Fortifications' is perhaps the wrong title for this page. The Walls were certainly built to protect the City but the Castles, and there were two of them, were more an act of aggression as they were originally built by William the Conqueror as bases to subdue the north of the country.
Part of one of the castles remains standing, Clifford's Tower, and along with the Minster continues to serve as an imposing focal point for historic York. Begun in 1068 and burnt down in a rebellion in the following year the first towers on the motte were built of wood. In a horrifying episode the castle was burnt for a second time in 1190 after the local Jewish community had taken refuge there from local persecution. Many perished.
In the thirteenth century, around 1265, the Tower was rebuilt in stone. Apart from boasting a wooden roof, which was lost in a fire in 1684, it would have looked much as it does today.
Part of the Bailey can still be seen but it was largely demolished to make way for the building of the Debtors Prison and subsequently, the Law Courts. (See here)
Why is the castle now named Clifford's Tower? It is said that Roger de Clifford was hanged for treason in the tower and ever afterwards it has bourn his name.
One of the best known views of York this shows the inside of the walls from near the railway station. As can be seen a footway exists to allow visitors to 'walk the walls'. This footway is available for the majority of the length of the walls.
The shot to the left shows a section of the walls near the Walmgate Bar built over previous fortifications.
The walls had five main gates or 'bars' and four of these are shown below from outside the city looking inwards. What remains of the fifth Bar (Fishergate) is just a single storey. (see below)
Bootham Bar (above left) is built on the site of the gate in the Roman walls. Walk through the Bar and you enter High Petergate which follows the Roman street Via Principalis. Although complete with portcullis the barbican was taken down in the 19th century.
Monk Bar (left of centre) dates from the early fourteenth century. Built with four storeys the Bar is the tallest of the four Bars and could well have operated as a self contained fortress. As with Bootham Bar it still has it's portcullis The Bar currently houses a museum dedicated to the infamous (some would say) King Richard III.
Walmgate Bar is the only gate which still has it's barbican. Dating from the mid twelfth century the barbican was added in the fourteenth.
Micklegate Bar (right) is probably the most important Bar being the gateway to the south. The Bar was therefore the natural location for the city dignitaries to greet visiting royalty but it was also the principal gate for displaying the heads of traitors!
In addition to the main gates there are a number of other gates and breeches in the walls together with a variety of structures which have been added at various times. Shown below from left to right are Fishergate Postern, Fishergate Bar, Victoria Gate at Bishophill and the Robin Hood Tower.
This tower was built between 1504 and 1507 replacing an earlier towe
Ask any citizen of York to name the historic gates to the city and most would name four Bars. A fifth, Fishergate Bar, is largely forgotten. Much of the Bar has been demolished over time and indeed was bricked up in the fifteenth century after damage by rioters. It was not to be opened again until 1834.
The Victoria Bar as it's name suggests is a relatively new gate which was opened in 1838 to serve as better access to the city from the local developing area.
This tower, as seen from Lord Mayor's Walk, has been known by a variety of names. The Bawing Tower in 1370, Frost Tower in 1485 and Robin Hood Tower in 1622. It was rebuilt by the Victorians in 1888-89.
The Red Tower (left) was built in 1490 and terminates the walls on Foss Islands road. With walls four feet thick in places it is the only tower built of brick The Tower was allowed to fall in to decay but was significantly restored in the 19th century.
Between the Red Tower and the beginning of the next stretch of the Walls at Jewbury was a large expanse of water and marshland known as the King's Fishpool. No walled protection was needed in this area as it was deemed impassable to attackers. The pond, which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, provided fresh fish for the markets and also acted as a reservoir to keep the moat around the walls supplied with water. Layerthorpe Postern which stood here was demolished in 1829 to make way for a new bridge across the Foss river so the picture (above right) shows the rather nondescript re-start of the walls at Jewbury.
The Barker Tower (right), called after those who stripped oak bark to use in the tanning process, stands on the south side of the river and terminates the walls at this point.
On the opposite river bank stands the Lendal Tower. From here chains were stretched across the river to prevent traders sneaking in to the city without paying the tolls! From the Lendal Tower over the short distance to Bootham Bar the Walls are incomplete.
The walls have been breeched for the transport infrastructure of both road and rail. Nevertheless, and despite the desire of the Corporation in 1800 to pull them down, the city continues to have the longest intact city walls in England.