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The Shambles by night

The Shambles (officially known as just Shambles[1]) is an old street in York, England, with overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century. It was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, probably from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels (literally 'flesh-shelves'), the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their meat. As recently as 1872 twenty-five butchers' shops were located along the street, but now none remain.

Intersection of Shambles and Little Shambles streets, York

The street was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Many of the current buildings are from circa 1350-1475.[2] Among the structures of the Shambles is a shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow, who was married to a butcher who owned and lived in a shop in the street. Her home is thought to have been No. 10 Shambles, opposite the shrine, which has a priest hole fireplace.[3][4][5]

Although the butchers have now vanished, a number of the shops on the street still have meat-hooks hanging outside and, below them, shelves on which meat was displayed. The shops currently include a mix of restaurants and shops as well as a bookshop and a bakery. Five "snickelways" lead off the Shambles. Shambles Market operates daily and is situated between The Shambles and Parliament Street. The market was previously known as Newgate Market after the street on which it is located, but was renamed in 2015.[6]

Patrick Pool, York, The Shambles Market at the end of this street and very close to The Shambles, operates daily

There are streets named "The Shambles" in other UK towns (e.g., Bradford on Avon, Chesterfield, Guildford in Surrey, Swansea, Chippenham, Manchester, Sevenoaks, Whitby, Worcester, Armagh), and in Ireland (there is a Fishamble Street in Dublin).

The Shambles is one of a number of locations, along with streets in Chepstow, Edinburgh, Exeter and London, for which claims have been made that it was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter franchise.[7] Since 2017 four wizard themed shops have opened in the street.[8]

Ancient marketEdit

Buildings overhang the street by several feet
The Shambles is now a popular tourist destination

"Shambles" is an obsolete term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market. Streets of that name were so called from having been the sites on which butchers killed and dressed animals for consumption. (One source suggests that the term derives from "Shammel", an Anglo-Saxon word for shelves that stores used to display their wares while another indicates that by AD 971 "shamble" meant a 'bench for the sale of goods' and by 1305, a 'stall for the sale of meat'. )[2][9]

The Shambles in Stroud still has the hinged wooden boards attached to the shops, and hosts a regular local market.

The Shambles in Shepton Mallet, Somerset is a much shorter replica of the fourteenth century shambles that housed the regular Monday market since 1318. The market however was moved to Friday in 1641 and is still held around the local shambles monument.

During that period there were no sanitary facilities or hygiene laws as exist today, and guts, offal, and blood were thrown into a runnel down the middle of the street or open space where the butchering was carried out.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Franks, Alan (12 July 2017). "What a Shambles: a walk around York's ancient walls and alleys". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b "The Shambles: History of York". Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  3. ^ "About us". Cuffs & Co. Archived from the original on 4 October 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  4. ^ "The Pearl of York". BBC News. 9 October 2008. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  5. ^ Historic England. "10 and 11, Shambles (1256676)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  6. ^ "26 reasons why Shambles Market will change York for good". YorkMix. 22 March 2015. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  7. ^ Lovell, Jane (25 March 2019). "Fairytale authenticity: historic city tourism, Harry Potter, medievalism and the magical gaze". Journal of Heritage Tourism. doi:10.1080/1743873X.2019.1588282.
  8. ^ "I'm sick of all these Harry Potter shops on the Shambles". Nouse. 30 October 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  9. ^ Martin, Gary. "'A complete shambles' - the meaning and origin of this phrase". Phrasefinder. Retrieved 18 June 2018.


External linksEdit