have left far more records of their enterprise.

Lay and ecclesiastical property was put to similar uses. A good deal of it simply produced rents; but sometimes it also provided living space, if only of a temporary character. Geoffrey Haget certainly had his own house in York at the end of the 12th century, (fn. 15) and Reynold le Poer lived in one of the four messuages he held of Roger Mowbray. (fn. 16) In other cases it was simply a right of lodging which was reserved when a tenement was granted away. (fn. 17) The Constable of Richmond even became a tenant of St. Mary's Abbey in Bootham in order to secure a lien on such lodgings; (fn. 18) and in Richard Huddlestone's eyes military duty at York was one ground for making arrangements for this sort of accommodation. In the last quarter of the 12th century he granted his capital messuage at Clementhorpe to one Avenel who, when Richard came to York, was to find him firewood, candles, salt, and straw, and if there was war in the land was to hand over the whole house and live elsewhere, in the courtyard. (fn. 19)

These instances are early, but the Percies, at least sometimes, still resided at York in the 13th century: for it was in Robert Percy's house that William Aguillun, fooling about with a sword, accidentally killed Adam de Moncell. (fn. 20) These periodic visitations of noblemen and gentry need to be kept in mind. Along with the citizens, great churches, and Jews, many of them had interests in the city; they must often have been customers for the goods York traders and craftsmen offered for sale; and they made their contribution, however occasionally, to the life of the early medieval city.


  • 1. Yorks. Inq. ii. 115–16; Yorks. Fines, 1232–46, 68; 1246–72, 62, 80, 117.
  • 2. E.Y.C. i, passim.
  • 3. E 135/25/1.
  • 4. E.Y.C. i. 140–1, 189, 201, 217, 239–40, 252; ii. 217–19, 222; ix. 204–5.
  • 5. B.M. Eg. MS. 2827, f. 135.
  • 6. Sallay Charty. ii. (Y.A.S. Rec. Ser. 90), nos. 562–3, 568.
  • 7. B. M. Waites, 'Monasteries and the Med. Development of N.E. Yorks.' (Univ. London M.A. thesis, 1957), 394.
  • 8. F. Harrison, Life in a Med. College, 23 sqq.; D. & C. York, Vicars' Charty. passim.
  • 9. B.M. Harl. MS. 236, f. 8; E.Y.C. i. 432.
  • 10. Percy Charty. (Sur. Soc. 117), nos. 14, 51, 352 and p. 463; Cur. Reg. R. ii. 33.
  • 11. E.Y.C. i. 194; iii. 454–7.
  • 12. Ibid. i. 191.
  • 13. Ibid. vi. 56–57.
  • 14. Ibid. i. 194, 238.
  • 15. Ibid. i. 193.
  • 16. Whitby Charty. i (Sur. Soc. 69), nos. 256, 282.
  • 17. E.Y.C. i. 210, 279–81.
  • 18. Ibid. 207, 211.
  • 19. Ibid. 180.
  • 20. Rolls of Justices for Yorks. pl. 819.