York Museum Gardens
The ten-acre botanical Museum Gardens, around the Yorkshire Museum, stretch from the River Ouse up to the back of York Art Galley, and from Marygate on one side to Museum Street on the other.
Established in the 1830s by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, these gardens are famous for their fantastic collection of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs.
Set in the stunning surroundings of the medieval ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, this is a great space to meet friends and family and enjoy the peace and tranquillity that the gardens have to offer.
The Gardens has also recently incorporated its first Gardens Geocache and a full trail of Geocaches is expected to be introduced in the near future.
Every Sunday 1-2pm
Meet inside the Museum Street gates and gain an insight into one of the most popular gardens in York. The gardens contain a wealth of plant life, botanical specimens and wildlife, as well as the spectacular ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and the Roman Multangular Tower.
York Museums Gardens are open every day: 7:30am – 8:00pm (summer) and 7:30am – 6:00pm (winter). The gardens close on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
St Mary’s Abbey
The ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, first built in 1088, are all that remains of one of the wealthiest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in England.
The abbey estate occupied the entire site of the Museum Gardens and the abbot was one of the most powerful clergymen of his day, on a par with the Archbishop of York. The monks would spend their days working in abbey administration, copying books, trading with merchants, providing food and supplies for the monastery, managing the abbey’s estates and helping the poor.
Visitors can see the remains of the walls of the nave and crossing of the abbey church, where the monks prayed and sang, and the cloister, where the monks washed their clothes, contemplated and were allowed to speak.
King Henry VIII banned all monasteries in England in 1530s. The monks at St Mary’s were pensioned off in 1540 and the abbey buildings were converted into a palace for the King when he visited York.
Gradually they fell into ruins and were used as agricultural buildings before being excavated by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in the 1820s.
Abbey Walls and Gateway
The stone walls that surrounded the abbey were built in the 1260s and they remain the most complete set of abbey walls in the country.
They were built to defend the abbey and were used several times when the city and the abbey came to blows over land ownership and taxes. The gateway on Marygate, next to St Olave’s Church, was the main entrance into the abbey. It was here that the poor could come and claim alms. The building, known as St Mary’s Lodge, is now the headquarters of York Museums Trust.
The ground floor of this timber and stone building is medieval and would have served as a guest house or barn within the monastery.
The first floor was substantially rebuilt in the 20th century to accommodate the ever-growing archaeology collections of the museum. Between the two periods it was used as an agricultural building.
It is now used as a conference and wedding venue by York Museums Trust.
St Leonard’s Hospital
St Leonard’s was the largest medieval hospital in England and cared for the ill and infirm of York. The hospital also fed the poor and the condemned, providing meals for the prisoners in York Castle.
Remains of the hospital’s undercroft, next to York Central Library, can be accessed from the Museum Gardens, to the right of the Museum Street entrance, and contains some of the museum’s Roman and Medieval stonework collections.
A thousand years before the abbey estate was built, the Romans arrived in York and a fortress was built in 70AD to house the 5,000 men of the VIth legion. This fortress was rebuilt in stone in the 3rd or 4th centuries.
The corner tower of this fortress stands in the Museum Gardens and today is known as the Multangular Tower on account of the many angles of its design.
The York Observatory, in the Museum Gardens, is the major part of York Museums Trust’s Astronomy Collection. It was built in 1832 and 1833 and is the oldest working observatory in Yorkshire.
Its 4 inch refractor telescope was built by York man Thomas Cooke in 1850, who went on to make the then-largest telescope in the world. It was installed in 1981 when the observatory was restored.
The Observatory also houses an 1811 clock which tells the time based on observations of the positions of stars. It was once the clock by which all others in York were set and is still always four minutes, 20 seconds, behind Greenwich Mean Time. In the mid 19th century it would cost sixpence to check a timepiece against the Observatory Clock.
Our collection also includes telescopes which are kept with other scientific instruments at York Castle Museum.
During the 1780s leading astronomers John Goodricke and Edward Pigott were based in York and laid the foundations of variable star astronomy, this is the study of stars of varying brightness.
Goodricke has a college at the University of York named after him and Pigott was the first English man to discover a comet then have it named after him.
The Observatory is open every Thursday and Saturday 11.30am-2.30pm.
Please note: the building is manned by trained volunteers, and although we always do our best to open as planned, sometimes this is not possible. If you would like to know about volunteering in the Observatory, please click here.
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