The Walmgate Area
The Red Tower, York, in about 1852.
On the E. bank of the Foss the wall and river enclose a lozenge-shaped area with Walmgate as the
main axis and the gates of Walmgate Bar, Fishergate Bar, and Fishergate Postern providing access from
the S.E.; on the N.W. only Foss Bridge led into the area until the construction of the Piccadilly Bridge
in 1913. Between the Red Tower and Fishergate Postern Tower respectively at the N. and W. ends of
the wall there are only five other towers (35–9). The short length of wall from the castle to the Ouse is
also described below. It had the demolished Castlegate Postern at the N.E. end and Davy or Friars Minor
Tower at the S.W. end.
The Red Tower (Pl. 44; Figs. above and p. 141) is
probably the new tower on which tilers were employed,
by the mayor's command but on the king's work, in
1490. They asked protection from the city council
against masons who had broken their tools and threatened to murder or mutilate them. (fn. 1) When one of them,
John Patrik, was murdered in 1491 leading masons
William Hindley and Christopher Horner were charged
but apparently acquitted. (fn. 2) This feud suggests that the
masons resented building work which they felt was
their prerogative being carried out in brick instead of in
stone. The tower is first mentioned by name in 1511,
when artillery was assigned to it. (fn. 3) After repair in 1541
and 1545, it was regularly leased. (fn. 4) The description of it
as 'in the water of Fosse' suggests that when built it was
on a promontory, or even on an island, in the fishpond.
Casting of lead from the Conduit in 1555 was apparently
to cover the roof, (fn. 5) shown as flat on plans by Speed
(1610) and Horsley (1694). On views from c. 1700 it is
shown with a pyramidal tiled roof, but by 1767 and
perhaps as early as 1736 the tower was in ruins. (fn. 6) By 1800
it had been crudely restored with a gabled roof (Fig.
p. 139) as a cowshed, and it was then believed that its
popular name of Brimstone House derived from a
former use as a manufactory of brimstone. (fn. 7) In 1857–8
restoration according to designs by G. F. Jones gave it
the present appearance. It was again restored in 1958.
The tower is rectangular and now 16½ ft. high,
excluding the roof. The original height, including a
parapet, must have been about 30 ft., since the ground
level on the N. and E. has been raised by about 6½ft.
since 1857, concealing limestone footings. The tower is
of brick but with footings and some dressings of stone
and has a hipped tiled roof with gablets. The city wall
adjoins the S. side near the S.W. angle. All external
details, excepting one cruciform slit in the S. wall and
the E. corbel of the garderobe, are reconstructions of
1857–8 and do not certainly represent original features.
There is now no trace of the projecting cornice, presumably once supporting a crenellated parapet around a
flat roof, which partly survived in 1767. The entrance is
by a modern arched doorway in the W. wall and must
originally have been in this position. The ground floor
is lit by three slits with stone sills and lintels, one in each
of the E., W., and S. walls. The upper floor, reached by a
ladder, has two cruciform arrow slits with stone jambs
in the S. wall, one slit, and a larger opening with a segmental brick arch in each of the W. and N. walls, and
two slits and a similar opening in the E. wall. These
approximately represent the original apertures, intended
for guns. There is now a projecting garderobe on the N.
supported on two stone corbels and with a sloping roof
of stone slabs, but the floor level has been raised by 2¼ ft.
and seat and drain are lacking, making its use impossible.
The roof has a dormer window in each face. On the W.
and S. the tower is surrounded by a low modern wall of
The city wall extending southward from the Red
Tower for the first 45 yds. stands on level ground and is
faced with neatly cut, medium sized ashlar. The parapet
is at first crenellated, then pierced with musket loops,
but was mostly built in 1857–8 when much brickwork
here was replaced in stone. Internally the wallwalk is
carried on groups of segmental arches, 10 ft. wide and
5½ ft. to 8 ft. high, of late mediaeval appearance. The
wall ascends the tail of the rampart in two steps and is
there supported externally by three buttresses. A
chamfered plinth is visible, beginning 41 ft. N. of the
first buttress and continuing along the base of the wall
for the rest of the Walmgate defences, usually just above
the rampart. The masonry is large, evenly laid ashlar
often only three to four courses high between plinth
and parapet, and the total height in this length is only
12 ft. 'In this watry situation the walls run all upon
arches', (fn. 8) and the first of these foundation arches is visible
18 yds. N. of Tower 35, with the crown 4 ft. 2 ins.
below the plinth. Near by the wall has been underpinned
with bricks resembling those used in the Red Tower.
The rampart here has been cut down in the first two of
a series of cattle pens formed in 1889, but disused for
The rampart begins 45 yds. S. of the Red Tower,
presumably at the edge of the water at the time of its
erection. The terrace on which St. Margaret's Church
stands suggests that the fishpond once extended even
further to the S. and that the rampart may have been
carried down into the water. The mound has had the
inner face cut back in the 19th century but it is still
generally 50 ft. wide and 10 ft. high. The site of the
ditch, which still held water in 1852 (OS 1852), is occupied by Foss Islands Road. In 1645 the ditch around the
Red Tower, of which there is now no sign, was to 'be
maid soe deepe that nether horse nor man cann come
or goe that way forth of or into the Citty'. (fn. 9)
Tower 35 (NG 61065134. Pl. 45) is rectangular, 18¼ ft.
wide and projecting 4 ft. 4 ins. There is a blocked arrow
slit in the N. side, another in the E. and remains of a
third in the S., all 2 ft. 11 ins. above the plinth. The E.
wall is supported on a foundation arch.
