See foot of page for a report on new developments on the section of wall near Baile Hill at the south-east corner...
A project supported by Historic England is expected to begin early October, 2020
A city with a history of conflict
... Have been called the Bar Walls and the Roman Walls. Why so?
They were built first in AD 71, twenty eight years after the Romans again stepped onto these shores in the reign of Claudius, the 'stutterer'. A 'castra' or fort was erected that took up around 50 acres near the River Ouse. The rectangular walls were built as an element of the fort's defences. On average the walls you see now are 13 feet (4 m) in height and the original Roman element is barely visible, the course having been significantly changed down the centuries since they left these , shores around end of the first decade of the 5th Century AD.
A famous landmark, part of the Roman citadel, likely to have been a later Roman addition from the time of Constantine 'the Great' - about AD 310-320. Built with ten sides, based on a regular 14-sided figure so a circle between the internal faces is tangential to the curve. The back four sides were omitted to give defenders access to the tower's interior.
In the late 5th Century Eboracum became Eoferwic when the Aengle (Angles) arrived. They did little to strengthen the edifice, thus making it easier for the Danes to take the burh as the heart of the kingdom of Jorvik. The Danes rendered much of the existing defences, aside from the Multangular Tower, and rebuilt them.
The large part of the remaining walls that ringed the mediaeval city date from the 12th-14th Centuries. From the eastern corner of the Roman walls the mediaeval walls extend to Layerthorpe Bridge - the king's fishpool - a swamp created by the Normans' damming the River Foss. Thus defences were not needed here in the south-east of the city (near the present - A19 - Fulford Road). Defence of the city was additionally aided by the rampart beneath the walls and the sixty foot (18.3 m) wide, ten foot (3 m) deep ditch that surrounded them.
More recently the ditch was almost wholly filled in and no longer presents a hindrance. You can walk across the space between, say, Lord Mayor's Walk and the wall. Because of this the ground immediately by the walls is higher in most places than it was in mediaeval times. The walls resume past the now canalised River Foss at the Red Tower, a brick structure much restored down the centuries. They follow south and west around the Walmgate area and finish at another tower, the Fishergate postern formerly surrounded by a wall and moat of its own. A short stretch of wall to the west side of Tower Gardens ends at the the Davy Tower, another brick-built tower next to the River Ouse. This once led to the castle walls with a postern gate on Tower Street (see pictures).
Across the river the walls continue from the eastern end of Skeldergate (see also pictures) where another postern stood. They rise beyond Bile Hill and turn right, going on a north-westerly alignment parallel to the Inner Ring Road. Close to the railway station they turn right, going north over where an arch was built in the mid-19th Century to accommodate a railway arch to access the old 1841 for the York & North Midland Railway coming from the south-west, and the Great North of England Railway from the north. They turn right again, north-easterly for a short way and accommodate two road access points to the inner city. From here they follow north to the river at Lendal Bridge, ending at the Barker Tower on the west bank of the River Ouse. The Barker Tower was linked to the Lendal Tower across the river by a long, stout chain designed to halt attacks from upriver. A short stretch of wall leads to the Yorkshire Museum's main gate, the Multangular Tower and the original course of the multi-layered Roman wall - faced with small stones and red brick courses - visible along a paved walkway.
The walls were repaired during the English Civil War in the 17th Century by a Parliamentary garrison, and subsequently during the later Jacobean risings (Old and Young Pretenders, early 18th Century) from fears of an incursion south from Scotland. The walls were restored again during the reign of Queen Victoria after falling into a state of disrepair from neglect. The wall walk was widened at this time, extending it in places - the northern section with its views of the cathedral precinct. Previously this would have been narrower, for the use of the defence force. The battlements and some wall tops were also restored. Some arrow slits are now of the wrong height, having been remodelled, and some too narrow for the width of the neighbouring parapet. Some parts of the walls have small holes named musket loops, that date back to the 17th Century. In the northern area, with views of the cathedral the walls were defended from interval towers, higher than before the Victorian restoration. Most of the merlons - solid parts of the crenellated parapet between two embrasures - spaced along the walls were added by the Victorians. Some pre-date this time as witnessed by a 1782 view of Micklegate Bar and 1807 illustration that show the Multangular Tower and adjoining walls. Very few of the original merlons remain. One of the most noticeable wall additions is the Victorian Robin Hood tower that dates only to 1889!
