Pavement was one of the two principal market places of medieval York, its importance since earliest times reflected in the fact that it was one of the first paved areas in the city (hence its name).
In the sixteenth century, barley, peas and corn were sold on Pavement, when the street was lined with merchants’ houses. This was the business centre of the city, a hub of wheeling, dealing, information and gossip. F.W. Booty’s picture of the market on Pavement dates from 1917, but it gives an impression of how the market might have looked with the stalls set up and the countrymen bringing goods to market in their carts. Unfortunately I can’t work out how to reproduce this picture any bigger without it taking over the entire blog, but if you’re in York you can see it in the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, which has a wonderful collection of paintings and other pictures of the city.
As such, Pavement held an important place in the symbolic geography of the medieval and early modern city. The great Corpus Christi procession of pageant wagons ended on Pavement and it’s easy to imagine the crowds drawn there at the end of the long day to see the grand finale, the Last Judgement, put on in spectacular fashion by the Mercers.
Traitors were executed on the Pavement, and less significant crimes were punished at the pillory which stood near the bottom of the Shambles, probably near where today taxis wait to pick up shoppers from Marks & Spencer. In 1578 one John Gibson had his ears nailed to the pillory ‘for speakinge or reportinge certayne slaunderouse and appropbriouse words of the Quenes majestie’. His punishment was set for market day, when the maximum number of people would witness his shame, after which he was whipped out of the city and given a ‘pasporte’ to go to Stockton with his wife.
The church of All Saints Pavement occupies a key site, at the meeting of the ways between Coppergate, High Ousegate and Pavement. According to tradition, there has been a church since the one built for St Cuthbert who came to York to be consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in 685. In the medieval and early modern period, this was a prosperous parish, and the church is a fine one, with its distinctive lantern tower. According to Francis Drake, who wrote a history of York in the eighteenth century, a light was placed in the lantern on winter nights so that travellers coming to the city ‘might have ye better sight therof and not to miss of their wayes’.