St Williams College

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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St Williams College, Herbert House, and the king’s beheading.

On January 30 1649 King Charles I of England was beheaded in Whitehall London, his loyal friend Sir Thomas Herbert attended the king at his execution. Sir Thomas stayed with the king on the night before his execution and is said to have provided the king with two shirts to wear at the execution because the king didn’t want to shiver in the cold winter air and look like he was shaking with fear, King Charles I died with courage.

He was killed under the orders of Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War.

The two buildings I want to tell you about now have a rich history, but both are connected with King Charles I and Sir Thomas Herbert and they’re both in the center of York.

St William’s College.

First I’ll tell you about St Williams College, you can find St Williams College just over the road form York Minster. And when you see the college you can see why it is one of York’s most photographed buildings.

The ground floor is stone built with large Georgian bow shop front type windows. The buildings main entrance is an intricately carved stone arch. The first floor is timber framed with a jettie that sticks out, giving another couple of feet floor space to the first floor rooms. The first floor windows are leaded in small diamond shapes and about half of the first floor windows are small square bay windows. In the tiled roof, small dormer windows look as if they have been added as and when they were needed.

St Williams College is a good looking building and things get even better when you go through the entrance arch, through the first part of the building, and find yourself back outside in a courtyard with the sky above you once again, you are surrounded on all four sides by a building just as stunning as the front of the building was on the main street.

When and why was the college built?

Before King Henry VIII put a stop to the practice, wealthy people could pay the church to have a priest pray for their soul after death and this was expected to increase their chances of going to heaven. The priests who did the praying were called Chantry Priests. And St Williams College was built, under the orders of King Edward IV in 1465, to house York Minster’s chantry priests.

The college has had many uses in it’s time. One of them was to house the printing press for King Charles the first, when he lived just a stones throw from here. This was at the time of the English Civil War. King Charles the first lived in York for six months, in Sir Arthur Ingram’s house, very close to York Minster in 1642. Unfortunately Sir Arthur Ingram’s house is now gone.

Said to be haunted.

If you like spooky stuff St Williams College is said to be haunted too. It’s a good looking building and well worth a look.

Next, still talking about King Charles I, let’s pop along to Herbert House. Herbert House stands between two buildings. On the left is The Golden Fleece pub an inn since at least 1656 it is one of York’s most historic pubs. The building to the right of Herbert House is a pizza shop. You can find Herbert House in a street called Pavement at the bottom of York’s ancient Shambles This timber framed beauty was built in 1557. It has four floors including the windows in the gable ends of the roof. The whole building looks to be sagging in the middle with 450 years of use.

In 1573 Christopher Herbert was Lord Mayor of York and this was his house, but he’s not the one we are interested in. Remember I told you about chopping the king’s head off? Well King Charles I was a friend of Sir Thomas Herbert and would you believe Sir Thomas Herbert lived in Herbert House?

The king and sir Thomas dined here in 1639. I should imagine that they spent other times together here as the king made York his base for six months in 1642 during the English Civil War.

St William’s Collage is one of the most photographed buildings in York. If you’re a York Explorer you’ll probably want to take a photo too.