Saturday last I was telling in Barley Hall in York . Hidden down a tiny alley between Stonegate and Swinegate and a mere stones throw from York Minster, it is a reconstructed and renovated Medieval Hall that is a veritable sweetshop of sensory delights. I particularly like it because I'm as interested in those whose hard work raised up these great structures and their skills that made rich men's dreams of immortality a reality.
And so I was like a kid in a sweetshop at the hall, because it has been rebuilt using ancient skills and techniques. It is also softly lit with low light, some horn windows & scented candles, and decorated with the flowers, herbs, and spices that made up the medicines so important to the cunning woman's craft long, long ago, it intoxicates the senses and transports the visitor back to times past.
But it is in its construction that I took most pleasure; enjoying the honey coloured rough hewn timbers that have yet to take on the dark hues of everyday use and touch. To run your fingers over the minute undulations of hill and valley created by the carpenter's adze, whether they be formed 700 or just 7 years ago, it really gives you a 'feel' for beautiful buildings and the sheer skill and effort that went into creating them. I wrote on my last post about Dragon Hall in Norwich, which is also a rebuilt and renovated medieval building, that I don't much like reconstruction's that are 'fixed' in one time period, but I do have to make an exception for Barley Hall. It really does give you a small window through which to look into life in a rich man's town house long ago. That said, because the place is run by the York Archaeological Trust, there are plenty of great exhibits that do for example look at death, disease and medicine in York as well as crime and punishment in medieval times. Barley Hall is very like Dragon Hall in many ways. Both share a similar history with once great houses being sub divided and hidden behind later alterations, only to be rediscovered late last century. And like Dragon Hall there is a nod to the modern at Barley Hall, with a floor to ceiling window that separates the main hall from the passageway outside, allowing even the passer by intent on shopping in the nearby 'Shambles' or on the market, at least a brief insight into the life of the medieval elite!
Thanks to Chris Tuckley of the York Archological Trust for giving me the chance to tell in this beautiful building and also Stuart and Gemma who looked after me on the day....