Tower Street - close to the south-eastern section of the wall near the Castle
Postern Gate, at the eastern end of Piccadilly**...
..Near where it joins Tower Street is this gate tower that affords access to the wall. A plaque attached to the wall (being read by the gentleman in the bottom picture above) informs of the gate tower's history. The 'tower' in the street name is Clifford's Tower opposite the main doors to the present, 17th Century castle, and bears witness to a tragic event that unfolded in the Middle Ages. Again a plaque informs of its gruesome past. The wall continues eastward and then north around the eastern edge of the city of York towards Foss Islands Road where it's broken again - not ruined, there's a gap between here and where it continues from Peasholme Green and runs north-westward to the Minster Quarter along Jewbury, St Maurice's Road and Lord Mayor's Walk and turns south-westward beside Gillygate - and if you followed along the wall the steps lead down to road level at the northern end of Navigation Road. The National Centre for Early Music is located on Walmgate*, and further along this road is the Merchant Adventurers' Hall, a grand looking half-timbered building accessed by stone steps down from the present road level. Well worth a visit if you've got the time to explore.
* In time-honoured fashion, as with all Britain's cities, the 'gates' are main roads, gateways are 'bars', as in Monkbar or Micklegate Bar In the early days, from the early Middle Ages, the main roads in a city were 'Gatan', similar to where in Denmark or Norway, for instance, the main roads are marked as 'Gade'.
**By the way, in case you've never had the time or the inclination to find out, a 'piccadilly' was a late 16th- early 17th Century ruff collar (Elizabethan to Jacobean). Men and women are pictured wearing them in individual and family portraits painted around this time
A York map that shows the extent of the walls.
York's walls from the archives
A walk around the walls reveals many surprises...
Some are complete surprises, and you'll have noticed them on your way through the pictures above, and some are pleasant reminders of what you might have seen before and maybe not had time to appreciate. Where we started from, Micklegate Bar ('Micklegate' stems from the Old Norse for 'Mikkel Gata' or Great Street) is where the road from the south entered the city. To someone even in the 19th Century the sight of the 'Bar' or gate for the first time would have made an indelible impression. In the barbican or fortification you can visit the Henry VII Museum before you start your tour of the walls.
Not far from here you'll have to leave the wall walk at Lendal Bridge, where carriage sidings of the North Eastern Railway stopped short of the river before the 1877 station was built on the curve just outside the city wall. You can see where the old station was through an arch built into the wall where trains from north and south entered the original station (later the storage site for car trains, introduced for services to Scotland to enable drivers to relax instead of having to drive all the way from London or York to the far north. I believe the service ended in the 1970s It was a good idea while it lasted, but all-too-brief).
Carry on from the north side of the river to Bootham Bar where the Scots' rampage was held in the reign of Edward III by his able northern lords whilst he led an army in Normandy and Picardy against the French. The wall continues around the rear of the cathedral (the 'Minster') and its gardens parallel to Lord Mayor's Walk. Goodram Gate (Guthrum's street) joins next, under Monk Bar, with Lord Mayor's Walk and St. Maurice's Road, leading out to Monk Gate and Heworth Green. The Richard III Museum (well away from Henry VII) is housed in the Monk Bar barbican Richard, as Duke of Gloucester and then king was popular in the North. It was his 'power base', and his coat of arms can be seen on the sides of Lendal Bridge. Carry on past Monk Bar to Peasholme Green where the wall is broken again. On Peasholme Green you can see the half-timbered 'Black Swan Inn', where a certain young James Wolfe grew up. He would later lose his life storming the Heights of Abraham at Quebec (where French general Montcalm lost his own life defending). Another man, Lt. James Cook, would later achieve fame through mapping the St Lawrence River and go on to command ships in the Pacific.
