York City Wall Tour, York

York City Wall Tour (Self Guided), York

Known variously as the York City Walls, Bar Walls, or the Roman Walls (although very little of the extant stonework has remained since Roman times) are the historic monument encircling the Old Town of York.

The surviving portion of the town wall – 3.4km (2 miles) – is longer than anywhere else in England. Built mostly in the 13th century (of magnesian limestone, and set upon earthen ramparts), the ancient fortification is rather well preserved and offers a nice elevated walk around the city, secured by a tall parapet on one side. Here are its main landmarks:

Victoria Bar – smallest gateway within the wall, opened in 1838.

Micklegate Bar – a four-story gatehouse constructed in the 12th century and inhabited until the 20th century; the upper two floors contained living quarters - now a museum.

Multangular Tower – the western corner of the Roman fortress built in the early 4th century AD; the tower has 10 sides, hence the name "multangular".

Bootham Bar – named in the 12th century as "barram de Bootham", which means “bar at the booths”, after the nearby market booths.

Monk Bar – the tallest and most elaborate of York's surviving medieval gates; derives its name from the monastic community that once lived on the site of the present Minster.

Walmgate Bar – built mostly in the 14th century, with some parts dating from the 12th century; notable for its barbican, the only one surviving on a town's gate in England.

Fishergate Bar – first built circa 1315; restored after burning in a 1489 peasant revolt.

For a closer look at one of York's most remarkable pieces of ancient masonry and to treat yourself to what they call “the best city walk in Britain”, take this self-guided tour!
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York City Wall Tour Map

Guide Name: York City Wall Tour
Guide Location: England » York (See other walking tours in York)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: val
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Victoria Bar
  • Micklegate Bar
  • Multangular Tower
  • Bootham Bar
  • Monk Bar
  • Walmgate Bar
  • Fishergate Bar
Victoria Bar

1) Victoria Bar

Victoria Bar is the smallest gateway in the Walls of York. Just like Fishergate Bar, it is one of the “minor” Bars.

As the name suggests, Victoria Bar dates from the 19th century. This secondary gateway was opened in 1838 to provide access between Nunnery Lane and Bishophill. It was done in order to ease traffic through the nearby Micklegate Bar, which by that time had been the main entrance to (exit from) the city and therefore heavily congested.

The gate consists of a central archway with two flanking pedestrian arches, created in 1864 and 1867. It was built on top of a much older, 12th century gateway, the splinters of which were found during the construction.

The ancient structure was likely to be the one known as Lounelith, which means ‘the lonely’ or ‘secluded’ gateway. Archaeologists traced the historical records and determined that it had perhaps served as a small entrance to the city in medieval times and, at some point, was filled in with earth and stone, presumably to strengthen the city's defences.
Micklegate Bar

2) Micklegate Bar

Once the most important of York’s medieval gateways, Micklegate Bar was the focus for grand events. The name of this four-storey gatehouse comes from the Old Norse “mykla gata”, which means great street. Indeed, for many years this was a ceremonial gate and the main entrance to the city for anyone arriving from the south. At least half a dozen reigning monarchs, beginning with Richard II in 1389, have passed through Micklegate Bar, honoring a tradition of stopping here and asking the Lord Mayor's permission to enter.

The lower section of the Bar was built in the 12th century, and the top two stories were added in the 14th. The upper floors were inhabited until the 20th century. Today, the former living quarters house a museum, known as the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar.

Like the other four main gates of York, Micklegate Bar originally had a barbican (outer gateway) built on the front, which became ruinous and was demolished in 1826.

For centuries the severed heads of rebels and traitors were displayed on Micklegate as a warning to dissenters. Among the unfortunate ones whose heads ended up here were Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur), 4th Earl of Northumberland in 1403, 3rd Baron Scrope of Masham in 1415, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (father of Edward IV and Richard III) in 1460, Edmund, Earl of Rutland (another son of Richard), Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, and Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland in 1572. The last of the severed heads was removed in 1754.

The most recent restoration of the Bar took place in 2017.
Multangular Tower

3) Multangular Tower

The Multangular Tower is the western corner tower of the Roman fortress and consists of both Roman and medieval architecture. The tower has 10 sides, from which it derives its modern name "multangular", and is 19 feet (5.8 m) high. It was built in its late Roman form during the early 4th century when it was constructed with three floors to house a catapult. Five Roman stone coffins are in the tower, which were brought from graveyards in other areas of York.

