An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 2, the Defences. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1972.
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Repair and Maintenance
Most of the references to the defences in the city records concern their repair. Normally, complaints were made at a meeting of the city council about some dilapidated gate or length of wall, a committee was appointed to inspect the part in question and, if necessary, an order was made for repairs to be carried out. The record of these proceedings would usually appear in the House Books (the minute books of the city council), and the expenditure, and perhaps also the receipts for payment, then be recorded in the Chamberlains' rolls and books of account, although these have several gaps. An example of 1710 where this procedure can be followed through is of repairs to Micklegate Bar: its decay was raised on 17 May, an order for repairs was made on 12 July, and payment for the work was made on 18 August. (fn. 1) Presentments for deficiencies would usually have been made in a Wardmote Court before coming up for consideration by the council. (fn. 2) An unusual document to survive is a certificate by the Searchers of the Masons that they had inspected a repair: 'having veiwed that part of the Seteys Walls Ageayion the Long Close and we do find them Unsofishant in sevrall places and not wrought workman lick for in stead of Lim and Sand they have used Earth or Laid the Stones drie'. (fn. 3)
The officials responsible for the repairs have varied in title and number over the years. The wardens of the ward involved were usually supposed to inspect the defences before and after repair. Until c. 1530 there were six wards, but from then until 1835 there were only four, named after the principal bars, and the former wards of Castlegate and Coney Street were merged in Walmgate and Bootham Wards. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries a City or Common Mason was employed to work on the walls and other city properties. From as early as 1487 two or more Muremasters or Custodes Murorum were elected intermittently until 1578, but were replaced in 1585 by a City Husband or Overseer of the Common Works. This salaried office was subsequently combined with that of Steward or Receiver, and was later renamed Surveyor. The care of the walls eventually became the task of the City Engineer.
The duties of the Muremasters are succinctly stated in 1527: 'to se the kyngs walls of this Citie otherwais called the Towne walls, to be kept clene and honest without ramell breese and scrubs growyng in and of the same, and to reparell and cause to be made of new sufficiently as much of the said walls now fallen or hereafter that shall happen to fall within this iiij yerez'. (fn. 4) They are more fully defined by the oath of office.
'Ye shall swere that ye shall welle and trewely use and execute the offyce of mooremasters of this city with your fellows and dilygently vewe and survey the walles of the same and also make reparaciones of the said walls ther as neyd ys by the comaundment and advyce of my lorde mayor and his bretheryn duryng the tyme of your offyce. And ye shall weikely true accompte yeelde on the Satterday at nyght before the wardeyns of that ward ther as the reparacions shalbe made and to show and declare unto them the partyculers of the same reparacions to the intent that your troathe and dilygence may be known and none of the comons money to be consumyd nor wastyd thrughe your defaulte. And also ye shall trewely content and pay to the old mooremaisters of this citye in the feast day of St. Matthias thapostle beying the xxivth of February next to come all such surplusage dett as is owyng unto them at this day Acordyng to the Auncyent ordynancez, usage and custome of the said citye. So help you god at holy doom and by this book.' (fn. 5)
These officials, usually four in number, were, like the Chamberlains and the Bridgemasters, elected annually on 15 January by the Mayor, Aldermen, Sheriffs, and Twenty-Four. However, 'being only annual officers and the Duty of their Offices very troublesome they were negligent in . . . looking after the common works and reparations, so they were discontinued, it being found by experience more for the advantage of the Corporation to continue officers of experience with salaries than have young others for nothing'. (fn. 6)
It is uncertain when the office was instituted, but the first reference to it is in 1487, when the city was overhauling its defences under pressure from Henry VII. (fn. 7) The office is not mentioned in an account of the customs of the city of c. 1370 nor in 1475 in a petition concerning the chamberlains' office, where reference to muremasters would be relevant. (fn. 8) From the House Books it seems that muremasters were only elected intermittently owing to the reluctance of freemen to accept the post. The elections were not always recorded, and in some years the names of muremasters are only preserved because those chosen refused to serve and were fined. Any list must therefore be incomplete, but it appears that the office was occupied during at least 25 years of the period 1487–1578 (see below p. 174).
In 1527 the office was limited to members of the cordwainers' guild, apparently as a penalty rather than a privilege. (fn. 9) However, this regulation, although repeated in 1557, (fn. 10) was apparently only observed in two elections. In 1536 it was resolved that no more muremasters should be elected, (fn. 11) but elections continued. In 1534 a rule was made that no one could be elected chamberlain unless he had previously served either as muremaster or as bridgemaster, or had paid a fine for exemption from these offices. (fn. 12) This rule was unsuccessfully challenged in 1736, (fn. 13) and until their abolition at the reform of the Corporation in 1835 chamberlains continued to pay £6 13s. 4d. for exemption from offices which had been formally abolished in 1626 and had not existed in practice since 1585.
The only system observable in the choice of muremasters was in 1573, when one was elected from each ward, a practice apparently followed in the two succeeding years. (fn. 14) During the long intervals when there were no muremasters repairs were supervised by the City Mason, or an overseer of repairs to the walls was appointed. In 1586 Christopher Walmesley directed repairs to Layerthorpe Postern and in 1571 to North Street Postern Tower, (fn. 15) although his main concern was Ouse Bridge.
From 1585 the duty of repairing the walls rested on the City Husband, and much is known of the work done by Edmund Gyles, elected Husband in 1644. This office was abolished in 1710, (fn. 16) but revived in 1734, when it was combined with that of Steward, which had replaced the Bridgemasters. (fn. 17) The Steward at first received a salary of £2 per annum, which was gradually raised until 1833 when, renamed Corporation Surveyor, he was paid £120. The office was later amalgamated with that of Architect and Engineer, but in 1951 their posts were separated, and there is now both a City Architect and a City Engineer.
Funds for repairs presumably came from the murage, from the renting of houses above the gateways and of some towers, and from the lease of the ditches and ramparts for grazing or, of some parts of the ditches, for fishing. (fn. 18) It is doubtful, however, whether income from these sources was actually reserved for use solely on the defences. There are some references to the rent of a house over Micklegate Bar from 1196, but to the houses over the other Bars and to the herbage of the moats only from 1376, although it had doubtless long been a regular practice. The Old Baile, which had passed into the hands of the Corporation by 1466, was also leased for pasture, usually to former Mayors. (fn. 19) Tenants of the ramparts had to keep the ditches scoured to a specified depth and had to prevent their 'four-footed cattle', especially pigs, from damaging the earthworks. (fn. 20)
As at York, the manning and repair of walls and towers was in other cities divided among parishes and wards. The seventeen custodies of York, including 35 parishes, may be compared with the 24 wards of Newcastle (which had only four parishes), each usually including a tower or gate and a length of wall. (fn. 21) At Norwich there are documents of 1377, listing the number of battlements as a measure of responsibility for repair, and of 1481, defining what various parishes or districts should do. (fn. 22) Thus: 'from the river to Coslany or St. Martin at the Oak Gate are 112 battlements and 10 upon the gate'; 'South Conisford repaired the tower in the meadow, the tower by the riverside over against it, and all the walls and Conisford Gate and the next tower to the midspace of the walls towards the Black Tower'. Inspection had been provided for in 1437, when it was resolved 'that every mayor newly elected from year to year should, in the second week after the feast of Corpus Christi, survey and search all the walls of the City with the gates and towers and also the river of Wensome, under a penalty of one hundred shillings, to be paid to the Treasurer'. (fn. 23)
In other cities some attempt was made at systematic repair of the defences by employing a permanent mason, as York did in the 15th century. In 1562 Chester contracted with Thomas Wosewall that he should 'make repaire, maintaine and uphold all the walls of the City, finding all manner stuffe as stone, lime, sand and water, and also iron and steele for sharpening their tools and instruments', in return for an annual fee of 40s. and a gown. (fn. 24) However, the mason was unable to fulfil this contract profitably and surrendered his patent 28 years later. Like York, Chester also had elected murengers or muremasters, whose names are recorded on some of the inscriptions giving details of repairs.
The defence of York was the duty of the citizens, but they were only occasionally called upon to man their walls. The chief threats were in 1216 and 1264 from rebel barons, in 1319 and 1327 from the Scots, in 1469 and 1489 from local rebels, in 1487 from the supporters of Lambert Simnel, in 1536 from the Pilgrims of Grace, and in 1569 from the Northern Earls. The only real siege recorded was that of 11 weeks in 1644, and from then until 1688 the castle and city were garrisoned by regular troops. In spite of the work in 1745, noted above, the increasing obsolescence of the walls as a military defence led to the abandonment of any attempt to enforce and continue the arrangements for manning them. The last occasion on which they were held as a military obstacle was against strikers in 1757, and the last watch at the gates is said to have been kept in 1803. By that time York had a cavalry barracks, built in 1795, followed in 1874 by infantry barracks.
The arrangements for manning the defences are recorded in the documents previously cited of 1315, 1380, and 1403. These give the names of the principal citizens who kept the keys of the gates and posterns and the names of the constables in each ward, and detail those parishes responsible for providing guards in time of danger for each length of wall. In the Custody for 1315 the Micklegate sector is divided into four lengths, including the Old Baile, the central sector into four lengths, and the Walmgate sector is not mentioned, apart from references to its gates. The gates listed are the four main Bars, Fishergate Bar, Layerthorpe Postern, and Hyngbrygg (Skeldergate) Postern. Specially men tioned are the custody of Foss Bridge and of the ends of the city wall near Lendal Tower and near the Dominican Friars, but not the chains across the Ouse.
