Nunnery Lane and Clementhorpe shops
The shops on Nunnery Lane emerged as early as the 1840s, then known as New York St, selling basic commodities to the working class, such as grocers, greengrocers and butchers, for a rapidly developing area. The peak of trading was reached in the first thirty years of the 20th century, with as many as fifty shops here.
Eventually though, by the 1960s, it all started to change. Redevelopment destroyed the corner shops in the side streets and gradually closed the shops and pubs on Nunnery Lane. These have now either been turned into houses, or into service businesses, such as hairdressers, dentists and takeaways.
Before lockdown, the History Group was using the Trafalgar Bay pub on Nunnery Lane as a local history hub, thanks to Sarah and Phil there. This reflects the Cygnet Group in the early 1990s, who used to meet at the old Cygnet pub and produced the publication Down Nunnery Lane.
An old press report in 1847 describes an affray at the Trafalgar Bay, after ‘Nunnery Lane feast’, when a number of prostitutes had been found dancing upstairs’, much to the disapproval of local magistrates.
At the north east end of Nunnery Lane, long since redeveloped for housing, in the mid 19th century there was a ‘select boarding school for young gentlemen’ in a large house, Clementhorpe Hall. It advertised that ‘pupils are watched over with parental solicitude...and each is provided with a separate bed.’ (OS Map 1853 courtesy National Library of Scotland)
Most local people won't know about a renowned sculptor who lived on Nunnery Lane. Mark Hessey had a reputation which extended beyond the city of York. Several examples of his work still exist locally, among them the bust of Shakespeare in the apex of the gable of the Theatre Royal, the arms of the Merchant Adventurer's company over the entrance archway in Fossgate and a statue of the Virgin Mary at the Bar Convent. He also sculpted an intriguing monument in York Cemetery for his younger brother Charles, a railway clerk. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Sotheran)
We’ve collected many pictures of the old shops. For example Reed’s general store, at 21 Nunnery Lane (now The Orthotic Works). Reed’s were there in the 1950s and 1960s. The photograph of Reed’s shop from the 1960s shows an advert for frozen foods, and we wondered about this. (Photo Hugh Murray) Lynne Townend, whose family owned the shop, told us:
"Definitely frozen peas, fish fingers, fishcakes, beef burgers, ice cream, not tubs. Ice cream used to come in cardboard cartons. I remember the cellar where we had a big set of scales and I used to weigh potatoes for sale and put them in brown paper bags... A speciality of ours was penny ice lollies. My Mum got some ice lolly moulds, and using fruit squashes she made them. They were a great seller. The girls from the Bar Convent School and the children from Scarcroft School loved them. ...The first frozen chips we got were those crinkly ones, ... another frozen food that was really popular in the 60s, Arctic Rolls. You can still get them today, fabulous dessert. At the end of every week, pay day we would work out what some of our customers owed and they would pay."
We had a lot of material from the family of butcher Harold Wilson, at 59 Nunnery Lane, with three generations of butchers until they sold up to Tony Neary in the 1980s. We were given a lovely poem written by a customer about this shop. The butchers were William, Harold and Colin, and there was a slaughterhouse behind the house and shop. (Photo of Colin and Harold courtesy Shenagh Linton)
There were three pubs in a row at the west end of Nunnery Lane. (Photo Hugh Murray).The Wheatsheaf was in what is now a small park area next to the Trafalgar Bay, a large corner building with three storeys, separated by an alleyway which led to ‘Trafalgar Square’ behind the pub. It dated from around 1837, when it was known as the Golden Ball beer-house in Dale St (not to be confused with the Golden Ball still there in Cromwell Road). Later it became the Barley Sheaf, The Crown and eventually the Wheatsheaf. It finally closed in 1938 and was later demolished.
The Britannia dates from around 1837 too, but was rebuilt around 1902 by the Tadcaster Tower Brewery. It was later a Bass Charrington (North) Ltd pub. It closed in 1969 and then in 1974 the building was bought by Neil Guppy to become the Enterprise Club, one that can still serve alcohol to its members.
Guppy’s Enterprise Club was founded by Neal Guppy in the 1960s. In 1974 he bought the building in Nunnery Lane and moved his members’ club there. It has been a centre for art, education, hobbies and leisure activities and a meeting place for groups, clubs and societies. Activities include York War Games Society, Micklegate Artists, York Plastic Models Society, WEA classes, writers’ groups, yoga, kung fu, music appreciation, jazz, poetry workshops, amateur radio, history classes, jive and ballroom dance instruction. Neil has been a well-known and respected figure in York for many years, remembered by many people who belonged to Guppy’s over the last 50 years. Neal was made an Honorary Freeman of York in 2010. (Photo courtesy Neal Guppy)
We hope to publish our book about these shops and pubs later this year. In the meantime Pauline Alden has been able to explore some of the Nunnery Lane shops and housing. Follow these links for her stories.