Kirkgate: The Victorian Street
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.
The street is one of the oldest recreated indoor streets of its kind in the world, possibly the oldest, and the first to be opened in Britain. It was created by Dr John Lamplugh Kirk, the founder of the Castle Museum. Named after him, it formed the centrepiece of the museum when it opened in 1938.
Dr Kirk wanted to create a street scene where people felt that they were transported to a bygone age. When it first opened, many shops and locations were named after people who had helped to found the museum.
In 2012 Kirkgate reopened after a large restoration and redisplay project. The timeframe was narrowed down to 1870-1901, some of the locations were changed, and all the shops and business were renamed. Now, each shop and business on Kirkgate is named after a real business that operated in late Victorian York.
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…
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.
A new alleyway off Kirkgate, called Rowntree Snicket, aims to portray the poverty of Victorian York.
It includes a working class home 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.
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.
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