Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Plague Stones of York

Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut 1493

Pestilence and plague have stalked this island many times throughout history, always with frightening and devastating results, sometimes leaving completely empty communities in their wake. In many towns and villages, there are still reminders of those dark days,
 in the shape of plague stones.

In many locations around the country, during times of plague, hollowed stone boulders, stone basins, or sometimes the reused base of crosses with hollow depressions carved into them, were set up on boundaries where different communities, such as town and country dwellers, could trade for food and other goods, without fear of contagion. The shallow depressions were filled with vinegar, and city residents would place money in the hollows, to safely pay outsiders for goods, hopefully stopping the spread of the deadly disease.

The Burton Stone, York
The Burton Stone, York

The best known plague stone in York is The Burton Stone. The stone itself has several hollows and is believed to be the base of one of the boundary crosses that marked the jurisdiction of the City. This one used to stand outside the Chapel of Mary Magdalene, where travellers had previously paid for prayers and protection before travelling out of the City and through the dangerous Forest of Galtres, with its wolves and thieves.

The Burton Stone Pub
Burton Stone Lane, York

The Burton Stone was named after the local Burton family, and the lane named after the stone. It resides at the side of the Burton Stone Pub at the junction of Burton Stone Lane with the A19 into York, and now has its own plaque. It was originally one of four stones, one at each entrance to the City of York. Two others at Fulford and Heworth have long ago disappeared.

York has suffered many plagues in its history, the Black Death in 1349 possibly killing half of its occupants, a chronicler from St Mary's Abbey recording that 'there were hardly enough living to care for the sick and bury the dead.' Plague and pestilence continued to periodically visit York and, in 1604, there was a particularly bad outbreak when 3,500 of the estimated population of 10,000, died. 

Paul Fürst engraving of a plague doctor of Marseilles 1721
Paul Fürst engraving of a plague doctor of Marseilles 1721

The plague stones, sometimes called vinegar stones, played an important part in sustaining the population through these dark times.

Hob Moor plague stone, York
Hob Moor plague stone, York

On Hob Moor, between Acomb, Holgate and Dringhouses, one of the still-existing ancient commons of York, there is another plague stone. The poor who were known to have contracted the disease were isolated from the rest of the population here, and housed in temporary wooden huts on the moor. The Hob Moor plague stone played the same role in allowing these people to still trade for food and other goods. There were also similar temporary camps located near to St Lawrence's Church on Hull Road and at the Horsefair on Gillygate, where the coach park is now.

The Hob Stone, Little Hob Moor, York
The Hob Stone, Little Hob Moor, York

Next to the Hob Moor plague stone stands the Hob Stone, beside the path on Little Hob Moor. The Hob Stone is actually a badly eroded effigy of a Knight of the de Ros family, thought to have been sculted in 1315. It is still possible to make out the shape and pattern of the shield, but little else. 

Hob Stone and Plague Stone plaque, Little Hob Moor, York

In front of the two stones of Hob Moor is a plaque, giving details, and saying that the Hob Stone was placed there in 1717. It also bears the inscription that can no longer be read on the stone: "This image long Hob's name has bore 'Who was a Knight in time of yore and gave this Common to ye Poor."

Hob Moor has a really interesting history and is well worth visiting, as is The Burton Stone, if you're ever in the area.

Thanks for reading!


Justbod Team

Visit our main site 

Artwork, carvings and sculptures
~ inspired by a love of history and nature ~

Celtic, Viking and Mythical gifts from Justbod

You might also be interested in:

Celtic Lovers wall plaque in bronze and oak by Justbod
Visit our 'Lovers' page

For regular updates on new products, articles & offers :  
subscribe to our mailing list

Sources and further information: 

Headline Image: 'Danse macabre' by Michael Wolgemut 1493
Friends of Hob Moor: The History of Hob Moor
Visit York: Graveyard, Coffin and Plague Tour  (PDF file)



  1. Nice bit of local history, wonder how many other places in the UK stll have them

    1. I don't know about the rest of the UK Bill, but I do know of others in Yorkshire. I've seen one in Leeds and one in Ackworth, so they were probably quite common at one time.