A street full of discoveries, Stonegate runs above the main Roman road the Via Praetoria, now several feet below the busy shopping street. The Roman road led from the Basilica, the headquarters of the Roman military, crossing the Ouse to the civilian west bank.
Stonegate would have been the most direct route for transporting limestone for the construction of the Minster, brought into the city by river from the quarry at Tadcaster. This may explain the origin of the street’s name although it was the first stone-paved road in York and had retained its Roman-built paved surface. The name Stonegate appears on records as early as 1118.
To the north of Stonegate lies Petergate, near to the Minster. In Viking and Norman times only the wealthy and important would have dwelt on Stonegate due to it being in close proximity with and the main route to the Minster. This made the street an important and exclusive place.
The long and narrow street’s atmosphere is enhanced by Ye Olde Starre Inn’s intriguing advertising beam spanning the width of the street and its diverse range of buildings which bridge the ages.
Ye Olde Starre Inn, first licensed in 1644, is of even older origin and boasts a 10th-century cellar used as an operating room and mortuary for soldiers wounded in the Civil War. The inn fronted Stonegate but building additions during the Georgian period blocked it from view. In 1793 the landlord at the time, conscious of decline in his trade, had the now-famous sign positioned advertising his business via the narrow snickelway.
The oldest dwelling house in York was discovered between numbers 50 and 52 where a passageway leads to the remains of a Norman house, originally two-storey, dated from the few surviving bits of decorative masonry to around 1180. The courtyard was restored in 1969 by the York Civic Trust.
From the Middle Ages the top end of Stonegate came under the authority of York Minster, housing related trades and crafts of goldsmiths, silversmiths, printers and glass painters who plied their trade from workshops and left lasting visual evidence of their presence. No. 35 has stained glass in its fine windows. The chained red devil that sits above the door of No. 33 is a traditional symbol of a printer; devils were the small boys who fetched and carried the type. Stonegate was at one time known as the Street of the Printers.
The red devil points to Coffee Yard where Thomas Gent, the eccentric writer and publisher, had his premises in the 18th century. Coffee Yard is situated next to Mulberry Hall which dates from 1434 and whose flagship store has seventeen showrooms. Stonegate shops of the early 1800s included Mr Palmer’s apothecary, corsetiere Mrs Hopton, Thomas Hardy’s which sold gentlemen’s breeches, and at The Sign of the Bible at No. 35 was John Todd’s bookshop. Today the range of shops is just as diverse.
The 1980s saw the restoration of the beautiful Barley Hall, just off Stonegate, now a time capsule of the splendidly restored 15th-century timber-framed hall and a 14th-century monastic hospice.