In 1380 the Micklegate sector was divided into seven lengths and the central sector into nine, but there is still no mention of the Walmgate sector nor of four parishes within it. Another curious feature is the reference to a Foss Bridge gate, as if the Walmgate area were still officially outside the defences. Castlegate Postern is mentioned as the postern below the castle, and the chains across the Ouse from the Friars Minor to Hyngbrigg and from St. Leonard's to Barker Tower now appear. The same arrangements were in force in 1403, although a Fishergate postern, probably the gate now called Fishergate Bar, was included, and the numbers of constables and sub-constables were greatly increased.
The parishes responsible for the various lengths of wall differ slightly between the document of 1315 and those of 1380 and 1403. For instance, in 1315 St. Helen's Stonegate, St. Wilfrid's and St. Martin's, Coney Street, had the custody from Ellerendyng (the Multangular Tower) to the end of the wall by the Ouse, but in 1380 this length was the responsibility of St. Martin's and the Augustinian Friars, while St. Helen's, St. Wilfrid's, and the Minster Liberty had charge of the length from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar.
Since the constables and sub-constables, some of whom are the same in the two later custodies, were clearly substantial citizens, it is presumed that in time of war they were expected to man the defences in person, as well as recalling their fellow citizens to their duty. Comparison between the Custody of 1380 and the Lay Subsidy lists of 1381 (fn. 25) suggests that the lengths of wall, varying from 100 yards to 650 yds., corresponded to groups of the adult population numbering about 250, or of 100–125 men.
A document copied into the city's first register of freemen was probably drawn up during war with the Scots under Edward II or Edward III, since it assumes conditions when attack was likely. (fn. 26) Provision is made for watchmen, for custody of the keys, for the expulsion of Scots and rascals, for musters of armed citizens, and for nightly patrols. These patrols were to be inspected by chief constables and were to avoid raising the alarm unnecessarily. All obstacles to the free passage of defenders were to be removed from the ditches and walls. Penalties for contravention were imprisonment and confiscation of possessions.
'Adeprimes que les portes mures fosses seint garniz bataillez et apparaillez covenablement. Et qu'a chescune porte soient assignez certeinz gentz a surver et examiner les entrannz et les passants. Et que de chescune porte soient les cliefs liverez as diverses persones des plus covenables per assent du meir et de tute la Comune. Et que tous les escotz et rascaile donnt la Citee ne poet estre aide soient nettement oustez. Et que chescun de la Citee soit vitaille sollonc son estate pour le temps qui dura. Et que chescun soit pourven des armes, armurs solonnc son estate cestassavoir render solonnc sa rente et possessionns chateler solonnc son chatel. Et que chescun seit garni de gentz et de poer solonnc sa faculte. Et que la mustrantz des hommes armes et armurs se face devant le meir et ses piers solonnc lour ordinance. Et que les Gaites de nutz facent lour gaite sur les mures et sur les kirneux sannz corner ou crye si mister ne soit. Et que tous ceaux a la foy le Roy quel hure que hewe ou cry soit leve la pursuent afortement sur quantque il pourrount forfer. Et que nul homme foreine face suiurne ne demore en la Citee sine soit resceu per le meir et ses piers et iure a la dite Citee et de ces se face la serche per les chiefs conestables de iour en autre garder. Et que les conestables surveint chescun nuyte lours Gaites et que nul gait restement si covenabil ne soit. Et que touz les measons palicz murs estupmentz levez ou plantez en les fosses de la dite Citee ou sur les ditz murs soient abatuz pour playne passage avoire pour homme et pour chivalen defens de la dite Citee. Et que nul soit trove en nul de poyntz sursditz contrevenant le corps soit maunde a la prisone et ses chateux seisi a la mayne le Roy, com celly qu'est encountre la foy le Roy.'
These regulations were perhaps made as a result of Edward III's order of 1327 to put the city into a state of defence. (fn. 27) This order was issued at Durham on 15 July and addressed to the Mayor and Bailiffs of York. The Scots had invaded the Carlisle area and caused much loss of life and damage to property: the king was therefore advancing against them with his army. He wished York to be safe from sudden attack, particularly since his mother, Queen Isabella, his brother, and his sisters were staying there, and he wanted them to be free of any fear aroused by the lack of fortifications or custody. The Mayor and Bailiffs were therefore to inspect their walls, ditches, and towers at once, and to arrange so providently for their custody that no danger would arise. They were given full power to compel the inhabitants to do everything necessary for the city's defence and to punish any disobedience. They were to be diligent in carrying out these orders. The most important paragraphs follow.
'Vobis, in Fide et Ligeantia ac sub forisfactura omnium, qua nobis forisfacere poteritis, firmiter injungendo, mandamus quod statim, visis praesentibus, omni excusatione et dilatione cessantibus, Muros, Fossata, et Turellos, ac Munitiones ejusdem Civitatis circumquaque (assumptis vobiscum certis personis, de fidelibus nostris, quos ad hoc duxeritis eligendos) supervideatis, et de Custodiis eorumdem sic provide et circumspecte ordinetis, quod periculum eidem Civitati, pro defectu bonae Custodiae, non contingat.'
'Damus autem vobis, tenore praesentium, plenariam Potestatem distringendi et compellendi omnes et singulos, Tenementa seu Redditus in eadem Civitate habentes, aut Mercandisas excercentes, seu conversantes in eadem, per captionem Corporum et Bonorum suorum, ad Custodias super muros et Turellos ejusdem Civitatis, juxta discretiones vestras ordinatas, seu ordinandas, et alia, quae circa praemissa necessaria et utilia fuerint, faciendum: et puniendi omnes illos, quos in hac parte contrarios, seu Rebelles, aut suspectos inveneritis, per Incarcerationem, et aliis modis quibus videritis expedire.'
The precautions taken when York was in real danger of attack were not confined to increasing the number of watchmen and the frequency of patrols. They are best attested for the siege of 1644, and on those occasions in 1569 and 1745 when the citizens feared an assault on the defences. During those crises the walls were repaired, the ditches were cleaned out, the posterns were blocked, boats were secured, ladders brought in from the suburbs, pitch and highly combustible materials collected, and the streets were lit at night. The city's guns and ammunition were, of course, overhauled, citizens were formed into military units and armed, and suspects were questioned. Only during the Civil War was there the need to resort to the building of earthwork outer defences, to the blocking of the river against enemy shipping by means of stakes set across it, and to the rationing of food supplies.
It was seldom necessary to man the defences against raiders, still less against a besieging army, and the absence of constant danger frequently led to the neglect of town defences. At Newcastle in 1402, however, a night watch on the walls of 100 men was an established custom; (fn. 28) at Chester the guards at the city gates were supplied by hereditary tenants of the Earls of Chester. (fn. 29)
Regulations on the custody of the keys to the gates set down in a Memorandum Book before 1396 may go back to the danger from the Scots under Edward III. (fn. 30) It was the custom to choose one or two freemen to keep the keys of each gate of the city. They were sworn in and had their names enrolled, as in the Custodies. They had to be prepared to carry out the commands of the Mayor and Commonalty. By 1450 there were salaried watchmen, whose names and rates of pay are recorded. (fn. 31) In 1463 the rule was made that in daytime every Bar was to be guarded by two tall men, who would check on suspicious arrivals. (fn. 32) After the gates had been locked at 9 p.m., the keys were to be entrusted to the Mayor, and the Bars were not reopened until 4 a.m.
In peace time there normally seems to have been only one permanent watchman at each Bar, although more might be employed, as in 1638, when James Simpson was appointed to Bootham Bar 'by reason of the great resorte of people coming in att that bar'. (fn. 33) In addition to their pay they might expect an occasional bonus: in 1638 it was also ruled that 'if any shall have occasion to goe forth at Monckbar att unseasonable tymes on the night they shall give some reasonable satisfaction to the keeper of the barr for his paines in rising to lett them in and out'. (fn. 34) Sometimes people who were refused permission to leave, or who became impatient with the watchman's slowness, took the keys and let themselves out, as at Bootham Bar in 1489 and Monk Bar in 1555. (fn. 35) Alternatively, they had duplicate keys made for their personal use, as Peter Thurvie did for Fishergate Postern in 1594. (fn. 36) Complaints might also be made against watchmen for refusing to open a gate at night, as in 1607 to a servant coming to York to fetch a midwife. (fn. 37)
The duties of the watchmen were laid down in the oaths appointed for them to take, of which two examples follow. The first was to be taken by William Smyth on 2 June 1602, when he was made keeper of Monk Bar.
