York Castle Museum is a museum located in York, North Yorkshire, England, on the site of York Castle, originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068. The museum itself was founded by John L. Kirk in 1938, North Yorkshire, and houses his extraordinary collection of social history, reflecting everyday life in the county. It’s housed in prison buildings which were built on the site of the castle in the 18th century, the debtors’ prison (built in 1701–05 using stone from the ruins of the castle) and the female prison (built 1780–85).
One of its renowned displays is the reconstructed street, Kirkgate, that has been hugely influential in museum displays worldwide. The York Castle Museum is housed in a former debtors’ prison and an adjoining former women’s prison, both of which are Grade I listed. The museum’s name comes from the fact it stands on the site of the former York Castle.
Kirkgate – a recreated Victorian Street, named after the museum’s founder, was redeveloped and expanded in 2012.
Toy Stories – a history of children’s toys.
Recreated period rooms including a Victorian parlour and a 17th-century dining room. The Cells – a display about life in the prison – was opened in 2009 in the cells of the old Debtors Prison. The former Condemned Cell, possibly once occupied by Dick Turpin, can also be visited. 1914: When the World Changed Forever – opened in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.
This extravagant highly decorated clock featuring moving figures and sound dates from the 1780s. In 2011, the clock underwent restoration and was repaired to its former glory. The case is mid 18th century and continental in style. It was probably made for export to China or the Far East.
Our collection features over 100 historic patchwork quilts dating back nearly 300 years. Some are everyday objects, beautiful patchwork designs made from rag-bag scraps; others celebrate royal weddings or were made for fund-raising bazaars. They were largely made at home by women and took weeks, months or years to complete.
Ice Cream Making
In Victorian times, ice cream was very different to the texture and flavours we enjoy today. Mrs Agnes Bertha Marshall, the celebrity cook of her day, wrote The Book of Ices in 1885, and called them “some of the prettiest dishes it is possible to send to the table”.
We have a large selection of miniatures, often handmade and for a variety of purposes. Miniatures have always held a fascination over the centuries – they have been found in archaeological digs in Egypt and China and have been used as good luck talismans or amulets.
This Rowntree’s cocoa tin was taken to the Antarctic by explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1909. The York-made cocoa was one of the unused goods brought back by Shackleton after his failed attempt to reach the South Pole in 1908-9.
Shopping in Victorian York
The shops you’ll find on our Victorian street Kirkgate are genuine examples from the period. Much research has been done into their history to ensure that both the facades and their interiors are as authentic as possible, though many are smaller than they would have been in the real Victorian city.
Terry’s of York was one of Britain’s oldest confectionery making companies. The company began in 1767 when a confectionery business was set up in a small shop in Bootham, York, by Berry and Bayldon. Terry’s was one of the first confectionery companies to make eating chocolate rather than drinking chocolate.
The Victorians transformed Christmas with new traditions that are still continued today. They still looked back nostalgically to a time when people left London to return to their estates in the country, remembering dancing, music and drinking and lots of food eaten communally and provided by the local squire.
The museum has a superb collection of Christmas cards sent during the First World War. They show that black humour and upbeat verses were often used to keep spirits up during very dark times.
York Museums Trust
York Museums Trust is an independent charity set up in August 2002 which manages York Castle Museum, Yorkshire Museum and Gardens, York Art Gallery and York St Mary’s. All the venues were previously managed by City of York Council, which still owns all the buildings and collections and has agreed to long-term funding of the Trust.
Our Mission is to cherish the collections, buildings and gardens entrusted to us, presenting and interpreting them as a stimulus for learning, a provocation to curiosity and a source of inspiration and enjoyment for all.