One of the most attractive and architecturally varied streets in York is Stonegate.
The road has always been central to the City’s layout. Six feet below its pavement lies the Roman Via Praetoria, which connected the Basilica at the centre of the fortress to the bridge over the River Ouse and the civilian settlement on the other side.
The Roman road may have given the street its name, although Francis Drake records in 1736: ‘It had this name given as is said from the vast quantity of stone lead through this street for the building of the cathedral’. Limestone for the construction of the Minster was indeed brought in from Tadcaster by river. Drake also records that, at the bottom of the street, was a spot called ‘cuckolds’ corner’ although he doesn't explain why.
From the Middle Ages the top of the street fell under the jurisdiction of York Minster and was home to related trades and crafts. Goldsmiths, printers and glass painters all had their premises here and have left their mark over the centuries. No. 35 has stained glass in its fine windows. The Red Devil outside No. 33 is a traditional symbol of a printer and indicates the way to Coffee Yard where, in the eighteenth century, the eccentric writer and publisher Thomas Gent had his premises.
By the early 19th century Stonegate’s there was a wider range of shops, including the apothecary of a Mr Palmer, Mrs Hopton’s where corsets might be purchased, and Thomas Hardy’s, which sold gentlemen’s breeches. John Todd’s bookshop was at The Sign of the Bible, No 35. John Woolstenholme also sold books at the corner of Petergate and Minster Gates - you can still see the figure of Minerva above the door casing. In common with most booksellers he also sold other items – in his case, lottery tickets.