Cars and Consumers

Cars parked in St Sampsons Square 1955-8 (c) CYC Imagine York

Like most cities in the Western world, York's development in the 20th Century was greatly influenced by the growth of the private motor car and the shopping habit.  However, towards the end of the century there was a recognition of the damage that cars were doing to the city's environment.


The first car had arrived in York at the end of the 19th century, bought by Rowntree’s as an advertising gimmick for Elect Cocoa.  Another novelty was the Grout steam car which made its debut on city streets in 1901. Sheppee steam lorries were also a familiar sight.

In the first decades of the 20th century, only the privileged few could afford a car.  But after the Second World War, road traffic increased sharply in York.  Two way traffic filled Coney Street, and the centre of Parliament Street became a car park on non-market days.

Increased affluence greatly extended car ownership in the Fifties.  A 1950 survey found that almost 8,000 vehicles passed along Museum Street every day.  The old roads could not cope.  Castle Mills Bridge was reconstructed, Lord Mayor’s Walk was widened, and in 1955 Stonebow was opened, linking the end of Micklegate and High Ousegate to Peaseholm Green and on to Malton Road.

After decades of indecision, a new bridge was opened over the Ouse in 1963.  Clifton Bridge brought an end to the ferry service, cost £230,000 and was carrying 10,000 vehicles a day by the end of the Sixties.

In 1971 the council voted in favour of a controversial £8 million inner ring road scheme.  To build it would have required the demolition of 350 homes, two listed buildings and several businesses.  A public inquiry backed the scheme, but it was thrown out by Environment Secretary Anthony Crosland in 1975.  But the £15 million outer ring road was built, opening in December 1987.

York tried a new method to stem traffic flow into the city centre, with Park and Ride schemes situated on the approach roads.  The first purpose-built scheme opened on Tadcaster Road in 1990.  The city has also been relatively successful in limiting the impact of cars within the walls, which is now largely car-free.


Shopping changed from a daily necessity to a leisure activity over the 20th century.  York’s role as a market town continued, although the cattle market was moved out of town.  And in 1964, the Parliament Street market was moved to Newgate, much to the consternation of traders.

York was also served by scores of small, family-run businesses in the early decades.  Some endured longer than others.   There was Isaac Walton, the Parliament Street tailor; J Todd sold tea and provisions in Goodramgate; Browns, the department store, moved to Davygate in 1904; Leak and Thorp was on Coney Street, and furnishers Hunter and Smallpage on Goodramgate; Cussins and Light and House and Son sold electrical goods.

Marks and Spencer opened a branch in Parliament Street in 1907, with the slogan: “Don’t ask the price: it’s a penny.”  The famous Betty’s Café opened 30 years later.



Related items

If you liked this theme, you might be interested in these items.