The wall between Towers 35 and 36 is neatly faced
in large ashlar blocks above a plinth which steps up
twice and has below it rough masonry extending to the
exposed crowns of a series of foundation arches. The
letters 'I S' are inscribed on a stone just above the plinth.
The base of the wall with the plinth and arches appears
to be 14th-century, but much of the upper part was
rebuilt in 1864.
The Red Tower
Deeds concerning property in Navigation Road
(formerly Little Bretgate) extending to the defences in
this area show that in 1154–70 and 1326 a boundary was
described as the king's great ditch or a ditch and mound,
but in 1389 as the wall of the commonalty. (fn. 10)
Tower 36 (NG 61085149. Pl. 45) was largely rebuilt
from a ruined condition in 1864. It is rectangular, 16 ft.
7 ins. wide and projecting 3 ft. 2 ins. The plinth is continued around the base and there is a modern cruciform
arrow slit in the E. face 3½ ft. above the plinth. The two
merlons on this face have canopied arrow slits. Against
the inner side are two flights of steps to the wall walk,
in use in 1834.
City Wall N. of Walmgate Bar, 1971.
The wall between Tower 36 and Walmgate Bar is
about 14 ft. high and the plinth is as much as 4½ ft.
above the top of the rampart. A series of sixteen foundation arches is exposed, 6 ft. to 13 ft. wide and known to
be up to 5 ft. high, often with quite pointed arches.
Four masons' marks have been noted on the outer face
in this length. There is a break in the coursing 28 ft. N.
of the road archway beside Walmgate Bar. In the parapet
here merlons pierced with canopied arrow slits (Fig.
above) alternate with plain merlons. These canopied
cruciform slits were noted as remarkable in 1834, (fn. 11) but of
the twenty-two at present existing, only sixteen were
visible in 1857, of which only five still retained their
canopied heads. Also in 1834 traces, possibly of another
tower, could be seen in this stretch and 'a mutilated
shield of the city arms with a stone canopy, probably
brought from the adjacent Bar' was 'put up between
two of the buttresses which support this wall'. (fn. 12) This
was probably the original shield from above the outer
arch of the barbican.
Walmgate Bar (Pl. 46, 47; Figs. pp. 144–8) consists of a passageway with arches at each end and a
rectangular gatehouse of two storeys above. There are
bartizans at the angles towards Lawrence Street, and at
the rear is a timber-framed projection supported on two
stone columns. The barbican, portcullis and wooden
inner doors still remain. The Bar is built of magnesian
limestone and was heavily restored in 1645–8. Its upper
floors are used as a bookshop.
Walmgate Bar is first mentioned in the mid 12th
century. (fn. 13) The earliest surviving masonry, the inner
arch of the main gate, is of this date. Some of the first-floor walling faced externally with small ashlar above
the gate passage may date from the 13th century. The
completion of the façade and the addition of the barbican took place in the 14th century. Tolls collected at
Walmgate Bar are mentioned in 1280, (fn. 14) and a rent of
10s. per annum for the house over the Bar occurs in
1376. (fn. 15) In 1469 the head and banner of Robert Hillyard
(Hob of Holderness) were displayed above the gate.
The Bar was burned by the rebels in 1489, (fn. 16) but nothing
is known of the extent of the damage. In 1511 guns were
delivered for this Bar and for the Red Tower, namely,
three serpentines and a murdor with 11 chambers. (fn. 17)
In 1584–6 Walmgate Bar was repaired and new
decorations were made; the timber-framed rear projection was no doubt added on this occasion. William
Arkendale was paid 1s. for 'one prynt of wood of a
lyon'; George Styddye received 15s. 'for cuttinge the
Queenes Armes . . . and for wood to the same';
Edward Wilson painted these royal arms, two city
arms, and the wall for 32s. There were also three iron
'faynes' (weathervanes) to be painted and set up. Two
windows, two casements, and 46½ ft. of glass were used.
The total cost was £15 5s. (fn. 18) In 1603 the portcullis was
repaired, (fn. 19) in 1631 and 1635 the iron gates needed
repair, (fn. 20) and the glass windows and leads required
The fiercest attacks of the siege of 1644 were directed
against this Bar, which was bombarded at first by
cannon on Lamel Hill and in St. Lawrence's churchyard.
