British Towns and Cities: York, the Capital of the North

John Rodgers pays a visit to the historical viking city of York

In one of those endless railway journeys during the later years of the war I had to change trains in my native city, York. York Station to my mind is one of the major wonders of the Western world, a huge curving cathedral of glass, rather sootier than most cathedrals to be sure, and like a union of Saint Pancras and King’s Cross, but open at both ends. Though several thousand people could be lost in it without much trouble, it is one of those places where one always meets friends one had nearly forgotten. The friend I met on this occasion had three hours to wait for his train, and was oppressed by destiny, the immensity of the station and the vitality of the North-country crowds in it. I reproached him. Depressed? With three hours to spend in York? York the cradle of Roman Britain: York the birthplace of Emperors, Saints and dynamiters; York the jewel of medieval cities; York the metropolis once of England and still of the North. I took him out of the station and confronted him with the noble section of the city walls which stand high on their ramparts opposite the station. I said that we must eat and drink, and took him to the Royal Station Hotel. York’s station hotel is perhaps a little daunting to the Southerner. It is another of the wonders of the Victorian era. Like the station, it is immense— built in the age when the Englishman believed in the impregnability of nearly everything and preferred it so. “A jewel of medieval cities?” The lounge, when we entered it, was nearly full of American naval officers. But then, York was created, so far as we know, to be a bastion of Western Europe. It was still fulfilling its historic purpose.

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