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The Bar Walls in York 

One of York’s main features is its Bar Walls, as well as encircling the city, giving its citizens a protected feeling, it provides an excellent walkway for visitors that runs for miles along the battlements. You do not have to do the full 3 miles all in one go, there are plenty of places where you can get on and off the walls at intervals around the city. If you walk around the walls you will happen across the Bars, the four medieval gateways that punctuate the walls; Bootham bar is by far the oldest; Walmgate bar retains its original outer defences, its barbican; Micklegate Bar, the ancient entrance of the kings, contains a small museum charting York’s history and Monk Bar, which still has a working portcullis, secretes a quirky museum devoted to king Richard III.

 

 

York City Bar Walls

 


 
THE ROMAN WALL

 

The Romans first surrounded their fortress with an earth rampart, and added a stone wall in the 2nd century. The walled area was much smaller than the present walled city, 50 acres as against 260. From the Multangular Tower, the Roman wall roughly followed the present medieval line through Bootham Bar (the only medieval gate actually on the site of a Roman one) to the northern corner tower, and so to another gate near the back of the Treasurer's House, where a fragment of paving of the Roman street leading from this gate is preserved in the cellar. There was not then a gateway at Monk Bar, and the eastern corner of the Roman fortress was at the tower behind the Merchant Taylors' Hall.

 

From here the wall stretched south-west to a corner tower at what is now Feasegate, and was pierced by a gateway at King's Square. Its dedication stone, dated about 108, is now in the Yorkshire Museum. Between Feasegate and the Multangular Tower was the fourth side, broken by the Praetorian Gate at St. Helen's Square. Stonegate and Petergate still follow the lines of the Via Praetoria and Via Principalis, the main streets of Eboracum.

 

The Roman wall was used as a defence by the Angles but during the Danish occupation was buried under an earth mound surmounted by a wooden palisade. You can see substantial fragments of the Roman wall at the following places:

 

3 Wall from St. Leonard's Hospital to Multangular Tower. The Roman wall, with its binding course of red bricks, was here adapted as part of the medieval defences. This wall is well faced on the Museum Gardens side, with typically Roman small, regular stones, but is just rough core on the Library side. This is because there was originally an earth bank against the inside, which was removed in later centuries. Right by St. Leonard's Hospital on the Museum Gardens side is the base of part of a Roman Interval Tower. Now patched with larger stones, the hole in the wall nearest to the Multangular Tower was made by the Parliamentary attackers during Siege of York in 1644; 1400 years after the wall was built it was still in defensive use! The little circular brick floor just inside the wall at this point is the base of a Roman kiln.

 


4 Multangular Tower

The west corner tower of Roman York, and oldest substantial part of the city, Rebuilt in about 300, it is Roman to a height of 19 ft (62 m) though the exterior has been repaired with modern masonry. The upper part, of larger stones, is medieval. The interior, seen from the grounds of the Public Library, is well preserved. Chisel marks of Roman masons are still visible. The tower was originally divided by a wall, part of which can be seen. The Roman coffins inside the tower have been unearthed from various sites in York.

 

5 Fragment of wall and base of Interval Tower inside the medieval wall, leading northwards from the Multangular Tower. The Roman facing is especially good here.

 

7 Fragment of wall in car park at St. Leonard's.

 

12  Base of eastern corner tower and stretch of wall behind Merchant Taylors' Hall. Access from Goodramgate near Monk Bar.

 

 

 

 

 

THE MEDIEVAL WALL

York Bar WallsThe west corner tower of Roman York, and oldest substantial part of the city, Rebuilt in about 300, it is Roman to a height of 19 ft (62 m) though the exterior has been repaired with modern masonry. The upper part, of larger stones, is medieval. The interior, seen from the grounds of the Public Library, is well preserved. Chisel marks of Roman masons are still visible. The tower was originally divided by a wall, part of which can be seen. The Roman coffins inside the tower have been unearthed from various sites in York. 

 

 

The wall you can walk on today is the medieval wall, almost three miles around. The stone wall dating from the 13th century and extensively restored in the 19th and 20th centuries, stands on an earth rampart built by the Anglo-Danish kings of York and enlarged by the Normans.