Later the enemy 'plants 2 peices in ye street against ye
barr, another at ye Dovecoat wthin a stones cast of ye
barr; then he works under ground close to ye barr, and
makes his mines in two severall places'. (fn. 21) On 8 June the
Scottish detachment under Sir James Lumsden 'breakes
the port, fires the punchoons filled with earth, and
breakes some of the iron gate within'. (fn. 22) This iron gate
was no doubt in the barbican arch. Soon the besiegers
'had beaten down ye top of ye barr as low as ye gate
which we had barricaded up with earth and besides
had made a travers against it'. (fn. 23) Sir Thomas Glemham,
the Governor of York, combated one mine, which had
penetrated to the middle of the Bar, but was betrayed
by a prisoner, 'by Mynding above them, and powring
water in upon them. He also caused a new Wall of
Earth to be made crosse the Street, a good distance
within the Gate.' (fn. 24)
The Bar was restored between 1644 and 1648. Some
work was done there in 1644 at a cost of £6 13s. 8d. (fn. 25)
and later 'iron that came of Walmgate Barr' is mentioned. (fn. 26) In October 1645 two aldermen 'are desired to
sett on workemen presently, to take upp the stones
which are throwne into the mine at Walmegate barr
and cawse the same to be preserved and laid upp for the
citties use and order that the mine be fild up with earthe
and that the barr stead and cawsey theirabouts where
nede is be paved'. (fn. 27) In April 1646 'great decayes and
breaches in Walmegate Barr' and other buildings still
remained, 'the repaireinge whereof will require a
greater some then at present can well be rased in this
cittie'. (fn. 28) The date 1648 on the barbican no doubt indicates the year when the restoration was completed,
made possible by the Parliamentary grant of £5,000. A
watch house built at this time and removed in 1840
stood on the N.E. side of Walmgate immediately within
the Bar. It was a low building of brick on stone footings
with a Dutch gable at the N.W. end and a central stone
porch. (fn. 29)
In 1712 the Bar was again repaired (fn. 30) and minor work
was needed there almost annually. John Browne, the
artist and historian of York Minster, was born in the
Bar in 1793. An enquiry was made in 1797 to see if
footways should be constructed and consequently one
was made to the N.E. in 1804. (fn. 31) The side walls of the
barbican, particularly on the N., became gradually more
ruinous after 1810, as several views show, but a recommendation by the Estates Committee of February 1831
to demolish the barbican was not carried out. (fn. 32) In
1836 unexploded Civil War mortar shells were found in
constructing a drain near by. (fn. 33) Both Bar and barbican
were thoroughly restored by the Corporation in 1840
with the £500 paid by the Great North of England
Railway Company for rights at North Street Postern. (fn. 34)
Threats by the Board of Health Committee in 1855 and
1859 to demolish the barbican as well as the city wall to
the N. were averted. Another side archway had been
made on the S.W. in 1840–1 and the N.E. passage was
replaced in 1862 by a much larger archway for vehicles.
Further restoration took place in 1953 and 1960.
Architectural Description. Towards Lawrence Street
(Pl. 46) the outer archway is round-headed with
continuously chamfered voussoirs and jambs. As on
the other bars it is flanked by buttress-like extensions of
the side walls with three chamfered setbacks but here
largely concealed by the side walls of the barbican. The
wall above the arch is of plain small ashlar blocks in
regular courses, only relieved by a rectangular slate
panel in a moulded frame bearing the inscription, now
picked out in gold on a red background, 'This Bar and
Barbacan [sic] / restored by the Corporation / of York
/ A.D. 1840. / Sir William Stephenson Clark Knight /
LORD MAYOR'. The square-headed doorways in the
flanking buttresses still serve their original function and
lead to the barbican parapet walk, although when the
barbican was in ruins from 1810 to 1840 they were
Walmgate Bar and Barbican
Walmgate Bar and Barbican
At second-floor level there is a chamfered corbel
course above which the façade, rebuilt after the Civil
War, is of much larger blocks. In the centre above the
corbel course is a reset shield carved and painted with
the royal arms of England, as used between 1405 and
1603, set in a rectangular frame with a cyma reversa
moulding. This is flanked on each side by a small
rectangular window. The plain parapet rises above a
string course. The bartizans are each supported on five
corbels and have one small rectangular window above
the roof level of the main gatehouse and five tall merlons.
Alleged bullet holes, mainly visible on the N. bartizan,
seem generally to be natural, though some on reused
blocks might be actual.
In the façade to Walmgate (Pl. 47) the stonework of
the round-headed archway, also chamfered but with
rectangular imposts, has been much renewed. It is
flanked by two extensions of the side walls. These rise
vertically from chamfered plinths at the base to a level
half-way between the second floor and the roof where
they are carried forward on double corbels. Much of
the stonework on this side of the gatehouse is concealed
by the projecting timber-framed extension, probably
of 1584–6, but there is no sign that there has ever been a
stone rear wall or arch at the upper levels, and the
mediaeval façade may likewise have been timber-framed (Pl. opp. p. 149).
The upper storeys of the 16th-century extension are
supported on two stone Roman-Doric columns with
pronounced entasis on high square pedestal-bases. The
timber entablature, with a plain architrave, four fascie
and a moulded cornice, breaks forward over the columns.
The first-floor window, of six lights with timber
mullions and transom, has a frame projecting slightly
beyond the plaster face. Two timber Doric columns
support an entablature at the level of the window head.
Before 1840 a small rectangular window was visible to
the left of the large window. The entablature breaks
forward over the columns and window, and still
further over the central mullion. The frieze and architrave are plain except for triglyphs and guttae punctuating the three major projections. The second floor is
similar, but with a five-light window and Ionic columns
and entablature. The entablature again breaks forward
above the columns and window but there is no corresponding central emphasis. A wooden balustrade to the
roof, with turned balusters and square centre and corner
posts surmounted by tall pyramidal terminals, was
restored in 1840 to resemble that formerly existing at
Micklegate Bar, and was renewed in 1972.
The fairly regular coursing of the side elevations of
the Bar breaks down next to the bartizans and to the
right of a blocked shoulder-headed doorway at first-floor level on the N. side. The only openings are, on
the S., two arrow slits of modern appearance, a window
probably formed from an original slit, and a shoulderheaded doorway to the wallwalk and, on the N., one
arrow slit; also on the N. a garderobe projects over a
corbel course. There is an old stone spout at roof level
on the N., from which falls a modern drainpipe, and a
similar spout formerly existed on the S. A rectangular
chimney-stack with several chamfered offsets formerly
projected from the N. wall. There are setbacks to both
walls, at first-floor level on the S. and about 5 ft. from
the ground on the N.