'Yowe shall sweare that yow shalbe trustye and trewe to the Quene our Sovereigne Ladie and to the Lord Maior of the cittye of York and also to the same cittye and to the wardens of Monck ward in respecte of your office of Keeper of Monck barr whereunto yow be nowe appointed. And the same cittye as much as in yow lyeth in respecte of your said office yow shall save and defend to our said Sovereigne Ladie her heires and lawfull successors without damage. And dewlie and orderlie Loke unto the openynge and shuttinge in of the same barr. And that the same be kepte opened and shutt in dewe and convenyente time as hertofore hath beene accustomed and as herafter yow shalbe directed by the Lord Maior or anie of the wardens of that ward for the time beinge. And suffer none to passe forthe at or in at the same barr after the shuttinge in of the same at even unto the ordinarie openinge againe of the same in the morninge which yow shall knowe or be informed of or in your self suspecte to be of Lewd behavior or of whom yow shall have warninge from my Lord Maior or anie of your wardens not to suffer to passe. And all other thinges belonginge to your said office you shall trewlie and faithfullie do and execute accordinge to your power and knowledge so helpe yow God.' (fn. 38)
'You doe sweare that you will watch and diligently Attend att Micklegate barr to morrow from five of the Clocke in the morneinge till eight of the Clocke att nyght and in that tyme will suffer noe manner of persons whatsoever to come into this Cittye before you duely and stricktly examine them from whence they come and not admitt them in till you bee fully satisfied by certificate or otherwise that they come from safe places not infected or have not beene for the space of xxtie dayes att least in any infected place or Company and by noe meanes to suffer any wanderinge people poore beggars or women that pretend to be soldiers' wives and by noe meanes to suffer any packetts of clothes bedinge or apparell to come in nor any Packs of Cloths from any infected places soe helpe you god. (fn. 39)'
An especially strict watch was maintained at those times during the 16th and 17th centuries when plague was prevalent. In 1603, when the infection was reported at London and Newcastle, two citizens were to watch at every bar and one at each postern during daytime, and at night all gates were to be locked, 'to kepe forth of this Cittie all Rogues vagabonds and other idle vagrant and masterless persons which shall come forth of the contrie'. (fn. 40) Later that year Thomas Walton was convicted for helping William Morton to break the regulations by assisting him to climb over the walls near Monk Bar with a parcel of goods. Robert Jackson, a watchman at Walmgate Bar who was also convicted, had told an apprentice loaded with sugar and spices: 'Come in the night. I will help to get you them over the walls.' (fn. 41)
During Assizes, in Lent, and on Sundays there were also changes in the arrangements for keeping watch. It is not clear whether the increased watch during the Assizes was to honour the judges or, more probably, because of the greater number of undesirable visitors at those times. (fn. 42) During Lent in 1614 the companies of Butchers, Fishmongers, and Panniermen were each to appoint a watchman at the gates and posterns to see whether any flesh meat was brought into the city. (fn. 43) Again, to ensure seemly observance of the Sabbath, the posterns were to be shut and watchmen were to be set at the four Bars and at Layerthorpe Postern from 8 to 11 a.m. and from noon until 3 p.m. on Sundays in 1615. They were to prevent anyone from leaving the city 'except on some earnest occasion'. (fn. 44)
The ceremonial observed at the city gates for royal visits during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries is well attested, since details of preparations, of presents, and of speeches were noted down as precedents for future occasions. When Richard, Duke of Gloucester, came in 1482, the citizens had to be at Micklegate Bar by 3 a.m. (fn. 45) He visited York as king in the following year. (fn. 46) For Henry VII's visit in April 1486 a representation of Heaven was craftily conceived at Micklegate Bar. From it a crown descended on red and white roses appearing in a world beneath, full of trees and flowers which bowed to the roses. A city full of citizens next appeared, and Ebrauk, the legendary founder of York, greeted the king in verse, and presented him with the keys of the city and with a crown. Similar shows took place at Ouse Bridge, the Guildhall, and in Stonegate, where Solomon, David, and Our Lady were respectively the principal figures, each with appropriate verses extolling the king. Part of Ebrauk's greeting will serve as a specimen.
'Most reverend, rightwose regent of this rigalitie,
Whos primative patrone I peyre to your presence,
Ebraunk of Britane, I sitt nat this citie
For a place to my pleasour of moost prehemynence;
Herunto I recoursid for moost convenience,
In comforthing that by course of liniall succession
Myne heires this my citie shuld have in possession.
Of right I was regent and rewlid this region,
I subdewid Fraunce, and led in my legence;
To you, Henrie, I submitt my citie, key and croune,
To reuyll and redresse, your dew to defence:
Never to this citie to presume ne pretence,
Bot holy I graunt it to your governaunce,
As a principall parcell of your inheritaunce.' (fn. 47)
Princess Margaret, on her way to marry James IV of Scotland, was welcomed in 1503 with trumpets, minstrels, sackbutts, and hautbois. (fn. 48) Henry VIII was also to be greeted at Micklegate Bar under wood and canvas turrets, towers, and battlements, decorated with his arms and those of Queen Catherine Howard and Prince Edward, but in 1541 he entered the city by Walmgate Bar and missed this display, then still unfinished. (fn. 49) James I arrived in 1603 to a 'noise of trumpitts', which sounded most cheerfully from the wall walk of the Micklegate Bar barbican. (fn. 50) The stone figures on the bar were renewed on this occasion. At Charles I's visit, 30 years later, the coats of arms over the gates were repainted, so was the statue of Ebrauk at the Guildhall gateway. (fn. 51) In 1641 the city's Waits were to play upon Bootham Bar at the king's coming and his arms were to be set upon the Bar. (fn. 52) Details are known of the reception given to other Tudor and Stuart kings, queens, and princes, down to the cold welcome given in 1679 to James, Duke of York, (fn. 53) the last royal visitor for 67 years. Similar ceremonial was observed for the entry of such lesser dignitaries as Lord Burghley in 1599. (fn. 54)
When the royal visitors were within the city, a special watch was posted. In 1639, during Charles I's second visit, there were in daytime four watchmen at Bootham Bar, three at each of the other Bars, and two at each postern. (fn. 55) At night each Bar had 16 watchers, even though both they and the posterns were to be locked from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m., except for the wicket at Bootham Bar. Similar regulations were made in 1603, 1633, and 1640. (fn. 56) Bootham Bar had more watchmen because the royal party occupied the King's Manor.
Queen Elizabeth II was greeted, like her predecessors, with a fanfare of trumpets from Micklegate Bar during her state visit to York in 1971 on the occasion of the city's nineteenth centenary celebrations. The civic welcome took place on Knavesmire, however, and the pageant of York's history was presented in the Museum Gardens.
Constituent Features: Analyses; Analogies; Chronology
By 1400 most important towns in England and Wales had defences, some consisting merely of earth banks and ditches with stone or brick gates, as at Beverley, Ipswich, and Sandwich, but more often wholly or largely of stone. (fn. 57) For long the defences remained a sign of civic importance, and few, until the Civil War, had had to withstand a siege or, unless by the coast or near the borders, had ever been approached by an enemy. As the second city in England, the principal centre of royal authority in the north, the see of an archbishop and the home of a proud and independent body of citizens, York naturally possessed such symbol of status and security. Like London, Winchester, and Canterbury, it had walls in part of Roman origin. Their extent and the area which they enclosed were, however, smaller than at London, Norwich, or Bristol, and the defences of both Coventry and Newcastle were stronger and more impressive. Like York, the three larger cities extended on both sides of a tidal river and were dominated by an important royal castle.
Curtain Walls and Ditches
Curtain Walls. The most unusual feature of the walls of York is their erection on top of a massive earth bank. In other cities with Roman walls, like Chichester, Colchester, and Lincoln, an earth rampart had preceded the masonry defences, but had been cut back to receive them in the Roman period. At Norwich and Oxford an earlier mediaeval rampart had been removed; at Hereford, (fn. 58) and perhaps at Nottingham, the 13th-century wall was inserted into a 12th-century rampart. There is, however, no parallel in Britain for walls like those of York built on the crest of an earlier rampart. Their position is largely due to the covering of the ruined Roman walls of the legionary fortress, and perhaps of the colonia as well, by a massive bank when the city became a Viking capital; and when the defences were extended to include other suburbs, ramparts on a similar scale were erected. The size of these ramparts led to the building of the mediaeval stone walls on top rather than in front of them, since their removal would have been difficult. The walls are consequently low when compared with those of Oxford or Southampton.
The facing of the city wall has been renewed and patched so often that few diagnostic features remain. The plinth, occurring chiefly in the Walmgate sector, can be paralleled elsewhere, as at Nottingham, Shrewsbury, and Worcester. (fn. 59) The buttresses are not all late additions, since most of them appear in views of about 1700, and some, including those facing Jewbury, have a mediaeval appearance and are bonded with the adjacent curtain. The internal arcades supporting the wall walk already existed by 1634 in the stretch from Monk Bar to Layerthorpe Postern, (fn. 60) and those near the Red Tower (Pl. 45) are probably of the late 15th century. In the stretch from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar, however, the arcades date only from 1888–9. Such internal arches are known at Norwich, Yarmouth, and Tenby, where they are clearly a late mediaeval addition to the earlier curtain. Brick arches at Coleman Street, London, are apparently 15th-century. (fn. 61) An example at Bristol is on the outer face of the wall, (fn. 62) so too is the Arcade at Southampton. (fn. 63) The arches visible at the base of the Walmgate wall were intended to support it on the shifting rampart. Similar relieving arches remain at Caernarvon, still partly buried in the ground, (fn. 64) and at Southampton Castle, exposed by the removal of the rampart. (fn. 65)
The crenellated parapets of the walls, as the part most exposed to damage, are much restored and few original merlons remain. The wall walk was originally much narrower and only attained the present width in the 19th century. The lengths adjoining Lendal Tower, the Multangular Tower, and Davy Tower show this, and the St. Mary's Abbey walls have only a narrow ledge. In times of danger planks were used to form a continuous walk between the towers. The general impression of the battlements is much as it was in 1700, but 18th-century views show several changes in detail. The form of the original parapets can best be seen by examining the upper floor of North Street Postern Tower and the parapets of St. Mary's Abbey walls, though the latter have settings for wooden shutters to close the embrasures, for which there is no evidence on the city walls. The blocked embrasures visible near Tower 32 (Fig. p. 135) are evidence of a stretch of wall only about 12 ft. high, subsequently heightened. Blocked embrasures can also be seen in the wall near Davy Tower (Fig. p. 157). The canopied arrow slits in merlons of the Walmgate sector (Pl. 45) are based on mediaeval work still surviving in 1834, but all their stonework has apparently been subsequently renewed. The musket loops, of which a good series survives adjoining North Street Postern, were probably formed in the 17th century by the narrowing of embrasures.
