A Regional Capital

The Ancient and Loyall Citty of York c1678 by William Lodge - York Art Gallery

The abolition of the Council in the North in 1641 did reduce York's status and its trade but the city remained a religious and an administrative centre, both of which brought business.

The city was also developing as a social centre, thanks to the increasing fortunes of its wealthiest citizens.  Both the aspiring gentry within the city walls and the newly-leisured classes in the surrounding countryside had money to spend.  London was too far away and York became the social capital of the north.

Wigmakers, dressmakers and barbers set up shop in York.  Booksellers, located near the printers in Minster Yard and Stonegate, sold the latest books, including a 1644 anonymous history of York.

News and gossip was exchanged in the great inns, such as the George in Coney Street, or in the increasing number of coffee shops.  In the best stores, Eastern silks and rugs, French wine, and spices from the New World were sold.

Commercial hub

Commerce was still strictly controlled, and non-freemen traders could be hit by heavy fines.  The Freedom of the City did not come cheap, either: it was set at £20 by 1694.  You could still gain your freedom by apprenticeship or inheritance, however.

Most York workers were employed in providing food and drink, clothing or buildings, manufacturing was only a small part of the city economy.

Other trades reflected York’s growing prosperity, among them bookbinders, booksellers, stationers, pipe-makers, clockmakers, cabinet-makers and dancing masters.

The markets and fairs remained important, and were closely regulated by the corporation.  Inns were booming and the corporation had only limited success acting against unlicensed alehouses.

York had become a centre of commerce, leisure and social activity; a role that it quietly grew into during the 18th century.  The industrial age exploded elsewhere.

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