XVth-century Oak Doors in the Walmgate Bar from N.W.
Walmgate Bar from S.W. Watercolour by J. Harper, c. 1830.
Inside, a portcullis slot separates the outer round-headed archway on the E. from a slightly lower round-headed, mid 12th-century archway with chamfered
voussoirs and chamfered impost blocks, but of which
only the S. jambs look original. The jambs are not
consistently chamfered, unlike those to the E. archway.
The restored archway nearest Walmgate is similar
again, but with rectangular impost blocks. Above the
passage closely spaced joists support a stone-flagged
floor. The 15th-century wooden doors (Fig. above),
which open westward against the side walls, are of oak
boards 1¾ ins. thick strengthened with muntins of equal
thickness to form five vertical panels within a frame on
each outer face. Each door hangs on three iron hooks.
In the N. door is a wicket 1¾ ft. wide and 4½ ft. high
below a segmental-arched lintel.
The first floor is reached through a shoulder-headed
doorway from the wallwalk to the S. It is lit by the
large window in the rear wall and by a widened slit
with a rounded oillet set in a deep recess in the S. wall.
There are the remains of a blocked fireplace in the N.
wall and to the right of them a corbel projecting in two
planes supports a beam. On the E. the portcullis hangs
against a plain wall. At the opposite end of the room
the timber framing is exposed. The floor is mainly of
stone slabs and the joists of the floor above, supported
on three cross beams, are exposed. The passages to the
barbican are angled.
The second floor is reached by a modern wooden
stairway in two flights set in the S.W. angle. It is lit by
the two windows in the front wall and one in the rear
wall and by cruciform arrow slits in deep recesses and
now glazed, two to the S., and one to the N. There is a
brick-lined fireplace in the N. wall. The S. support for
the portcullis windlass remains and the portcullis itself
projects above the floor. It is 13½ ft. wide and 12½ ft.
high overall, made of eleven upright and ten cross
timbers 1 ft. apart. A deep ridge beam carries the ceiling
joists, which slope slightly down to the side walls. The
wall plate has been replaced by two brick courses.
The S. bartizan contains a spiral staircase to the low-pitched leaded roof but the N. bartizan is accessible
only from the roof.
The Barbican (Pl. 46). The façade to Lawrence
Street has lateral buttresses with two chamfered offsets.
The entrance has a pointed arch which springs from
moulded imposts and one remaining hook for a door on
the S.W. jamb. The parapet sets forward on a quarter-round corbel course which merges with the topmost
course of the threefold corbelling supporting the
rounded crenellated bartizans. Above the archway,
on the larger central merlon of the parapet, is a carved
and painted shield of the arms of the City of York
within a pedimented and moulded frame. The date
'A.D. 1648' was carved on a panel below this, but only
the '8' can now be distinguished. The parapet walk over
the archway and over a higher and wider rear arch
is at a higher level than the walks on the side walls and
the merlons step down accordingly beside the steps
thither; an inner parapet is carried on a hollow-chamfered corbel course.
The side walls of the barbican, like the upper part of
the façade, were partly rebuilt in 1840 in the form
recorded before becoming ruinous in about 1810, and
lean-to buildings which had stood there since at least
1790 were removed. The parapets, like the archway,
and probably the bartizans, had already been rebuilt in
1648. Outside, the crenellated parapets project on a
continuous chamfered corbel course; inside there is a
lower plain parapet along each inner brink, giving the
wallwalks a width of 4 ft. In the lower courses of the
walls are two reused inscribed fragments, now illegible,
reputedly from St. Nicholas's church, and stones with
masons' marks. A sagging in the N.E. wall seems to be
too near to the main Bar to be due to settlement into
the filling of a ditch and may have been caused by one
of the Civil War mines. This wall had been largely
demolished by 1830.
The archways on each side of the Bar were pierced
through the city wall and rampart in 1840–1 (S.W.)
and 1861–2 (N.E.) respectively. The former is round-headed, 8 ft. wide, and 10½ ft. high. The latter is four-centred, 14 ft. wide, and 21 ft. high, with large gritstone voussoirs; it was erected by R. Welsman for
£268 to replace a small round-headed archway of 1804
for foot passage. The parapet walk is stepped up above
the arch and, although inaccessible, has two cruciform
arrow slits below canopies in the outer parapet.
The wall bends outwards S. of Walmgate Bar and
the parapet has here two musket loops. The central
part of the next length is supported externally by two
buttresses. Two offsets near Tower 37 may indicate a
rebuild. Rough footings are visible below the plinth.
The lengths of rampart on either side of Walmgate
Bar are not on the same alignment and the Bar stands
well in advance of the line, suggesting that an enfiladed
timber passage preceded the stone gateway. Between
Walmgate Bar and Fishergate Bar the rampart has been
cut back externally for the cattle pens of the market
held on the site of the ditch since 1827 and still in use in
1969, and internally for the backyards of houses. In
this stretch it is still 50 ft. wide between revetting walls
and 9 ft. to 13 ft. high and flat-topped, except that the
ground level inside is higher than outside.
Tower 37 (NG 61025133) is rectangular, 22 ft. wide,
and projecting 2¾ ft. to 5 ft. An arrow slit, not now
visible, is shown in the S. face in a view of 1718. This
tower is not bonded into the curtain wall and the wall
plinth apparently continues behind it. Only the front
(S.E.) wall has a plinth at the base.
