Shambles of York – York, England - Atlas Obscura

York, England

Shambles of York

Follow the original medieval paths that wind through this intriguing section of the city. 

Pedestrians meandering through the Shambles of York often look up to admire the old houses and crooked, leaning buildings. But the true treasure lies below their feet. Whereas most streets in York, and much of England, have been widened and modernized, the streets of the Shambles have remained true to the original medieval form.

This section of York dates back to the 14th century and was the place butchers set up shop. It was once called the “Great Flesh Shambles” because of the shelves of meat the butchers would display.

The main street through the Shambles has a slight declining curve, which was conducive to dumping the blood from butchered animals along with raw human sewage. The area would smell horrific for days until the rains came and washed the waste away.

Many are confused as to why the width of the street is so small. The reasoning is simple, and a bit morbid. The purpose of the street was to let carts travel to-and-fro to collect and deliver meat among the butchers. The carts were also used to remove the dead humans who perished rapidly during times of plague.

Today, the narrow street is a cheerier, cleaner place lined with shops, pubs, and restaurants. Many of these buildings, too, date back hundreds of years. The nearby market offers a wide variety of wares for everyone. Take a moment to enjoy the paths and streets of the area that are a flashback to a much earlier—and less sanitary—era in history.