Ditches. External ditches formed an indispensable part of town defences, but seldom survive. Only street names such as Houndsditch in London recall their sites. They have usually been transformed into wide roads or ornamental walks, but some were used as cattle markets, as at York and formerly at Canterbury. At Hull the broad wet moats were enlarged in the 18th century to form docks. At York lengths of ditch remain, partly filled along Nunnery Lane, Lord Mayor's Walk, and Jewbury, but there is now no sign that the Walmgate ditches were once wet. The average dimensions at York were 50 ft. in width and 10 ft. in depth; at Newcastle the ditch was 66 ft. wide and 15 ft. deep, and at London the mediaeval ditch was 75 ft. wide and 6 ft. to 8 ft. deep. (fn. 66)
Gateways, Gates and Portcullises
Gateways. Much destruction of the defences of important English cities took place in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but city gates often remain where most of the other defences have disappeared; often too their appearance as prominent and interesting features has been recorded by artists before destruction. So at Beverley, Canterbury, Hartlepool, King's Lynn, Lincoln, Southampton, Warwick, Winchelsea, and Winchester one or more of the ancient entrances remain, and the appearance of demolished mediaeval gates is known, for instance, at Durham, Hull, and Nottingham, as well as at the larger cities of London, Bristol, Chester, Newcastle, and Norwich. The plan of the York gates is seen by comparison with others to be quite usual, namely, a single passage with wooden gates and a portcullis below a stone tower of two or more storeys. Fishergate Bar differed in having rectangular flanking towers and three passageways. Three of the York Bars incorporate Norman work dating from before the time the ram parts were crowned with stone walls, and this is paralleled at Southampton and suspected at Norwich. At some places the gateways were of stone in a circuit otherwise defended only by earth banks and palisades, as in York before the 13th century.
The best known surviving example of a gate across a bridge is at Monmouth, and larger examples once existed at London and Newcastle. Layerthorpe Postern, at the head of a bridge, can readily be paralleled elsewhere: it resembled the surviving Fisher Gate at Sandwich and the destroyed St. Benedict's, St. Giles', and St. Martin's Gates at Norwich. (fn. 67) There is also some evidence at York for a gate on Foss Bridge, but its appearance is not recorded. This bridge gate, like the gates of the inner wall at Bristol, may have marked an earlier line of defences, here preceding the extension to include the suburb of Walmgate. If so, the first Walmgate Bar may have stood for some time detached from the main defences, as did Cow Gate and Bar Gate at Chester, Temple and Holborn Bars at London, and Great Bar Gate at Lincoln. At York too there seem to have been wooden gates called Bars, of which little is known, some distance outside the stone Bootham and Micklegate Bars, across the roads to Thirsk and Tadcaster. (fn. 68)
In several towns square or rounded flanking towers were added to a simpler gateway, or were incorporated in a new design; West Gate, Canterbury, is the finest surviving English example. Bartizan turrets as on the four main gates at York are unusual, however, and, apart from examples on Gosford Gate, Coventry, and on the isolated Cow Tower at Norwich built in c. 1340, usually occur, not on city gates and walls, but on castle gatehouses, as at Beaumaris, Lincoln, and Lewes, or castle keeps, as at Belsay, Cawdor, Chipchase, Doune, Pontefract (now destroyed), and Clifford's Tower. Most of these were built apparently in the late 13th or 14th centuries.
Barbicans built in front of gatehouses for additional protection are also more usual in castles than city defences, although one was added at Newgate, Newcastle. Only one of the four barbicans surviving at York up to 1800 still stands, that to Walmgate Bar. All the barbicans had two bartizans overlooking the outer archway and resembling those of the main gatehouse behind them. Except at Bootham Bar, a parapet walk on the barbican was reached through two doorways on the first floor of the Bar. In their side walls were sally-ports: one at Bootham Bar, one at Monk Bar and two at Micklegate Bar. There is no evidence for bridges over the moats before the barbicans were built. From the 16th or 17th century each bar had a separate watch house inside the defences, though at Micklegate Bar it seems to have projected outside them.
Gates. The four main Bars have passages 10 ft to 12 ft. wide, which could originally be blocked by an inner gate and an outer gate with a portcullis in front. When barbicans were added there were also gates at their entrances (Fig. next). These passageways were known as 'barsteads' and required frequent repaving. Gates or 'yats' are mentioned from time to time in the city records, but it is uncertain whether the word 'yat' meant the ordinary iron-bound timber gate or the iron yett as used in Scotland and some northern castles. The timber gates had locks by 1380; later, wickets, bars, iron chains, and crooks to hook the gates back are mentioned. When in 1489 Henry VII had urged that the defences be repaired, the city council ordered a collection for this purpose, 'and at the utter gates of every barre and ye gats of the posterns to be maid of iron with certain drawbriggs as shalbe thoght necassarie'. (fn. 69) Money and iron were collected and as a result iron gates, mentioned in 1630, existed at Walmgate Bar; they were damaged by enemy gunfire in 1644. There are frequent references to grates at the Bars, as at Monk Bar in 1578, but it is usually clear from the context that these were not iron gates or portcullises but covered drains or watercourses.
The only surviving gates, of timber, are mounted in the inner arch of Walmgate Bar and are now kept permanently open. Each leaf is 12¾ ft. high, 6 ft. wide, and about 4 ins. thick and is studded with broad-headed nails; the outer face is made of vertical oak boards with the joints concealed by cover-mouldings; on the inner face the boards are horizontal and conceal the set of three hinges. A small wicket 4½ ft. high and 1¾ ft. wide is let into the N. leaf. These gates are probably 15th-century (Fig. p. 148).
The gates at the other Bars were apparently similar in appearance to the foregoing, and those at Bootham Bar also had a wicket. In some places slots remain in the flanking stonework for wooden bars to be placed inside across the closed gate; at both Monk and Micklegate Bars in the 16th century there were 'sweeps', or long swivelling bars, for a similar purpose, as at Trinity College Great Gate, Cambridge.
The narrow arches of the posterns could generally be closed only by gates. For this reason earth and stones were piled up inside them in times of siege, and during the Civil War they remained permanently blocked in this way for 2½ years. Like the gates of the Bars those of the posterns could be locked, and keys are mentioned from 1380 onwards. Castlegate, Layerthorpe, and Skeldergate Posterns apparently had two-leaved gates. The single gate at North Street Postern, replaced in 1602, had gone by 1825, but that at Fishergate Postern remained in position later than at any of the other posterns. When in 1647 a sally-port in Mint Yard, perhaps St. Leonard's water gate, was closed, the doors, lock, and hinges were preserved. In the 18th century, when new passageways were made beside Micklegate Bar in 1753–4, at Bootham Bar in 1771, and adjoining Davy Tower in 1731–2, these were supplied with gates, which were locked at night.
Portcullises. Portcullises survive at the four main Bars, but only the one at Monk Bar is in working order. The grate is 14 ft. high and 12¼ ft. wide, with twelve metal-shod spikes at the foot. It is operated from the second floor of the gatehouse by a horizontal windlass which is turned with wooden hand-spikes fitting into sockets and has an iron ratchet and pawl at one end. The latter prevents the windlass from slipping back but allows the portcullis to be lowered in a hurry by a flick of the hand. There are remains of similar winding gear at Walmgate Bar, but at Bootham Bar there was formerly a vertical windlass.
Fishergate Bar still retains in its main arch portcullis grooves, rounded in the lower part, like those at Kirby Muxloe Castle, Leicestershire, of 1480–4, but rectangular above. The portcullis must have been at least 14 ft. high, requiring a gatehouse above of two storeys, long since destroyed.
At only two of the posterns is there evidence for a portcullis. At Fishergate Postern, where the rectangular grooves remain, the portcullis must have been at least 9 ft. high, but there is now no evidence for a superstructure to house the grate when raised or for the operating mechanism. At Castlegate Postern in 1645 Edmund Gyles was instructed to 'use meanes to wey upp and lett downe the portcullis', lowered since 1642 when the postern was blocked. (fn. 70) It appears on a view by Place (Pl. 2) but was presumably destroyed when the entrance was altered in 1699. Layerthorpe Postern was apparently not equipped with a portcullis. (fn. 71)
Since the two main gateways of the castle have been almost entirely destroyed the only visible evidence of a portcullis there is in the entrance to Clifford's Tower. The grate would have been about 12 ft. high and 7¼ ft. wide; when raised it hung against a wall of the chapel, the windlass being set in a room above. In St. Mary's Abbey precinct wall a small doorway beside St. Olave's church is provided with a slot for a portcullis.
