About the York Butchers Gild

The Butchers, together with other Gilds, played a key role in the governance of the city, in the maintenance of trade standards, and in the training of apprentices. Gild membership, following a seven year apprenticeship, was one way of becoming a Freeman of the City. Trades would tend to congregate in one area of a town for ease of communication, and the Shambles in York is well-known as the butchers’ street. Saint Margaret Clitherow was married to a York butcher. A devout Catholic convert and zealous promoter of her faith, she was executed in 1586 and her house in the Shambles is her shrine. Although no longer standing, the Butchers’ own Gild Hall lay behind the Shambles in Gell Garth, an area now occupied by York Market. Today the Gild holds its meetings at Jacobs Well on Trinity Lane, Micklegate.

The Butchers may well have been responsible for a civic duty, that is, to act as the City Executioners, and one of the artefacts of the Company is a large, unpointed, ceremonial execution sword. The religious Mystery Plays were a most important part of the life of the craft gilds. These plays were performed on a procession of pageants at various stations throughout the City, and the Butchers’, probably because of their role in killing and butchering animals, enacted ‘The Death of Christ’. These plays are still performed every four years as the ‘Waggon’ Mystery Plays when each Gild performs its traditional pageant, and on the 13th and 20th July 2014 the Butchers Gild will again pull its waggon through the streets of York to perform the crucifixion scene.

In common with all other York Gilds, the Company now worships in All Saints’ Church, Pavement, with its own service usually on the last Sunday of October. Colourfully robed Officers of the Gilds exert their right to formally process along the streets of York to attend these services. In addition there is a United Gilds Service in May, and a United Gilds Carol Service in December. Today the 100 or so Butchers’ Gild members celebrate the historic origins of Butchers in York. Through fellowship at feasts held in the ancient Gild Halls of York, and through fund-raising for the Gild’s Charitable activities, the members keep the Gild history alive and support local charitable needs.

Butchers Gild Charitable donations may be made: for the furtherance of Civic, Gild, and Gild Church Life in the city of York; for the benefit of persons in training and education in the butchers’ trade, meat and food industry, and allied trades; for the relief of people in need; for the financing of medical research; for the advancement of arts and crafts and the appreciation of arts; for the provision and maintenance of buildings and facilities for the purpose of education, recreation and leisure; all within the City of York and the historic county of Yorkshire.

Applications for donations can be made by writing to the Chairman of the Trustees c/o The Clerk, 14 Askam Road,
Bramley, Rotherham, S. Yorks, S66 3YR