York Castle Museum

Kirkgate: The Victorian Street

Our world-famous Victorian street reopened in June 2012 with more to see and explore of the life of the rich and poor – with new backstreets, authentic York businesses and thousands more goods on display.

Originally built in 1938, Kirkgate is a recreated Victorian street which has become the most iconic part of York Castle Museum and its schoolroom, police cell, Hansom cab and cobbled street surface all remain.

New research means that every single shop on the street is now based on a real York business, all of which operated here between 1870 and 1901. Our costumed guides can tell you more about each shop when you arrive…

The Shops

Visit shops, like Banks Music and Sessions Printers, which are names still operating today; others are within living memory for many residents like Leak and Thorp Drapers shop.

See fascinating goods for sale which have disappeared from our high streets today from Cooper’s Saddlers, Horsley’s Gunsmiths, Cooke’s Scientific Instruments and Edward Allen Taxidermist.

Other more familiar shops give the chance to compare with today’s fashions – The Little Dust Pan Ironmongers, Kendrick’s Toy Dealers and Fancy Repository, and the Plummer Sisters Milliners.

Some sold to the rich, like George Britton’s grocers, importers of fine teas and coffees; others like Thomas Ambler’s grocers to the working class. Some did both – John Saville, Pharmaceutical Chemist, would sell to leading citizens but also worked as a surrogate doctor to the poor.


The Poverty

A new alleyway off Kirkgate, called Rowntree Snicket, aims to portray the poverty of Victorian York.

It includes a working class home and and was inspired by Seebohm Rowntree’s famous survey of York’s poor, which led to his ground-breaking report, Poverty: A Study of Town Life, published in 1901.


The People

Meet our seven York characters in the new Cocoa Room, which is situated down another new alleyway, next to Rymer’s Undertakers, and find out more about their lives in Victorian York in a Magic Lantern show:

Mary Sessions – a widowed shopkeeper, an entrepreneur and a Quaker;

Isaac Dickinson – grew up in a slum, worked at Terry’s, campaigned for shorter hours and helped bake a Royal cake;

Tempest Anderson – a medical doctor, a climber, explorer and local celebrity;

Mabel Smorfit – daughter of a railway worker, school child who did well at her lessons, and a proud owner of a new bicycle;

Thomas Frederick Earnshaw – started work as a child, was a successful apprentice who won a prize for his workmanship and rang the bells at the Minster;

Elizabeth Kidd – a bootmaker’s daughter, housemaid, mental health worker and photographic model;

George Alp – a teenage dad who moved cities to become a policeman, often drunk but commended for catching a thief.