Bedern Hall of York: A History
A fine example of a 13th century hall, Bedern Hall has a fascinating history since its original inception as a refectory in the College of Vicars Choral, having been over the years a school, a baker’s, butcher’s, slum tenement buildings and latterly since restoration, the venue of weddings, conferences and celebrations.
It lies hidden just south east of York Minster within easy walking distance from the railway station and car parks, and can be approached via an archway opposite the National Trust shop on the corner of Deangate and Goodramgate to the right of the disused Bedern Chapel built in the 1340s.
The present Bedern Hall was probably completed in 1399, being the second building on the site, and was originally part of the College of Vicars Choral – the junior clergy who sang the daily services in York Minster in place of the Canons.
The College was squeezed into the area between Goodramgate, St Andrewgate and Aldward and by 1300 there were 36 Vicars Choral, one for each member of the chapter (the governing body of York Minster). The hall was used as a refectory, or communal dining room from the end of the 14th century up to the mid 17th century and archways can still be seen in part of the building which used to lead to the pantry and buttery. Outside there was once a walled garden with a vineyard and orchard and individual houses for the vicars who often demanded payment for praying for the dead in the form of property.
Architecturally, Bedern Hall is a fine example of a scissor beamed medieval hall, a technique whereby larger roofs were given the support of “scissor” or “passing braces,” and is now a Grade ll listed building.
The vicars themselves appear to have been an unruly lot and managed to accumulate a great deal of wealth. By 1400 the vicars rented out some 240 properties and had two mills, two tile works and a brewery. In 1362, reports of them “walking round the streets dressed like laymen and wearing knives and daggers,” appeared in a comperta and in 1408 there was an order made forbidding the service of wine to vicars at or after meals.
After the Reformation in the 16th century when the church in England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, vicars were permitted to get married. This meant that many moved away and their numbers at the College declined. The houses were let to lay people and the tradition of communal dining ended even though the Hall was still used for meetings and feasts for another half century.
During the Civil War, extensive damage was incurred by St Peter’s School – one of the oldest schools in England founded in 627 – and the students were accommodated in Bedern. Later, attempts were made to establish a university there without success. In fact York didn’t acquire its present university until the 1960s.
As the Hall passed into private ownership it was divided into tenements in the 1790s and populated by Irish immigrants who had fled the Irish potato famine. The whole area became a slum and a “sad spectacle of poverty and wretchedness.”
In the 1870s, the Bedern National School was built on the site and though many of the remaining buildings of the College of Vicars’ Choral were demolished, Bedern Hall survived as a local bakery called Bartons. The bakery occupied the premises up until the 1950s when the Hall was purchased by Wright’s pork butchers and became part of the curing department used for storing hams, bacon sides and curing tanks.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the area was cited in the Esher report as a site for redevelopment and restoration began in 1979. Every effort was made to retain features and ensure that modern improvements reflected the integrity of the original building. New additions have been made from materials selected to emphasise their modern provenance like softwood and York Stone.
The Bedern Hall Company, formed from members of Guilds including the Company of Cordwainers (workers in leather), the Guild of Freemen (a guild dating from medieval times) and the York Guild of Building (including masons, glaziers, plumbers, carpenters, joiners and carvers), was charged with overseeing the building to ensure that it was put to good use and of value in the community. A modern stained glass window was also commissioned commemorating Guild members.
Nowadays the Hall can be hired for weddings, dining, family occasions, birthday celebrations, christenings, afternoon teas, receptions, promotions and Christmas parties with seasonal menus available. Resident caterers can customise menus to suit individual occasions taking into account factors like season and budget. Ingredients are sourced from small local producers and herbs, garnishes and flowers come from the Hall’s own gardens.
York YO1 7AL
For further details telephone 01904 653698 or visit www.bedernhall.co.uk