The Shambles is a very old lane. Some argue it is the best preserved Medieval street in Europe, though some sources note that none of the storefronts are original. The street is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 though many of the buildings date later around the 14th and 15th centuries. The cobbled lane is lined by old buildings with overhanging upper stories, lurching overhead as if they are growing up and over the lane. The overhangs cover the lane in shade. I wondered, have I stumbled into Diagon Alley?
Historically, The Shambles was called Fleshammels, meaning street of the butchers. Indeed, it was a street of butchers and the meat would hang on hooks in the shady recess below the overhanging second stories. Some of these hooks can still be found.
"The Shambles" is often used to describe collectively all the small lanes in the area and the snickelways snaking between them but The Shambles is actually just one street, a few blocks long, with Little Shambles street jutting off to the side (which lead to a nice little outdoor market). It was much smaller than I had imagined and lined with shops that were less intriguing than I wished (but I did kind of expect Ollivander's Wands and Flourish & Blotts). It was quite busy on a rainy March day. I hate to imagine a summer weekend in the Shambles full of sweaty tourists. That said, the area is definitely worth exploring, crowded or not.
At night, however, The Shambles is all but deserted. We explored The Shambles at night after a rain (and a few pints) and it felt as ancient as it actually is. The commercialism had gone to bed with the sun. Only lovers and lurkers and history remained.