Howden Civic Society

Help protect and improve our town

A Shorter Tour of Howden

This walk probably will take about one hour

In Roman times the site of Howden was permanently underwater; a feature sometimes called "Lake Humber." (The Romans landed at Brough, "Petuaria" and marched over the Wolds to establish the settlement that has now become Malton.)

Centuries of winter flooding from the river Ouse deposited large quantities of silt, building up the land until the site became dry throughout the year. The first recorded reference (to Howden) refers to a wooden tomb of a sister of King Osred of Northumbria, made in a Saxon church on this site in 700 C.E. A surviving document dated 959 C E. records a transfer of land ownership in this area.

The most decisive event following the Norman Conquest was William's gift of Howden to the Prince Bishop(s) of Durham. His policy was to disperse the assets of the nobility. This dictated the development of the town from 1180 until 1537. The Prince Bishops saw Howden as a convenient staging point on journeys to and from the Royal court in London. They established a small palace here. The Canons of Durham began the construction of a large Norman Church in place of the Saxon one; this eventually featured a small grammar school (1260's) teaching Latin to future clerics and clergy. Roger of Howden became a "clerk" serving Henry 11 who established the first form of civil service for the country. Roger is remembered for his "History of England "written about 1200 C.E. John of Howden is remembered for his attractive Latin verses and for unusual happenings at his funeral which caused Howden to become a place of pilgrimage.

In 1201 King John granted the town an annual wholesale market when merchants from London brought their wares to sell to local retailers. This market would last several days. Such changes increased local wealth, further boosted when the church achieved collegiate status in 1267, whereby a College of Prebends (senior vicars) was created. These clergy (about 20) had generous stipends and employed junior clergy to perform the offices whilst themselves lived the "good life." The population grew so that the census for the poll tax levied in 1379 suggests about 1,600 residents at a time when York, the country's second city, had about 10,000.

Henry V111's dissolution of the monasteries stopped the inflow of wealth but fortunes revived with the growth of an annual horse fair from the early 1700's. Yorkshire was a notable horse breeding area with Howden. playing a significant part in the sales. The Horse Fair reached a peak in the mid 1800's when in one year, during a two week fair, more than 16,000 horses changed hands. Many were bought for the various armies of Europe but the trade and fair died out in the 1920's.

The opening of a bridge over the river Ouse in 1929 gave easy access to the shops in Goole and contributed to the decline of Howden's place as a self-sustaining market town serving its local area.

In recent years Howden Civic Society has created a trail of blue plaques marking significant buildings in the town. There are more than 60 listed buildings in and around the conservation area. Most recently a trail of pavement plaques has been established to commemorate the R100 airship build at Howden.

Starting from the Market Place next to the Market Cross - enter the Ashes from the Market Place. Numbers in bold in the text refer to points on the map.

guided-walk-map.jpgThe Ashes

The Ashes Park (14), formerly the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace, still contains the moat and fishpond from those times. In 1927 wealthy local brewer Charles Briggs gave the land to the people of Howden, as the Ashes Playing Fields Trust, for their recreation. A blue plaque describing the “Ashes” can be seen near the entrance as can the mounted elliptical plaque summarizing the story of the R100 airship.

The large hall, the Bishops' Manor (13), can be seen ahead. Now much altered this was the great hall of the palace first recorded in 1190. Prince John (in the absence of Richard1) Edward 11 and Henry V held court here. Following the path we reach a stone building, known locally as the "fruit house" which gives access to the moated area. This small building was restored some years ago. The initials APF represent the Ashes Playing Fields.

Go back to the Market Place (2)

Shire Hall (1)

This imposing building was built in 1871 as a market hall and assembly rooms for significant gatherings. Over the years it has served in many roles. Charles Briggs gave it, in trust, to the people of the town in 1942. It now hosts many local groups and live entertainments. Outside is the market cross; a later replacement of the original feature but on the Medieval base of the original. From this place the ruined east end of the Minster dominates the view.