Although in 1489 drawbridges are mentioned as desirable additions, (fn. 72) there is no evidence, other than the earlier name of Hynbrygg Postern for Skeldergate Postern, that they ever existed at any of the entrances to the city. This contrasts with such provision at Canterbury and Rye, where holes for the drawbridge chains still exist in gatehouses, and at Newcastle. At York Castle, however, the drawbridge pit still remains outside the S. Gate, and when Clifford's Tower was refortified during the Civil War a drawbridge of Dutch type was erected at the base of the motte (Pl. 2).
The walls of York are equipped with numerous towers of several forms. All have been altered, particularly in the 17th century both before and after the Civil War; some are modern rebuilds. Nowhere does the original top remain. Probably all the towers dating from the Middle Ages rose one stage above the level of the wall walk, although evidence of this seldom survives.
Excepting those towers which have been so heavily rebuilt that the original design is no longer recoverable, the surviving mediaeval towers show three basic forms. The oldest are the semicircular towers. Rectangular towers are next in the sequence. Finally, demi-hexagonal towers occur in parts of the city wall. Probably there was a considerable overlap in the use of the different forms, and indeed later mediaeval rebuilding may well have followed the form of an earlier tower.
The earliest semicircular towers appear to be those with a long sloping plinth. This is the pattern used at Clifford's Tower and in the castle in the middle of the 13th century. Towers 7 and 11 are the only examples of it that remain, the slope extending to a height of over 6 ft., as in Clifford's Tower; the demolished Castlegate Postern Tower too had it. A similar plinth appears with only a very slight batter in North Street Postern Tower which probably dates from after 1315, but here the position projecting from the river bank is exceptional. Normally the batter is shorter and less steep, often rising from a vertical face or off a stepped base or bases. Towers 3, 9, and 25 are good examples; the first of these lies at the S. angle of the Old Baile where the curtain dates from the second quarter of the 14th century. A feature of this Tower 3 and of a number of others, such as 26 and 31, is the working of the arris between the slope and the vertical base in the centre of a course instead of at a masonry joint; this is a technique found at Corfe Castle in the latest towers of the outer bailey dating from c. 1280 and later. Semicircular towers of a somewhat smaller size than the foregoing occur on the precinct wall of St. Mary's Abbey. They were added to the original curtain begun in 1266 and form part of the work for which a licence to crenellate was granted in 1318.
Tower 7 shows the original arrangement of these towers. Three recesses with sloping sides are formed in the inner face of the wall to give access to tall arrow slits. This is a typical 13th-century arrangement, seen also in Clifford's Tower. There was probably an upper stage with a floor at about the same level as the wallwalk. In Tower 9 the upper stage, or perhaps the roof, was carried on a vault with ribs rising from corbels; this upper level was at least 6 ft. above the present roof of the tower, which is approximately at the level of the wall-walk. It is the only instance recorded in York of a roof of this form. The evidence for it was found in 1831 behind the 17th-century segmental vault which now covers the ground stage, and similar features may be concealed in other towers. Towers at Newcastle have ribbed barrel vaults (fn. 73) and at Norwich are covered with rough domes. (fn. 74) Tower 21, demolished for St. Leonard's Place, still rose one stage above the wall walk of the adjoining wall in 1827 (Fig. p. 115). The original appearance of these towers, rising above the curtain wall, may be judged not only from those of St. Mary's Abbey wall but also from the Edwardian town walls of Conway and Caernarvon.
The semicircular or round tower was the normal form in England during the 13th century. It was used extensively at Corfe Castle, where work began under King John, and in the refortification of Dover Castle, which followed the siege of 1216 and continued into the second half of the century. Except at Caernarvon Castle, it is almost the only form found in the Edwardian castles and towns of North Wales, where work continued during the first quarter of the 14th century. At York such towers are found in the wall of the Old Baile, erected during William de Melton's archiepiscopacy (1317–40, see below p. 87), at Lendal and North Street Postern Towers, perhaps not existing in 1315, and along the precinct wall of St. Mary's Abbey, built after 1318.
The rectangular tower, which was the normal form in the 12th century, was displaced by the rounded form in about 1200, but was revived by French engineers in the later 13th century. It was used by the master builder Pierre d'Angecourt, who fortified the town of Lucera (Foggia) for Charles I of Anjou between 1269 and 1275. (fn. 75) It was also employed in the fortifications of Calais, which were largely erected under Philip the Fair (1285–1314), and which enabled the city to hold out for so long against Edward III. In Yorkshire this type of tower is not only used in the outer ward of Pickering Castle, built between 1323 and 1326, (fn. 76) but appears once among the round towers added to St. Mary's Abbey wall in 1315–25 (Tower C). Excavation has recently disclosed a square tower of brick forming part of the town walls of Hull. This is likely to be part of the work for which a licence was granted in 1321 to the burgesses for the strengthening of their defences with a wall of lime and stone and for its crenellation, renewed by Edward III in 1327. (fn. 77)
The square or rectangular tower normally had a closed gorge; the earlier towers were normally built with an open gorge, as at Conway and Oxford or on St. Mary's Abbey wall, though originally filled with half-timber work. At York nearly all the towers have a stone rear wall, and it is generally difficult to determine whether this is an original feature or has been added. The change from an open gorge with timber filling to a tower fully built of stone took place early in the 14th century. The square towers are likely to have risen one stage above the level of the wall walk, as at Pickering, but no evidence for this now survives at York.
The third form of tower found on the walls of York presents a three-sided projection from the outer face of the curtain, the setting-out being based upon a regular hexagon. Tower 16, with three arrow slits, one in each face, is a good example, probably preserving the original form (Pl. 25, Fig. p. 103). Towers 23 and 24 have no arrow slits in the lower part; in the former is an inserted gunport of c. 1460; in the latter are two fragments of 12th-century mouldings which have been reused near the base in masonry which is part of the original build. Both these towers have been added to the curtain wall.
The demi-hexagonal wall tower is a form rarely used. A close parallel in plan is offered by the turrets between the great polygonal towers of Caernarvon Castle: the Watch Tower is a good example, but it projects more boldly from the curtain, being five sides of an octagon. There are also turrets of this form projecting from the curtain wall by the angles of the gatehouse of Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire, for which a licence to crenellate was granted in 1382. (fn. 78) A date in the 14th century, perhaps extending into the 15th century, would seem appropriate for the introduction of this form into the defences of York.
Nearly all the towers, whatever their form, have plinths around their bases, and similar plinths occur along the base of the curtain wall in the Walmgate area, and in short stretches elsewhere (Fig. p. 46). The high battered plinths or aprons of several courses, probably indicating a 13th-century date, have already been noted. Elsewhere there is usually only a single chamfered setback about 6 ins. deep. The plinth on the Walmgate wall extends from Fishergate Postern to Fishergate Bar over a length corresponding to that stipulated in the contract of 1345. The occurrence of a similar plinth between the Red Tower and Walmgate Bar and in other short stretches may indicate a 14th-century date for the base of the city wall in those places.
No obvious pattern can be seen in the distribution or spacing of the three forms of tower, and few are of exactly the same size. Signs of original arrangements may be an alternation of rounded and rectangular towers between Micklegate Bar and the site of the Old Baile ditch, restriction of demi-hexagonal towers (with one exception) to the N.W. side, especially overlooking Gillygate, and the use solely of rectangular towers in the Walmgate area.
Elsewhere town walls built within a comparatively short period, like those of Caernarvon, Conway, Newcastle, Norwich, and Oxford, have towers wholly or mainly of one form, these semi-circular and rounded. The towers at Hull, after 1321, were rectangular, and those of London wall were rounded where they stood on late Roman footings and rectangular in the 13th-century extension. The average spacing of the towers at York is 230 ft., but the distance between them can vary from 100 ft. to 800 ft. With these figures may be compared the average spacing at Caernarvon and Conway (170 ft.), Oxford (200 ft.), and Newcastle (350 ft., but with two or more intermediate turrets).
It was common practice in the Middle Ages to close a harbour or navigable river in or beside a fortified town by means of a chain stretched between two towers. Chains were so used at Hull, Kingswear, Norwich, Portsmouth, West Hartlepool, and Yarmouth. At Norwich the two round boom towers on either side of the Wensum are 14th-century, (fn. 79) and at Kingswear on the Dart the towers, one round and one square, are 15th-century.
At York the iron chain on the upstream side of the city was kept in Lendal Tower in 1380 and hung between it and North Street Postern Tower. On the downstream side the chain was stored in Davy Tower and could be stretched across the Ouse to the Crane Tower. In about 1540 Leland noted the chain in Lendal Tower, but in 1553 the city council ordered the chains to be sold, and in 1616 Lendal Tower became a waterworks. The chains probably did not yet exist in 1315 since they are not mentioned in the Custody of that year. They may have been installed in the mid 14th century when the city claimed 'through toll'; some means would then have become necessary to close the river at night and prevent boats passing through York to and from Boroughbridge without paying the toll.
During the Civil War the Royalists blocked the Ouse between Davy Tower and the Crane Tower with boats on which guns were mounted. These were later replaced or reinforced by a line of palisades. The besiegers had also prevented river traffic by bridges of boats near Clifton and Fulford.
