As the curtain prepares to rise on a ground-breaking performance of the Mystery Plays at York Minster, young visitors to York are invited to stage their own versions of some of the greatest stories ever told with a recreation of the Wagon Plays at Barley Hall in Coffee Yard, off York’s Stonegate.
The Wagon Plays were the earliest form of York’s Mystery Plays, performed by members of the city’s Guilds in a promenade performance around the streets of York, with of the assorted professions performing different biblical stories according to their own skills – shipwrights would recreate the story of Noah’s Ark, whilst butchers traditionally played the Crucifixion. Wagons provided an elevated stage for each chapter of the story, with the wagons being moved from venue to venue. York’s Wagon Plays were resurrected in 1951, and now take place on a four year rotating cycle, running in the gaps between the Mystery Plays.
“Traditionally, 48 different stories formed part of the Wagon Plays cycle, with each cycle including 12 stories, but we’re conscious that recreating all of them during a single visit might prove too much of a challenge for even the most committed young thespian, so our wagon set includes backdrops for two key stories from the Bible – the great flood and the nativity,” comments Paul Ruxton, Visitor Services and Experience Manager at Barley Hall. “Our young performers can choose to take a role from the mighty to the meek, with costumes to play God, sheep and many characters in between during their visit, and a seating area where parents can enjoy the show!”
The Wagon Plays form part of Barley Hall’s exploration of the role of the York Guilds, including a special display from one that continues to thrive today. The Company of Butchers of the City of York is one of only three that has maintained a continuous history from its 13thcentury roots.
“The Guilds were incredibly important to the city of York throughout the medieval period – there were 96 craft guilds in the city by 1415, and they contributed not only economically, but also politically to the running of the city,” explains Paul. “The Freemen of York were the first guild, to negotiate a Royal Charter so that they were the only people allowed to trade in the city – and you could not join any other guild or be eligible to vote until you secured Freeman status.”
The story of the Guilds sits alongside the popular Power & Glory exhibition at Barley Hall, which describes the one and only visit of Henry VIII, and his fifth wife Catherine Howard, to the city in 1541. The visit came at a particularly turbulent time for York, when its fortunes were waning and the Lord Mayor had to beg forgiveness for the city’s previous transgressions against the king. Trouble was stirring in Henry VIII’s personal life, too, as Catherine Howard is said to have continued her affair with courtier Thomas Culpepper during this royal progress.
The exhibition in Barley Hall continues the story told across The JORVIK Group’s other attractions, the Richard III and Henry VII Experiences at Monk Bar and Micklegate Bar. Visitors can now explore the story of the fall of the Plantagenets and rise of the Tudors from 1483 to 1547 with the York Medieval Pass, which includes entry to all three attractions.
Admission prices are £6.00 for adults, £4.50 for concessions and £3.00 for children with family tickets available for £15.00 (two adults and two children) or £17.50 (two adults and three children). The York Medieval Pass costs £8.00 for adults, £6.00 for concessions and £4.50 for children, with family tickets available for £22.75 (two adults and two children) or £23.75 (two adults and three children).
For further information, please visit www.barleyhall.co.uk
For further media information or photographs, please contact:
Pyper York Limited
Tel: 01904 500698