“ Address: Fossgate / York / YO1 9XD „
I discovered the Merchant Adventurers' Hall through my York Pass Guide which I had been given with my York Pass. The York Pass allows free entry and discounts for a large number of attractions in and beyond York, and so rather than paying to get into the Merchant Adventurers' Hall all we had to do was present our York Passes. Without a York Pass, entry into the Merchant Adventurers' Hall costs £3 per adult, £2.50 for over 60's and students, £1 for young people (between 7 - 17), £7 for a family of 2 adults and 2 or more children, and free for children under 7. So a visit isn't going to break the bank!
The Merchant Adventurers' Hall is situated between the streets of Fossgate and Piccadilly in the centre of York city. It is best accessed via Fossgate and through a signposted passageway - we easily spotted it from the other side of the street.
The building is a medieval guild hall, built over 650 years ago, and one of the best preserved in the world. It is still used and owned by the company that built it, the York Company of Merchant Adventurers. It is a beautiful 14th century timber framed building with exposed beams.
We entered the building via a number of steps into the main entrance, however I believe there is another way in for those with problems navigating the steps. Once we had shown our York Passes (at the reception to the right having climbed the steps), we were pointed in the direction of the Great Hall and told that would be the best place to start.
The Great Hall is home to a number of portraits hanging on the walls. The portraits are of Governors and benefactors of the Company, family related to members, and Royalty. The Great Hall was used for business and for feasts and it is evidential that it is still in use today and not just as a museum. There are information panels here to explain the history of the hall, as well as a large fireplace.
Back through the door of the Great Hall, and opposite the reception, the room holds a collection of silver, documents and furniture (not to be sat on or touched due to their fragility).
Downstairs there is a small area where you can use some touchscreens to learn more or play a little game (acting as a merchant buying and selling goods - I didn't do too well at this and lost money rather than making it!). Down here are the Undercroft and the Chapel.
The Undercroft doesn't have a high ceiling like the Great Hall, this is due to frequent flooding and so the floor has been raised by 1.5 metres. The Merchant Adventurers provided charity to the sick and poor and this is where they were taken care of, so you could say that this part of the building was a hospital or almshouse. There isn't much in here, most likely due to the flooding in the past. I did notice a couple of flood marks set in the stone of the Merchant Adventurers' Hall complete with the dates of the floods, including one as recent as the 1980's.
Here you'll also find the Chapel. It is probably just a bit smaller than the average village chapel, but it is dominated by a large stained glass window behind the alter and this helps brighten the room. The pews are aligned down the sides of the chapel, with standing room on the stone floor in the centre. The chapel is still in use for Company services.
Heading back to the stairs, but walking past them rather than going up them, you will find the toilets. Walking through to the toilets, there was a large dressing room of sorts, with plenty of hanging space for clothes, a few seats and a large mirror - I imagine this space is now used by wedding parties etc to get ready for events.
Something you don't notice when entering from Fossgate is the fact that the Merchant Adventurers' Hall is set much lower down that Piccadilly. One a bus tour, we were told that this is due to streets being redeveloped over centuries and the city being flooded many times and so newer buildings do seem to be set higher.
Outside the Merchant Adventurers' Hall is a beautiful walled garden. Here you can sit and admire the building and/or buy refreshments from The Hairy Fig delicatessen (funny name, I know!) in the courtyard. We'd been walking around the city all day and so sat with a peach juice in the sunshine.
It won't take long to get around the Merchant Adventurers' Hall, but I found it interesting and enjoyable. York is steeped in history and the Merchant Adventurers' Hall is no different. At £3 for an adult, £1 for under 17s and under 7's being free entry, it's certainly somewhere to spend some time while in York.
It is interesting to note that the Merchant Adventurers' Hall is available for private hire for weddings and conferences. I imagine it would make a lovely wedding venue, especially as the chapel is on-site.
The Merchant Adventurers's Hall is open all week during April - September, but closed on Sundays between October - March. Opening times vary throughout the week.
