Friday, 23 January 2009

A brief history of York


The city of York was founded in AD71 by the Romans who found the flat land at the confluence of the Rivers Foss and Ouse a perfect place to situate their gift shops and tea rooms. Owing to a clerical error, the city was founded again in AD141 creating two identical cities occupying exactly the same area of land. This proved highly confusing for residents who could never be entirely sure which city they were living in. To get round this problem, the city was designated as “old York (AD71)” from Sundays to Wednesday lunchtimes and “new York (AD141)” from Wednesday lunchtimes to Saturdays.

Soon, the inhabitants of York grew tired of the fusty, outdated image associated with living in Old York during the first half of the week and after hiring some Roman marketing consultants for an expensive and pointless rebranding exercise, the city of Old York was renamed as “York Classic”. This made the name of “New York” seem uninspiring so a similar rebranding exercise was performed, after which “New York” was inexplicably renamed as “Dave”.

Fortunately, none of these variations are used today although the name of “New York” does of course live on in America – the “New” of “New Mexico” was named in honour of the Roman city of “New York”.


In 866 the Vikings, a peace-loving and timid race of people, arrived on a sight-seeing tour of the British Isles. Things had already started to go badly prior to arriving in York – a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s birthplace had culminated in the disappointing news that Shakespeare would not be born for another 700 years.
The increasingly riled Vikings finally reached breaking point in York where a cup of tea and a slice of cake in Betty’s Tearooms used up half of their entire holiday budget. This set them off on a centuries long orgy of rape and pillage which laid waste to much of the nation. On the plus side, news of the Viking Invasion caused the headquarters of Ye Dailye Mayle to spontaneously explode in outrage and flames.


In the 19th century the industrial revolution and the expansion of the railways led to a rapid growth in many Northern cities. York was no different, where a rapid expansion of the city was built on the railways. This was a problem for many Victorian families who grew weary of having to move the piano out of the way to let the 8:20 to Doncaster through the sitting room and, after the “Steam Riots” of 1856, much of York was knocked down and rebuilt around the railways.

Steam power soon proved as popular a Victorian craze as the “Whistling Berties” or the “Newcastle Muffin Dance” and soon steam fairs, showcasing all the latest steam-powered contraptions, became regular events in the centre of York. Sadly, many of these ideas failed to stand the test of time. Contemporary records note the cautionary tale of local entrepreneur Henry Gladwing, who invested his life savings into the development of the “steam-powered kettle”. Unfortunately, each steam-powered kettle required a larger kettle to provide enough steam to power it. The larger kettle in turn needed a bigger kettle and so on and so forth. The pursuit of building ever bigger kettles just to provide enough power to drive a small kettle capable of boiling two cups of water drove Henry mad. By the time of his death in 1889, Henry was a broken, penniless man, but a man with a really nice collection of kettles nonetheless.


Despite the continuing Viking rule many of York’s younger generation fully embraced the Swinging Sixties. In fact, York swung so hard that by 1969 the entire city was 400 yards further west than it had been in 1963. This was an idyllic time for many in their teenage years and early-twenties, who, even today, still look back fondly on the key events of the decade such as The Dave Clark Five winning the World Cup and Mary Quant inventing the Mini Cooper.

In 1967 the Vikings finally upped and left, returning to their homeland of Denmark. Many people chose to interpret this as a victory for ‘flower power’ over the ‘Establishment’ but the reality was much more mundane. Harold Wilson’s devaluing of the pound made changing sterling back into Danish krone an extremely attractive proposition, and the suddenly wealthy Vikings returned to Denmark to live lives full of comparative luxury and bacon.


Today York’s main industry is tourism and up to 18 million tourists are produced each year in a number of tourist factories sited around the outskirts of York. Many of these are exported but a number are also sold to other British cities, particularly Edinburgh, London and Stratford. In recent years over-production has led to a surplus of unsaleable tourists cluttering up the streets of York and clogging up the bus lanes, presenting an increasingly growing problem for York Council.

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