A 76-foot (23 m) section of 4th-century wall connects the Multangular Tower to a small interval tower. The side of the wall and towers facing into Museum Gardens is carefully faced in stone, as during the Roman period it was on display. The other side is rougher because it was originally covered by an earth bank. The wall and towers were still in use after the end of the Roman period in Britain, and were subsequently incorporated into the medieval city walls. As late as the English Civil War they were being used to defend the city, and there is a hole in the wall along from the Multangular Tower that was made by a cannonball during this period.

Why You Should Visit:
This is one of a number of sites in the Museum Gardens which makes them so special. Doesn't look much but very interesting and dynamic inside.

Be sure to venture beyond the facade of the tower to see the remains of the original Roman wall – and the way in which the many stone coffins have been put to more modern use.
Bootham Bar

4) Bootham Bar

Although much of Bootham Bar was built in the 14th and 19th centuries, it also has some of the oldest surviving stonework, dating to the 11th century. It stands almost on the site of Porta Principalis Dextra, the northwestern gate of Eboracum. It was named in the 12th century as "barram de Bootham", meaning bar at the booths, after the nearby market booths. It was the last of the bars to lose its barbican, which was removed in 1835.

One interesting historical anecdote is that in 1501 a door knocker was attached to the bar's entrance in order to prevent Scots from entering the town. Nowadays, of course, all are welcome. Be sure to check out this historical landmark when visiting York.

Why You Should Visit:
This is the closest gate to the Minster and between here and Monk Bar you will find the most popular and attractive section of the City Wall. Unparalleled views of gardens, Minster, university, neighborhoods.

The first floor has a square paved area which is worth a look round before you go to the walls via a black steel gate.
Monk Bar

5) Monk Bar

A bar is a gate in the medieval England - the word "bar" has its origin in barries. Monk Bar is ranked as the tallest and most elaborate of York's surviving medieval city gates. It was constructed in the early 14th century as a self-contained fortress, with each floor capable of being separately defended.

On the front of the bar is an arch supporting a gallery, including "murder-holes" through which missiles and boiling water could be rained down upon attackers. Later, it was used to jail unruly Catholics, and you can experience what it was like for being a "bad Catholic" by squeezing yourself into the cramped Little-Ease Prison tucked away in one of the towers.

Today, Monk Bar houses a fascinating museum dedicated to Richard III and has the only working portcullis in York, complete with spiked railings. Between Monk Bar and Bootham Bar is one of the nicest sections of York City Wall.
Walmgate Bar

6) Walmgate Bar

Most of Walmgate Bar was built during the 14th century, although the inner gateway dates from the 12th century. It was originally called Walbegate, the word Walbe possibly being an Anglo-Scandinavian personal name. The Bar's most notable feature is its barbican, which is the only one surviving on a town gate in England. It also retains its portcullis and has reproduction 15th-century oak doors. On the inner side, an Elizabethan house, supported by stone Tuscan order columns (originally of Roman origin but modified in 1584), extends out over the gateway. The house was occupied until 1957.

The Bar has been repaired and restored many times over the years, most notably in 1648, following the 1644 Siege of York in the English Civil War when it was bombarded by cannon fire, and in 1840 after it had suffered years of neglect. It was also damaged in 1489 when, along with Fishergate Bar, it was burnt by rebels who were rioting over tax raises.

Make sure to stop by Gatehouse Coffee which is set in the gatehouse and makes full use of the space, including the outside space on the Bar. Fantastic spot to break up a walk around the City Walls and brilliant cakes!
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fishergate Bar

7) Fishergate Bar

The south-facing Fishergate Bar is one of six gateways in the City Walls of York.

The first recorded mention of the Bar dates from 1315, where it is referred to as Barram Fishergate. The latter comes after a large flooded area, known as the King’s Fishpond, that used to be located nearby.

The current structure was erected in 1487, by the authority of Mayor of York, Sir William Todd. Attesting to this fact is a central stone surmounting the archway, featuring the York coat of arms and Latin inscription – “A.doi m.cccc.lxxx.vii Sr Willm Tod knight mayre this wal was mayd in his days lx yadys” – translating as “Sixty yards of the wall, including the bar, was built in 1487 under Sir William Tod, mayor of York”.

Two years after the construction, in 1489, the Bar suffered severe damage at the hands of enraged citizens who revolted against heavy taxation imposed by Henry VII, the first Tudor king. The rebels burned the gate following the murder of Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland.

Today, a commemorative plaque on the Bar recalls that event. Also, you can see some reddened and cracked stones near the base of the gateway – traces of the Yorkshire Revolt. The damage was so bad that, instead of repairing the gateway, it was bricked up and not re-opened until 1834, to provide access to the cattle market.

As a secondary gateway, just like Victoria Bar, the Fishergate consists of a main arch and two smaller pedestrian ones.

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