EJ Rudsdale on Twitter from 3 September 2019

25th September 1944 - York

Looked out across the gardens in front of the hotêl towards the City Wall and the Minster Towers beyond.  So this is York.  How strange that I should never have come here before, yet my ancestors must have seen it all so long ago.  Except for that brief glimpse a year ago, and another equally brief in 1913, I have never seen this great capital of Yorkshire. Rudsdale's father's family originated from York.

Had a very poor breakfast, and was charged 13/6 for the night, far too much, but all railway hotels are the same, dear and bad.

Went out into the city, walked across the Ouse Bridge to High Petergate, Mickelgate, Fossgate, Goodramsgate, Spurrier gate – what magical, musical names.  Saw Bootham Bar, where in ancient times guides were stationed to guide travellers through the Forest of Castres.  Then Stonegate, and the Shambles, as familiar to me as if I had lived there all my life, from seeing the photographs at home.

One of the ancient houses in the Shambles is now being restored, the one on the West side.  Talked to the foreman in charge, and was told that the place belongs to Alderman Morrill, Chairman of the Museum Committee.  (I hear he is the only member of the City Council who takes the slightest interest in the antiquities of York).  This place in the Shambles was thought to be heeling over into the street, and the restoration work now being done is pretty drastic, a lot of new timber being put in, in fact the wing has been almost rebuilt.  I must say that the work seems to be very competently done, but whether it is all necessary or not I don't know.

The city was quiet after Colchester, not very much traffic nor many people about.  Not a large number of horses, although several in railway drays and a lot of RASC pairs and singles, very smartly turned out.  Quite a lot of little Yorkshire ponies in two-wheel “Scotch carts”, almost all mounted on pneumatic tyres.  Most of them looked fairly new, and there must be quite a business up here making them. 

Lot of ARP notices about, particularly about casualties, - where to enquire, where bodies will be taken, etc.  The great York raid of 2 and a half years ago has not left many signs – a few gaps here and there.  The burnt out church in Coney Street, and, most pathetic of all, the empty shell of the glorious Guildhall.  What a scandal that it should be allowed to have burnt out, right against the river.  The ruin is now perfectly clean and tidy and is used as a store by the City Engineer.  Nothing but the stone bases of the great oak columns remain, but it is intended that the building shall be restored, and I understand that oak for that purpose has already been bought.

Next to the York Castle Museum, a beautiful long grey stone building with a fine colonnade, built by John Carr early in the 18th century.  (Wonder if he is any relation to the Carrs of Colchester?)

The entrance to the museum is rather mean, being through a narrow door and stairway on the right of the colonnade.  This leads directly to the upper galleries, containing the bulk of Dr John Kirk’s collection, beautifully displayed in excellent cases.  Here are his fire-marks, musical instruments, ship-models, Yorkshire “treen”, lace-industry material, and an excellent series of agricultural implements.  Having gone through all this one goes down to ground level, to see the street.

Never have I seen anything of this character better done.  The whole effect is amazingly realistic, with shops, houses, Post Office, fire engine shed, the roadway cobbled and the side-walks flagged.  The name “Kirkgate” is on one of the houses, and the little cross street is called “Alderman’s Walk”, in allusion to Alderman Morrill.  Nice to see Dr Kirk’s old brass plate, from his house in Hungate, Pickering, on a door at the far end of the “Kirkgate”, and nearby a neat and dignified memorial to him.  Strange to see so many of the things which he used to talk about, even some things which he actually showed me years ago.

Adjoining this main hall are three large rooms, two containing poor old Timperley’s Arms and Armour, and the other a collection of carriages, a farm wagon (pole-wagon), an early car, bicycles, etc.  The Armour collection is superb, and is beautifully arranged.  Can never understand how the old man came to acquire such stuff, nor why he should so generously give it to York and Colchester.

Met Miss Violet Rodgers, who is at present Acting Curator, a very pleasant, charming girl of about 25 I should think.  Had a long talk about the collection, and about Museums in general.  She told me that she had just had a letter from Timperley, to say that his home was a total wreck and that his wife had died as a result of the shock.  Poor old man.

Went to lunch with her.  During conversation admitted to her that I had applied for the Curatorship almost the very week that the war began.  She spoke of Ann Welsford, with whom she corresponds, and says that she is now quite out of museum affairs, being tied completely to her mother at Camberley.

