Friday, June 6, 2014

York - Whittling away at History

Last post I mentioned the portcullis at Monk's Bar.  For those of you less into medieval fortifications a portcullis is a wooden screen that would be lowered down to block a roadway below.  As it turns out, there was also a portcullis at Bootham Bar, one that was of considerable antiquity.  But it fell on hard times.

During the Second World War, the area around York had lots of air bases.  British, American, Canadian, Free Polish.  When off duty the dashing airmen did the logical thing, they came to town and tried to woo the local girls.  With some success it appears.  When in York I went on a marvelous free walking tour by the York Voluntary Guides Association.  I recommend it.

Our guide took us up into Bootham Bar and told us the following story.  Evidently it was customary for the soldiers to walk the course of the York walls with their sweeties.  And when inside the Bootham Bar - it is by the way a nice dark place for a quick smooch - to carve off a bit of the portcullis as something of a souvenir.  Eventually the whole thing was in ruins and had to be replaced.

The portcullis today:

If you look very closely indeed, you will see evidence that the tradition has not quite vanished.

When you wander into York proper you find a wealth of ancient buildings.  Here is an interesting one, it is the front door of St. Williams College.  It was founded in 1461 and served as a residence for the priests who chanted commemorative prayers at York Minster.  Later it served as the location for Charles I's printing press during the English Civil War.  But it is just the front door that interests us today:

The door is modern.  It was a custom job by the Robert Thompson workshop.  It is run by his descendants now but Robert "Mouseman" Thompson specialized in very high end oak furniture.  Today it is a highly profitable enterprise but back in 1919 Thompson was complaining to a fellow craftsman that he was "as poor as a church mouse".  As a joke he carved a mouse into the project at hand.  It became his trademark.  Now a mouse on a bit of oak furniture is a symbol of high status.  Lets peek at the St. Williams doors.  First the right hand one:

Then the left:

I don't think this is petty vandalism, I figure somebody shaved this off to take home and glue it onto their charity shop quality furnishings!

If Mouseman furniture interests you, visit their site HERE.  Warning, keep the credit card in your pocket unless you really need a $10,000 dining room table.  Charmingly the "Mouseman" has prompted other craftsmen to adopt similar trademarks.  Other Yorkshire workers in oak adopted monikers such as "Gnomeman", "Beaverman", "Eagleman" and "Squirrelman".

History.  The fun thing is that it is still being made.

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