The wall beyond Tower 37 is faced with smaller
stones than the previous length, and it was built or
rebuilt separately. In one part near the tower a group of
three buttresses and setbacks suggest that a piece here
has been reconstructed. No foundation arches are
visible in this length. The stretch adjoining Fishergate
Bar, where the merlons are pierced with small loops for
hand guns, may be the 60 yds. rebuilt by Sir William
Todd in 1487, according to the inscriptions he set up on
or near the Bar.
Fishergate Bar (Pl. 48; Figs. p. 150, below) is first
mentioned in the Custody of 1315, at a date when the
stone curtain wall E. of the Foss had not yet been begun.
The chamfered plinth of the wall erected in 1345 between the Foss opposite the castle and this Bar returns
along the outer side of the W. abutment of the Bar,
showing that a stone gateway was built or rebuilt at this
time, but nothing demonstrably of the period now
survives above plinth level. The 'right-hand gate of
Fishergate', presumably the W. side passage, is mentioned in 1422. (fn. 35) A rent of 4d. was paid in 1440/1 (fn. 36) for a
'small stone house over the bar'. In 1442/3 20½ tons of
stone were brought to the Bar from St. Andrew's
Landing at a cost of 4s., and 10d. was paid for three
measures of lime. (fn. 37) This indicates a work of some import
ance and probably refers to the existing gate which
has side passages flanking the main archway, a design
unlikely to be earlier than the late 14th century, though
whether the structure is all of one date is difficult to
determine. In 1449–50 a new iron-bound wooden gate
was made for the Bar at a cost of 25s. 8d. and three
chains were bought. (fn. 38)
On 15 May 1489 rebels led by Sir John Egremont
and John Chambers burned Walmgate and Fishergate
Bars, and Alderman Thomas Wrangwysh, warden of
Walmgate ward, was reprimanded for negligence in
repairing and defending the two gates. (fn. 39) Fishergate Bar
was blocked as a result of the damage sustained. In 1495
a certain Joan Milner with other women of loose
character was illegally occupying a tower there. (fn. 40) In
1491 and 1495 the highway leading to the blocked
gateway was being damaged by the digging of pits;
since one of the offenders was Friar William Bewyk,
surveyor of works at the castle and lessee of Castlegate
Postern, these may have been sawpits. (fn. 41)
On 10 March 1502 the City Council decided 'that
ther shalbe a substancial posterne maide at Fyschergate
whiche now is closed up, an by reason therof aswell the
stretts and beldyngs within the wallez as without ar
clerly decayed and gon down', (fn. 42) but no action seems to
have been taken to reopen the Bar. On his visit in about
1536 Leland found it still blocked: 'Fysscher Gate
stoppid up sins the communes burnid it yn the tyme of
King Henry the 7.' (fn. 43) Towers near the Bar, possibly the
'stone houses' of earlier documents, continued to be
leased, (fn. 44) but in 1584 the Council resolved that 'the poore
folkes in the late barre called Fishergate barre shalbe
forthwith avoided, and the same to be maid a howse of
correction'. (fn. 45) Expenditure for that year includes payments 'to the foure bedells for clensing the houses for
presons at beanhills, 12d.' and for fitting locks and
bars. (fn. 46) Beanhills was an area outside the Bar, which
itself came to be known by this name, 'Bean Hills alias
Fishergate Barr'. (fn. 47)
Conditions in this prison for Margaret Luetie, a
recusant, in 1594 are described by another prisoner: 'a
little tower in a stone wall, low upon the moist ground,
where venomous vermin doth breed, very dark, having
no light but a little loop-hole in the wall'. (fn. 48) The prison
was used for those possibly infected by plague and for
lunatics from 1598 to 1633. (fn. 49) In 1638 the building of a
pesthouse there was contemplated. (fn. 50) An inspection was
made in 1674 of 'the old Barr adjoyninge on Beane
hill' to see if stone from it could be used to repair the
Staith. (fn. 51) In 1699 stone from 'the Bar or the Tower Arch
out of Fishergate posterne', probably meaning this
gateway, was to be granted for rebuilding Castle Mills
Bridge in stone. (fn. 52)
Drawings by Place of c. 1675 show that the gate was
then flanked on each side by a rectangular tower rising
above the city wall, and 'E.B.'s 'South East Prospect of
York' of 1718 seems to show a tower here. These
flanking towers may have risen from the existing projecting blocks of masonry containing the side passages,
although they seem from the drawings to have been
larger. By 1790, however, the Bar, although still
blocked with a brick wall, looked much as it does now.
Reopening was discussed intermittently from 1791, (fn. 53)
and it was finally unblocked and restored in the autumn
of 1827, when flights of steps to the wall walk were also
added. (fn. 54) Drawings by John Carter of 1790, (fn. 55) by Joseph
Halfpenny of 1807, (fn. 56) by Henry Cave of 1813, (fn. 57) and by
George Nicholson of 1827 (fn. 58) show the Bar before and
during the reopening. One of the inscriptions set up by
Sir William Todd, presumably the one granted in 1818
to George Todd, (fn. 59) was given in 1858 to the Yorkshire
Philosophical Society. (fn. 60) The Bar was restored in 1961.
In modern documents it is sometimes called George
Street Bar or Postern.
Architectural Description. Fishergate Bar consists of a
large round-headed 15th-century archway abutted by
rectangular blocks of masonry, through which passages
run, projecting beyond the main archway both externally and internally. The side passages have flat lintels
and roofs supported on continuous chamfered corbel
courses and stepping up towards the rear of the Bar.
