As you enter the city of York you cannot help but be impressed by the magnificent stone wall which still envelopes the main center. If these strong fortifications could talk, what a tale they would tell, the many key historical events they have witnessed, standing strong and determined like silent guards as the centuries have enfolded before them. The history of the 2 mile long, York walls, stretches back 2000 years and remain England’s most complete example of a city’s medieval walls.
Beneath the city’s walls lie the remains of the Roman fortress. The Roman’s occupied York from 71AD and it was they who constructed the first wall. The Roman structure survived until 866AD when it was destroyed and buried with the Viking take over of the city. In the 13th and 14th centuries the walls were rebuilt again, these are the walls that are here today.
The medieval wall contained 4 main gates or ‘bars’, Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar which encompassed the entire medieval city and castle. By the late 18th century the walls had fallen into decay. Plans were made for their demolition, as had been had been done in many other cities, including London. Fierce local opposition prevented this, even though parts of the walls were badly damaged.
Bootham Bar, on the site of one of the four Roman entrances to the city, was built in the 11th century. In 1501, a door knocker was installed, any visiting Scotts were required to knock to seek the Lord Mayor’s permission to enter the city. Bootham Bar, like Micklegate Bar was sometimes used to display the heads of traitors and was badly damaged in 1644.
Micklegate Bar’s lowest section was built in the 12th century and it was inhabited until 1157. The remaining structure was built in the 15th century. It was the most important gateway and main city entrance for anyone arriving from the South. At least 6 reigning monarchs have entered the city through this gate, always stopping first to observe the tradition of asking the Lord Mayor’s permission to enter.
Monk Bar is the largest and most ornate gateway, dating from the 14th century. It was built as a self contained fortress, each floor being capable of being defended. On the front is an arch supporting a gallery with ‘murder holes’ through which missiles and boiling water could be rained down upon attackers. It has York’s only working portcullis in use until 1970!
Walmgate Bar is the most complete of the gateways into the city. It is the only one to still have its barbican, portcullis and inner doors. It’s oldest part is the 12th century stone archway, the front walled barbican is 14th century, the wooden gates from the 15th century and the timber frame interior from the 16th century. Today it is still possible to walk the ramparts of the York city walls, entering at street level through the chapel like doors.
Climbing up the steep narrow steps at Monk Bar.
Once you are on the ramparts you navigate a narrow pathway which offers splendid views of the city.
View of the minster from the walls
The city from the walls
The York City walls are one of its most distinguishable features. Although many cities can claim to have had similar structures, the vast majority were destroyed in the 1800’s when it was considered that they were too costly to maintain. Fortunately the citizens of York had more foresight, campaigning heavily to keep their Medieval walls. Today the walls are a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade 1 listed building. They are well maintained and conserved for the millions of visitors who visit York each year to walk its ramparts and admire this beautiful city.