Uncovering fascinating twists in history for ancient York building Bedern Hall ahead of new heritage project

A fine history is hidden within the walls of York's Bedern Hall, with a treasure trove of stories just waiting to be told.

Now this ancient building, under its many medieval guises and also as a butchers and a bakers and a pork pie maker's curing hall, is to share these secrets in heritage tours.

Bedern, now nearly all that remains of what was once a grand college, served from the 1390s as a refectory or dining area for the Minster's Vicars Choral.

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A new heritage interpretation programme, signalling a significant change of direction from its guild owners, is to explore these accounts through trails and audio tours.

Bedern Hall, Bartle Garth, St Andrewgate, York, opens to the general public on Wednesday 19th May with a new heritage interpretation programme. Pictured (left to right) Ella Voce, Heritage Development Office for Bedern Hall, Roger Lee, Operations Director for Bedern Hall, and Elly Richmond, Bedern Hall Manager. Image: James Hardisty

"This is a building that has got stories to tell across all decades," said Roger Lee, one of the directors of the Bedern Hall Company which runs the hall.

"Not only as a medieval building, but as part of the lives of ordinary people all through the years. That is what is so special, and so different about it."

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Tucked away in an area between Goodramgate, St Andrewgate and Aldwark, the hall can often be overlooked but forms a fascinating insight into the city's Medieval past.

Pictured at Bedern Hall are Ella Voce, Heritage Development Office, Roger Lee, Operations Director, and Elly Richmond, Manager. Image: James Hardisty

Its history is closely tied to that of York Minster, where the College’s Vicars Choral would sing services, but as vicar numbers depleted it passed to private hands in the mid 17th century.

Soon after, with an influx of Irish immigrants following the potato famine, it became overcrowded tenements, finally falling into a slum described as a ‘sad spectacle of poverty and wretchedness’.

With the founding of the Bedern National School in the 1870s, the remaining buildings of the College were demolished and the Hall, all that remained, would go on to be redefined, first as Barton bakery in the early 20th century and then as a curing hall for Wright's butchers.

Telltale signs of history

Bedern Hall, Bartle Garth, St Andrewgate, York, opens to the general public on Wednesday 19th May with a new heritage interpretation programme. Image: James Hardisty

The hall, restored from 1979 after excavations from York Archeological Trust uncovered rare examples of designs similar to those found from the Minster in 1361, wears its history well.

These imprints are found in a mason's mark on buttery windows, scissor beams, and telltale bits of brickwork among the stone masonry, which signal the scars of its varied history.

"When you start to look around, the features tell us about its medieval past," reflected Mr Lee.

"Places like Bedern Hall, and the vast array of attractions we have in our city, are the backbone of everything else that happens here in York," he added.

Bedern Hall, Bartle Garth, St Andrewgate, York, opens to the general public on Wednesday 19th May with a new heritage interpretation programme. Image: James Hardisty

"We see York as this wealthy, successful place, but it wasn't always that way. The fact the Hall is still here is because it was used. It still carries the marks of that history."

New direction

The Bedern Hall Company, set up by the city's three guilds the Company of Cordwainers, the Gild of Freemen and the York Guild of Building, is primarily used by community groups, and for events such as conferences and weddings.

Now the Grade ll listed hall all is once again to see new direction, as funding is secured under the Cultural Recovery Fund from the Department for Culture, to celebrate its heritage.

Opening to the public four days a week from May 19, there will be children's trails, new volunteer programmes, and audio video tours through its mobile App.

The aim is to share the stories of what it was like as a refectory for the Vicars Choral of York Minster, what their lives would have been like and the legacy their imprint has left behind.

Bedern Hall, Bartle Garth, St Andrewgate, York, opens to the general public on Wednesday 19th May with a new heritage interpretation programme. Image: James Hardisty

New opportunity

Mr Lee, himself a Freeman of the City, said this was the realisation of plans that have been years in the making, but without opportunity or resources haven't been possible until now.

"This is a building that is true to its heritage, handed down in many different ways," he said. "But it's still here. We want to share some of the stories it has to tell.

"It's very rare to find places like this, that are independently owned, and by people who have been involved for decades,” he added.

"We want people to experience something that is of itself, with a little authenticity. That sense of place is really important, and people have found a new sense of discovery."

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