The W. side door, when open, folded back into a
recess, which still remains in the W. wall of the passageway. A stub of wall projecting E. from the outer face of
the E. abutting block and 10 ft. in front of the city wall
is apparently part of a rectangular tower once flanking
the gateway; a return in the city wall suggests that it
was 22 ft. long. The plinth of the city wall returns along
the W. side of the W. abutting block, but the wall above
it appears to be 19th-century, and a drawing of 1829
shows it without a parapet.
The main archway of the Bar has a portcullis slot,
rounded below the arch springing, set between two
chamfered orders. This slot resembles that in the main
gatehouse of Kirby Muxloe Castle, built in 1480–4.
Some of the stonework of the main arch, especially on
the E., is discoloured by fire. Over the archway is a
narrow and inaccessible platform with a plain parapet;
in the centre of the latter is a through stone carved on
each side with the arms of the City of York above an
inscription. This stone has been reset, since the inner
side would have been obscured by the portcullis. The
inscription on the outer face (Pl. 48) reads: 'A. dni.
mcccc / lxxx vii Sr. Willm. / Tod Knyght + / mayre
this wal / was mayd in his / days lx yardys'; on the
inner face 'A. Do. mccc / c l xxx vii Willm. / Todde,
Knyght / mayre of this citie'.
The panel in the Yorkshire Museum, removed from
the Bar or near by (Pl. 48), has the remains of two
figures under a projecting canopy, on the left a man in
civilian dress standing and facing outwards, and on the
right a kneeling figure in profile. On the canopy are two
shields each bearing a merchant's mark. Inscribed at the
level of the shoulders of the figures is 'lx yerdis of
length' and below the group 'Ao. dn~i M CCCC lxxxvii
Sir Will. / Tod mair [Knight &] long tyme was /
Schyrife dyd thys cost hy~selfe'.
The wall W. of Fishergate Bar is neatly faced with
well squared stones evenly coursed above the plinth.
It stands 6 ft. 8 ins. high externally and is 7 ft. thick
at the base. This stretch is apparently that built by
Thomas de Staunton according to the contract of 1345.
The rampart here is low and has probably been
reduced in size, and a steeper slope to the Foss has been
obscured by a build-up of the ground level. The rampart rises again to the S. angle at the corner of Fishergate and Paragon Street where it forms a triangular
salient projecting S. for 100 ft. Skaife's map of 1864
shows a scarp continuing the E.-W. line of the rampart
across the base of the salient. The resemblance of this
earthwork to a regular 16th or 17th-century bastion is
apparently fortuitous since the wall standing on it seems
to be that built in 1345, and it may be a modification of
the earthwork defences made in the 13th century.
Tower 38 (NG 60735127) is rectangular, 7½ ft. wide
and projecting 5½ ft. The interior is hollow with walls
about 1¾ ft. thick, but there are now no openings into
it. The tower has been added to the curtain wall, since
the plinth of the latter continues behind it, though the
plinths and the stone coursing of both are alike.
Tower 39 (NG 60695125. Pl. 49; Fig. next) is of one
build with the adjacent 14th-century curtain wall but
has been modified in the later Middle Ages. It is rectangular and so placed that the S.E. side is parallel to the
wall running to Fishergate Bar and the S.W. side to
that towards Fishergate Postern. There is a stepped
plinth, on the S.W. as much as 5½ ft. above the exposed
footings, continuing that on the adjacent wall and neat
ashlar facing up to 10 ft. high above it. In the centre of
the S.E. and S.W. sides are equal-armed cruciform
arrow slits of 15th-century form, and in the N.E. side
is a slit with no cross arms.
The inside, reached through a doorway with a three-centred head in the N.W. wall, has a main room and an
alcove to the S.W. The room has a fireplace blocking
the slit in the N.E. wall. The walls are of stone with
some masons' marks and there was a small recess, now
bricked up, opposite the entrance. The alcove, separated
from the main room by a stone lintel, has a splayed
opening to the S.W. arrow slit. The two parts are
roofed with separate brick vaults. There are at least
three phases of building in this tower, to the last of
which, in the 17th century after the Civil War, belong
the blocking of two arrow slits, the fireplace, and the
Fishergate Postern Tower
Fishergate Postern Tower
The wall between Tower 39 and Fishergate Postern
is built of large ashlar blocks on which are several
mason's marks. The rampart has been considerably
lowered near the postern so that the plinth is in some
places 8 ft. above its summit. Two buttresses of pink
limestone have been added to the wall after the bank
was lowered. An engraving of 1834 shows foundation
arches exposed adjoining the postern; (fn. 61) perhaps these are
the features described as 'some remains of Roman
masonry, principally arches of gritstone'. (fn. 62) The inner
face is a uniform rebuild, presumably of the 19th century,
with 'YCB' and 'YC' cut into the stones in three places
together with distances in feet, indicating the boundary
of city property. In 1829 60 yds. of wall in this area were
rebuilt, stones from the ruined upper part apparently
being used to fill gaps and the height being thus reduced. (fn. 63)
A drawing of c. 1835 shows a round-headed archway
on the inside face of the wall about 40 ft. S. of the postern,
but there is now no sign of this. (fn. 64)
Fishergate Postern (Pls. 50, and opp. p. 61; Figs.
pp. 154, 155), first certainly mentioned in 1440 as
'posternam iuxta Skarletpit' (fn. 65) and later termed 'posterna
iuxta ecclesiam Sci. Georgii', (fn. 66) was called by the present
name from 1548, (fn. 67) though as late as 1642 it could be
described as 'Saint Georges posterne'. (fn. 68) The Scarlet Pit
of the earliest reference was apparently a pool in the
Foss. (fn. 69) The postern, probably reset in the 16th century, is
a pointed archway of four orders with chamfered jambs
and of 14th-century character; there is a portcullis
slot 5 ins. wide between the second and third orders
which is continued up the S. wall of the stair turret of
the adjacent tower. On the inside there is a four-centred
rear arch, and the hooks remain for a door opening
inwards. The wall here is 6 ft. 2 ins. thick and 22 ft.
high, including the parapet, and there must have been
some housing for the portcullis mechanism upon it.
