When Pavement was about losing your head, not buying your pants

Pavement – once home to a badass border baron
17 Jun 2013 @ 10.56 am
| Opinion

Pavement – once home to a badass border baron
Pavement – once home to a badass border baron. Photograph: Bob Gwynne
bob-gwynne-headshotIn the first of his pieces on the people and places of York, Bob Gwynne strolls down ‘Percy’s Pavement’


Whilst anywhere in the UK has a history, York’s history often seems like a posh Christmas pudding, richer and tastier. As an incomer interested in history I’ve begun to muse about some of the people who’ve been in York and the places in the city they are associated with, for good or ill.

So herewith an occasional blog about people and places in York, and all you need to do is read, not traipse around with 50 tourists whilst a bloke in a top hat shouts ghost stories at you from on top of a step ladder.

First off then, the bit of street alongside M&S and in front of the Golden Fleece. For me this is “Percy’s Pavement” on account of a brief note I read in a book somewhere. Thanks to the net I have of course been able to discover who this Percy was, and it wasn’t Percy the Park Keeper. No this isn’t a tale about soft drawn animals sharing sandwiches with a bloke with a jolly round face who never appears to do much (presumably now long since “re-structured” and sacked).

No this is Lord Thomas Percy, the 7th Earl of Northumberland, one of the clan of badass border barons from the days of the conquorer through to, well, er, today. There’s still a Percy who lives in Alnwick Castle, though quite how “badass” he is I have no idea, presumably there’s no call for riding out swords drawn these days?

Also, best to park the Tim McInnery version of Lord Percy in Blackadder. Few will forget his appearance beside the “baby eating Bishop of Bath and Wells” but the real Elizabethan Percys were rather less idiotic, (I looked them up – sorry “Googled” them).

Now hangs about St Crux: Thomas Percy
Now hangs about St Crux: Thomas Percy

Mind you the Percy associated with Pavement was, to put it politely, possibly a little naïve, although no doubt he thought he was being principled. Early on in Elizabeth I’s reign he decided that she was clearly being badly advised, (so “blame the civil servants” clearly has a long pedigree). If she were correctly advised the Catholic church would be officially sanctioned once again.

This was at the very least a miscalculation, and it led to the Northern Rebellion. This rather confusing set of sieges and a “guerrilla gig” – sorry, mass at Durham – was eventually seen off, and Tom nipped off to Scotland. He was later sold to Elizabeth for £2,000 (about the price of a decent county back then). This meant on the August 22, 1572 he was beheaded round the back of M&S and in front of the Golden Fleece. Well, the Fleece was there then, not M&S (where could you get decent pants in those days?) oh, and without a trial.

Percy’s head ended up on a spike on Micklegate. His headless body is supposed to haunt St Crux, and no doubt the tale has kept many a Ghost Tour in beer since the tradition of spooking the tourists started.

So the next time you pass M&S, purveyor to the good folk of England underwear and comestibles of quality (and price), remember you’re next to where one of the dramas of the Elizabethan age happened. As for Percy, well he was eventually made one down from a saint!