The numerous arrow slits in the Bars, mural towers, and walls are features which can be compared with others elsewhere. Their value for dating is limited, since there is no reason why the various forms should occur at York contemporaneously with their first appearance elsewhere. Among them are several obviously modern examples, but others not detected as such may have been introduced during 19th and 20th-century restorations.
The most usual type of arrow slit used in mediaeval fortifications in Britain is the simple vertical slit, sometimes with elaborated terminals, and with a splayed recess behind it. This, however, is one of the rarest forms in York. Excluding small slits, such as those in Fishergate Postern Tower and Micklegate Bar, which may have been used for arrows, guns, or merely to give light, there are 168 arrow slits in the defences. Of these 122, including 11 incomplete examples, are in the towers and Bars, 20 in the curtain walls, 18 in Clifford's Tower, and 8 in the two surviving towers of the castle bailey. In St. Mary's Abbey precinct wall and its towers another 21 remain.
1. Straight slits. Only one certain example of a large straight slit has been found at York, in North Street Postern Tower. Three in the S. angle tower of the castle bailey are of this type, but they may have been altered. A smaller and later example occurs in Fishergate Postern Tower. This form was already used in the 12th century, and there are 13th-century examples at Dover, Durleton, and Pevensey Castles. The slits in the Red Tower of c. 1490 were probably intended as gun loops but could also have been used by archers.
2. Elongated cruciform slits. These may be square-ended (2a), as are two in Tower 7, or have a fish-tail or triangular termination (2b), as in four examples in Towers 31 and 32. Dated examples occur at Trematon Castle of 1190, Manorbier Castle of 1200, and Warkworth Castle of 1249–1310.
3. Elongated cruciform slits with square-ended cross arm, rounded base, and square (3a), fish-tailed (3b), or round top (3c) to the upright arm. These variations are presumably all developments of Class 2. There are six examples of (3a) in Towers 7, 10, 11, and 31, nine of (3b) in the Multangular Tower, and ten of (3c) in Bootham Bar, but here probably post-mediaeval.
4. Elongated cruciform slits with large round oillets (4a) or small rounded ends (4b). The first type is the commonest variety found in the defences of York, occurring 39 times, including sixteen times in Monk Bar. Six slits in the demolished Tower 21 were apparently of this form. There is one example of (4b), on Tower 6. The type occurs at Kenilworth Castle in work of 1240, on Oxford city walls of 1300–31, and on St. Mary's Abbey precinct wall of 1318–25.
5. Rectangular windows combined with arrow slits. The main examples (5a) are confined to Clifford's Tower, where are eight roughly square windows on the ground floor and six rectangular openings on the first floor, each with a long vertical slit continuing below; several of the latter retain an oillet. These windows are not part of the original design of 1245–62; they represent a compromise required, perhaps c. 1300, by the combination of residential and defensive functions of the castle.
A variant form (5b) occurs twice in North Street Postern Tower. It is smaller than (5a) in Clifford's Tower and has a cross arm as well as a vertical slit below the wide head. In the same tower, an ordinary cruciform arrow slit with a rather wide upper arm may indicate the development. Internally, each of these windows had a shoulder-headed arch above a splayed opening leading into an arched recess. In Lendal Tower a single blocked window with an upright slit extending above it is clearly in the same tradition (5c).
These windows at North Street Postern and Lendal Towers may have been contemporary or slightly later imitations of those at Clifford's Tower, which ally both military and domestic functions. This type of opening may derive from France, where examples at Coucy-le-Château (Aisne) date from c. 1220. It seems, however, that most of the York examples are enlargements of original arrow slits. Examples of similar windows occur at Caerlaverock Castle of c. 1290 and at Rhuddlan Castle of 1278–80.
Key: 1. North Street Postern Tower; 2. Tower 7; 3. Tower 32; 4. Tower 7; 5. Tower 31; 6. Multangular Tower; 7. Tower 11; 8. Tower 10; 9. Davy Tower; 10. Tower 28; 11. Curtain wall, near Walmgate Bar; 12. Tower 6; 13. Tower 15; 14–16. Tower 16; 17. Tower 9; 18. Tower 4; 19. Tower 5; 20. Tower 24; 21. Clifford's Tower; 22–3. North Street Postern Tower; 24. Lendal Tower; 25. Tower 39.
7. Elongated cruciform slits with round oillets but with the cross arm near the head of the vertical slit. These are found in Towers 4 and 5 and, if original, are probably 14th-century. They may be early nonfunctional restorations, however, since this sector of the walls was liable to subsidence and collapse.
8. Equal-armed cruciform slits with large round oillets. There are two well-preserved examples in the Postern Tower of St. Mary's Abbey wall of 1497 (Fig. p. 172). Two others occur in Tower 39 and suggest that it was altered in c. 1500. This form was popular in the early 16th century and occurs in Tudor gatehouses, as at Cowdray House, Sussex, Titchfield House, Hampshire, and West Stow Hall, Suffolk, where it served either for bows or for hand guns.
Armaments and Gunports
York city walls were built before the use of cannon became common in European warfare in the late 14th century. By 1500 guns were sufficiently familiar to be used as part of the city's defences, but there is no evidence that York ever employed a military specialist to advise on how best to modify its fortifications to resist the new weapon. In this York seems to have lagged behind such places as Canterbury and Southampton, where gunports were provided in the walls before 1400; (fn. 80) at Quarr Abbey they may even date from 1365. (fn. 81) At Coventry four guns were mounted over Spon Gate in 1451. (fn. 82)
The first reference to York possessing guns is in 1463, when they were to be repaired and powder was to be bought. (fn. 83) In 1478 four gun chambers and 13 gun stones were entrusted to John Patton. (fn. 84) In 1484 another citizen in charge of the guns, gun chambers, powder, and other war material in return for a fee of 20s. and four yards of cloth was held to have forfeited this fee since he had allowed the ordnance to rust and be lost. (fn. 85)
In April 1487, during Lambert Simnel's rebellion, Henry VII ordered the constable of Scarborough Castle to deliver to York twelve serpentines equipped with chambers and powder, the city to pay for carriage, but the constable replied that there were not even four in the castle. (fn. 86) A serpentine was a piece of ordnance, anything from a 2½ to a 24 pounder, in this instance evidently breech-loading. More ordnance were apparently bought by the city in 1492 with money given by the king, and a building on Toft Green called the Gunhouse, mentioned in 1501, 1503, and 1519, was perhaps built or adapted for this equipment. (fn. 87) Among the acts of John Stockdale, Mayor in 1501, his acquisition of a cannon for the city is recorded. (fn. 88)
Henry VIII was consulted about the York defences, and for 1511 the city records give a detailed account of the type and number of guns held for defence against the Scots. (fn. 89) The officers for the respective wards received two guns and four chambers for Micklegate Bar, three serpentines, a murdor (or murderer) and eleven chambers for Walmgate Bar and the Red Tower, a brass gun and an iron pot gun (a breech-loader) with five chambers for Bootham Bar, two hackbusses, two staff guns and chambers for Monk Ward, and a pot gun with two new chambers for Castlegate Postern. Two of the four guns for Monk Ward were presumably intended for Monk Bar and the other two for Layerthorpe Postern.
Much of the defence in the 16th century still fell upon the archers and pikemen, who were expected to practise and be ready at an hours notice. In 1547 a certificate of armour made to the President of the Council in the North by the Commissioners for York and the Ainsty recorded for the city: 'white harnesses (plate armours) 30; almayn revetts (light half armours) 30; coats of plate 49; jacks (canvas jerkins reinforced with iron plates) 179; sallets (head pieces) 136; steel caps 130; pairs of splints (plate defences) 143; chains and sleeves of mail 15; gorgets 8; bows 178; sheaves of arrows 130; battle axes 32; bills and halberts 180; lead malls (long clubs or mallets) 9; hand guns and "helshails" (? hail-shot guns) 12; and hosting horses 188'. (fn. 90) A contemporary muster in York and the Ainsty raised 422 archers and billmen with armour and jacks, 315 of them with horses, and 888 other archers and billmen. (fn. 91)
In 1569, during the rebellion of the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, the city's defences were inspected, repairs ordered, and all the common guns and ordnance in the Council Chamber or at the Bars were overhauled. Citizens were also required to practise archery regularly.
The next major military alarm came in 1588, when the Spanish invasion was expected. (fn. 92) The city bought in Hull 28 corselets (half armours for pikemen), 28 cuirasses (breast and back plates), 6 murions or headpieces, and 1640 lbs. of powder. A locksmith was paid for dressing six gun chambers. (fn. 93) York was instructed to raise 120 pikemen, 60 billmen, 30 archers, and 90 men armed with callivers, as its contingent against the Spaniards. Much of the organisation for defence at this time fell upon the parish constables, who exercised and paid the trained bands and kept the parish equipment in a special cupboard in the church, as at St. Michael-leBelfrey, or in a chest, as at Holy Trinity, Goodramgate. In 1590, for example, the parish of St. Martin-cumGregory, Micklegate, had the following stock of arms: 2 corselets (half of one belonging to the next parish), a cuirass, 2 pikes, a halbert, 3 callivers with flaxes and touch boxes, 2 morions, 2 coats of plate, 2 steel caps, 1 black bill, 8 swords, 8 daggers, and 7 sword girdles. By 1596 this list had been augmented by 1 more pike and corselet, 1 calliver, and 3 pairs of bullet moulds. (fn. 94) In spite of the existence of hand guns in parish armouries, however, archers were still an important element in the local forces. When in October 1609 the 'viewe of Artillerie' was held on Baile Hill, all men had to have a bow, together with four arrows, if they were aged between 17 and 40, or two arrows, if they were over 7 and under 17. (fn. 95)
The only piece of ordnance surviving in York from this period was found in the Ouse at Naburn and now stands outside the Debtors' Prison in the Castle. It is a breech-loading iron cannon of built-up construction, 11 ft. 2½ ins. long (including a terminal tiller 2 ft. long), and with a 3 inch bore. A long butted cylinder which forms the bore is retained by longitudinal strips held together by hoops shrunk over them. The ends of the strips protrude through the muzzle plate and are hammered over; one of the hoops is all of a piece with the trunnions. The three rings decorated with rope-like pattern at the muzzle are unusual. One of the slots remains for the wedge which held the separate chamber jammed hard up against the breech. The gun dates from the late 16th or early 17th century and is almost certainly of Indian manufacture.
