The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

One of our most anticipated stops on our return trip to York was the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. It is a medieval-style building originally constructed in 1357 and remains the largest timber-framed building still standing in the UK. Though still used by the Merchant Adventurers’ for meetings and social activities, it mostly serves as a museum of the guild’s history.

If you’re like me, the name “Merchant Adventurers” conjures the image of men on horses, bearing swords and shields, striking into the great unknown. Probably to slay dragons and return with the booty. Unfortunately ‘merchant adventurers’ just means merchants who took risks (or adventures) with their money. Kind of like the high-stakes investors of medieval times.

The highlight of the Merchant Adventurers’ building is the main hall. It is divided in two by its wooden support structure. the roof features two, high vaulted areas with massive support beams running the length of the room. The rest of the supports are in a sort of ribbing pattern.

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It’s the kind of room you can imagine full of people, eating a massive feast or celebrating a wedding or, perhaps, holding court (the room is specifically set up for a council of the guild leaders).

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The rest of the upper floor is divided into smaller rooms which have been used for meetings in the past. In fact, some of the rooms are still used by the guild members for official guild business. Many of the pieces on display are either historical pieces from the guild’s history, or pieces of the members’ private collections.

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(Meetings are still held here)

The Merchant Adventurers once controlled much of the commerce in the city of York. The hall tour even includes an account of one woman standing against the guild, despite their best efforts to make her comply with the rules.

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(Here a stained glass mosaic shows merchant adventurer ships sailing down the river for trade)

Many of the rooms in the building have been updated throughout the years with more modern decoration and furniture, but the building’s structure, especially its great hall, is still in its original state. The lower floor is also largely unchanged, though the floor has been raised several feet due to flooding. The lower floor is a massive undercroft, still used for guild events such as weddings. There are two massive fireplaces at one end and a chapel attached to the other.

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(A view of the undercroft looking into the chapel)

Even the gardens outside the ground are beautiful, and still meticulously maintained. It would be a fine spot for tea.

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York is a city full of history and ghosts. Several times throughout the day we received brochures about the city’s many (MANY) ghost walks. There seems to be a great deal of competition. Some even go so far as to berate their competition as fakes and ripoffs (we avoided those). We knew we wanted to experience one of these ghost walks but didn’t know which to choose. So we asked our local waiter that night what he recommended.

We chose one of the more humorous walks, partly because the man who ran it appeared in character at the Shambles during the afternoon and we were quite taken with him. It was an interesting experience. It was summer, so the sun was still out when we finished, though based on the timing I imagine they want it to be light enough for you to navigate the city.

We met our guide along with a sizable crowd at one end of the Shambles, paid our fee and followed him throughout the city core as he told us stories of the many haunted buildings and ghost stories associated with the city.

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(Our guide)

I’m glad we chose as we did because our guide added a bit of humor into the mix. We passed another ghost walk group after ours finished and some of the participants looked bored. Of course, we don’t know if any of the stories were true, but they were certainly imaginative. My favourite involved a man seeing an entire ghost roman legion marching knee deep through his basement.

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