Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Barley Hall, York

Hidden down an alleyway off Stonegate is Barley Hall, a medieval house recently rediscovered and refurbished. The hall has passed through many private hands through the centuries and is now owned by the York Archeological Trust. They received the property in 1987 and began archeological excavations. By 1993 the hall reopened to the public with the name Barley after the noted archeologist and Trust's first chairman, Maurice Barley. The restoration work puts the hall back to 1483 when Richard III was king of England and William Snawsell lived in the hall. Snawsell was a prominent citizen who was Lord Mayor of York and an alderman.

The courtyard of Barley Hall shows the two buildings that were put together to make the hall. Interestingly a small alleyway or "snicket" gives right of way to pedestrians walking from Stonegate to Swinegate.

Barley Hall

Two houses put together (snicket is just off to the right)

I'm not sure what message this is supposed to send

The first two rooms visitors see are the Store Room and the Steward's Room. The Store Room is now the shop and admissions, so it is quite unhistorically decorated. The Steward's Room was probably an additional store room back in the 1480s.

Steward's Room

A spinning wheel

A vestibule between the store rooms and the Great Hall has some archeological displays, including the skeleton of a 13th century monk with a bad knee. A ligament was probably damaged and two metal plates were found next to the joint in the grave.

Medieval monk

Bad knee

The Great Hall was built in 1430 and was the main entertaining area of the house. The head table is slightly raised and two flanking tables were for "lesser folk." The main table is also recessed into the wall of the other building, a risky process since it cut through wall supports. A steel beam was installed to keep things from coming down. The tiles on the floor are an imitation of what the archeologists found on site and the central hearth has a hole over it to let smoke out.

Great Hall and head table

One of the side tables

Tile floor and hearth stones

Wooden roof

Upstairs has two chambers that were used as bedrooms back in the day but when I visited they had been taken over by a medieval medical exhibit. It was grim but not too grim since they borrowed the style of Horrible Histories for the displays.

Bummer of a video introduction

Barbers were also surgeons back in the day

Not the most fun quiz to take

Medicine included using herbs and folk remedies for common ailments.

Apothecary corner

Mixing and mending equipment

Various cures for toothache

More tools and other finds from Barley Hall

Plague was a big fear in the 1400s. People caring for others wore special clothes when visiting victims in the hope that they would not spread the disease or catch it themselves. I leave it to the readers to determine whether the old "haz-mat" suits are scarier than modern-day versions.

Medieval disease-proofing

Displays on syphilis and tuberculosis...charming

Medical practices weren't as precise back then as now, which can be seen from these two leg bones that were set but did not heal evenly.

Not quite straight bones

Life wasn't all death and disease in the middle ages. Visitors are invited to try games from back in the day.

Medieval dice game "raffle"

Rats and ladders

The upstairs includes the Parlour, the room where William Snawsell had his office. The desk is situated by the window to take advantage of natural light. It has two ink wells, one for black and one for red. Any especially important items or details were written in red. Medieval scribes wrote down important feast days in red ink, hence we have "red letter days."


Writing desk

The room has a replica of a red chest from a church near Ripon. York Minster's library contains the last will and testament of Alice Snawsell, William's grandmother, who bequeathed a red chest to him. Often these ornate chests were used to store valuables like linens. The replica is hand carved and includes intricate Gothic detailing.

Red Chest

Dragon and bearded lion!

Downstairs from the Parlour are the Buttery and the Pantry. The Buttery was overseen by the butler, who prepared the drinks during meals. Wine and ale were stored in here in butts or barrels. The wine was given to family members and honored guests; ale was given to the rest of the household (remember drinking water was still rarely clean enough to drink--the alcohol would kill the bad germs).

The Buttery

 The Pantry was run by the pantler, who prepared the bread for meals. Bread was stored here. The more expensive white bread was served to the family while the rest of the house ate wholemeal bread. The pantry was also the spot where dishes from the kitchen (which was probably in a separate building for fire safety) were plated for good presentation in the Great Hall.


Across the way is a room made up as a Tudor school room (dating from much later than 1480s). I was fascinated by the small Barley Hall puzzle. If I'd seen one in the gift shop I probably would have bought it!

Tudor school room

Reverse angle of the Tudor school room

Build your own Barley Hall!

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