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Shaping the City

The Great Hall

The Ouse and Foss have physically shaped York for centuries, in the Roman period the river separated the fortress from its civilian settlement with a bridge its only crossing.


Old Ouse Bridge, Joseph Farington, 1784.

Old Ouse Bridge, a descendant of another Roman crossing fashioned the area around it. The fifth version to span the river, built in 1566, was crowded with shops and houses whilst other rooms on the bridge were used by the Merchant Adventurers to check the unloading of cargo on the Staiths below.


In 1724, the author Daniel Defoe described the bridge as: “vastly strong” and “it is, without exception, the greatest in England, some say it’s as large as the Rialto at Venice, though I think not.”


Old Ouse Bridge, Edward Dayes, c.1800


Skeldergate Bridge opened in 1881 and had one span which opened allowing tall ships to pass through. It last opened in 1975.

The Foss too had an impact on the buildings around it, none more so than the Hall. An iron bridge was built in the early 20th Century to allow for trams to operate out of the city centre past the Hall.


A view of the Hall and its garden in the 1920’s showing the artificially high street level of Piccadilly.


In this photo from 1911, work had already started on the building of the new bridge over the River Foss.

It was necessary for the bridge to not impede river traffic, therefore the bridge and Piccadilly - the street which runs alongside the Hall were raised higher than the surrounding streets. This is why the Hall is at a lower level than its neighbouring buildings!

Image Credits Hall and the River Foss, c.1920’s: Paul Thorpe

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