Near where the wall begins again at Foss Islands is the very modern Hungate Bridge over the now peaceful River Foss.
Follow the wall onward to reach Walmgate Bar with its impressive barbican where buses head toward Piccadilly and Coppergate. Not far from here is Lead Mill Lane that reaches toward George Lane and the small cemetery where Richard 'Dick' Turpin (see also the Epping Forest pages in the 'Heritage' series) was buried after execution for murder at the Knavesmire outside York, where the racecourse is now. He'd been arrested near Doncaster for theft of a mare - Black Bess - and her foal. Whilst being held in prison at York Castle (now museum) pending bail he wrote a letter to his brother asking for a character reference. The postmaster intercepted his letter and, recognising the handwriting alerted the authorities to his whereabouts Turpin - using the alias of John Palmer - was duly convicted...
Next stop is the Postern Gate on the corner of Piccadilly and Lead Mill Lane and the end of our walk around the walls on the north side of the river. Cross Skeldergate Bridge unless you wish to make a refreshment stop at Dyl's Cafe Bar beside the bridge.
Continuing the tour of the wall you can follow it at the end of Skeldergate, around Bishopsgate Street, round the corner to Price's Lane and along north-westward along Nunnery Lane back to Micklegate Bar.
[Leave a tip for the guide, thank you].
Let's follow the walls between the barbicans (the bar, or gate towers), clockwise from Micklegate Bar
Take in the City from a different perspective
Walk the Walls... it's not continuous, although it does take you around the perimeter of the Mediaeval city of York, and wherever you are there's a view of the cathedral known popularly as 'the Minster'. You can't get lost. At each section of the walls where you either join or leave there are diagrams of the local streets, how to get to the next section, and plaques that give you a short history of where you are. Views are excellent, information is plentiful. You're immersed in history. Enjoy.
The walls are broken by four main gatehouses...
(barbicans or bars, starting on the north-west side: Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar)
Monk Bar, the tallest sand most elaborate of the four, was built in the early 14th Century, meant as a self-contained fortress, each floor to be defended independently. The one you see now replaced a 12th Century structure called Munecagate, 100 yards (91 m) to the north-west on the site of a Roman porta decumana, its location marked by a dip in the earth rampart. Monk Bar houses the Richard III Experience, a museum that houses a working portcullis or 'drop gate'..
Walmgate Bar much of which was built in the 14th Century, contains an inner gatgeway that dates to the 12th Century. Originally named Walbegate and built on the eastern end of the road by that name - may be a personal Anglo-Danish name. A prominent feature of the bar is the barbican, the only surviving example on a city gate in England. There is a portcullis and bears reproduction 15th Century oak doors. An Elizabethan house can be seen on the inner side of the bar structure with stone Tuscan order columns of original Roman vintage and modified 1584. It had been damaged in 1489 during the early years of the reign of the famously tight-fisted Henry VII during riots against his extortionate taxes.
Micklegate Bar gets its name from Old Norse Miklagata or Great Street, and leads to the main thoroughfare of the same name that leads down to the river. It was the traditional ceremonial gateway for ruling monarchs to enter the city from the south - from the London direction - a tradition that dates back to Richard III's triumphal entry.being to touch the sword of state when entering. The lower part of the structure is 12th Century, the top storeys 14th Century. The original barbican was removed in 1826 during the reign of George IV. At least six reigning monarchs passed through here. Its symbolic status led to traitors' severed heads being spiked atop the defences. Heads left to rot included Henry Percy ('Hotspur' 1403), Henry Scrope, 3rd Baron Scrope of Masham (1415), Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (at the behest of Margaret, queen to Henry VI, 1461 after the Battle of Wakefield - his nephews were executed before him, and a paper crown placed on his head by the queen in mockery of his aim to unseat her husband), and Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland (after the Rising of the North in 1569 - a Catholic rebellion against the young Queen Elizabeth I). The upper two floors had living quarters until the 20th Century and now houses a museum, the Henry VII Experience (although he did York no favours, especially in the defeat of Richard III at Bosworth Field, Leicestershire, in 1485). Restoration of the edifice was completed in 2017.
