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.
Our Hall Histories series continues with a closer look at York vicars behaving badly… When you book your business meeting or afternoon tea here, you won’t forget the scandalous stories of those who called Bedern Hall home.
Medieval York. The intense cloistered life of the vicars is taking its toll and several have started to stray. Word has it that William Burdcleuer has been keeping a woman, despite strict instruction to stay celibate. To make matters worse, she was spotted out in the centre of York after curfew with their two children. The scandalous reputation of the vicars choral spreads across the city well beyond Bedern Chapel on Bartle Garth.
John Hunter, a chaplain at York Minster, is often spotted wandering tipsy around the Goodramgate area. Eventually, things come to a head when he is charged with “continual drunkness”. His response? “My throat is so dry that I have much need of a drink”. He’ll get off lightly this time thanks to his many years serving in church and frailty in old age.
Other whispers have been heard that a select group of vicars are favouring their games of hawking over their choir rehearsals. As aristocrats, they can afford to take their birds of prey out for a hunt after training them in their falconry sessions.
For the majority of the vicars though, a more pious life is lead. As part of their duty, they show guests around the shrines at the college and welcome them to Bedern Hall. If a visitor wishes, they’ll have them recite from the Bedern Tablet. These 4 foot by 3 foot panels set out the social hierarchy of the city from God to the saints to York Minster at the top, and peasants to miscreants at the bottom. The vicars must know this thoroughly, including the history of the Minster from its biblical origins to its current standing in the world. They must remember all that’s listed on 6 panels by heart as soon as they’ve completed their first year in office. One slip up and their senior canon will be onto them.
At the end of the day though, the vicars certainly know how to enjoy a feast. From their esteemed social position in York, they regularly tuck into treats such as peacock, partridge, red grouse and pheasant. If they’re lucky, the cooks at Bedern Hall might even serve up some deep-sea fish. Enough to keep them full as they sing their many services at York Minster every day…
Bedern Hall is still standing in the centre of York! You can follow in the footsteps of William Burdcleuer and John Hunter when you visit, providing you behave yourself…. Find out how to get to the Medieval refectory on Bartle Garth via Goodramgate or St Andrewgate here.
Bedern Hall may be a beautiful wedding and conference venue today, but it also has a fascinating past. In this series of Hall Histories, we explore some of the stories of people who dined, worked and lived here over the centuries. Join us as we step back into 15th century Medieval York…
1400. Singers gather in the centre of the Vicars Choral college off of Goodramgate for their evening meal.
The hall is large with soaring timber beams and high stone walls. A roaring open fire provides much-needed warmth after a day of services in the Minster. Its smoke fills the air and drifts up to the rafters of the hall’s majestic oak roof.
There are three large windows. Each one is uniquely designed with elaborate details and intricate stonework. At the far end of the room is a large vault framing a beautiful bay window. Word has it that this window was constructed by York Minster’s master mason. Let’s hope it impresses the visiting dignitary who is seated at the high table, tucking into a feast.
Down at the low table, there’s a tempting smell drifting from the kitchen past the buttery where vats of wine are stocked up ready to quench the singers' thirst. Venison tonight perhaps?
With their Canon away on royal business, the vicars have been leading worship at nearby York Minster. They’re trained singers able to chant full services. With at least eight a day to cover, they’re glad to finally rest over this meal before bed.
Conversation revolves around the latest choral chant that they’ve been asked to learn by the Canon. While most of their chants are monotone, this one involves multiple parts on different notes. The vicars must listen to each other in order to stay in tune and impress the congregation. Despite training ever since they began singing as choristers, they still must practice hard in preparation for upcoming religious feast days. They now have over 5,000 chants in their repertoire.
After their dinner, the vicars will return to their communal dormitory and settle down in their space shared with around 30 others. Conditions are relatively comfortable for men of their standing and they can even make use of a newly built latrine.
Bedern Hall will not always be home to such well-off individuals. But for now, it stands as an important gathering place for some of York’s best-respected residents.
Did you enjoy this blog post? To find out more about Bedern Hall’s history, click here. You can also book a tour around our Medieval refectory or join us for one of our regular community events to see this incredible building for yourself.
Beautiful flowers are blooming in the Bedern garden and the smell of hot cross buns is in the air! Spring is upon us and we have lots of exciting events on our calendar for you to enjoy. From an Easter flower workshop to a new art exhibition, read on to find out more.
Easter Flowers Workshop with Afternoon Tea – Friday 12th April, 1 - 3.30pm
Just in time for the Easter weekend, we’ll be hosting a fabulous Easter Flowers Workshop at Bedern Hall. This will be led by Katherine Armstrong Bisson, florist at Fleur Amado. Katherine grows her own flowers and foliage here in York and certainly knows a thing or two about putting together a beautiful arrangement. Her flowers have been displayed in the Minster and as part of York in Bloom. In this very special workshop, you can share in her love of floristry and find out how to bring a touch of spring to your home.