Back to the Museum after lunch, and went through the “street” again in more detail.  Had the pleasure of making a few corrections in the harness as shown in the coach-house and on a cabriolet outside the inn.  Also looked at a few pieces of Roman pottery and the remains of a chariot-burial up-stairs, and pointed out one or two instances of wrong dating.  This archaeological material is quite inappropriate here.

Then went out to see Clifford’sTower, standing grandly on its green motte.  Tremendous panorama from the summit.  The sky was grey and overcast, with a light S.W. wind, and a Halifax bomber slowly circled the city.  Down below were the crowded streets, and beyond the black and red tumbled roofs rose the great Minster, spires and towers of the lesser churches grouped around it.  Further away were massive factories, gasometers, and the mingled pattern of red tiles and blue slates.  Behind the Museum is a grey canal, and now Carr’s grand facades look over an allotment, which will one day be a smooth green lawn.  What a wonderful place this will be in 20 years time, when the new municipal buildings, now represented by basements and foundations, will be completed.

Miss Rodgers is in the Royal Observer Corps at the Centre, and I was surprised to hear from her that “divers” are reported at York on the long-range board, as they approach the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts.  We talked about the York raids.  The big attack in 1942 was bad, but by good fortune very little damage was done to the ancient part of the city, except the Guildhall and the church in Coney Street.  Miss Rodgers’ house was badly damaged, and for three weeks she had to live at the Museum.

In a daylight raid in 1942 a thousand pound bomb fell at the foot of Clifford’s Tower, but failed to explode.

Later in the afternoon went to see the Yorkshire Museum, paying 6d to get into the Abbey Gardens.  The whole place is in a very depressing state, even worse than Colchester.  Of course, allowance must be made for the fact that damage was suffered in the big raid, when they lost quite a lot of glass, but the mess then caused has not yet been cleared up, after 2 and a half years.  There are still cases with broken glass inside them, mingling with the exhibits, and dust and dirt everywhere, with patches of brown paper and cardboard over some of the larger holes.  The bomb which caused the damage fell among the Abbey ruins.

The Museum building is terribly dark and gloomy and does not appear to have been re-decorated for 20 or 30 years.  Admittedly the weather had now become dark and overcast, but even under the best conditions the exhibits are an extraordinary mixture, good, bad and indifferent.  Within a few yards of one another in the main hall are:

A “shooting star” which fell at Middleborough, and a cast of the hole which it made;
An incendiary bomb dropped in the last war;
An Egyptian Mummy;
An embroidered apron worked by Bridget Cromwell;
An instrument made by Abraham Sharp, c.1699, “combining the functions of both an altizimuth and an equatorial mounting”.
This last of course ought to be included in Kirk’s excellent collection of instruments, and not kept here among the dreadful muddle of material.

The Roman York display is very poor, although no doubt the best exhibits are not on show.  They have a wonderful collection of Roman material, but it is clear from what can be seen that it has suffered from damage and decay.  A few Roman tombstones are shown in the entrance hall, where is also the famous Centurion, who for some extraordinary reason is kept in a sort of cupboard, with a door, where it is much too dark to see him.

This place should be devoted to Yorkshire archaeology alone, and all material later than the Middle Ages should be left to the Castle Museum.  It is of course essential that both Museums should work in close cooperation, although there is no sign whatever that they do, except that the ex-Director, Dr Collinge, is a member of the Committee of the Castle Museum.  He has, however, little interest in archaeology.

Saw Mrs. Chitty, now in charge, who was about to catch a train for Leeds, and could only spare me a moment.  Said she had seen Hull quite recently at a conference in London.

The Hospitium is closed, but examined the outside of the Multangular Tower in heavy rain which had now begun to fall.  Wonderful work.  Somehow even without seeing much one realises that this place was one of the great cities of Roman Britain.

Had tea, and went to find a room.  Got in, after some little trouble, at a place called “The Chestnuts”, up the Mount, quite pleasant.  Then went out to the Railway Hotel and had supper, and afterwards to the cinema, not because there was anything worth seeing, but simply for the pleasure of sitting quiet and calm through a whole performance without the continual fear that one will see the notice flashed on the screen: “An Air Raid Warning has been sounded.  Will those patrons who wish to leave please do so now …?”

And what pleasure too to walk back through the brightly lit streets, full of people, much laughter and shouting.  Bed at 11 p.m. very tired.

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