Ouse Bridge - 1784

York and the Great North Road

The first recorded stage coach service from London to York was in 1658. York was then the “terminus” of the Great North Road. Later York was often by-passed by those coaches seeking the most direct route from Doncaster to Northallerton and beyond – via the westerly route through Wetherby and Boroughbridge. This has now become the route of the current A1.

The Great North Road into York from Doncaster approaches from the south-west, skirting the Knavesmire and entering the walled city via Micklegate. The route north exits via Bootham Bar. The 16th century Ouse Bridge (incorporating houses and a chapel) was described by Defoe as:

“…near 70 foot in diameter; it is, without exception, the greatest in England, some say it’s as large as the Rialto at Venice, though I think not.”

This bridge was replaced in 1820.

About York

York is one of England’s finest and most beautiful historic cities. The Romans knew it as Eboracum. To the Saxons it was Eoforwick. The Vikings, who came as invaders but then settled, called it Jorvik. Its more recent history also characterises the city – its Minster and medieval architecture and city walls, its Georgian town houses, and its unique Victorian railway station.

Through much of recorded history York has been a centre of power and influence across northern England. Even today with a population of only 200,000 it is the administrative centre of by far the largest county in England. This role has been closely associated with its strategic position within the low lying north-south corridor between the Pennines and the North York Moors.

The Roman city was founded in 71 AD, when the Ninth Legion conquered the Brigantes and constructed a fortress on flat ground above the River Ouse close to its confluence with the River Foss. This site now lies beneath the mighty York Minster. Ermine Street provided the route south to London. Dere Street the route north to Corbridge and Hadrians Wall.

In 866 the “Great Heathen Army” led by Ivar the Boneless moved north from its foothold in East Anglia – effectively travelling up our Great North Road. The city was taken, and over coming years the Kingdom of York (or Jórvík) was consolidated – encompassing much of what we know as Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Even before this time York had become an important ecclesiastical centre – along with Canterbury one of two archbishoprics in England. There were prolonged disputes between the 11th and 14th centuries as to whether York or Canterbury could claim supremacy.

The shape of the current city reflects periods of great economic success. During medieval times York was a major trading centre with merchants exporting wool and cloth – whilst importing wine, wax, oats, timber and furs from continental Europe. During the industrial revolution York escaped being over-run by smoke-stack industry – but prospered as a major railway city, and as the centre for a number of Quaker confectionery businesses including Rowntrees and Terrys.

Explore York

The images below provide links to additional information either on this website or elsewhere.

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York Then and Now

The south entrance through Micklegate Bar in 1782 – and more recently.

micklegate bar 1782

River Aire

The coaches of the Great North Road and todays vehicles on the A1 cross the River Aire at Ferrybridge. The Roman crossing was further west, by ford across the...

  • River Wharfe and Bolton Abbey

River Wharfe

The river flows for 65 miles before joining the River Ouse. Its source is in the centre of the Yorkshire Dales National Park - where Oughtershaw Beck and...

  • River Don - Sheffield - Frank North c1960

River Don

The Yorkshire Don is not to be confused with its more photogenic namesake near Aberdeen. That said, de-industrialisation and concerted efforts by environmental groups...

  • Catterick Bridge and Chapel - 1787

River Swale

The Swale is crossed by the Great North Road at Catterick Bridge. The old bridge dates from the 1420s and was the primary crossing until the A1 was upgraded in...

  • roman catterick - cataractonium

Roman Catterick – Cataractonium

Roman Catterick, or Cataractonium, was a fort and settlement which was established just south of the crossing point of the River Swale. Until other military centres were.....

  • River Wear Sunderland - Lowry

River Wear

The River Wear used to be crossed three times by the Great North Road; twice where the river forms a meander around Durham and once a few miles.....

  • Viking Camp - Repton - Reconstruction

Danelaw

Danelaw arose from a peace deal in the late 9th century between King Alfred and Viking invaders. It placed half of England under Danish law and.....

  • River Trent - Newark

River Trent

The River Trent at Newark marks where you cross from north to south, or vice versa, on the Great North Road. Well, that’s my view though some.....

  • Ferrybridge Power Station at night

Ferrybridge Power Station

The giant cooling towers of Ferrybridge power station represented an important psychological milestone for those travelling the Great North Road in.....

  • Tees Bridge - Croft - 1867

River Tees

The meandering River Tees is crossed by the Great North Road close to Darlington. Today the A1 intersects the Tees to the west of the town. In the past it was.....