26th September 1944 - York

Fine morning, sunny and warm.  From about 7 o’clock could hear horses going past, mostly army stuff, R.A.S.C. going into town.
Cycled down to the Public Library, next to the Abbey Gardens.  Found that they had nothing of Essex beyond the usual guide books.  Very pleasant woman in charge of the Reference Library, very knowledgeable on York antiquities.  Told me she had done a good deal of work translating early MSS and charters.

Went into the Minster – such a vast echoing cavern, columns and arches soaring away to such a height that the groining is lost in the dim gloom above.  The arcading is so immense that one wonders at what point the builders decided that one more cornice would either spoil the perfection or bring the whole place tottering down in ruin.  The effect of the columns and arches is that of a forest of stone trees, with their branches spreading and interlocking.

The building was full of a curious sort of rumbling echo, caused by the sound of subdued voices talking in the choir.

Suddenly, afar off, and in some unimaginable height, the great clock struck ten.

Just inside the main west door was a lady artist, busy repainting the statue of a saint, kneeling upon a high scaffold.  She told me that it was intended to repaint many of the statues, and to restore some of the glorious colour of the Middle Ages.

Walked up into the Choir, and saw that the N. Transept is completely filled with wooden scaffolding, where repairs are being done to the roof timbers, badly eaten by beetle.  The Five Sisters Window of course now has only plain glass.  This work on the roof timbers has been going on since 1934, and is estimated to cost £12,000.  The roof is early 15th century.

Then into the Choir, the walls lined with magnificent monuments – Henry Belassis and his wife, daughter to Sir Thomas Fairfax, two beautiful kneeling figures.  In the Chapel of All Saints is Archbishop Tobias Mathew, who died in 1628, and whose tomb and effigy have now been repainted, so that he lies there incredibly life like, as if he had died only yesterday.

In front of the high altar was a little child kneeling at a “prie-dieu”, hands clasped and eyes shut as if in prayer.

Nearby is Swinburne’s tomb, gloriously coloured, showing him kneeling before his desk, then Henry Medley, “Vice Admiral of the Blue”, and Thomas Lamplugh, Archbishop, standing with a staff in his hand, looking like an actor at the rise of the curtain.  One monument is extraordinarily bad and ugly – Mathew Hutton.  Near him is William Gee and his two wives, the first being Hutton’s daughter.  Master Gee is a dear old man, exactly like a friendly old Yorkshire farmer, and has a most amusing and lengthy inscription under his effigy.

There are numerous war memorials of distant battles long ago, and many regimental colours hang from the walls.  There is a chapel in the S. Transept set aside for prayers for the success of “the great invasion”.  Seems oddly blasphemous to pray in a cathedral for the success of an adventure which means the destruction of churches, cathedrals and abbeys all over Europe.

Suddenly noticed the tombstone of an early 18th century Registrar, and was reminded of my ancestor, Rudsdale, who was Registrar in ?  Somewhere under this uneven grey stone lie bones of my bones, dust of my dust.  Although it was pretty hopeless to expect that there would be anything recorded regarding – Rudsdale’s grave, I thought I would make a few enquiries at the Registry, and was from there referred to the Cathedral Library in the Dean’s Park.  Saw the Chancellor, the Revd. F. Harrison, who is also Librarian, who kindly let me into the vaulted lower chamber of the building, and then took me upstairs into a dimly lighted room packed with books from floor to ceiling.  Every chair and every table were stacked with books, MSS, and bundles of papers.  At one little table, quite covered with masses of loose papers, sat an aged bearded parson, reading intently from an immense leather bound volume.

Mr Harrison, a mild, benevolent looking gentleman, was most kind and helpful, although he had only a few minutes before going to catch a train.  He went over to a great press to get out a list of Registrars, and as he did so his hand lighted on a pile of MS on the ledge in front.  “Ah!” he said delightedly, “I’ve been looking for this for weeks.”  Unfortunately no trace of Mr Rudsdale could be found in that particular list or in any other.

Went out through the Dean’s Park, now full of underground shelters.  Wonder if anything was discovered when they were dug.

Walked through the town to Walmgate Bar, and was surprised to find it so far out, as I had always imagined it was somewhere in the middle of the city.  Examined the curious Barbican.  The little house built onto the rear of the gate is now being restored by Corporation men.  As I walked away, three girls came riding through the gate on good class hacks.

Walked on the walls near Walmgate, then went to the Castle Museum again.  Many visitors in the building, including a lot of American soldiers from a hospital near here.  A special room is set aside for school classes, and a teacher is permanently employed to instruct the children on the Museum’s collections.  Miss Rodgers told me that this sometimes leads to difficulties, as the teacher allows the children to touch and handle the exhibits, which sometimes causes damage.  The teacher in question is a London woman, who makes no secret of her loathing of the Yorkshire accent and dialect, and her determination to break the children of speaking in that manner if she can.  As Miss Rodgers has a very distinct accent and is very proud of her Yorkshire birth this does not, I imagine, do very much to improve relations between them.  When I was there a lesson was being given on old-time transport, the children being told several inaccurate facts while I listened for a few moments.

Had tea in Coney Street, in a café almost opposite the famous “Swan”.  This is now used as a YMCA hostel, and I understand is to be destroyed as soon as convenient after the war.  Some chain-store covets the site.

Went round to all the saddlers in the city, trying to get terrets for the set of harness in the Museum, but could not find one as they say all old harness furniture has been used up during the last few years.  All the men seemed very busy.

Bought a ticket for the Theatre – the Repertory Company were doing Ibsen’s “Doll’s House”.  Never seen it before.  Very well done, and a beautiful setting, but a dreary piece.  Cannot raise very much enthusiasm for these far-off Norwegian plays, perhaps because I know so little of Scandinavia.

Sometimes during the play, I felt particularly nervous, listening to ‘planes flying overhead, and wondering if they were loaded bombers, perhaps likely to crash on the city.

After the show had a snack at the station, the only place I could find open, and then walked along the city wall in the moonlight, to Micklegate Bar.  The wind began blowing strongly, and the street lights shining through the Bar began to swing violently, causing strange shadows to move and dance, while the Minster towers were pale in the light of the clear moon.

York is a very lovely city, and still has kept much of its gracious charm in spite of both Germans and English.  There is a very pleasant stucco terrace, opposite the Theatre, called St Leonard’s, and many good Georgian houses built in the curious yellow-red brick which seems peculiar to Yorkshire.  One very fine house just to the N.E. corner of the city walls, outside Bootham Bar, was destroyed in the big raid, with all its contents.

The houses in The Mount are very good too, of late 18th century and Regency dates.  The streets along there are bordered by trees and wide steps of cobble stones, and look very attractive.  This morning as I went over the Ouse Bridge the fire brigade were pumping water from the river and playing their hoses just below the ruins of the Guildhall, with the sun shining on the cascades of water.

Saw a delightful public-house named “The Yorkshire Hussar”, with a grand sign board of a hussar changing.

Arranged to leave for Whitby tomorrow.

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