Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

1128 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

July, 2016

Product name

Product country

Product city

Travelled with


Reasons for trip

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 some information about the history and significance of the building and the two need to be read together. This just covers what there is to see.

The walls of the Undercroft are made of stone and brick, and this is the oldest known use of brick since the Romans. Since being built, the water table has risen and the undercroft used to flood regularly. Because of this the floor level was raised by about five feet. Unfortunately there were bad floods in December 2015 when the undercroft was flooded to a depth of two feet.

The Undercroft, like the Guildhall above it, is divided in two by its supporting row of timber posts. Much of the stone and brick was recycled from earlier buildings. Originally it would have had small windows with wooden shutters. The large windows are Georgian. This was a hospital and almshouse from 1373 – 1900. Thirteen poor and infirm men and women were cared for by chaplains paid through the Guild. The great quadruple fireplace was added in the C16th. Before then it would have been heated by charcoal braziers. On the walls are Benefactors boards. The banners show the coats of arms of some of the Medieval guilds.

At the end of the far aisle is the chapel, built around 1411 and separated from the Undercroft by a wooden screen. This has a strong box in front of it, secured by metal bands. This was used by ill and poor in the hospital as well as the members of the Merchant Adventurers’ Guild.

The furnishings of the Chapel are late C17th. It is painted in the original colours, with a three decker pulpit and reading desk at one end. On the walls are the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed, along with the Royal Coat of Arms.

The three glass panels at the end of the Undercroft next to the chapel depict the Annunciation. They were made by Harry Stammers, one of the leading glassmakers of the C20th, for the former York College for Girls in Petergate.

The Great Hall or Guildhall on the first floor, was the main meeting place of the guild and where they conducted their business and entertained. It is a massive double aisled building as timber could not be found long enough to span the width of the hall. The roof is supported by a row of large central timber posts with crown posts held together by wooden pegs. The frame was assembled on the ground first and the timbers were marked before being reassembled. Round the walls are pictures of past Guild members.

The windows were originally ‘four light mullions’ set high in the walls. Originally without glass, these were later replaced by the large Georgian sash windows. Two of these blocked windows can be seen to the right of the door. Another now glazed is above the servery at the end of the hall.

The green panelling and the Governor’s stall at the far end of the hall are also Georgian and originally came from the Assize Courts. Above them is the coat of arms of the Company of Merchant Aventurers. This is used at formal Company meetings, called Courts, with the Governor, the elected head of the Company at the centre with his Deputy and Wardens on either side. The set of scales in front dates from 1790 and was used to check weights being sold

At the opposite end is a fireplace. Above is a picture of the Old Ouse Bridge in York, where ships loaded and unloaded.

Off the Guildhall is the committee room which was added in the early C19th. This is a much smaller room with a lower ceiling and more suitable for private meetings. By now, the Guild had lost its trading monopoly as was less of a force in York. Members often preferred to hold their meetings in a nearby coffee house. The room now has a large table as well as an old strong box and a display of old documents. The archives contain hundreds of medieval charters, account rolls and books from the C13th.

The model of Emperor Napoleon, a great taker of snuff, stands in the corner of the room and was used to advertise snuff. It is one of three models imported from France and was a well known figure in the city for over 177 years, before coming here on a long term loan. The display cabinet under the large fireplace has examples of brass weights, old keys, documents and wax seals.

On the left is the Company Seal with the Holy Trinity above ships and sea. On the right is the Hospital Seal of the original fraternity with Christ crowning the Virgin Mary under a canopy. The writing reads “The common seal of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Hospital and its brothers and sisters, next to Foss Bridge, York”

The three anterooms on the first floor were added in 1600 and were used for displaying and selling cloth. In 1890 they were used as homes for caretakers of the hall. They have timber frame walls and a display of carved C16th and C17th furniture. In the fireplaces are examples of strong boxes showing their complex locking mechanism.

A copy of the Royal Charter of 1581 from Queen Elizabeth I who created the Company of Merchant Aventurers is on display in Anteroom One. The large evidence chest at the top of the stairs in Anteroom Two dates from the 1340s and was bought by the Merchant Aventurers’ in the early 1400s to hold their account roles and other important documents.

At the far end is the Governor’s Parlour, added between 1947-9. This is a comfortable room which looks a lot older with its C17th oak chimney piece rescued from a nearby house that was being knocked down.

The display cabinet on the far side of the fireplace contains the company’s silverware collection, amassed over 400 years.

The two panels of stained glass in the windows date from about 1900. On the right is King’s Staith in York, where ships were loaded and unloaded. The left hand panel is a North Sea Port either in France or the Low Countries.

There are more pictures “here.”:


Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.