Inside The Guildhall With The Lord Mayor Of York
VISIT YORK, THEY’RE MORE FRIENDLY UP NORTH | Sharon Henry
Once considered ‘boring’ the City of York today is anything but, thriving with pubs, tea rooms and restaurants to water and feed the millions entering its medieval walls for a spot of sightseeing. “It was considered to be very much a boring sort of place when I was at school,” smiles Barbara Boyce, Lord Mayor of York. “It’s changed because of the development of the two universities. Students have breathed life into the city and we are now more progressive. York is becoming a modern, vibrant city.”
Yes – we are talking to the Lord Mayor of York, we do get around! The fact that we’re natives of her bucket list destination, St Helena, got us through the door, Barbara’s always wanted to go.
Secret Passages and Menacing Bosses
We’re in the inner room of the York Guildhall which is filled with artefacts older than the discovery of our home island. Hidden behind the panelling are two secret stairways and menacing bosses stare down from the ceiling. I love it.
Barbara, a former York councillor is a local to the city (as is Judi Dench and Guy Fawkes), she’s wearing a fancy gold necklace, the chains of office, and over coffee confesses she marvels of her role because her grandmother was born in the workhouse (1895), kind of a rags to riches story. “The workhouse in the 19th century was where they sent people who were destitute, somewhere everybody dreaded. The local paper described Barbara’s rise to Mayor as, ‘From the workhouse to the Mansion House in three generations'”. Mansion House is the official abode of the mayor, like Plantation House is for St Helena’s governor.
The Medieval Walled City of York
We discuss flights to St Helena and Jonathan our 187-year-old tortoise, believed to be the oldest living animal in the world and ask what’s York’s biggest claim to fame? “Railways and chocolate I think, and I’d quite like to come and see your tortoise!” adds Barbara.
Top recommendation from the Lord Mayor of York for visitors is to walk around the city walls. “It’s quite a hike and a bit steep but you get the best views absolutely free. Tourist attractions can often be expensive,” she says honestly. “But, there are things that don’t cost a lot. Between Bootham Bar to Monk Bar is probably the prettiest part [of the wall] with wonderful views of the Minster, it’s something you can do for nothing.”
Afternoon Tea At Bettys Tea Rooms
Food-wise Barbara recommends Bettys Tea Rooms which is a bit of an institution. “If you’ve never been, go once but it is expensive and you’ll have to queue. There are other places that do just as nice food but less expensive. Go to more local looking places, go down Foss Gate there’s a lot of eating places opened up down there, it’s getting well known for its food.
“I think people should come to York because we’re friendly!” Barbara laughs when prompted. “When you come up North to Yorkshire people here are more friendly and outgoing.” True that! Something we haven’t failed to notice.
On a more serious note we touch on the difficulties preserving a historic city like York. “It costs a lot of money. But York is not just a museum. Yes, it’s a city with a great history but we also live in the 21st century and I think we’ve got to remember that. We do need to attract jobs and industries that are going to bring high value jobs to give people opportunities. There can be a lot of complaining about anything new or if anything changes. I think we’ve got to embrace change.”
Being The Lord Mayor Of York
The role of Lord Mayor of York is ceremonial rather than political, a one year ambassadorial position. “The best thing is I am finding out about lots of people and things that are going on in York that I didn’t know about,” Barbara admits. “There are so many interesting, involved and committed people doing so much good work for other people.”
The official duties are wide ranging from visiting schools and old people’s homes to judging at a dog show and part-taking in a beer festival. Enjoyable as it is, it can also be a tiring schedule at times.
“Part of my duties is to preside over citizenship ceremonies where foreign nationals are becoming British. It’s something I’m very proud to do.”
And if there were such a thing as a magic wand, what would she change? “I always would like to see more tolerance; I can’t stand abuse or neglect of anybody or anything. So, more kindness really. I can’t bear it when people neglect their kids or animals or whatever it is. It’s actually about kindness and consideration to all people and all species.”
Our meeting came to an end and just like that the Lord Mayor of York was whisked off to attend another community event. We like Barbara Boyce, she makes a wonderful ambassador for York.