Inside York

Historic Pubs of York

There is no shortage of historic buildings in York; in fact they are arguably the main draw to the city, with tourists travelling from all over the world to see York Minster and the medieval walls. What a lot of people don’t realise is that there is just as much history to be found in York’s pubs. They might not be quite as spectacular to look at as the Minster or the walls but the stories behind them are often equally fascinating. The problem is that in a city with as rich a variety of places to grab a pint in as York, it is difficult to know which of its many pubs to visit. Here is a quick rundown of some of the city’s most historically significant drinking spots.

Ye Olde Starre Inne

This is one of the oldest pubs in York and has been around since the 1600s. After the Parliamentarians seized control of the city in 1644, it was used as a morgue and hospital by the Roundhead soldiers, which annoyed the royalist landlord no end. There is an impressive view of the top of York Minster from within the pub and it boasts a wide array of real ales and fine wines, making it well worth a visit for anybody going on holiday to the city or travelling there for the day.

The Golden Fleece

The Fleece has occupied the same site for centuries and was mentioned in the City Archives of 1503. It has been hailed as the most haunted pub in York and has been featured on Living TV’s ‘Most Haunted’ series. The building has a pleasant, traditional feel to it, with a beer garden and rooms available for those brave enough to stay there. It takes its name from the wool trade, which was the staple trade of the city from the thirteenth century all the way to the seventeenth century.

The Red Lion

This popular drinking spot is built on thirteenth century foundations and is thought to be the oldest building in York that is in current use as a pub, although it has only been licensed since the 1800s. Legend has it that notorious highwayman Dick Turpin once hid in the building and escaped through a window when the authorities came looking for him.

The Old White Swan

Living up to the ‘old’ part of its name, the Swan is the third oldest continuously licensed pub in York, recorded as an inn since the beginning of the 1700s. At one point in its history, it existed on the boundary between two parishes, which led to a white line being painted through the courtyard and kitchen in order to demonstrate this divide. It also meant the landlord had to pay two sets of rates. At various points throughout the building’s history, sections of it have been used as a barbers, a barn and a pigsty and in the pre-railway days, it was regularly visited by poultry dealers and farmers, who used it as a place to peddle chickens to city folk. The pub has also received praise from The Good Pub Guide for its ‘popular lunchtime food including nine types of sausage’ and ‘good whisky choice’.

The Black Swan

Dating back to the fifteenth century, The Black Swan is situated in Peasholme Green, so called because it was once a water meadow that peas were grown in. The Swan was built as a private house for the Sheriff of York in 1417 and became a pub during the late sixteenth century. It is rumoured to be home to a number of different ghosts that haunt both the main area of the pub and the landlord’s accommodation. One of the most commonly seen spectres is a bowler-hat-wearing workman, who gives the impression that he is impatiently waiting for somebody to arrive. Another is a young lady in a long, white, flowing dress, who stands towards the rear of the bar and stares into the fireplace.

The Punch Bowl

Starting life as a coffee house in 1675, this pub got its name because it served as a regular meeting place for the Whigs, who were rather fond of their punch. It was also the headquarters of the York Race Committee and the pub of choice for the York Minster bell ringers during the eighteenth century.

Article written by Eve Pearce. ©


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