St George’s Field: where to start … Well, we already did, on the previous page, when looking at Tower Gardens. Tower Gardens used to be part of St George’s Field — something I hadn’t really thought about until focusing on this whole ‘Castle Gateway’ area with more attention.
St George’s Field is an area rich in history, a place that should resonate with meaning for citizens, but what is it now? The signpost pictured above, on the riverside near Tower Gardens, points the way to ‘St George’s’, and has a car park symbol. I thought we still called it St George’s Field, but that signpost doesn’t. Perhaps just as well, as visitors might be disappointed if expecting a field, some kind of flowery meadow with the Ouse lapping gently at its banks.
The names of familiar places are always worth thinking about. We tend to say them without thinking of how and where they originated, how long the name has been used, whether it was imposed on a place by authority or is one of the names locals call it. It could perhaps be seen as significant that the world ‘field’ isn’t on that sign. After a few more decades of the ‘field’ being covered in tarmac it might eventually drop that reference to its former appearance/associations, as Tower Gardens seems to have replaced the earlier name of St George’s Park/St George’s Gardens, as previously mentioned.
The citizens of York don’t seem to object to the fact that ‘our field’, with its ancient rights, is now a car park. In our recent history, in most of our remembering, if we think of it at all it’s as a car park, as it has been covered in tarmac and filled with cars and coaches for decades.
From trees, to tarmac, cars and coaches
Approaching it from Tower Gardens, passing under the archway of the Skeldergate Bridge approaches, we’re on a narrow strip of land that might be more likely to remind us of when this area was more green and field-like. Going through there and looking back to the bridge and Tower Gardens the treeline of New Walk is more obvious. Truly impressive trees here.
But then we move away from the area immediately next to the river and the rest of our ‘field’ looks like this.
Over there on the horizon, slightly hidden behind trees, Clifford’s Tower and the spire of St Mary’s, Castlegate.
Here those buildings feature in a view from some centuries back:
Across St George’s Field towards the same buildings (or a couple of them) in July 2017:
This triangle of land between the Ouse and Foss is almost all covered with tarmac, and boring-looking but essential buildings like toilets, and looming over it on one side the Foss Barrier. This area is filled not only with the parked coaches and cars but cluttered with the accompanying ‘furniture’ of tall poles with lights and CCTV cameras and large signs providing information.
Past the coaches and cars parked here, towards Clifford’s Tower and the remnants of the castle wall, you can see how the roads carved it all up, raised themselves higher than the old land as it was.
But then people who arrive in coaches and cars need places to park, and this is one of several bits of Castle Gateway given over to parking. The most obvious is the car park right next to Clifford’s Tower, and there are many calls to remove that one. Comparing the two bits of land, it’s interesting to note that there seems to be more of a sense of ownership over the Clifford’s Tower/Castle car park site than there is over St George’s Field/car park, when in terms of land ownership and rights it should perhaps be this bit we’re fighting to ‘reclaim’. (Or perhaps both.)
Do many residents use it for parking when going in to town? Or is it almost all tourist/visitor parking? Does it matter if it’s the latter, as long as the income from it comes in to the city council? Have we had any say in the past about what happens on ‘our’ field, and do we still have the right to dry our washing here, and get our bows and arrows out, as our ancestors did …
Ah, so many questions, and so many layers of history here, in this piece of land where the rivers meet. Too much to cover on this page. Anyone interested should get hold of a copy of this book by Chris Dowell, which I’ve been reading with interest:
Chris and John Dowell talk about aspects of St George’s Field, including the baths mentioned in comments on the previous page, in a series of short videos on the My Castle Gateway YouTube channel.
Fairs and fireworks
Apart from the St George’s Baths, the other association many York residents may have with St George’s Field is that it has been the site of the annual fair, talked about with fondness by Chris Dowell on the videos mentioned above. I remember being aware of the excitement of it, as a child/young person, but only because of the way friends talked about it, looking forward to going. I vaguely remember a brief visit as a teenager, one dark evening, all lights and noise. On another occasion, also quite a long time ago, I wandered past on a sunny Easter Sunday afternoon, noticing the massive painted lorries, and a discarded Frankenstein behind the rides. By then I was in my 30s and, and perhaps too old to enjoy it.
Other community gatherings have happened here. While searching through the YMT online collections for old illustrations I also found a listing for a poster they have from 1986, printed by the Open Road Printing Co-op. It advertised:
‘Firework Spectacular. Wednesday November 5th at Saint George’s Field Carpark. Display begins, 7.00pm. Admission free. City of York Leisure Services’.
Ah, the old days, when City of York Leisure Services had money to burn.
Anyone remember that firework display in 1986? Were there others here on St George’s Field? (I remember one from the early 1990s, at the Eye of York/Clifford’s Tower, and one in 2005, before they fizzled out as a free open-to-all city centre kind of thing.)
Future, and flowers
What else do we think of when we think of St George’s Field, and — as My Castle Gateway is asking — what do we want to see here, be able to do here, in the future?
There’s an online survey for the My Castle Gateway project on this link. Another way to contribute your thoughts if you’re not able to get to the events being held in association with this consultation.
Time to wander on from this particular bit of the Castle Gateway. From the tarmac-covered field we go back to the riverside path, to the confluence, where a well-known blue bridge takes us across the narrow Foss entrance, to the Foss Basin, the target for more musings/thoughts/photos, perhaps, next week.
By the Blue Bridge there’s a lovely area of wildflowers and bee-friendly flowers. Technically I think I ventured just outside the ‘Castle Gateway’ area boundary when I took this, but thought I’d share it anyway, after all those rather boring pictures of vehicles and tarmac.
And here we might pause awhile by the confluence, and think about what a lovely word it is. A confluence is where two rivers meet, but another definition of it, suggested on this page, is ‘a convergence or combination of forces, people, or things’. Applicable, it seems, to the My Castle Gateway consultation, which is by residents, and for residents, and is attempting to bring together positive forces, many people, and a combination of thoughts on the many things that make up the Castle Gateway area.
Appropriate for future plans for a part of York where we/the council have ownership and rights over areas of land, and making far more sense to me than previous ‘visions’ for this area and others produced in the past (York Press). I hope we’re now past the point where we pay large amounts of money to outside experts for their ‘visions’/plans — it made me bristle with indignation back then. It’s now abundantly clear that there’s enough expertise locally, from many different perspectives, from people who know and understand the place, on many different levels, living and working here.
More later, perhaps. I’m off to stare at the river(s).