Step back into Victorian York as we uncover the Bedern slums in York. It’s this month’s edition of Hall Histories, sharing stories of the building’s captivating past.
Once a fine college home to the highest in York society, Bedern has declined until it is one of the least respectable places in the city.
1852. Immigrants from Ireland have come to York after the great potato famine. They’re desperately seeking shelter, but with Bedern now divided into tenement buildings, they can’t expect much.
While the majestic York Minster stands just 100 metres away, the slum that sits off of Goodramgate is rife with trouble.
No longer refined homes for the Vicars Choral, the houses are crammed. Families from Sligo and Mayo counties have tried to fit in as many of their brothers, sisters, daughters and sons as possible. They’ve made the long journey across to Liverpool and then through the Pennines to reach the Bartle Garth area. Trouble is, there’s not enough space to accommodate them.
It’s overcrowded and the hygiene is unspeakable. The Yorkshire Gazette described Bedern as full of “drunkenness, disease, and crime” three years ago, and things have only got worse since then.
It’s really no place for the children either. Prostitution is worsening with each day as desperate women at the bottom of York society try to scrape together some cash. A number of tenants at Bedern have fallen into insanity from the pressure of living here and from many years of poor nutrition and ill-health back in Ireland.
The area is violent with serious crimes breaking out nearly every day. Those who pass by the covered passageway to Bedern on Goodramgate know to stay well clear. The sniggers and pointed fingers mark it out as dire. Immigrant parents have no choice but to keep their kids inside despite it being damp, noisy and degrading.
In each building, up to 300 Irish people are squashed in squalor with only three privies between them. There’s no proper water supply, with the only source a contaminated well drawing from the Ouse.
Unsurprisingly, the population is still desperately trying to recover after cholera outbreaks in 1832 and 1849. Just five years ago, many lost their lives to typhus.
This year, there’s been an extension to the Bedern cul-de-sac to try and give the slum-dwellers more space. It now extends towards St Andrewgate, but even still, times are hard.
It will be near to 100 years before conditions seen any meaningful improvement.
Bedern Hall and the Vicars Choral of York Minster by Richard Hall. York Archaeological Trust.