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Barrier and Bastion

Reception Area

The rivers of York, friend or foe? The rivers when in flood confine the City but certainly don’t define it and generations of locals have found ways to cross the Ouse and Foss by bridge and boat.


The Miracle of St. William

This panel from the St William Window in York Minster depicts the Archbishop of York on Ouse Bridge in 1154. There were so many people on the bridge welcoming him home that the structure collapsed. Luckily, no one died and this was attributed to William after his death as a miracle. The chapel built on the bridge was dedicated to the Saint.


Lendal Ferry, c.1795

Thomas Smyth was a very busy ferryman. For a small fee he took people over the river pulling his wooden boat along a chain to the other side of the Ouse. This he did every day, fair weather or foul. Thomas, who plied his trade in 1380 was one of many men and women over the centuries who called themselves, “keeper of the chain.”


The Barker Tower was the base for the Chain Ferry and was built in the 14th Century.


Old Ouse Bridge by Henry Cave, 1809. Unfit for modern traffic, the old bridge was demolished in 1810.

If you didn’t want to take a ferry in the 14th Century, there were only two bridges that spanned the rivers of York. A wooden bridge over the River Foss and the stone built Old Ouse Bridge. Buildings on the bridge included a chapel, council chamber, a city gaol and from 1367 the site of the first recorded public toilets in Yorkshire!


Ouse Bridge by Charles Dillon, 1836. The present Ouse Bridge was built in 1821.


The last ferry in central York stopped taking passengers in 1883. However, the Nun Monkton Ferry on the outskirts of York, operated by a team of dedicated volunteers, including Professor Anthony Robards, past Governor of the Merchant Adventurers still operates to this day.

Image Credits Lendal Ferry, c.1795: York Museums Trust

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