Take a tour

As people around the world stay indoors, many York alumni are thinking back to happy times spent exploring this beautiful city. In this alumni magazine article from 2018, alumnus Matthew Greenwood from Exploring York gave his insight into the city of York and his work as a tour guide.

What is the most enjoyable thing about being a tour guide?

I would say it is the expression on people’s faces when they’re surprised by learning something new about York, or when things piece together and they make connections between things.

What is your favourite place, area or building in York and why?

Well actually, it’s quite appropriate because it’s Kings Manor, which is a University of York property. I would say because it’s such an understated building in terms of its history – the fact that it was the council of the North for a period, so therefore it was parliament for the North of England, essentially. And that’s not a well-known fact outside of York. And for the fact it is such a beautiful building! A mini palace in York.

Tell us a weird fact about York which not many people would know.

One thing that springs to mind is the fact that Henry VIII stayed just once, in York with wife number five, Catherine Howard, and they stayed at the King’s Manor where she was having an affair with Thomas Culpepper. They were spotted in the rose garden, but it’s possible that he used the bath-room at the side of the house, which is now the smallest window in York, which is right at the very end of the King’s Manor building. It’s a little window on the far left-hand side as you look at the front of the building. A slightly more gruesome one would be that Henry VIII had a man called Robert Aske hung to death in York. Aske was a leader of a rebellion in the North of England against Henry VIII, and it’s said that he was hung until he was almost dead but then he was left in a metal cage for the birds to peck his eyes out.

In your view, what is the most interesting aspect of York’s history, and why?

I’m not going to go with the obvious Roman and Viking history. I’m probably going to go with Georgian history, because it’s an element of York’s history that’s not well-known or particularly well-marketed. It really was, if you like, the Northern version of Bath. There were perhaps 60 Georgian townhouses around the city – many of which are still there – and wealthy families owning each one of them. And three important things sprung up in that period to serve the wealthy people. One of them was the racecourse, second one was the original Theatre Royal, and the third one was the Assembly Rooms, which is now ASK.

If someone was wishing to become a tour guide, what advice would you give them to help them be successful?

I would say that, basically they need to ask themselves, have they got a passion for wherever it is that they’re guiding, or the subject that they’re guiding about. Then it’s getting that passion across to the audience, and turning facts into an engaging narrative.

What is the most challenging thing about your job as a tour guide?

One of the most challenging things can be doing a tour for people of different nationalities who don’t necessarily speak great English, or are at different levels. And the tour has to be in English because they speak various languages, but you don’t exactly know what level of English they have. And there may be an interpreter on the tour as well, so that would be the most challenging, because the main thing about being a tour guide is creating that engaging story, but it’s tricky doing it in a way that it’s simplistic enough that you don’t lose the message.

When is your favourite season in York and why?

On a personal level, I guess summer time and Christmas time, because it’s great to see York in all its glory when there’s nice weather in summer; Christmas time because York is so magical at Christmas time. But from a professional point of view, I would say probably late spring, that’s when York is busy, business-wise, but not too crowded.

As students we may be less likely to do some of the typical tourist activities in York, but is there anything you would suggest doing while at university?

I’d probably say spend just one weekend, during their time in York, just going to two or three of the museums, if they can. Whether it be going in the Minster or the National Railway Museum, or going in some of the smaller, off-the-beaten-track museums like the Merchant Adventurers Hall, or Barley Hall, or the Regimental museum. And to make sure that they do a full circuit of the walls while they’re at university.

A longer version of this article was originally published in Nouse and written by Features Editor, Fran Carruthers.

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