The city's last major military action was the siege of 1644, but only one account gives details of the number of guns then in York. (fn. 96) There were 20 large and small cannon, including two on the Old Baile, one at the Friars, two sling pieces and a small drake on a bridge of boats across the Ouse, two demi-culverins and a saker on top of Clifford's Tower, and two guns on each of Micklegate, Monk, and Walmgate Bars. There was also a platform of cannon on the roof of St. Olave's church. Ammunition, powder, and three mortars were kept in the Guildhall. Some of these guns were presumably among the 36 which were captured at Marston Moor, but, although most of those remaining in York were ordered to be sent via Hull to the Tower of London in 1650 and 1652, (fn. 97) three or four were still left at Clifford's Tower until 1688.
During the Civil War many towns found that their ancient walls, which had seen hardly any enemies for two centuries, had to withstand a siege with modern weapons. As at York, their garrisons had to supplement the mediaeval defences with earthwork outer lines and forts. Those of London, Newark, and Oxford were among the most extensive outworks, and Bristol, though with strong mediaeval walls, was dominated by a ridge to the N., and once the earthwork forts there were captured, proved indefensible. In the N., Carlisle, Chester, Newcastle, Hull, and Liverpool were besieged for long periods, and much detail is known of the siege of Pontefract Castle. Newcastle held out for several months against a large Scottish army and, apart from the addition of outer forts, its embrasures were narrowed to slits and the base of the walls coated with slimy clay to prevent the use of scaling ladders. A Scot described its walls as resembling those of Jerusalem and a great deal stronger than those of York, (fn. 98) where, although the day-to-day events of the siege can be reconstructed in detail, no contemporary plan of the siegeworks is known. Plans like those existing for Newark and Oxford would be very useful, and would show whether there were lines of circumvallation and defensive trenches connecting the outworks, of which accounts give little idea. (fn. 99)
The parish armouries were still maintained after the Restoration, and in 1671 the new constables at St. Michael-le-Belfrey received 17 swords, a firelock, 7 muskets, 12 belts, 12 red coats, and 5 belts of bandoliers. (fn. 100) Even now two head pieces and a breastplate remain in the church as survivals from this armoury.
Although, as a result of the Civil War, several strong castles in towns such as Bristol, Nottingham, and Pontefract were slighted, and Coventry lost most of its walls, the defences of York, like those of Newcastle and Chester, were repaired, and a garrison was maintained in Clifford's Tower. The walls were still considered an impressive feature of these cities and were regularly repaired. The scare of 1745 led at York to further overhaul at a time when Carlisle's walls were held by the Jacobites, when Scarborough cleaned out its town ditch and recorded the fact on an inscription, and when the citizens of Nottingham regretted the recent demolition of Chapel Bar, the last of its mediaeval gates. Four volunteer companies of infantry were raised in York for defence against the Jacobites, and 129 guns, 114 bayonets, and 83 swords were collected, but by then there were no cannon in the city, and the walls were considered indefensible against modern artillery. (fn. 101)
Gunports. Each of the main Bars, except Walmgate Bar, had a third floor with two openings facing outward, probably originally intended as gunports. The two guns supplied to each Bar in 1511 would probably have been mounted in these paired openings. The earliest are those in Monk Bar, of a type found at Raglan and Hurstmonceaux Castles c. 1440, with a gunport 11 ins. square below a cruciform sighting slit 1¾ ft. high (Pl. 36). It is possible that the gallery across the front of the gatehouse was used for loading or cooling cannon set on fixed beds in these apertures. At the other three Bars the rectangular gunports have been partly or wholly rebuilt. Those at Walmgate Bar are on the second floor, but it is difficult to see how guns could be operated there among the portcullis winding gear; the field of fire would also be partly obscured by the bartizans of the barbican.
The Red Tower was built when the city possessed a stock of firearms, and at least seven slits there were probably designed for use with hand guns. Tower 39, probably originally built in 1345, may have been altered for use with artillery, having small gun or arrow slits, thick walls, and a broad flat roof above a 17th-century brick vault. In 1645 a combined guard house and gun platform was built at Toft Green at a cost of £60. This seems to be the present rectangular Tower 13, and the smaller contemporary watch house built at the Old Baile may be incorporated in Tower 3. Both these towers contain a small windowless room vaulted in brick; any gun would have been mounted on the roof.
In Tower 23 there is a simple circular gunport 1 ft. in diameter with a modern arrow slit above it (Pl. 5). The interior of the tower has been partly blocked and the aperture is only preserved for a depth of 1 ft., but the sill appears to have been 2¼ ft. above the interior ground level. The renovated arrow slit may have served as a sighting slit, like the cruciform slits above the gunports on Monk Bar. There is no evidence of any similar gunports in other towers, except for a circular aperture shown on an elevation of Tower 27 drawn before its reconstruction. (fn. 102)
Gunports in the curtain wall could be on the wall walk or near the base of the wall. In Tower 25 there are two probable examples in the parapet, each about 2 ft. square and now blocked, and there are other possible blocked gunports in the parapet nearby. Other towers in this sector may have had similar openings in the parapet before the Victorian renovations.
Below wall-walk level the reasonable place to pierce gunports is where the wall-walk is carried on arches and the wall is relatively thin. Between Towers 31 and 32 there is an opening 2¼ ft. above internal ground level pierced through a curtain wall here 3 ft. 10 ins. thick; it has been restored externally as an arrow slit, but internally it is 2¾ ft. wide narrowing to 1 ft. 1 in. and 2½ ft. high. A sketch of Layerthorpe Postern made by Francis Place in 1717 possibly shows another gunport, now destroyed, in a similar position.
Musket loops were formed in the parapet of the city wall by blocking embrasures, leaving a hole 1¼ ft. square internally narrowing to 6 ins. square on the outer face of the wall. They were probably made during or soon after the Civil War and for firing from a kneeling position. Four series of these loopholes exist in the Walmgate area, a group remains between Tower 17 and North Street Postern, although some over the arches pierced for the roads to the station have been rebuilt, and there are rebuilt examples on the S.E. side of Monk Bar. Others, which are shown in the parapet near Fishergate Bar and facing Price's Lane and Nunnery Lane in 'E.B.'s' prospect of York of 1718, have subsequently been replaced by embrasures.
Key: 1–17. Towers 1–3, exterior of wall; 18–22. Towers 1–3, interior face; 23–33. Towers 3–5, exterior; 34–6. Tower 32, exterior; 37–44. Red Tower to Walmgate Bar, exterior and interior; 45–8. Fishergate Bar, side passages; 49–52. Tower 38, interior; 53–68. Tower 38 to Fishergate Postern, exterior; 69–72. Fishergate Postern Tower, interior.
The intention of this conversion of wide embrasures into musket loops was to protect defenders on the parapet walk against enemy fire, and wherever the parapet was renovated during the 17th century this narrowing of the embrasures probably took place, as on the walls of Newcastle. The battlements of the S. wall of the castle appear by 1690 to have been similarly treated, but at Clifford's Tower broad merlons and narrow embrasures remained (Pl. 7). In some towers, for example in Tower 17 and Tower D of St. Mary's Abbey wall, the centres of cruciform arrow slits have been broken away, perhaps when the use of firearms replaced archery.
Even though most of the damage caused to the city wall during the Civil War has long since been repaired, some traces of the bombardment seem to remain. Many stones are cracked because of structural or chemical defects, but some show a pulverised area with radiating cracks almost certainly due to cannon-ball impact. Examples have been found immediately S.E. of Micklegate Bar (a patch of tile and stone 2 ft. across with radiating cracks), immediately S.W. of Walmgate Bar, between Towers 7 and 8, and between Towers 14 and 15. An illustration of 1683 shows a large hole and cracks in the Roman wall near the Multangular Tower, (fn. 103) but the artist appears to have exaggerated the damage for no clear trace of such cracks is now visible. The many alleged bullet holes in Walmgate Bar and its barbican, (fn. 104) especially in the N. bartizan of the gatehouse, are almost certainly natural features of the limestone. Two unexploded mortar shells were found at Walmgate Bar in 1836, and in 1831 a 9 lb. cannon ball was found embedded in the curtain wall near Micklegate Bar.