I have been to York many times but prior to my most recent visit I had never been to The Merchant Adventurers Hall. I had seen the signs for it but I was never too sure what it was and since its tucked away out of sight from the main thoroughfares it's a place I always forget to check out. A friend recently told me that this is a 14th century timber framed building that is the largest building of its type and age in Britain so I figured that this time around I ought to check it out.
Built as a medieval guildhall in 1368 this is probably the oldest surviving building in York, although in an historical city like York there are several other places that also stake this claim. It is not to be confused with the nearby Merchant Taylor's Hall, which was a mistake that I initially made.
The Merchant Adventurers' Hall is tucked away down a short alley but the size of the building and the plot that it occupies came as quite a shock. Located right in the heart of the city centre, where land prices are at a premium it has a surprisingly large garden and there are plenty of grounds that surround it.
The building itself looks lovely from the outside. Constructed of timber and painted black and white like so many of the other medieval buildings in York you can tell it's a genuine medieval timber building, rather than one of the many Victorian replicas because the beams are so warped with age in places that the whole building looks twisted and in danger of falling down.
The building was constructed by the Guild of Our Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, of mercers. During the 16th century Queen Elizabeth 1 granted it the status of the Company of Merchant Adventurers of York. The primary function was as a meeting place and this is still its main function today, although it is now open as a museum for visitors when meetings are not taking place. The York Guild of Merchant Adventurers is a charitable trust. They hold the accounts of this hall back to 1432 but their actual organisation dates back to around 1200. In their heyday they were an incredible powerful group of people and still hold high esteem today.
A short of flight of steps leads the visitor into a lobby area with a small reception to the right. There is an admission charge to visit here and this is where the fee is paid. The admission charges are:
Children - £1.00
Once inside the hall there are several directions to take. To the left there are two small rooms and a set of stairs leading to the basement. The basement is where the toilets are located but other that than that there isn't anything else on that level. A lift is available down to this floor and the toilets are equipped for disabled visitors.
The two small rooms to the left of the reception contained glass cabinets that held some original documents relating to the hall. Beyond these rooms there is access to the first floor, which is where the Great Hall is located.
As its name suggests the Great Hall is huge. The timber beams on the roof was the thing that drew my attention in this area and there are some interesting paintings on the walls and also a large fireplace. The Great Hall can be hired out for private occasions and also holds a wedding licence. There is no denying that the Great Hall is the most impressive part of this building but it also the area of the building that has undergone the most changes over the centuries.
On the ground floor is an area known as the undercroft. This large room, like the Great Hall is divided into two halves by the supporting beams from the roof. At the end of this room there is a chapel, which is a large as some small churches that I have visited, and this is certainly not something that I was expecting to find here. This church is still used as a place of worship for the members of the Merchant Adventurers' Guild although it has also been used as a place for the poor or ill to worship during a time when the undercroft was used as a hospital and an almshouse for the poor. The chapel was added in 1482, fifty years after the main building was constructed. In these early days before the reformation it would have been very ornate and lavish and displayed the wealth of the Merchant Adventurers' Guild. When the undercroft was converted to a hospital and almshouse a second entrance was added to the chapel so that the Merchants didn't have to walk past the sick and poor to worship.
There is no denying that the undercroft is an interesting area but if I am to be critical I felt that it was spoiled by the fact that there were lots of rows of cheap looking tables and chairs that reminded of a school classroom. Apparently many of the original furnishings in this area have been removed because it is prone to flooding and has frequently been submerged between several metres of water from the nearby River Foss.
I am glad that I finally visited The Merchant Adventurer's Hall. It is possible to see the whole place within about an hour so the £3 admission price is about right. It's not really somewhere that you could spend the whole day although the gardens are certainly a place where you could chill out for the afternoon. The gardens can be visited for free.
The opening hours are 9am until 5pm (Monday to Thursday) and 9am until 3.30pm (Friday and Saturday). It is closed on Sundays.
The Merchant Adventurers Hall
Telephone - 01904 654818
A medieval guildhall built over 650 years ago.