Our Lady’s Row

Written By PhilG

York is a great place for a day trip or short stay. With lots of museums, restaurants, and pubs to explore.  

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Lady Row is York’s oldest row of houses and the oldest surviving row of houses in England built with over hanging jetties. Lady Row was built in 1316. That’s 99 years before the battle of Agincourt (Henry V -1415) and 169 years before King Richard III died (1485 – The battle of Bosworth field) and 223 years before King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, closing York’s St Mary’s Abbey in 1539. The houses were built when King Edward II was on the throne (just don’t ask how King Edward II died!). The next king of England was Edward III; he married Philippa of Hainault in 1327 in York Minster.

But let’s get back to 1316 the year the houses were built. This time is one of the bleakest periods in English history, in 1316 England was awash with rain, rain and more rain. The fields were waterlogged, the crops couldn’t grow and the people were starving, some books even say the people were eating each other. Well that’s pretty bad but things were about to get much, much, worse. In 1348 an event that in medieval times was called the great mortality and we refer to as the Black Death or Great Plague was just arriving in England, in 1349 the Black Death arrived in York. Yorkshire as a whole lost 30, 40 or even 50 percent of it’s population, nobody really knows for sure, and I imagine York will have been just as badly affected.

These were disastrous times for England and for York.

Well now, you’re becoming a real York Explorer, and you know a little bit about what was going off in York at this time, and as you can see, these houses are pretty old. But who lived in them? Well, some people think priests lived in them originally I’m not too sure. We do know from tax returns for 1381 that two of the tenants are thought to have been women, Alicia De Pount Frayt, and a woman named Joanna.

Different books give different views about who lived in the houses originally, some say priests lived here but I think it’s more likely that the cottages were rented out to local people. The houses were built to provide an income for chantry priests at Holy Trinity church, Goodramgate; the church is just behind Lady Row. And if the priests lived in the houses how could they live of the rent paid by them selves? In the early Middle Ages people gave the church large sums of money to pray for their soul after death. Some times the church would agree to have someone to pray for their soul in perpetuity or until the day of judgement. The people who did the praying were called chantry priests.

Lady Row was built for a special reason; the rent from the houses was to provide wages for chantry priests from Holy Trinity church. A chantry chapel was founded in Holy Trinity in 1316 (probably in the north isle) by William de Langtoft the vicar of Holy Trinity and vicar choral at York Minster he also built Lady Row and the rent for the cottages was to pay for chantry priests to pray in perpetuity for his soul.

Chantry priests.

In medieval times people were much more religious than they are now. They believed in heaven and hell, they also believed that if a priest prayed for them after their death they would have more chance of going to heaven. So if they were rich enough they could pay a priest to pray for them, some even paid for prayers to be said in perpetuity (until the world ends). Not twenty four hours a day you understand, maybe once a week or on saint’s days. King Henry VIII made this practice illegal when he dissolved the monasteries between 1536 and 1540.

What do the houses look like?

Well, the top floor is larger than the ground floor so they look like a big shoe box on top of a smaller shoe box.

The roof is steeply pitched and covered with red tiles; there are three tiny dormer windows in the roof. The walls are white washed, the doors are wooden and the downstairs windows are small bay type windows. The upstairs windows are not bays; they’re just plain small windows.

The houses are in a street named Goodramgate; you pass them as you enter the church yard of Holy Trinity.

How did Goodramgate get it’s name?

This is an ancient street, probably over 1000 years old and was originally called Gutherumgate. The name probably just described what it was, the street where Guthrum lived.