Bootham Bar, much of which was built in the 14th Century and changed in the 19th. It has some of the oldest surviving stonework that dates back to the 11th Century - possibly after the rebellion in 1069 and rebuilding of York's defences under the auspices of William I. It occupies the site of the porta pricipalis dextra, the north-western gate of Roman York. It was known in in the 12th Century as barram de Bootham, bar at the booths on account of the nearby market booths. It withstood more than one attack by the Scots during their campaigns at the time of Edward III and the Jacobean risings of the 18th Century. The last of York's bars to be stripped of its barbican, removed in 1835 in the reign of William IV (uncle and predecessor of Queen Victoria), the gateway presides over the northern exit of the A19 to Thirsk and Northallerton.
Fishergate Bar datres.back to the early 14th Century, docume.nted as Barram Fishergate. It was bricked up after the tax riot in 1489 and reopened 1827. These days Fishergate Bar provides pedestrian access between Fawcett Street/Paragon Street and George Street.
Victoria Bar as per the name, is a 19th Century addition opened 1838 to provide access between Nunnery Lane and Bishjophill. During its construction the remains of an earlier gateway were found beneath.It was likely to have been a gateway known in the 12th Century as the Secluded Gateway - possibly an access gate for the clergy to the church of St Mary Bishophill Junior, where King Harold's brother the former earl Tostig is said to have been interred after the Battle of Stamford Bridge nearby to the east of York in late September, 1066. At that time the city walls were of timber construction - pallisaded - before being rebuilt in stone around AD 1250.
Early mediaeval fortifications at Baile Hill near the end of Skeldergate have become overgrown with trees since the time of William I
... Signs of 'the Conquest'...
Fortifications built by the Normans in the reign of William I were originally of timber and were burnt down - twice, in 1068 and 1069 - during popular risings, replaced after 1069 by masonry. The 1069 rising led to his 'Harrying of the North' (covered accurately in 'The English Resistance - The Underground War Against the Normans' by Peter Rex - published 2004 & 2006 by Tempus Publishing, ISBN 0-7524-3733-X). These views above are at the southern end of Skeldergate where it meets Bishopgate Street before you turn left to cross Skeldergate Bridge, or right for Micklegate Bar (turn right again at Prices Lane to follow the walls clockwise). The thick foliage hides the wall above the end this section of wall from Micklegate Bar that turns the corner at Prices Lane onto Bishopgate.
Reference: 'Yorkshire Post Online', 24th September, 2020
Ramparts on a section of York's walls are cracking under the weight of the 200 year-old walkway. Work will begin to stabilise one of its towers.
Historians have said that what excavations uncover might shed new light on the history of the foundations,
"Normally if we found a crack, we might pin it together, or put mortar in", Dr Louisa Hood told 'Yorkshire Post' journalist Ruby Kitchen. "In this case the best way is to excavate. That is really exciting. We've got this fantastic opportunity, with an excavation and trial pits, to see if we can find out what was there before".
York's walls - the most complete in England - were first built by the Romans in AD71. The walls as seen now were raised after AD 1330, earlier fortifications considered to have been of timber. In the last five years the state of a 14th Century tower has started to deteriorate; cracks and bulges show a need to tend to the problem as soon as possible.
York Council's ancient monuments team is expected to start work on Thursday, 7th October, 2020, together with York Archaeological Trust, to stabilise 'Tower Two' to stop further deterioration. The tower is between Baile Hill - overlooking the eastern end of Skeldergate and Skeldergate Bridge - and Bitchdaughter Tower. This was built as an addition to the original walls with a walkway added later in the 18th/19th Century. Infill from the Victorian era was added to create the wall here and may be the cause of the damage. It will be removed to remedy the problem. There should be a chance to learn about the various phases of the wall's construction, experts hope.
