Back towards the end of 2015, while on one of my regular trips to York, I paid a visit to the Richard III Experience at Monk Bar,one of the historic gateways into the city. Since I was planning to go back to the city in the not so distant future, I paid for their Medieval Pass so I could balance things out with a visit to the Henry VII Experience at Michaelgate Bar. With the power of hindsight, it’s as well I didn’t pay the extra to add Jorvik to my pass as well, since the floods of Christmas 2017 have closed it for over a year now. Good news: it reopens in April.
I was intrigued, however, by the third attraction my pass entitled me to visit: Barley Hall, which I hadn’t heard of previously. So, when I made a trip to the city, in November 2016, I made a point of finding out more about it and planning a visit there, after I’d seen Henry VII.
Hidden away down a passage connecting two narrow streets, Barley Hall was built in around 1360 as a hostel for priors the from nearby (by modern standards) Nostell Priory when they were attending services and ceremonies at York Minster or conducting business in the city.
Over the following century, however, the Priory found it more advantageous to rent out the building than to use it as occasional accommodation. Various families are recorded as having lived there, the most notable being Master William Snawsell (from the mid-1460s to the late 1480s). During Henry VIII’s reign, the building was seized, along with many other monastic lands, and passed into crown ownership. After that, the hall was divided up to create a number of residences, and a public right of way grew up through the middle of what had been the screens passage (and it’s still used as such today).
The hall slowly fell into disrepair, and various building works and modernisation attempts led to the original exterior becoming hidden under a brick façade and various brick-built extensions.
By 1984 the buildings were considered dangerous and might well have been demolished but for the work of the York Archaeological Trust, who carried out extensive investigations and then set about restoring the main L-shaped building to a replica of how it would have appeared in the time of William Snawsell. The downstairs is now fully furnished, with pieces recreated by craftspeople using medieval techniques, while the upstairs is used for exhibitions related to Medieval York.
Since I visited in the run-up to Christmas, the Great Hall was decorated ready for festive celebrations, with a replica of a medieval feast on the largest table. I particularly liked the swan and peacock, although the castle was also most impressive, and there was piped Christmas music from the period to add an extra seasonal touch.
The current exhibition upstairs was, and is, Power & Glory: York in the Time of Henry VIII, including costumes from a number of films and TV dramas relating to the life and reign of the King as well as displays documenting the lives of more ordinary people. I was particularly taken by the displays about the Guilds of York, with an item on the tables symbolising the work performed by members of each guild. The Hall additionally offers education packages for schools, corporate entertainment opportunities and medieval feast evenings. It’s well worth a visit in and of itself, of course.