This Inventory of the Defences of York is the second in a series of Inventories devoted to the City,
succeeding Roman York (1962). It contains the official Report of the Commission, including recommendations regarding preservation; an Introduction in which the history of the defences is reviewed,
structural details are considered and comparisons are made with other walled towns in England and
Wales; an illustrated descriptive Inventory; a glossary of archaeological and architectural terms used in
the book; a map showing the position of the buildings; a bibliography, and an Index.
The Inventory is essentially of buildings which exist and can therefore be directly surveyed, but, as in
Roman York, the policy has been adopted of including relevant discoveries made in the past, so far as the
records will permit. In furtherance of this policy, two excavations were made during the period of our
survey to elucidate specific problems connected with the defences. Mr. J. Radley of the Commission staff
excavated a post-Roman tower buried in the ramparts near Bootham Bar and Mr. P. Addyman of Southampton University directed work sponsored by the Royal Archaeological Institute on the Old Baile; the
Inventory has benefited from the results of these investigations. A number of postern gates and towers
of the City walls demolished during the nineteenth century are known in some detail from contemporary
plans and topographical drawings; in view of the opportunity thus afforded, accounts of them are included
for the better understanding of the defences as a whole.
The arrangement of the Inventory is topographical, and the order of description is as follows:
The Old Baile.
City Walls in the Micklegate Area (west of the river Ouse).
City Walls in the Central Area (between the rivers Ouse and Foss).
City Walls in the Walmgate Area (east of the river Foss).
Walls of St. Mary's Abbey.
The gates, towers, walls, ramparts and ditches of the City defences are described within these main
divisions in clockwise order, starting and finishing on the banks of the Ouse S.W. of York Castle. The less
elaborate defences of St. Mary's Abbey are similarly described but starting at the W. angle of the precinct.
The important eighteenth-century buildings, the Assize Courts, the Debtors' Prison and the Female
Prison, though no part of the York defences as such, are included with York Castle in recognition of their
historical association under the judiciary.
The arrangement of the accounts both of the surviving structures and those known only from records
is the same throughout. A short historical summary with references to sources is followed by an architectural description of the exterior, the interior and of any fittings. The accounts of the lengths of wall and
ramparts between the towers and gates of the defences usually lack any specific documentation, but any
unusual features or finds are mentioned.
All structures of importance are illustrated by plans, and many by elevations or sections, reproduced
at a scale of 12 ft. or 24 ft. to the inch, by photographs and, where necessary, by reproduction of old
drawings. All the photographs but four were taken by the Commission photographic staff. They make an
essential contribution to the understanding of the structures described.
Acknowledgement of the debt owed by students of the York defences to past authorities is made elsewhere (see pp. 1–2), but it should be said that the writing of an account of the Castle and City walls
has been made easier by the pioneer work of Thomas Parsons Cooper (1863–1937), whose two books on
the subject were published in 1904 and 1911. Essential to such studies, and no less to the Commission's
investigations, are the official archives of the City of York, which include orders for building or repairing
the walls and records of the work done and expenditure incurred. Only the most important of the many
entries therein are quoted or noted in this Inventory because of exigences of space, but a full list of references is available in the Commission's archives. For information on the siege of the City in 1644 by the
Parliamentary forces during the Civil War we are indebted to Mr. L. P. Wenham. This siege was one
of the most important episodes in the history of the defences and has received special attention in the Introduction to the Inventory.
In one respect there has been a departure from the Commission's past practice in enumeration. Since
the Castle, the City walls and St. Mary's Abbey walls are individual entities yet together constitute a unity
it would be misleading to divide and subdivide them into separate monuments, each with its own number.
The use of numerals is therefore restricted to the towers of the City walls for purposes of identification;
the terminal towers like the gates and posterns have well-established names but the intermediate towers
require such a method of definition. Similarly the towers of St. Mary's Abbey walls are differentiated by
letters of the alphabet, to avoid confusion with the towers of the City walls.
In accordance with the Commission's practice the accounts of all the visible structures are based
upon notes and surveys made directly of them. A further guarantee of accuracy rests in the fact that my
Fellow Commissioners Dr. C. A. R. Radford and Dr. A. J. Taylor have read the drafts and, together with
our Secretary, have checked them on site.
In an Inventory of such detail there must be some mistakes but I hope that these are neither numerous
nor serious. My colleagues and I shall of course welcome any corrections that may be sent to me with a
view to their possible inclusion in some future edition.
I would draw attention to the fact that the record cards for the Defences of York may be consulted
on application to the Secretary of the Commission in London, through whom copies of photographs
may also be obtained from the National Monuments Record.