Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

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July, 2016

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The Merchant Aventurers’ Hall is a splendid stone and half timber frame building set off Fossgate. It was one of the most important buildings in Medieval York and is the largest timber-framed building in the UK. The building has three main rooms. The Guild Hall was used to conduct business, for meetings and social activities. The Undercroft beneath was a hospital or almshouse to help the sick and the poor. The chapel provided for their religious needs. I have written a separate “review”: giving details of the inside of the building.

The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall was built between 1357 and 1368 on the site of a Norman mansion. Three anterooms were added in 1600. These were originally two cottages built against the Guildhall on the Fossgate side. They had finely carved woodwork on the outside. A committee room was made out of a corner of the Guildhall in the early C19th. The Governor’ parlour was added in 1947-9.

To understand the building, it is necessary to understand who the Merchant Aventurers were and the importance of the Guilds in Medieval England.

The Merchant Aventurers was originally formed by influential men and women as a religious fraternity dedicated to Our Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1430 they were granted a royal charter by King Henry VI and renamed ‘The Mistry of Mercers’, mistry being a term for an occupation. This gave them more authority to manage their business and regulate trade. They became the wealthiest and most powerful Guild in York. It provided important social, business, charitable and religious functions to its members. Admission was by patrimony, apprenticeship or purchase. Members were mainly mercers trading in wool and cloth. Working as a Guild they could control entry to the city, agree minimum prices and standardise weights and measures, fine people trading who weren’t members. They also provided social care for members on hard times or for widows and families. They also provided charity to the community.

During the Reformation in the 1540s, the Guild’s fortunes declined. The Hall managed to escape being confiscated by the Crown as the members stressed their importance as a trading organisation and played down the religious role. They were granted a new charter by Elizabeth I which granted them the status of the Company of Merchant Adventurers of York. This granted them a monopoly all all imported goods arriving in York, except fish and salt

The Company of Merchant Aventurers is still active today as a charitable group with over 150 members. It has campaigned on issues that affect York including the founding of York University. They continue to use the building for their meetings and social events.

The Hall is open daily, except Sundays in winter. It may be closed for special events and it is a popular “wedding venue.”:

There is an audio guide which has a lot of information about the Hall. For those not wanting to use the guide, ask to borrow the written transcription. This gives a much clearer account of the guild and its work than the information boards in the building. The ticket gives free entry for a year.

There is a small “cafe”: on the ground floor accessed from the grounds. This serves cakes and light lunches.

There is no car parking at the Hall. The Hall is fully accessible to all from Fossgate and has a lift. There are more details “here.”: The post code is YO1 9XD and the grid reference is SE 605517.

There are more pictures “here.”:


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