Posted: 26 April, 2024 | Category: Uncategorized


If you live in Britain,  you’ll be familiar with the word shambles. But where does the word come from and what does it signify? TREVOR GRUNDY reports after visiting a  famous market-place in York –


York, England  – – – The Shambles’ is sometimes used as a general term for the maze of twisting, narrow lanes which make York such an amazing city in the heart of England. York is a a former Roman and Viking centre and homeland for some of the most violent and important incidents in the long and often turbulent history of this country.

At its heart is a long lane called Shambles,  one of the best preserved Medieval streets in Europe.

In parts of the Shambles you would have been able to lean out out of a top window and shake the outstretched hand of a neighbour.

Or  lunge at him with a knife, or spit in his face.




Shambles, one of the most famous Medieval streets in Europe 


The name is thought to derive from ‘Shammel’, an Anglo-Saxon word for the shelves or benches which were a prominent feature of the open shop-fronts.

The word originally meant “a stool” and “a money changer’s table.”

Later it acquired the additional meaning of “a table for the exhibition of meat for sale.”

A further extension of meaning in the 16th century produced the sense “a slaughterhouse.” That meaning quickly led to the figurative use of shambles to refer to a place of terrible slaughter or bloodshed.

Local historians remind us that it was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086.

Many of the buildings on the street today date back to the late fourteenth and fifteenth century.

The Shambles was a street of butchers’ shops and houses, many complete with a slaughterhouse at the back of the premises, ensuring a ready supply of fresh meat.  The meat was hung outside shops and laid out for sale on what are now the shop window-bottoms.

Lacking modern-day sanitation facilities, there was a constant problem of how to dispose of the waste produced by the slaughter of animals in the city.  The pavements are raised either side of the cobbled street to form a channel where the butchers would wash away their offal and blood twice a week.

In other words – one helluva mess – shambolic, in fact.



This year (2024) the modern and popular Shambles Market commemorates its 60th birthday.

Based in the historic core between the Shambles and Parliament Street, this is a market where you can sit and think about the past or watch tourists from around the world tour a great and beautiful English city.

Shambles Market in York. German bombers in 1942 failed to break the spirit of the residents of this historic city (Picture: Trevor Grundy)

Everywhere you look, there’s history.  Much of it tells the story of York as one of the most important Christian centres in the world.

In 700 AD, Saxon – populated York drafted its first market charter and its status as a commercial centre remained intact throughout the Viking invasion   in 837 AD ,  and the harrying of the North of England by the Normans in 1069 AD.

In Norman times there were so many markets in York for the various products produced by mainly peasant farmers and it wasn’t until 1837 that a single market was created on Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square, remaining in that position for 127 years.

In 1964, Newgate Market was specially created behind the building on Shambles and Parliament Street and remains the site of the market today. After a refurbishment in 2014 the re-named Shambles Market underwent a transformation.



Today, Shambles Market accommodates 69 covered stalls, a large and impressive food court and a place where local businessmen meet and exchange ideas.

It’s a good place to meet, eat and a drink.

Not a shambolic mess in sight.