A wonderful new historical atlas of the city brings together the results of more than 40 years of archaeological research, peeling back the layers of York’s history one by one and allowing us to see how it has evolved and changed over the last 2,000 years.
A series of maps take a snapshot look at the city at different periods of its history – under the Romans in 200AD; in the Anglian period when York was capital of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria; under the Vikings; in 1100AD following the Norman invasion; and then roughly every 200 years up to the 1850s, when Victorian York was on the cusp of its industrial expansion. Each of the historical maps shows what we know about the roads, streets and rivers of the city at the time, all superimposed above the faint outline of Victorian York, to help you get your bearings.
So the Roman map shows the Roman fortress plumped down right where the Minster is today. The fortress walls are depicted in red, and show individual towers. the site of the Roman baths and forum are shown – and, on the other side of the River Ouse, burial sites under what is now The Mount and the railway station, as well as a cluster of temples around what is now Micklegate.
The inhabited area at the time is shaded in brown. So by flipping through the maps in sequence, you can quickly see how the size and centre of gravity of the city shifted over time. In Alcuin’s time – the Anglo-Saxon period – the are around the old Roman fortress was still inhabited, but a new area had been colonised south of the Foss around what is now Walmgate.
By Viking times, the inhabited area of the city had expanded enormously. And by 1100, the city walls as we know them today had begun to appear, together with the the first Norman Minster and castles at the Eye of York and at Baile Hill. You can also see clearly how the Normans had dammed the Foss to create a defensive moat around York Castle – creating as a by-product the King’s pool, a large lake to the east of York.
By 1300, the Minster has clearly grown in prestige and size, as has St Mary’s Abbey, and the city is dotted with ‘new’ churches.
Little seems to have changed by 1500 – but in fact, as a result of the Black Death, the population of the city had declined hugely from 20-30,000 in 1300 to something like 7,000 in 1500.
In support of this publication, the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP) will be hosting a study day on Saturday 23rd April 2016 based at King’s Manor in the heart of this historic city. The day is intended to explain and explore the making of the atlas, highlighting some of the challenges in mapping historic York, and introducing the wider comparative European context for the project.
To purchase the atlas, go to the website of Oxbow Books