Fishergate Postern Tower (NG 60675132. Pls. 50,
51, and opp. p. 61; Figs. pp. 154, 155) was built between
1504 and 1507, replacing the earlier Talkan Tower and at
first called by the same name. The position of the latter
in this same area is proved by a lease of 1476. (fn. 70) Talkan
Tower, which presumably derived its name from
Robert Talkan, mayor in 1399, may have been the 'new
tower' in this area mentioned in 1388. (fn. 71) It had been
repaired in 1453–4 (fn. 72) and was later let to Thicket Priory. (fn. 73)
Rebuilding apparently followed an intention expressed
in 1502 to make 'a substanciall posterne at Fyschergate', (fn. 74)
and can be more closely dated by an increase of rent
charged for Talkan Tower from 1s. 4d. per annum in
1503 to 10s. in 1507. (fn. 75) The identity of Talkan Tower and
Fishergate Postern Tower can be shown by comparison
of a lease and rent payments made by Christopher
Conyers in 1548–63. (fn. 76) Speed's map of 1610 shows the
tower with a roof and by 1636 it was used as a dovecot. (fn. 77)
The roof appears in its present form as early as 1676 on
drawings by Place, on which the tower is labelled
'Edward's Tower'. (fn. 78) Payments to bricklayers for work
at the tower in the 18th century may be connected with
the blocking under the windows in the E. wall and with
two chimneystacks, now removed. (fn. 79) Prior to 1818 the
second floor had been replaced by a gallery. (fn. 80) The tower
was restored in 1838 (fn. 81) and in 1960 when an internal
staircase at the S. end was removed.
Architectural Description. The tower is rectangular,
with a moulded plinth at the base on the E., W., and S.
Rectangular buttresses project at the N.W. and S.W.
angles, and there is a spiral staircase in the thickness of the
S. wall. It has four floors and a hipped tiled roof with
gablets. The fine large ashlar masonry is neatly coursed,
though breaks in the coursing at openings indicate that
windows, doorways, and other architectural features
were not cut on the site. The entrance in the E. wall has a
four-centred head, and so has the doorway to the staircase. The two-light windows to the first three floors
have blind spandrels and segmental heads. The rear
arches and the fireplace heads are also segmental, as is an
arched recess in the N. wall of the second-floor room.
These features are compatible with an early 16th-century date. The first floor has a projecting garderobe
near the N.W. angle, carried on corbels and entered by
a short passage. A recess has been hacked into the E. wall
on this floor. Holes seemingly for beams or joists in the
E. and W. walls of the first and second floors cannot
represent altered floor levels since they do not relate to
The third floor was originally a flat roof drained by
two stone spouts in the N. wall and surrounded by a
crenellated parapet; the embrasures of this last now
form unglazed windows. The stairhead rises into the
roof space and once projected above the parapet,
presumably in a small turret since the stairs continue.
The enclosing wall and the sides of the staircase bear
numerous mason's marks (Fig. p. 52). In the N. wall are
traces of the original chimney.
A timber-framed structure of two bays enclosed by
the former parapet supports the roof, which is of 16th-century character but later than the first building
campaign. The roof framing is of common rafters only,
without a ridge rib, into which high collars are tenoned
and pegged. The rafters rest on side purlins supported by
inclined curved struts from the cambered tie beam of
the centre truss which rests on the enlarged heads of the
posts and on the wall plates. The wall plates have curved
braces from the posts. The N. truss has in addition
curved braces from the posts to the tie beam. At the S.
end both wall plates project a short way beyond the
posts to carry the tie beam at their extremities. Alternate
rafters and two collars at purlin level are modern.
St. George's Field
City wall N.E. of Davy Tower: alterations to conjectured original appearance
Castlegate Postern (site NG 60435142. Pl. 2; Fig.
p. 159) is first mentioned in the 1380 Custody as 'posterne
subtus castrum'; a possible reference in 1232 is the Bar
below the castle. (fn. 82) It was known as Castlegate Postern
from 1494, when described as ruinous and shaken. (fn. 83) At
about that time William Bewyk, an Augustinian friar
and surveyor of the works and buildings of York
friary, was granted a lease for life at 6d. per annum of the
dovecote and chamber over the postern in considera
tion of his great expenditure there. (fn. 84) In 1511 a pot gun
(i.e. a breech-loader) with two new chambers was
delivered to the postern. (fn. 85) In 1634 the enlargement of the
tower as a house of correction was considered. (fn. 86) The
postern 'was shutt and banked upp strongly with earth
and the portcullis lett downe for the safety of the citty'
from October 1642 until July 1645 when Edmund Gyles
was instructed to provide a lock and key 'and make the
gate fitt for opening and lockinge and use meanes to
way upp and lett downe the portcullis'. (fn. 87) In 1699 the
postern was enlarged for the passage of coaches and
carriages. (fn. 88) Coaches, chariots, and chaises were admitted
and wagons, wains, carts, and heavy vehicles excluded
in 1736 by means of a locking post. (fn. 89) In 1826, however,
Castlegate Postern was sold to the County Justices for
£190 and demolished in May of that year for the enlargement of the castle. (fn. 90)
At the time of demolition the postern consisted of a
round-headed archway about 16 ft. high and 11 ft.