Katherine will be demonstrating how to build a stunning arrangement of seasonal blooms, considering colours, textures and composition. All materials will be provided and you’ll be able to take your floral creation home with you. If you have guests visiting the Easter weekend, this will no-doubt make an impressive centre-piece for your dinner table.
Your ticket will also include a glass of bubbles on arrival and a famous Bedern Hall Afternoon Tea. Roger’s trademark selection of scones, cakes and sandwiches is the perfect way to make this a special celebration of spring. Why not attend with a friend or book your mum a ticket as a lovely mothers’ day treat?
Click here to book: https://conta.cc/2EPONMY
Art in the Hall - 'The Garden at No.18' – Friday 26th April, 6.30 – 8.30pm
Bedern’s popular “Art in the Hall” event returns, welcoming Granville Heptonstall to display his latest paintings. Granville received rave reviews when last exhibiting in support of the Bedern Hall Foundation and we’re grateful that he drew many visitors who had never before seen our historical venue.
This time, we’re delighted to display Granville’s summer-inspired collection, “The Garden at No.18”. Following initial sketches on an iPad, the Yorkshire artist built up colours, patterns and highlights on canvas to eventually create four large paintings. The fifth, Geranium, grew from a collage of magazine scraps!
We’re excited to see Granville’s scenes of nature in this exhibition including trees, garden greenery and flowers. The pieces will perfectly compliment the new growth we’re seeing in our own garden at Bedern.
After the launch on 26th April, Granville’s paintings will be on display until summer. The Hall will be open every Thursday. Why not drop in for a coffee and cake as you admire Granville’s paintings in our light and bright hall?
Click here to book: https://conta.cc/2HeelH4
Visit Bedern Hall on a spring-time city centre stroll
As you’re strolling through the city on warmer spring days, remember you can always take a turn down our Goodramgate snicket to discover Bedern Hall for yourself! Many residents of York don’t even know that our 14th century dining hall is just a stone’s throw from the Minster. Ring the bell and if the hall is open, we’ll be delighted to welcome you in.
Our stunning Medieval building was once where singers at York Minster ate their meals. The hall’s had a rich and varied history since then, and our friendly guides have plenty of stories to share. You can find out more about our history here: http://www.bedernhall.co.uk/history-of-bedern-hall/
If you’d like to book a group visit, we can give you a fascinating tour. We can even include lunch or traditional Sunday roast if you book in advance! We’ve also a quaint courtyard and beautiful little garden for you to explore.
We have plenty more exciting events to look forward to as we move into summer so keep an eye on our “What’s On page here!
For any enquiries please get in touch on 01904 646030.
Saturday 26th & Sunday 27th January – Residents Festival
We will be kicking things off with our participation in the York Residents Festival weekend. This event, organised by Make it York, is a ‘thank you’ to the residents of York for the welcome they give York’s 6.9 million annual visitors and the support shown to the city’s tourism sector. It’s also a valuable opportunity for local people to discover all that’s on their doorstep so that they can recommend your attraction or business to visiting friends and relatives. We will be opening our doors for the weekend and displaying our banners to showcase the development of the Hall over the years and it’s Medieval history! Our café will be open on Saturday serving tea, coffee and cake…and as the Sunday falls on National Chocolate Cake Day, on the Sunday we will be serving up an assortment of chocolatey treats! Find out more about York Residents Festival here. #YorkResFest19
Tuesday 12th February - Your Local Lunch
February welcomes back our monthly chance to enjoy fresh local food with friends and family over lunchtime. Sample some of Roger’s finest cooking in the surroundings of the ancient Hall, our team will be on hand to answer any questions about the history of the Hall too! Book here.
Thursday 14th February – Valentine’s Evening
For anyone with an ounce of romance left in their souls, we will be hosting our annual Valentine’s event, an enjoyable evening in special surroundings! This is the perfect opportunity for couples to visit the Hall if they are considering it as a wedding venue, or simply to escape the hordes in the restaurants in town. Serving a locally sourced, home-cooked menu, Roger will be on hand creating some delicious dishes for the special day. See the menu and book your table here.
Saturday 2nd March - Bedern Bridal Experience
March sees our Wedding Event where there will be fizz and canapes, as well as some local wedding experts including our much-loved local florist. This will be a great evening showcasing the different layouts that can be achieved within the Hall for both wedding ceremonies and receptions. Register your place here.
Tuesday 5th March - Bedern Breakfast
Our popular business networking event returns in March where we will be joined by another prestigious business guest, Jamie Linton, founder of Rota Cloud, a cloud based software that we use here at the Hall! Rota Cloud is perfect for businesses that regularly create Rota’s for their team so we would encourage hospitality businesses to attend this event! This event is designed to bring together like-minded business owners from York and Yorkshire, creating a peer-to-peer forum of entrepreneurs and business owners. If you would like to join us please register your interest by emailing us on email@example.com
Tuesday 5th March - Shrove Tuesday
To celebrate Shrove Tuesday we will be hosting a pancake race through Bartle Garth. We would like to invite York businesses to enter a “runner” so please get in touch to get involved!
More information to follow, but please register your interest by emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org