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51 St Denys Road, York. YO1 9QD
Parisi hotel York
Our history
History of the Parisi Hotel and the St Denys Church York

What is the history of the Parisi Hotel name?

We wanted an individual name to reflect the individual sort of place that the hotel has grown into, something not too traditional but which still had links to this lovely bit of York city centre and its history.

During our investigations, we started to notice these strange little echoes of Paris. We found that the hotel used to be the rectory for the church opposite, which is dedicated to St Denys, patron Saint of Paris. But it was when we read about the mysterious Celtic tribe, the Parisi, that our new name was found.

The Parisi were a Celtic tribe who overlapped with Roman rule in York. They are thought to have been based in East Yorkshire with some incredible chariot burial sites found near to the village of Wetwang in the East Riding. These burials are strikingly like those of the similarly named Parisii tribe who were in Gaul around the site of modern-day Paris, raising the possibility of a hitherto unsuspected link between the two areas.

We read that the Yorkshire Parisi are thought to have dealt with the Romans in York and we like to imagine they would have rolled into town by chariot along the main Roman road from the east which went up Walmgate towards the present-day site of the Minster, and therefore past the bottom of our little street.

If you would like to read more about the mystery of the Parisi tribe there is a great book written by Peter Halkon called The Parisi: Britons and Romans in Eastern Yorkshire (The History Press).

There is also some more information collated on various websites including Wikipedia, The History Files and at The BBC.

When was the hotel built? Has it always been a hotel?

The Parisi Hotel was built in around 1880 as the Rectory for St Denys Church opposite and was converted to a small hotel in about 1980. According to the 1881 census, Reverend George Henry Hewison lived here with his wife Frances and a large family of 6 children.

Notes on the music used by York Churches, by J.W. Knowles, show that Rev. Hewison was a learned man and very involved in schools and with music through the city. Rev. Hewison daughters, Edith and Alice, were church organists before their marriages and one of his sons, George Herbert Hewison, who was born while they were living at the rectory, went on to become both a rector like his father and an expert on beekeeping photography! Among other things, he had photos featured in Bees for Beginners by E. Taylor first published in 1923 and regularly contributed to Bee World Magazine.

The St Denys Church opposite looks interesting, what is its story?

The beautiful St Denys Church opposite the Parisi is an incredibly ancient Grade I listed scheduled ancient monument.

It has been a holy site since Roman times - an altar dedicated to a rather obscure Roman God, Arciaco, was found during excavations in 1846, and some of the earliest foundations seem to be of Roman origin. An Anglo-Danish ‘hogsback’ tombstone (dating to the 10th or 11th century) was also found on the site in 1846, suggesting Viking use as a religious site.

Both the altar and tombstone can be seen in York’s Yorkshire Museum (in the Museum Gardens).

The current form of the Church began after the Norman conquest (between 1066 and 1154) and has been extensively remodelled over the years with much of the present building being Medieval (the period from 1154-1485), much dating from the 14th and 15th centuries but some stained glass, the oldest in the city, from the 12th century.

The church was once much bigger - only the east end of the original church remains, with a ‘new’ Victorian tower.

Churches are usually built in a cross-shape with the altar at the east, the transepts (cross pieces) running north/south and the nave (where the congregation sits) to the west. In 1797 workmen undertook digging work too close to the wall’s foundations destabilising them and the nave and transepts were destroyed.

Some ancient pieces of the church architecture were rescued, including the fine Norman doorway which now forms the entrance to the church and which was inserted into the space formerly occupied by a window to preserve it.

The original tower had an extremely large spire (a massive 116ft high), but this was damaged by cannon fire during the 1644 Civil War Siege of York and then dramatically struck by lightning in 1700. It was not possible to repair the damage and the tower was eventually pulled down between 1846 and 1887, to be replaced by the tower that currently still stands.

The church is still used, with two services a week (Church of England), Wednesday 9.30am and Sunday 10am. During the summer, it opens several days a week for visitors, but at other times the Church Warden will often show people around with some notice if possible.

You can read more about the church on its website here or on the website of historian Nathen Amin.

Who was St Denys?

The church is one of about 40 in England dedicated to St Denys (otherwise known as Dennis or Dionysius), who is the patron saint of France and of Paris, and who is depicted holding his severed head in 15th century east window, of York’s St Denys Church. According to tradition, Denys was a Christian missionary who was martyred in AD 258 at the place later called ‘Montmartre’, and buried in what became the abbey of Saint-Denis, Paris. It is possible that it was following the building of the church post Norman conquest that it was dedicated to the patron saint of the conqueror’s ‘home’ country. Read more on Wikipedia.

What is the history of the Merchants' Quarter in York?

The historic Merchants’ Quarter is an area of York city centre taking in Fossgate, Walmgate and Piccadilly. It takes its name from the incredibly preserved and beautiful Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, a medieval guildhall situated between Fossgate and Piccadilly, and from the many merchant trading activities that have centred on this part of York over the years.

Walmgate and Fossgate developed along the site of the main Roman road from the east which ran towards the gate of the Roman Fortress at what is now King’s Square.

The area continued to be important and in medieval times had a large number of significant buildings including houses, guildhalls and churches such as St Denys.

During this time, a number of important men and women came together to form a religious and trading group, the guild of Merchant Adventurers (people who risk their own money in overseas trade). In 1357, they built the timber-framed Merchant Adventurers’ Hall which survives today and is thought to be one of the finest examples of a guildhall. They used the Hall to transact their business affairs, to meet together socially, to look after the poor and sick and to pray.

The medieval houses occupied long narrow strips of land known as ‘burghage’ plots, which had a house fronting the street with land for a kitchen garden and orchard behind, and often outbuildings or stables at the foot of the plot. The characteristic plot width is still visible in some of the frontages and in the form of the development behind.

The area appears to have become increasingly industrial from the 14th century through to the 17th centuries, with metalworking, tanning, sheepskin processing and pottery manufacture being carried out, as discovered by the York Archaeological Trust in partnership with ‘Time Team’ – a popular TV archaeology show – who did a dig next door to the Parisi on the site of the apartments which occupy the corner of St Denys road and Walmgate in late 1999.

The Rowntree Chocolate factory is said to have its origins in the Walmgate shop founded by the rather fabulous-sounding Quaker Mary Tuke in 1725. At the time the Merchant Adventurers’ Company enforced strict trading restrictions but Mary Tuke rebelled against these to form a successful grocery.

The Tukes started manufacturing chocolate too and came under the ownership of the Rowntrees, beginning the philanthropic manufacturing dynasty in York.

Rowntree Wharf, visible from Walmgate and consisting of five stories and a nine-storey water tower, is thought to be York’s best historic industrial building. Built as one of the largest flour mills in Europe in 1860, the building, situated between the river Foss and Wormald’s cut was supplied with grain by barge. The mill closed in 1930 and in 1935 it became the Rowntree and Co’s Navigation Warehouse.

Today there is a vibrant scene of independent traders, restaurants and cafes, who run a car-free street festival on selected Sundays in the summer on Fossgate.

There is a lot more interesting information about the history of the area on the following local websites:

- The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall website
- History of York website
- The Rowntree Society website
- York Council’s appraisal of the character areas in the historic core
- York Archaeological Trust website
- Fossgate’s facebook
page with details of upcoming festivals

Merchant Adventurers' Hall and St Denys Church York
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