A History of York in 100 Pictures: 7 Groves Lane

Just outside the city walls around the Minster is an  area of mostly 19th-century brick terraces that is now known as the Groves.  In earlier times, this area was known as Paynleys (or Paynelathes) Crofts.  It is crossed in one direction by what is now Penley’s Grove Street, and in the other by Groves Lane. Until the 19th century the area was largely made up of orchards, garths and gardens.

Groves Lane today is an uninspiring right-of-way between where the Huntington Road curves round near the Foss and Lord Mayor’s Walk.   It ends up facing the city walls, with the Minster behind.  Following the original line of the Roman road leading into the city, the path is narrow and straight, and although it is not a particularly attractive route, every time I walk along it, past the car park into town,  I think about how many people over the centuries have walked that same route before me.

The most important building in the Roman city was the praetorium.  Its remains are still visible in the crypt of the Minster, which was built on the same prestigious site. Because Roman forts were built to a standard pattern, it seems probable that Groves Lane would originally have led straight to the praetorium through a gate in the city walls.

In Hawise’s time, however, the main gate into the city from Huntington was- as it still is – Monk Bar, and  Groves Lane was known as Shooter Lane.  The Chamber of York was supposed to keep Shooter Lane mended and paved, but the wardmote juries had little success in getting repairs made, and it’s likely that it would have been little more than a rough track most of the time, as Grace discovers in the extract below when she first walks into the city in Time’s Echo.


* * * * *

I’d never suffered badly from jet lag before, but now the feeling of dislocation was overpowering.  I found I was walking carefully along a path beside the car park but I kept starting at the sight of the high brick wall on my left, and I slowed.

Ahead, children were being hustled into school by harassed parents.  Two girls overtook me.  One of them was talking on a mobile phone.  The jagged light was intensifying, making the whole scene waver, like a painted backdrop stirring in a draught.  Behind it, I glimpsed a rough track between hedgerows lush with cow parsley and forget-me-not.

I stumbled, blinked, and it was gone, but the smell of long grass and summer sunshine remained.

My heart was beating hard and I put out a hand to steady myself against the wall, the brick rough beneath my fingers.   I stared ahead, fixing my attention almost desperately on the two girls.  The one on the phone switched it off and said something to her friend, and they both laughed, and then the colour was leaching from the world around me, and laughter rang in my ears.


My laughter.

I am breathless with it.  Elizabeth and I are running along Shooter Lane, Hap lopsided at our heels, his ears flying.  Our skirts fisted in our hands, our sides aching with suppressed giggles.  We’re not supposed to run.  We’re supposed to be modest and demure, to walk quietly with our eyes downcast,  but it is a bright May day and the breeze that is stirring the trees seems to be stirring something inside me too.  I want to run and to dance and spin round and round and round until I am dizzy.

All day long we have both been giggly and skittish as horses with the wind up their tails.  Exasperated, our mistress sent us off after dinner to gather salad herbs from our master’s garth in Paynley’s Crofts, and my apron is stained and grubby.  Elizabeth’s, of course, still looks as if it is fresh back from the laundresses in St George’s Close.

Our baskets were full and we were just closing the gate to the garth when we met Lancelot Sawthell.  I tease Elizabeth about poor Lancelot, who turns red whenever he sees her, and coming face to face with him unexpectedly was almost too much for us.  We had to press our lips together to stop giggling while he stammered a  greeting, his Adam’s apple working frantically up and down, but oh, it was hard!  We are cruel maids, I know, but not so cruel that we would laugh in his face, and we had to run as fast as we could so that we could explode with laughter out of his earshot.

‘Oh, Elizabeth, I told you so!’ I cry as we stop for breath at last.  We drop our baskets into the long, sweet grass and collapse beside them, tugging at our bodices to ease our aching ribs.  Hap flops beside me.  He looks as if he is smiling too.  His pink tongue lolls on one side of his mouth and his panting is loud in my ears.  He can run fast, though he only has three good legs.

‘Lancelot is sweet on you!’ I insist to Elizabeth.  ‘And now he has seen how rosily you smile at him, he will be on his way to speak to your father right now!’

‘Please, no!’  Elizabeth is almost weeping with laughter.

We are laughing at nothing, the way silly girls do.  We are laughing because we can.

‘I will miss you when you are married, Mistress Sawthell!’

I will miss you.  There is an odd moment when the words seem to hang in the air.  The back of my neck prickles – someone is watching – but when I turn my head no one is there. The next moment I am toppling over as Elizabeth shoves me into the grass, and I am laughing again,  the strangeness forgotten.

My laughter fades as I sit up and I pluck a sprig of rosemary from the basket. One day Elizabeth will marry, I realise for the first time, drawing the rosemary under my nose so that I can breathe in its fragrance.  I love the smell of it, so clean, so true.

Rosemary for remembrance.  Strange to think that one day all this will be past, no more than a memory.  No longer will we share the feather bed in the tiny chamber at the top of the Beckwith house in Goodramgate.  There will be no more whispering and giggling until Dick, our master’s apprentice, bangs on the wall and begs us in God’s name to be quiet so he can get some sleep.

Of course Elizabeth will marry.  She is a year older than me and she has a dowry.  She is pretty, too, with bright blue eyes and a sweet expression.  Any young man would be glad to have her for a wife.

I twiddle the rosemary round and round between my fingers.

‘I will miss you,’ I say again.


© Pamela Hartshorne 2012


All photographs © Kippa Matthews

8 Responses

  1. Christine Lacy (nee Richardson) says:

    I lived at number 6 Groves Lane from 1945- 1957.

    • How interesting! Was that near the Huntington Road end of the lane? Is the house still there? You must have seen so many changes in York since then.

      • Mairi says:

        Thank you Pamela for a fascinating blog. I actually live on Grove Terrace Lane and am wondering how on earth you found the information on Shooter Lane and the necessity to keep it maintained.

        • Thanks, Mairi – we are practically neighbours as I live in The Groves too. I researched the streets of later medieval and early modern York for my thesis, using the York City House Books and especially the Wardmote Court Records in the City Archive. Both are a fascinating resource for how the inhabitants of Tudor York cleaned, maintained and used the streets. My dream is to have the time to finish transcribing the wardmote court records and making them available digitally. If you’re interested, I put sample entries on a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/yorkwardmote which will give you an idea of the kind of issues that preoccupied people at the time – not so different from those that concern us now, in fact. Unfortunately, the FB page has also had to be mothballed while I get on with the pesky business of paying my mortgage but I hope to be able to get back to it one day.

          • Mairi McMahon says:

            Thank you so much Pamela fo that information. I have liked your facebook page and will read up your notes. I am currently looking into having the top end of the Lane, which has Victorian tiles, restored.

          • I have walked down the lane many times, but never registered the tiles before – am currently in Scotland but must go an have a proper look when I get back to York!

  2. David Ruddock says:

    Lived in the Groves (the older groves 1950s) as a child. Groves lane has fascinated me in that its history goes back to Roman Times and possibly earlier. The Other Main Roads to Roman York have all gone or hidden even Bootham Bar, the last Gate sits onto of the Roman western entrance, Kings Sq the Eastern and Possibly Common Hall Lane (South entrance ) beside the Mansion House.

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