Contrary to popular rumour there are not 365 pubs in York. Don’t be too disappointed though, there are still plenty to choose from – including some very old drinking establishments. We’ve put together a quick guide to some of the oldest and most historic pubs in York.
York’s Oldest Pub?
Grade II listed, Ye Olde Starre Inne was first licensed in 1644 – meaning it has the longest continuous licence of any pub in York (although which pub building is the oldest is still disputed). The large sign that spans the width of Stonegate and directs you toward the pub has apparently hung there since the mid-eighteenth century.
During the Civil War, the 10th century cellar is believed to have been used as both a hospital and a mortuary. Like many other York inns it’s claimed to be the most haunted, and the resident ghouls include an old lady and her two black cats.
Originally a 17th century coffee house The Punch Bowl on Stonegate – not to be confused with the Wetherspoons pub on Micklegate – served as a meeting place for the Whigs, original rivals to the Tories for political power in England. They happened to be rather partial to a drop of punch, hence the name of the pub.
It is also the place where the Gimcrack Club held their annual lunches, and the winner of the Gimcrack Stakes raced on the Knavesmire was expected to supply three bottles of champagne to mark the occasion.
Just round the corner from the Minster on Goodramgate is The Snickleway Inn, another creaky old building with parts that date back to the 15th century. It was used as a Royalist powder magazine during the English Civil War and there is also historical evidence to suggest it was at one time a brothel.
The pub has had many names including the ‘Painters Arms’, ‘Square & Compass’, ‘Board’ and ‘Anglers Arms’. The present name dates from 1994, and is apparently a deliberate misspelling of ‘Snickelway’ to avoid breaking Mark Jones’ copyright.
The Mucky Duck
First recorded as a pub in 1703, The Old White Swan on Goodramgate is York’s third oldest continuously licensed pub. The main heart of the pub dates from the 16th century, although later wings were added in the 18th. At one time it was technically in two local parishes so was forced to pay two sets of rates.
This caused plenty of disputes and in the early 17th century a line was painted through the courtyard and kitchen to display the boundary. In pre-railway days, it was frequented by farmers and poultry dealers, who used to come to the Old White Swan from country districts to sell to their city clients.
Other Pretenders to The Throne
It is believed that name of The Golden Fleece (above) on The Pavement has something to do with the gild of Merchant Adventurers, whose Hall is round the corner on Fossgate.
The gild traded in fleeces and wool and it is thought that their members used to drink here. A pub on this site was first mentioned in 1503, and a Fleece or Golden Fleece is regularly mentioned in city archives after this point.
Originally the pub was set back from the main street and entry would’ve been through an arch that can still be seen in the main facade. The building is also apparently built on stilts with no proper foundations which would explain the wonkiness of it’s floors and ceilings.
Although the site of a medieval public house, the present Black Swan building on Peasholme Green dates back to the 15th century and was originally built as a family home. It was briefly the residence of the Wolfe family before their move to the New World. James, later Major General, Wolfe famously died commanding British forces attempting to take the city of Quebec during the Seven Years War.
The first record we have of the building being used as a pub dates from the mid-eighteenth century. Apparently illegal cock fighting used to take place on the first floor and the grill overlooking the stairs provided a look-out point to keep watch for any approaching lawmen.
English Heritage Approved
Although not as old as some of the other pubs in York, The Golden Ball in Bishophill is historically interesting nonetheless. Mention of a ‘Golden Ball’ first appear in local newspapers in 1773. Extended in the late 19th century, its most significant transformation occurred during the interwar period.
John Smiths had acquired the pub in 1902, and it underwent extensive remodelling in 1929. English Heritage know of no other pub with its unusual bar-side seating alcove and have duely given it a Grade II listing – citing the Golden Ball as a rare, almost complete surviving example of an inter-war pub.
Looking for great places to drink? Check out are guide to the 10 best pubs in York.
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