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An Opportunity
for Adventuring

First Anteroom

Felt hats, ginger and lemons. In the 15th Century it was not unusual to have seen fresh citrus fruit for sale in York. This is astounding when you think of the processes of getting a lemon to the UK today.  


The Brig Studley, c.1830.

In the 19th Century, vessels like The Brig Studley came up the Ouse and unloaded grain. On the River Foss, Leetham’s Mill (a business owned and run by a succession of Merchant Adventurers) used the grain in the largest flour mill in Europe.


The Kieler Hanse Cog – A replica of the Bremen Cog, a 14th Century trading vessel from Germany.

Small ships known as Cogs sailed across the North Sea to York filled with cargoes of lemons, seal blubber, almonds, soap, ginger, squirrel skins, oranges, wine, felt hats, pepper and games tables! Other more unusual cargo included decorative iron bound chests made in Germany and the Icon from Kyiv in Ukraine.

The Merchant Adventurers were at the heart of York’s prosperity.  In 1470, Thomas Beverley, Master of the Guild exported over 2,400 fleeces to Europe, making the equivalent of a skilled craftsmen’s wages for 5 years!


Chests such as this were made in Southern Germany and were highly decorative. This example has mermaids and tulips engraved on the lock cover.


JH Walker & Co Ltd Building Merchants, seen here in the 1920’s was based on the River Foss. Their sand dredger ‘Reklaw’ (Walker backwards) was a familiar site on the Ouse for over 50 years.

In the 19th Century sugar and cocoa were imported into York to satisfy a large nationwide demand for new confectionery products.


The negative side of this trade was that a significant proportion of these raw materials were produced on plantations by enslaved people and after the abolition of the slave trade in 1833, by unfree workers who were mistreated and exploited.


The Company of Merchant Adventurers in York did not, according to current research, have direct involvement in or contact with the slave trade – not least as our trading routes were to Europe via Hull.  As we continue to explore our archive, we will continue to share knowledge and information.


Rowntree Wharf in 1977…


... now luxury living


Eastern European Icon

Alongside the raw materials and trade goods, other cultures and ideas were brought to York. They raised the awareness of distant lands, other peoples and new worlds.

Image Credits Leetham Flour Mill, 1910: The River Foss Society

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