The Shambles

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Shambles shopper 8686.jpg
Looking south towards the intersection of Shambles and Little Shambles streets, 2018
Location within York
Former name(s)
  • Haymongergate
  • Nedlergate
  • The Great Flesh Shambles
Length400 ft (100 m)
LocationYork, United Kingdom
Coordinates53°57′33.85″N 1°4′48.40″W / 53.9594028°N 1.0801111°W / 53.9594028; -1.0801111Coordinates: 53°57′33.85″N 1°4′48.40″W / 53.9594028°N 1.0801111°W / 53.9594028; -1.0801111
North endNewgate, York
South endPavement, York

The Shambles (officially known as Shambles)[1] is an old street in York, England, with overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century. It was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, probably from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels (literally 'flesh-shelves'), the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their meat. As recently as 1885, thirty-one butchers' shops were located along the street,[2] but now none remain.


"Shambles" is an obsolete term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market. Streets of that name were so called from having been the sites on which butchers killed and dressed animals for consumption. (One source suggests that the term derives from "Shammel", an Anglo-Saxon word for shelves that stores used to display their wares while another indicates that by AD 971 "shamble" meant a 'bench for the sale of goods' and by 1305, a 'stall for the sale of meat'. )[3][4]

During that period there were no sanitary facilities or hygiene laws as exist today, and guts, offal, and blood were thrown into a runnel down the middle of the street or open space where the butchering was carried out.

There are streets named "The Shambles" in other UK towns and cities including Bradford on Avon, Chesterfield, Guildford, Swansea, Chippenham, Manchester, Sevenoaks, Whitby, Worcester and Armagh. There is also a Fishamble Street in Dublin.


The shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow, 2018

Although not explicitly named in the Domesday Book of 1086, it has been identified through an entry which lists two butchers' stalls near the church of St Crux (ii bancos in macello nr ecclesiam St Crucis) being in the ownership of the Count of Mortain.[5][6] The area was known as Marketshire into the 14th century and included the streets of the Shambles and Pavement. The Shambles itself had several names, by 1240 it was referred to as Haymongergate, and it was called Nedlergate in 1394, both of these are thought to be references to other trades and crafts which took place in the street. In addition to these names by 1426 it had become more commonly known as the Great Flesh Shambles, which was eventually shortened to its current name.[5][6] Many of the current buildings are from circa 1350-1475.[3]

Among the structures of the Shambles is a shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow, who was married to a butcher who owned and lived in a shop in the street. Her home is thought to have been No. 10 Shambles, on the opposite side of the street to the shrine, which has a priest hole fireplace.[7][8][9] As with most buildings in the Shambles these are both listed buildings.[10]

Historically, many small streets in York had a similar appearance to the Shambles, such as the Water Lanes. However, the Shambles is the last survivor, and from the early-20th century, this had led to it becoming a popular tourist attraction.[6] Although the butchers have now vanished, a number of the shops on the street still have meat-hooks hanging outside and, below them, shelves on which meat was displayed. The shops currently include a mix of restaurants and shops as well as a bookshop and a bakery. Five "snickelways" lead off the Shambles.

Shambles Market operates daily and is situated between The Shambles and Parliament Street. The market was previously known as Newgate Market after the street on which it is located, but was renamed in 2015.[11]

The Shambles is one of a number of locations, along with streets in Chepstow, Edinburgh, Exeter and London, for which claims have been made that it was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter franchise.[12] Since 2017 four wizard themed shops have opened in the street.[13] However, the author, J.K. Rowling, has denied this and has stated that she had never been to the Shambles. [14]


10 and 11 Shambles, a Grade II* listed building

Almost all the buildings on the street are listed. On the east side, 1 Shambles is timber-framed and probably 14th-century; 2 Shambles is early 18th-century; and 3 and 5 Shambles are both 19th-century, one initially serving as the former Shoulder of Mutton pub. 7–8 Shambles are late and early 15th century, respectively; and 9 Shambles is also 15th-century. 10 and 11 Shambles originated as one 15th-century house; and 12 Shambles has some parts probably dating from the 14th-century. 13 Shambles is early-16th century; while 14 Shambles was originally timber-framed but of unclear date. 19 Shambles was built in the early 16th century; 20 Shambles is mid-18th century; and 21 to 23 Shambles were all built in the early 18th-century. At the end of the street is the parish room of St Crux.[6]

On the west side, 27 and 28 Shambles were built in the early-19th century; 30 Shambles is 18th-century but largely rebuilt in 1952; and 31 to 33 Shambles were built as a terrace in about 1436. The shrine of St Margaret Clitherow at 35, along with 36 Shambles, originated in the late-14th century; 37 and 38 Shambles are late-15th century; and 39 Shambles includes a 15th-century timber frame. 40 Shambles is early-18th century; 41 and 42 Shambles is 15th-century; and 43 Shambles was built in 1775. 44 Shambles is 15th-century; 45 Shambles is early-18th century; and 46 and 47 Shambles were built in about 1740.[6]

Image gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Franks, Alan (12 July 2017). "What a Shambles: a walk around York's ancient walls and alleys". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  2. ^ Diretory of York and Neigbourhood. London: George Stevens. 1885. p. 231. Retrieved 8 June 2021 – via University of Leicester: Special Collections Online.
  3. ^ a b "The Shambles: History of York". Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  4. ^ Martin, Gary. "'A complete shambles' - the meaning and origin of this phrase". Phrasefinder. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Shambles". York Civic Trust. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Houses: Shambles-The Stonebow". An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 5, Central. London. 1981. pp. 212-220. Retrieved 6 June 2020 – via British History Online.
  7. ^ "About us". Cuffs & Co. Archived from the original on 4 October 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  8. ^ "The Pearl of York". BBC News. 9 October 2008. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  9. ^ Historic England. "10 and 11, Shambles (1256676)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Search results: Shambles York (30 records found)". Historic England. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  11. ^ "26 reasons why Shambles Market will change York for good". YorkMix. 22 March 2015. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  12. ^ Lovell, Jane (25 March 2019). "Fairytale authenticity: historic city tourism, Harry Potter, medievalism and the magical gaze". Journal of Heritage Tourism. doi:10.1080/1743873X.2019.1588282.
  13. ^ "I'm sick of all these Harry Potter shops on the Shambles". Nouse. 30 October 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  14. ^ "J.K.Rowling statement". Twitter. 21 May 2020. Retrieved 21 May 2020.


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