Project work is expected to take four months from October. Pedestrian access to the ramparts will be open, in a smaller area however, with a temporary walkway to allow visitors a view of the excavation; ticketed tours at weekends and holidays, talks given by archaeologists and stone masons.
Historians expect evidence could be revealed on the relationship between the walls and an abandoned fortification that once took up this part of the south-eastern corner of the city walls. A second, minor castle stood in the area, built at Baile Hill under William I in AD 1069, in addition to the main stone-built, moated castle following the rising against the Normans that destroyed an earlier timber castle in the area between the present castle building and the mouth of the River Foss [there is a page in my 'Conquest' series that covers the history of York's early Norman fortifications and the rebellions; there two other pages in the 'Travel North' series that deal with the general history of the city - see the Profile Page by clicking on my name below the portrait].
...A city with railway history, and two stations within a few hundred yards of each other...
A tale of two stations
In 1839 the railways came to York. I use the plural because two companies' lines met at the entrance under the archway (see picture above) to enter the old station from north and south. From the north came the erstwhile Great North of England company's line (soon to become the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway - YN&BR), from the south came George Hudson's York & North Midland Railway (Y&NMR). George Hudson, elected Lord Mayor of York twice before his ignominious downfall is reputed to have said, "Mak' all railways coom t'Yoork!" (Make all railways come to York), although this is disputed. What is not disputed is his knack for making money work, and enabling the railway from Whitby via Pickering profit from its link with York by way of the Y&NMR. The old station thrived, bringing visitors into the city from as far afield as Edinburgh via Berwick-on-Tweed and London via Euston Station (there was no direct link from King's Cross until much later). By the time the North Eastern Railway (NER) came about Hudson had been removed from the scene, hastened by George Leeming who became the NER's first chairman in 1854. In 1877 the NER was able to open a new, much larger station just beyond the wall from the old station. Designed by the NER's chief architect Thomas Prosser, the present station linked the two lines on a wide curve, with a branch that left the main route across the River Ouse by the Scarborough Bridge on what had been George Hudson's Y&NMR route. The NER came about through an amalgamation of the Y&NMR, the YN&BR and the Leeds Northern that ran south-west to north-east across the YN&BR at Northallerton, (county town of the North Riding of Yorkshire). George Hudson was buried in the small churchyard at Scrayingham in the East Riding.
The 1877 station has survived almost intact but for some bomb damage to the south-east corner, incurred in the August Bank Holiday raid of 1942 (known as the 'Baedeker Raid'), restored in post-war years.
How to get to York by bus, train or drive - the drop-off points in central York for day visitors from outside
Visit York travel information
- Plan Your Trip - Visit York
Imagine a city with Roman roots and a Viking past, where ancient walls surround contemporary independent shops and vibrant eateries and there’s a festival for every month of the year - getting there, getting around.
© 2019 Alan R Lancaster
Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on July 09, 2019:
Heidi, Liz, welcome to non-tourist York, the city known to locals and not bothered by flash-popping, shop-bursting, crowding tourists you itch to get away from. For both of you, a stop at Dyls might be called for - with your menfolk, naturally - and Liz there's been a lot of change since forty years ago (that was only a few years after the NRM opened its doors following conversion from working motive power depot to tourist trap, previously next door - literally - to the main railway station designed by Thomas Prosser in 1877 to showcase the North Eastern Railway. It was housed in a repair shop beside the road ramp that curves around from Micklegate Bar to the station taxi portico). And Heidi, York could be the inspiration for an historical novel.
Liz Westwood from UK on July 09, 2019:
I haven't been to York for several years. Some of your descriptions and photos look familiar. I first visited York Railway Museum around 40 years ago.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on July 08, 2019:
Great photos! Thanks for sharing. Hope all is well. Cheers!