About York City Walls
The York City Walls are England’s most complete set of city walls and one of the city’s most popular attractions. Made up of structures built at different times of the city’s history, resplendent with four main ornate stone gateways known as “bars” and 34 towers and offering a great way to see the historic sites of York, these walls are an integral part of the city.
The first incarnation of the York City Walls were originally established in 71 AD during Roman times, built to protect the 9th Legion from the locals. This leads some to call them the Roman City Walls, but very little of the Roman walls remain. One structure which can be found is the Multangular Tower, an imposing third century AD ten-sided stone tower located in the gardens of the York Museum.
Anglo Saxons and Vikings
The Romans left Britain in around 400 AD, ushering in the Anglo Saxon age, during which time the exact fate of the York City Walls is unknown. However, there are some records from the time when the Vikings captured York in 866 AD, showing that the walls still existed but were in a bad state of repair. It is thought that the Vikings added to and strengthened the walls, although this too is uncertain.
The Normans and up to the 16th century
Renovated, fortified and extended under the Normans, the York City Walls continued to be added to up to the sixteenth century. Their gateways or “bars” were also used from the mid-thirteenth century onwards as a way to control who came in and out of the city, even as types of medieval toll booths to levy entry fees for non-freemen bringing goods to market.
English Civil War
In 1644, during the English Civil War, the Parliamentarians laid siege to the York City Walls, trying to capture the city from the Royalists. On 16 July 1644, the city fell to the Parliamentarians, but only after severe clashes which caused damage to the walls.
However, some of the greatest destruction caused to the York City Walls was not committed by act of war, but by administrative action. In the nineteenth century, it was found that the upkeep cost of York’s walls was very high, especially as they were in a bad state of repair. As a result it was decided to demolish parts of the walls.
Amongst other things, both Skeldergate Postern and Micklegate barbican were destroyed, despite the fact that Parliament had not given the requisite permission for this action. Reconstruction was later undertaken to repair many of the demolished sections.
The Victorians also made their mark on the York City Walls, adding, amongst other things a further bar (Victoria Bar) and the Robin Hood Tower.
Modern Times and the Gateways
Today, visitors can walk along the York City Walls, which run for some 2.5 miles and enclose the historic part of the city. The main gates to see are Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar, all mostly constructed in the fourteenth century with later additions. Micklegate is the most important of the gates, and is the site where Richard, Duke of York was beheaded in 1461 and his head was displayed.