wide flanked on the N.E. by a D-shaped tower of three
storeys. The tower was 25 ft. wide and projected 15 ft.
and had a high battered base on the curved face and a
hipped tile roof. The windows at the eaves had been the
embrasures in a crenellated parapet. (fn. 91)
The wall from the site of Castlegate Postern to
Davy Tower by the Ouse does not stand on a rampart
and is now only 7 ft. to 10 ft. high (Pl. 52). The external
ground level has been raised by several feet since 1800.
Several changes in the facing can be seen on the exterior,
and five embrasures have been blocked (Fig. p. 157).
There is a cruciform arrow slit adjoining Davy Tower.
The internal wall walk is only a ledge 8 ins. to 2 ft. wide,
2½ ft. above the pavement of the lane, Tower Place,
behind the wall. Possible masons' marks and cannonball damage can also be seen on the inner face.
On the outer face of the wall near Tower Street is a
bronze plaque set up in 1892 and inscribed 'City Walls,
heights of Floods 1625 1636 1831 [sic] 1763 1892'. There
are also faint inscriptions reading '16–5/HM/1636' and
'1625/HM'. on the wall and on a stone set in the rockery
at its base. These stones were formerly part of the postern.
No external ditch is shown on the earliest plans along
this stretch of wall, but in 1454 a labourer was paid 1s.
4d. for four days work in making a ditch by the stone
tower of the Friars Minor. (fn. 92) In 1569, when the city was
preparing to meet an attack, it was ordered 'that the
dyke at the Grayfreernooke next Ouse shalbe undylaydly cast'. (fn. 93) It was often cast or scoured between 1610
and 1625. (fn. 94)
Davy Tower (Pl. 52; Fig. next) is first mentioned
in the Custody of the Walls for 1315: 'A pede muri qui
dicitur Davytoure'. The wording of this and later
Custodies, 'from the church of St. Mary at the castle
gate up to the water of Ouse outside Davy Tower',
suggests indeed that it may have been the terminal
point of a wall or earthwork running from Castlegate
along the edge of the ditch around Clifford's Tower. In
1424 the tower was described as 'a stone tower at the
corner of the wall of the Friars Minor of York, late in
the tenure of John Davy'. (fn. 95) As at St. Leonard's Landing,
an iron chain could be stretched across the river from
this tower to that on the opposite bank; the Custodies of
1380 and 1403 give the names of the keepers of these
chains 'from the Friars Minor to Hyngbrigg' or 'from
the tower of the Friars Minor to the tower near the
Crane'. The sale of the chains was ordered in June 1553:
'the Iron Cheans at the Towre at the Lait Gray Freres
wall and other place shalbe sold to the Comon profett
of this Citie'. (fn. 96)
(Tower of the Friars Minor)
Along the river bank beside the tower there was a
pathway leading towards Ouse Bridge; in 1453 this was
blocked with wooden posts. (fn. 97) Across it a wooden building was erected in 1607 as a public lavatory. (fn. 98) From 1658
this was known euphemistically as the Sugar House and
frequently required repair. (fn. 99) In 1731, however, the
Corporation ordered 'that a way be made from Fryer
walls to St. George's Close by pulling down the necessary House there, commonly called the Sugar House,
and that a portal be there erected and the door to be
shutt at night time'. (fn. 100) A stone arch with an iron gate was
accordingly erected, bearing an inscription mentioning
the date, 1732, and the Lord Mayor, Jonas Thompson; (fn. 101)
the stonework was by William Bateson, and the gate
was supplied by William Silcock. (fn. 102) It was known as
Friargate Postern or the Iron Gate, and a watchman was
employed until 1835 to open and close it. (fn. 103)
At about the time this postern was built a square
summer-house with a stone base and brick first floor was
built in the S. angle of the tower. It had a pyramidal
tiled roof with a finial at the apex and a chimney on
the N.E. It was extended to the N.E. and N.W. between 1835 and 1850 and is now a house, No. 9, Tower
Davy Tower is an irregular polygon but was probably formerly rectangular, having lost its N.W. angle.
It has a plinth and limestone walling 1 ft. 8 ins. thick
and 10 ft. high, above which the brickwork of the
summer house and its extension continues. A buttress
with chamfered offsets projects from the S.E. wall. The
only old openings are a cruciform arrow slit in the N.E.
wall and a small musket loop in the S.E. wall. The only
old room of the three rooms on the ground floor is the
basement of the former summer house, 12¾ ft. square,
entered by a doorway on the N.E. flanked by a window
in an arched recess. Another doorway in the N.W. wall,
the concrete floor, and a brick coal store are modern
alterations, but the roof beam and joists carrying the
floor of the room above are probably 18th-century.
There is now no trace either of Friargate Postern,
demolished c. 1840, or of the extension of the city wall
from it to the river ordered in 1732 for defence of the
city. (fn. 104) The substantial limestone wall running N.N.W.
from Davy Tower alongside the Ouse is part of the
precinct wall of the Franciscan Friary, built in c. 1290. (fn. 105)
It once had a crenellated parapet and still retains a plinth
Within Castlegate Postern, after H. Cave, 1813.