Howden Civic Society

Help protect and improve our town

A Tour of Howden

This walk will probably take about two hours.

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.

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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.

Start in the Market Place next to the Market Cross (2). Numbers in bold in the text refer to points on the map.

The Shire Hall (1)

image_13.jpgThis 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.

guided-walk-map.jpgTurning right we pass the White Horse Inn (3) (now a veterinary surgery) dating from as early as 1702. 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.

Across the road the Co-operative Store (5) occupies the premises of the former Half Moon Inn built in 1890 which replaced an earlier inn of the same name which was first recorded in 1661. The first floor of the current building used to be the town's assembly rooms.

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Bridgegate

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.

Further along Bridgegate on the left hand side we reach Bridgegate House (8), a mid 18th century house with a beautiful frontage. It became the home of the Spofforth family, a branch of which emigrated to Australia. A descendant, Frederick Spofforth, played cricket for Australia and his remarkable feats earned him the name "demon bowler." Recently owned by the Press association the building has now reverted to residential use.

Continuing along Bridgegate we reach the old brick boundary wall of Howden Hall (9). Both the wall and Hall are listed. The hall is mostly Georgian in style but part of it is in the form of a dwelling from the 17th century (the portion parallel to Flatgate).

Retracing our steps, opposite Bridgegate House we reach Bishopgate, which joins Hailgate. This road was developed in the early 1800's and follows the one-time course of the river Derwent. The waterway was used by the Bishops of Durham to reach Howden by water. It is thought that the original garden of Bridgegate House occupied Bishopgate down to the river.

To the left, next to the Methodist church is Hailgate House (10) built in the 1840's with a prominent Doric porch. G. Anderton a manufacturing chemist, once occupied it and it has also been Local Authority offices and a nursing home. Turning right along Hailgate we reach No.78 (11), a late 18th century house. In the 1920's Nevil Shute Norway lodged here while working as a stress calculator for the R100 airship that was built at north Howden. He achieved fame as the novelist Nevil Shute.

Beyond, on the left, a large separate building is Highbridge House (12), built about 1700. Named after the bridge that crossed the Derwent here the building has been used as a residence, doctor's surgery, school, Majestic cinema, offices, community centre and now houses the library and Council service centre. Opposite is a classic view of the ruined east end of the Minster church, listed grade 1.

Walking along Highbridge on the left we find the entrance to the Ashes Park (14), formerly the grounds of the Bishop's Palace. This 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.

Following the path to the right of the moat we emerge onto Treeton Road. Turning right towards the cross roads we see the Old Police Station (15) on the right. This is the least altered of three built in 1843 to a design by Henry Lockwood. The other two are in Driffield and Market Weighton. Lockwood also designed Trinity House in Hull and with Mawson, Salt's Mill at Saltaire in West Yorkshire.

At the crossroad is the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart built in 1852 following Catholic Emancipation. It was designed by Joseph Hanson, a prolific designer of churches but better known for developing the Hansom cab!

Retracing steps a short distance into 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 1800s. The distinctive door case has twisted cable mouldings set in sunken panels.

On the right we 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.

Turning away from 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, which 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."

We are now on Pinfold Street, named after the once adjacent pinfold where stray animals were gathered awaiting claiming. (In the Robin Hood stories George -a- Green was called a pinder.) On the left is a large Regency-style house called The Chestnuts (19). This was built about 1800 with a large Tuscan-style porch facing its garden. It is built on the site of the Bedern, a house for priests and chantry chaplains from the Minster. On the right is a row of cottages, Nos 37-40 (20): on this site from 1665 to 1794 were two houses, owned by the town, where the needy poor could lodge. As a result of changes to the Poor Law these were replaced by a workhouse, where inmates were required to work for their keep. This establishment closed in 1839 and was converted into the cottages we now see.

Returning towards the Minster we pass over to the left the area containing Howden's old industries, including a flourmill, tannery and flax mill. (The flax industry was very active during the Second World War, but on a separate site.)

Reaching the Minster View Hotel, known as early as 1764, we turn left into St John's Street (a principal access to Howden Marsh) and reach No 14 (21), 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.

Retracing our steps we enter the lane Churchside 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 Churchside (22) 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 (23) 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.

Turning left and left again we follow Vicar Lane round to St Helen's Square with the town's war memorial. Its design is very highly regarded by the national society, which lists all war memorials. Passing along Bridgegate we reach two large hotels side by side. 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 door is 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.

The walk finishes where it started by returning down Market Place to the Market Cross (2) where there are some useful information boards.

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