 

The whole walk around the walls takes about two hours. It is especially attractive in spring, when daffodils are in bloom on most parts of the embankment.

 

Starting from Lendal Bridge and going clockwise, the chief points of interest are:

 

1  Lendal Tower: riverside defensive tower, extensively rebuilt in the 19th century. A chain was stretched from here to North Street Postern Tower opposite to prevent enemy ships sailing into the City. From 1677 to 1836 Lendal Tower housed the pumping engine supplying York with water.

 

 

2 Wall to entrance of Museum Gardens: note steep steps and narrow footway of this section, not adapted as a promenade.

 

3 Wall from St. Leonard's Hospital to Multangular Tower:
medieval superstructure on Roman base.

 

4 Multangular Tower

 

5 Wall from Multangular Tower to Exhibition Square. Medieval wall built outside line of Roman Wall, parts of which are now exposed separately. The gap to Bootham Bar was cut in the 1830s to build the new road, and is the only major breach in the walls.

 

6 Anglian Tower. Excavated in 1971, this is the only substantial remaining part of the city's defensive stonework built between the departure of the Romans and medieval times; note how crude it is compared with Roman work.

 

7 Fragment of Roman Wall.
 

8 Bootham Bar. Here the wall of St. Mary's Abbey joined the city wall at right angles. The Bar incorporates an early Norman outer archway. Its portcullis, no longer operational, still contains fragments of the original. The only gate on the site of a Roman one, and the defensive bastion on the main road north to Scotland and the traditional enemy. This is the first place you can get on to the top of the wall.

 

9 Wall from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar. The most attractive part of the wall to walk on, with wonderful views of the Minster. The footway is considerably wider than in medieval days. The best remaining portion of the Moat lies between the wall and Lord Mayor's Walk.

 

10 Monk Bar. This is the finest of the medieval gateways and is vaulted on three floors. It still has its portcullis in working order. The carved men holding stones to drop on the enemy's head give the impression of a more powerful defence. There is a small museum in here that visitors may explore.

 

 

11 Monk Bar to Layerthorpe Bridge. Pass the remains of the Roman Comer Tower next to the medieval Merchant Tay/ors' Hall. The gap between Layerthorpe Bridge and the Red Tower was originally marshland or the King's Fishpool, in the days when even freshwater fish was a luxury. No wall was ever built on this stretch.

 

 

13 Red Tower. The Red Tower of 1490 (but much restored) is the only substantial brick-built part of the wall.

 

14 Walmgate Bar. The only one of the four (and the only town gate in England) still to have its barbican, or outward extension with an outer gateway, making a narrow funnel through which anyone attacking the gate had to pass under a hail of missiles. Also intact are the wooden doors, portcullis and Elizabethan house on top.

 

15  Fishergate Bar. A minor gateway still with portcullis grooves.

 

16   Fishergate Postern Tower. Built in about 1505, it originally stood on the bank of the Foss, then much wider.

 

17 York Castle. Between the Foss and the Ouse the Castle protected the City, and part of its outer wall remains behind the Castle Museum.

 

18 Stretch of City Wall which protected the gap between the Castle and the Ouse, running from Tower Street along the edge of St. George's Gardens to Davy Tower on the river bank.

 

19 Baile Hill. An artificial mound built by William the Conqueror and originally topped by a wooden castle, twin of the original Clifford's Tower .

 

20 Bitchdaughter Tower. A corner tower.

 

21  Victoria Bar. A 19th century gateway.

 

22 Micklegate Bar, with a fine Norman archway, stands on the road south along which kings came. Traitors' severed heads were displayed here. Note the doors to the barbican, removed in the 19th century. There is a small museum in here that visitors may explore.

 


23 Toft Tower. A corner tower. From here to the river are very fine views of the Minster and you can look down on the Cholera Burial Ground in front of the Royal York Hotel, where victims of York's last epidemic were buried in July 1832.

 

24 North Street Postern Tower is the more original of the two riverside towers. The steps beside it led to the ferry which crossed here before Lendal Bridge was built.

 

The City Walls are open daily until dusk, except in icy or snowy weather.