History of 57 & 59 Blossom Street

Although it cannot claim as lengthy a history as many of the historic tourist attractions in the City of York, the building at 57/59 Blossom Street nevertheless has an interesting past, and is certainly a property with character.

The property was built in around 1861 and remarkably has been in the ownership of only 3 families. The building stands on the site of the “Sun Inn” which was owned by a John Glaisby, although we know for certain that the Inn had been demolished by 1860. The land was purchased by a butcher, Robert Burrow Atkinson, and he had the current building constructed to provide larger premises than his original shop further down Blossom Street.

Originally known as 23 Blossom Street, it is believed that the property has always had retail premises on the ground floor, but the upper floors have had a wide variety of uses over the years. What is now known as 59 Blossom Street has been used as offices for a number of businesses run by the Atkinson family, who as well as butchery traded as corn merchants and hay & straw dealers. Later the premises were used for other purposes including a doctors’ surgery, offices and a B&B, as well as having been used as living accommodation at several points in its history.

The shop downstairs has a much more stable history, having only ever seen service as a butcher’s shop, and then a Pharmacy. However, it has a very interesting story to tell, in that it claims to be the birthplace of the original “York Ham”…or at least the reason why it became famous.

The original Mr R.B. Atkinson opened his butcher’s shop as soon as the new premises were completed, and his speciality was cured ham. The cellars beneath the shop were the perfect temperature for curing the huge sides of meat – as many as 400 at a time. Word spread quickly – especially among the thousands of racegoers who flocked to the meetings on Knavesmire several times a year. In the late 19th century, practically all visitors to the City arrived by train, and a walk along Blossom Street past the Ham Shop was the obvious route for them all to take. Many stopped off to buy a few ounces of ham, or a boiled ham sandwich; the richer folk a whole side or maybe even several.

Thanks to its unique taste (created by curing in the cellars for at least 12 months – sometimes as long as 3 years) the visitors would often ask for ham in other towns and cities “like they sell in York”, and thus the phrase “York Ham” was born! Indeed, Mr Atkinson’s son Edward fought a legal case against a Leeds firm who were mass-producing a product they called “York Ham”. He successfully obtained an injunction to prevent anyone calling their product “York Ham” unless it had been cured within 2 miles of the City boundary.

If you venture into the cellars beneath the shop today, you will still see the hooks in the beams on which once hung the original York Hams.

57 & 59 Blossom Street were sold to Benjamin Brooke in 1921, by which time the York Ham shop had already become a Pharmacy - a status it has retained to this day. The Atkinson family continued to own and live in the adjoining property at 61 Blossom Street, and ran various businesses there - most recently a wines and spirits merchant - until the 1980s.

The Pharmacy passed down to Benjamin Brooke’s son (who was also called Benjamin), and the business continued to trade as “B. Brooke” long after the family had severed their ties with the retail pharmacy trade. In 1966, John Savage became the manager of the business, becoming the proprietor in 1970, and he bought the building itself from the Brooke family in 1988.

In many ways, all that 57 & 59 Blossom Street is missing in order to be an essential part of the history of the City of York is a ghost. Sadly, we can’t provide one, but if one were to present itself, a butcher with a meat cleaver and bloodstained apron might be the most likely!