York Guild Hall
Or, The Ancient Guild Hall of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York.
I like the merchant adventurers; it evokes images of stout cogs with red and white sails ploughing the green waters of the Baltic Sea, camel caravans trudging through yellow sand, mail clad mercenaries with their hands close to the swordhilt, and white eyed moors gesticulating with slant eyed men from Cathai in front of the pillared facades of a Venetian house, or a caftan clad citizen of Novgorod drinking beer with a golden haired Nordman while admiring the wonders of St.Mary Church in Lübeck, anxious to return ere the Gotland pirates gather another fleet. And maybe his comrade of chance is a pirate himself, and the moor in Venice an escaped galley slave who fought as mercenary all the way up into marrying the doge's daughter.
Though the explanation is less romantic: a merchant adventurer was someone who risked - adventured - his money in overseas trade.
Outside view of the York Guild Hall
I didn't have the Guild Hall on my list of places to see, but when I visted the Roman baths
, I got a ticket for several small museums, including the charming one about Richard III
(which wasn't on my list either thanks to crappy UK travel guidebook - next time I'll spend the money on a Baedecker) and the Guild Hall, so I sneaked it in between breakfast and catching a train to Newcastle on my last day. The place is surely worth a visit. The York Guild Hall is the oldest that survived with its business rooms, hospital and chapel intact, and it's the largest townhouse of the time, only churches and castles were bigger.
In 1357, a group of influential men and women founded a religious fraternity and built the hall. Which proves, again, that not all women in the Middle Ages were suppressed to the level of inisgnificance except for popping out as many children as possible; women held considerable influence in the guilds.
Less than a hundred years later most members were merchants, and they set up a trading association, a guild, alongside the religious fraternity. The hall was quite the multifunctional place, the members conducted trade business, said prayers, cared for the poor, and met socially.
The Guild (today called Company) still exists though no longer as trading association. They still are involved in charity and use the chapel for services, and they own the Guild Hall as trustee for visitors. The Great Hall
The Great Hall was built as double nave because there were no timbers large enough to span the full width - English oaks grow big, but not that
The lower part of the hall, the undercroft, is constructed of bricks; the earliest to be made in York since the Romans left. The upper part is a half-timbered construction . The process used was interesting because each section was first put together lying on the ground, the timbers marked, and then it was dismantled and reassembled in an upright position on the building.
The windows are one of the 16th century additions, the original ones were smaller. The Undercroft
The Undercroft was used as hospital from 1373 to 1900. Guilds were the first to build hospitals in several towns, for example in Lübeck as well, and there, as in York, the hospital was in use into the 19th century. The name hospital may be somewhat misleading, because the inmates were poor and infirm people rather than acutely sick ones.
A great fireplace was inserted in the 16th century; before the room had been heated by braziers. Some of the beams still show scorch marks of torches. The place must have been rather dark and cold, especially in winter, but probably a paradise for people who else might have been left to sleep on the streets.
Charity is one reason to have a hospital, but another was order. People who had nowhere to go, no connection with the organised life in a town, were considered a potential danger and a disgrace in the eyes of God. By giving them a place to live, they were reintruduced - or kept - within society.
On the undercroft level is also the chapel which was used by the guild members as well as the people in the hospital. It is consecrated to the Holy Trinity which also protected the activities of the guild. Old furniture in the First Anteroom
An annex was added in the 16th century, it holds the Governor's Parlour and several anterooms. It is a three gabled structure that fits well with the two large gables of the double nave roof. The rooms inside today display a nice arrangement of old furniture, paintings, and some silver.
The company held a number of responsibilites like the control of weights and measures, and they also trained apprentices and helped young men to start their own business. Some of this was conducted past the Middle Ages (there's a 17th century document about a loan, fe.). Until today, the company also keeps the archives.Source: The guidebook provided by the Company