Going underground: Your guide to York’s hidden depths

5 Aug 2014 @ 6.59 pm
| News

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Visitors in the operations room at York Cold War Bunker. Photographs: visityork.org
What lies beneath? In the case of York, barracks, brothels, comedy and the Cold War.

Residents and visitors to the city are being invited to dig a little deeper into our history and culture by going underground.

While the medieval walls or the tower of the Minster are wonderful attractions, they’re a little, well, obvious. Meanwhile a host of attractions, cafés and restaurants are making the most of the history hidden under our feet.

“Over the centuries, York has played many different roles, and nowhere is this more evident than in the underground spaces, which shed new light on the city,” said Kate McMullen, head of Visit York.

“By exploring York underground we hope visitors will discover a brand new dimension, discovering still more of York’s rich heritage.”

Subterranean York

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Preserved timbers from 10th century buildings at Jorvik Viking Centre

Here are some of the underground highlights…

The undercroft of the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, once an almshouse and hospital to the poor citizens of York. The medieval floor level can still be seen, almost two metres below the modern streets of York

Viking-age York was around 6.5 metres below the current street level, and this is where visitors will find Jorvik Viking Centre’s recreation of 10th century Coppergate. The recreation of the street is built at the same level where archaeologists uncovered preserved timbers from Viking buildings

The York Cold War Bunker uncovers the secret history of Britain’s Cold War and is the most modern and spine-chilling of English Heritage’s properties. Designed as a nerve-centre to monitor fall-out in the event of a nuclear attack, it includes an operations room with vertical illuminated perspex maps

The cellar of what is now The Blue Bicycle restaurant on Fossgate was once a brothel of some repute. Now the approach is more romantic than raunchy, but photographs of some of the girls who may have plied their wares in the riverside cellar are found downstairs

underground-york-minster-undercroft-halfEboracum residents used the bath house now preserved beneath the Roman Bath pub in St Sampson’s Square. Now open to visitors as a museum, it tells the story of grooming in the Roman era

The Oak Room Café at Bettys Café Tea Rooms in St Helen’s Square is a real throwback to the 1940s, when it hosted a dance club for servicemen and their guests. The room has changed very little and on the wall can be seen the original 1940s mirror, etched with the signatures of 600 servicemen who visited the venue

One of Britain’s most famous ghost stories was born in 1953 when Harry Martindale saw Roman soldiers – but only from the torso up – marching through the cellar of the Treasurer’s House. Nowadays, visitors can enjoy hard-hat tours into the deepest part of the house, or pop in for refreshments at the Below Stairs Café

Reflecting the spaces that would have housed cells in times go by, the York Dungeon is almost entirely underground – with 11 live shows and eight live actors that are frighteningly funny including the Terrible Tudors show, new for 2014

Created in the 1970s when experts were trying to save the central tower from collapse, York Minster’s Undercroft (pictured) now hosts Revealing York Minster, tracing 2,000 years of the site’s history

Each Tuesday and Thursday, visitors to 18th century Beningbrough Hall can take an unusual tour ‘below stairs’ to see where all the work took place in this grand mansion – the butler’s and housekeeper’s quarters, and where the kitchens once stood

After a serious day of visiting underground York, unwind at The Basement, an intimate 100-capacity venue that hosts live music, cabaret and comedy beneath the City Screen Cinema.