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The Shambles (official name Shambles) is an old street in York, England, with overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century. It was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, probably from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels (literally 'flesh-shelves'), the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their meat. As recently as 1872 there were twenty-five butchers' shops in the street but now there are none.
Among the buildings of the Shambles is a shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow, who was married to a butcher who owned and lived in a shop there.
Although the butchers have now vanished, a number of the shops on the street still have meat-hooks hanging outside and, below them, shelves on which meat would have been displayed. The shops currently include a mixture of eateries and souvenir sellers, but there are also a bookshop and a bakery.
Five Snickelways lead off the Shambles.
"Shambles" is an obsolete term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market. Streets of that name were so called from having been the sites on which butchers killed and dressed animals for consumption. The Shambles in Stroud still has the hinged wooden boards attached to the shops, and hosts a regular local market.
The Shambles in Shepton Mallet, Somerset is a much shorter replica of the fourteenth century shambles that housed the regular Monday market since 1318. The market however was moved to Friday in 1641 and is still held around the local shambles monument.
During that period there were no sanitary facilities or hygiene laws as exist today, and guts, offal, and blood were thrown into a runnel down the middle of the street or open space where the butchering was carried out. By extension, any scene of total disorganisation and mess is now referred to as, "a shambles".
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