White Horse Inn (3)

Turning left we pass the White Horse Inn (now a veterinary surgery). The yard was a base for carrier's wagons serving local villages with goods. Howden was a crossing place on the old course of the river Derwent (which flowed along Hailgate) and stagecoaches used the numerous coaching inns in the town until the arrival of the railway in 1840. From this time the coach services diminished and died out.

Further along we reach Parkin's Butcher shop (4) with its tiled frontage marking its earlier ownership by Frank Moore. It was originally a tallow chandler's shop and the outbuildings later served as a slaughterhouse. During the 1930's depression Mrs. Moore ran a soup kitchen here twice a week.

Now we enter Bridgegate, the main centre of the annual horse fair, during which the street became almost impassable. On one weekend in the late 1800's eleven trains arrived each carrying about 200 horses. Across the road on the corner of Batty Lane a plaque on the Aquarius (7) shop tells the story of Thomas Ward who started work as a stable boy and became a baron and minister in the government of the Duchy of Parma.

Co-operative Store (5)

The building where the Co-operative Store now stands was previously the Half Moon Inn, built in 1661 and where the True Briton stagecoach used to call on its journey from Liverpool to Hull. The site was rebuilt in 1890 in its present form.

The Wellington Hotel (26) named the "The White Hart" in the 18th century and a coaching inn in the great years of that business, with coaches travelling between Liverpool and Hull. Regrettably it was a centre for cock fighting in the early 19th century. It received its present name in the 1820's in honour of the famous Duke, victor at Waterloo.

Next door is the Bowman's Hotel (25) was licensed in 1835 as the "Nag's Head" in the dying years of stage coach travel. In 1864 when the Yorkshire Show was held here assembly rooms were built to the rear. In 1876 it had 18 bedrooms, stabling for 85 horses and a smithy in the yard. It must have been invaluable at the time of the Horsefair.

Next is St Helen's Square (6) with the town's war memorial. Its design is very highly regarded by the national society, which lists all war memorials.

Move on along Bridgegate and enter St John's Street (21) (a principal access to Howden Marsh) and reach No 14, a finely maintained probably 18th century house. In the past this was used by Green & Son; a local firm of solicitors. The far side of the house has an unusual pattern of brickwork known as tumbled gable.

Turning back towards the Minster we emerge onto the cobbled Corn Market Hill (18) where grain was assessed and traded. Having made their sales the farmers adjourned to a building on the left, now Nos. 2-6 Pinfold Street. This was once the site of the Old Spotted Cow pub, as it was known in 1660. This was succeeded by the present building, which eventually became a lodging house, much used by itinerant Irish farm workers who followed the harvest through the country. Hence it is locally referred to as the "Irishmen's lodging."

Enter a narrow lane on the left- Parson's Lane. Following this we eventually reach No 4 (16) with origins in the late 17th century but refronted in the early 1800's. The distinctive door case has twisted cable mouldings set in sunken panels.

We then pass the graveyard and see the southwest prospect of the Minster itself. At the corner a short flight of steps leads to an upper room that housed the medieval grammar school (17). This was founded in the 13th century (possibly near the time when Collegiate status was conferred.) The school provided education in Latin and music for boys going on to become clerks and administrators. The school finally closed in 1925.

Retracing our steps we enter the lane Churchside (22) which passes to the left (north side) of the Minster. This contains a group of granite sections with carvings reminiscent of those in the nave pillars of Durham Cathedral and is paved with granite from China and Ireland. No 10 (23) Churchside was built in the 1850's with a magistrates' court on the upper floor, a savings bank and a mechanics' institute. This was used as a WVS clothing store in the Second World War. Numbers 6,7,8 and 9 were once a communal poor house where poor people of the town had to live if they received no other form of relief.

Moving on we see to the right the ruins of the east end of the Minster, now in the care of English Heritage. Neglect caused the roof of the choir to collapse in 1697 whereupon it provided a supply of ready dressed stone. On the left, No2 (24) is built in the style of a Florentine palazzo, as many Victorian business premises were. William Small and his sister Justice developed the site (her initials are above the door) and by 1881 it was occupied by the Yorkshire Banking Company.

Finish with a tour of the Minster or return to the Market Place (2).

A booklet describing the tour is available free of charge from the Shire Hall or by contacting Howden Civic Society.