Glamorous goods, guns and life in the poverty stricken slums - set foot into the contrasting worlds of Victorian York.
York Castle Museum is set to expand on its famous Victorian street, adding new areas and authentic businesses that will give insight into real lives of York’s Victorian inhabitants.
The £300,000 refurbishment will see all the shops on Kirkgate based on real examples from Victorian York, such as the Thomas Horsley gun making business, George Britton’s grocers for the discerning customer and Banks music shop.
One of the alleyways will portray the poverty-stricken areas of York so often overlooked, complete with a view into a home of the Victorian working class.
Gwendolen Whitaker, curator of history, said: “Victorian York was a glamorous and prosperous, bustling and poverty stricken place with people from every walk of life working and living in the city centre. For the rich, goods came flooding in from all over the Empire while in close proximity two thirds of the citys population lived in squalor.”
To show these contrasts they have made Kirkgate a much bigger visitor experience, complete with new backstreets and new shops all based on actual York businesses. These include Thomas Horsley’s gun making business which sold guns on Coney Street!
This expansion has meant that they have been able to get thousands more items from their collections out, with many on show for the first time.
The expansion of Kirkgate will reopen on 2 June in time for the Spring Bank Holiday. It is being funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archive Fund (MLA). The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also gave a grant of £10,000.
All shops in the new layout of Kirkgate operated in York between 1870 and 1901. They include The Little Dust Pan Ironmongers, Kendrick’s toy shop and fancy repository and the John Saville Pharmaceutical Chemist.
As well as Kirkgate and the existing Providence Court and Princess Mary Court, alleys will be created linking new areas to the main street. One will lead to the Cocoa Room and the Funeral directors while the second will be longer, showing the poorer side of Victorian life. This will be called Rowntree Snicket and include Henry Hardcastle the Pawnbrokers, the Horse Repository and an interior of a poorer style home.
The curators at the museum have spent months researching the businesses and the people who worked there to make sure the shops in Kirkgate are as realistic as possible. This has included interviews with those connected to the businesses such as family members and former employees, as well as access to company archives.
The results have revealed fascinating glimpses into the lives of people living in Victorian York and a number of these individuals will be represented, such as: George Alp, a teenage dad, heavy drinker and policeman; Elizabeth Kidd, a mental health worker and photographic model and; Isaac Dickinson, slum dweller, activist and Royal Baker.
The project aims to capture the investigative spirit of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree’s report Poverty: A Study In Town life, which was a groundbreaking study that analysed the causes of poverty. It used York as an example to reflect what was happening to the poorest people in society across the country.
In the same way, Kirkgate is a reflection of both the city at the time – and all its layers – but also Victorian life in general.
Gwendolen added: “I hope it will give visitors an immersing experience – but also make people think about & investigate what life was like during the period and how their own ancestors might have lived. ”