Masons' marks have been found on the city walls in only a few places. The longest stretch with them extends from Cromwell Road to Tower 5 and represents the part of the Old Baile which was walled in the 14th century. Another length where they occur is from Tower 39 to Fishergate Postern. Marks occur occasionally elsewhere and have been noted on the external lower course of Tower 32, on the walls of the side passages at Fishergate Bar, inside Tower 39, and inside Fishergate Postern Tower. They are also common on St. Mary's Abbey wall in Bootham (Fig. p. 161).
The marks are usually scratched on the surface, but are sometimes carefully cut in a broad groove (Fig. p. 52, nos. 38, 42, 64). There is a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and many are probably rough or unfinished versions of other better cut marks. The scale drawings of the forms recorded (Fig. p. 52) are somewhat different from Cooper's drawings of these marks which are formalised and not to scale. (fn. 105) Some of the simple marks, such as the triangle, are repeated on several sections of wall, but a more elaborate triangle like mark no. 6 may be identified with mark 57. Nos. 3, 49, and 58; 14, 30, 31; 34 and 68; 41 and 54; 26 and 72, may be the marks of the same masons working at different places on the defences.
It is debatable whether the marks pertain to the original construction of a tower or length of wall or occur only or mainly on reused stone brought from another building. Since masons' marks become more frequent during the later Middle Ages, it seems reasonable to suppose that the frequency of marks on the Walmgate length of city wall is due to the fact that this was the latest sector to be walled. The stretch where the marks are most likely to be in their original position is that between Tower 39 and Fishergate Postern, which was built probably in the mid 14th century. There they occur on neatly squared ashlar both below the plinth and on six courses above it, with one mark (Nos. 60–1) totalling a third of the unweathered examples. Similarly the frequent occurrence of one mark (no. 70) in Fishergate Postern Tower suggests that it belongs to the original construction of c. 1505. The marks on Fishergate Bar probably date from its original construction in the 15th century.
In the Old Baile sector, however, there is a great variety of marks, especially between Towers 3 and 5. These occur on the external facing on stones of different sizes and are largely confined to the lower four courses, which have been less disturbed than the rest by restoration. This profusion of different marks may be due to the re-use in repairs of stone from some nearby structure, such as Clementhorpe Priory or Holy Trinity Priory, Micklegate. In 1603 material used in restoring the walls near St. Leonard's Hospital came from Holy Trinity Priory, and in 1745 stone from Clementhorpe was bought to strengthen the defences. It is also known that limestone from the demolished mediaeval buildings of St. Thomas's Hospital and Holy Trinity Priory gateway was used in the 19th century to restore the Walmgate walls.
Another explanation for the variety of marks on this stretch of wall would also take into account the resemblances between several of them and those found in the nave and chapter-house of York Minster, which were being built in the period 1290–1330. (fn. 106) Archbishop Melton is known to have been pressed by the citizens in 1321 and 1326 to repair the fortifications of the Old Baile and to have rebuilt its defences, first in wood, and later in stone. He also had many masons working on the Minster at this time. The similarity of marks both on this piece of the city wall and in parts of the cathedral could thus be due to work undertaken, perhaps hurriedly because of the threat from the Scots, by the same masons for the same patron. Resemblances between simple marks on the city walls and those noted elsewhere are, however, easy to find and may be of no significance. (fn. 107)
Coats of arms appear on the outsides of all the Bars and on Clifford's Tower. Others were formerly on the inner façade and barbican of Micklegate Bar, on the New Arch near Baile Hill, and over the outer gatehouse of the castle. Twenty-one separate shields are known to have existed; they included seven of the royal arms, eleven of the city arms, one of Clifford, one of ListerKaye, and one with a plain Latin cross. The royal arms appeared with France ancient (1340–1405) on Micklegate and Monk Bars, with France modern (1405–1603) on Walmgate Bar and Micklegate barbican, with the quarters of Scotland and Ireland (1603–88 and 1702–7) on Clifford's Tower and Bootham Bar, and with an escutcheon of the kingdom of Hanover (1816–37) on the castle gatehouse.
The arrangement of the shields on three of the bars is with the royal arms flanked at a lower level by those of the city. On Walmgate Bar the royal arms now appear alone on the bar and the city arms on the barbi can, but the arms of Elizabeth I, two shields of the city arms, and carved lions were once depicted here, probably on the inner façade of the gatehouse. The achievement of royal arms and the shield of the city on the timber-framed inner side of Micklegate Bar were of wood or plaster and the shield of the royal arms on the barbican was of stone, but there also seems to have been a shield of the Stuart royal arms which could be wrapped in cloth and stowed away between royal visits. It was probably carved in wood or, like a hatchment, painted on canvas.
The arms of Lister-Kaye over the outer arch at Micklegate Bar were added in an 18th-century restoration, and those of Charles I and of Henry Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, were put up over the entrance to Clifford's Tower in 1642. The 19th-century shield with a plain cross on Tower 28 was probably intended to be painted with the five lions of the city arms, so too perhaps was the plain shield on a buttress near Tower 11. Stones carved with the York arms were also set up at the boundary between the city liberty and the castle precincts. Elsewhere examples of royal and city arms over gateways remain at Winchester and Southampton, and are attested at Chester, London, Norwich, and Rye. The barbican at Newgate, Newcastle, bore, as on Micklegate Bar and probably originally on Monk Bar, the arms of England quartered with France ancient, as well as the city shield and a St. George's cross.
Inscriptions occur on Fishergate, Micklegate, Victoria, and Walmgate Bars, and formerly existed at the Iron Gate beside Davy Tower, on the New Arch, on the inner face of Micklegate Bar and, perhaps reused, on the wall walk near Micklegate Bar. Three of these were set up by Sir William Todd in 1487 to commemorate his work of restoration near Fishergate Bar, and he was also mentioned on the lost inscription from near Micklegate Bar. All but one of the other inscriptions included the name of a lord mayor or the date of restoration work. Thus Jonas Thompson and 1717 appeared on the Iron Gate; Lord Dundas, 1831, on the New Arch, George Hudson, 1838, on Victoria Bar, and Sir William Clark, 1840, on Walmgate Bar. On Micklegate Bar exterior are the words 'RENOVATA A D MDCCXXVII', and on Walmgate Bar barbican 'A.D. 1648'. The loyal sentence 'God save the Queen' on the old inner façade of Micklegate Bar is the only York enote idow of that type. Elizabeth I was presum ably the queen to whom it referred. Inscriptions on city gates or walls recording repair or marking parish boundaries have been preserved elsewhere, as on the Goblin Tower, Chester.
In the early 19th century the Bars were used to display public notices. Mrs. M. A. Hughes on her way to visit Sir Walter Scott in 1824 'thought it "foul scorn" to see the Mickle Gate Bar outraged by Placards of "Buy Sisson's blacking, Prince Blucher and the Royal Union Coaches, Sales of Beasts and cattle"'. (fn. 108) Such notices appear on contemporary views of other Bars and posterns.
This use of the city gates for announcements and warnings can be paralleled in earlier times. Not only were the heads and quarters of traitors displayed above them until 1754, as was the Duke of York's head in 1460, but in the 16th century stocks and whipping posts were placed there. (fn. 109) The Crane Tower in 1618 and North Street Postern in 1646 were considered suitable places for a ducking stool, (fn. 110) and one was usually located at the Green Pond, part of the moat of Clifford's Tower, outside Castlegate Postern. (fn. 111) In 1501 a knocker was to be fitted to every bar, and any Scot coming to York had 'to knoke first on the barre thei come to and not to entre this Citie without licence of the Maier or wardeyn or constable of that ward apon payn of emprisonment of theyr bodies'. (fn. 112)
Advertisements are now replaced on three Bars by modern plaques with the city arms, the name of the Bar, and the date of restoration. The inscribed slab, with lettering and decoration recalling Roman models, set up at the Multangular Tower in 1968 bears a short history of the building, so does a metal plaque at 'Queen Margaret's Arch'. The practice of labelling historic monuments of York in this way was inaugurated in 1897. Among such notices was one set up near Monk Bar to record the alleged site of the proclamation of Constantine the Great as Emperor in 306, near his father's funeral pyre. A Tudor precedent for inscriptions on ancient sites is the tablet, now in the Yorkshire Museum, commemorating the former position of the statue of 'Old Yorke', or of Ebrauk, probably because it was on a parish boundary.
Stone figures in menacing or watchful postures stand on three of the York Bars. The first reference to such is in 1603, (fn. 113) but none of the existing figures is as old. Such embellishments are rare. The interval turrets at Newcastle each had two armed warriors on their battlements, some of which survive. (fn. 114) The Bridge Gate at Doncaster was also decorated with an armed figure in 1740, (fn. 115) and such sculptures stand on Marten's Tower, Chepstow. The 14th-century tower of Dalton Castle, Lancashire, also had statues of men-at-arms on the parapet; the survivors are weathered into shapes resembling those to which the figures on Bootham Bar had been reduced by 1820. The town walls of Caernarvon had sculptures of birds on the battlements, and ornamental finials, perhaps including human figures, stood on the castle walls there and at Conway. Statues of knights on Alnwick Castle gatehouse are 18th-century. The figure of Ebraucus or Ebrauk, the city's mythical eponymous founder, stood from 1738 to 1834 in a niche on the inner façade of Bootham Bar, the only parallel in York for the statues of mythical kings, deities, or royal patrons on city gates. Elsewhere were Belinus at Bristol, Mars at Chester, Lud and Elizabeth I at London, James I at Newcastle, and perhaps Arthur at Montgomery.