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Medieval secular sites in York

Many remaining secular structures from medieval York, which would have been familiar everyday sights for Richard and his family, still survive for us to enjoy. This list identifies some secular buildings of York which were common sights in the 15th century city.



Barker Tower (North Street Postern Tower)

This river-side tower was built in the 14th century. It was positioned at the boundary of the medieval city centre and, in conjunction with the Lendal Tower on the opposite bank, was used to control river traffic entering the city. An iron chain was stretched across the river between the two towers, and boatmen had to pay a toll to cross.



Barley Hall, Coffee Yard

Barley Hall dates from 1360 as the town house of the Prior of Nostell Priory. A new wing was added in 1430, and around 1460 it became the home of one of York’s leading citizens, the goldsmith William Snawsell. Excavations in the 1980s discovered the remains of this medieval town house, which was visited by many influential men including Richard of Gloucester.

Barley Hall has been extensively restored to as near its former state as possible. The ground floor has a Stewards room, pantry and buttery as well as the Great Hall which rises to the upper floor. The upper floor contains the great Chamber, Lesser Parlour, gallery and the upper portion of the Great Hall. The Hall is open to the public.



Bedern Hall, Bartle Garth, St Andrewgate

Bedern Hall was built in the late 1300s, much of the original building still remains.

The Hall was originally part of the College of the Vicars Choral, which occupied the area between Goodramgate, St Andrewgate and Aldwark. The hall was the refectory for the College from the 1390s until the middle of the 17th century. The present hall, the second around this site, was built from 1370 and used for shared meals. Contemporary accounts suggest a date for completion as 1399.

Following the Reformation, the number of Vicars Choral declined and by the 1790s the Bedern Hall was divided into tenements, with an equally inevitable decline into severe overcrowding. The City Council acquired the area and cleared it in the mid-1970s. Extensive investigation by the York Archaeological Trust and recent restoration have revealed many original features.



Bootham Bar, High Petergate

The present structure of Bootham Bar is mainly 14th century, but contains some 11th century stonework. It is on the site of the NW gate of the Roman settlement Eboracum, known as the Porta Principalis Dextra. Bootham is the gate nearest the Minster and much used by visitors.



The Bowes Morrell House, Walmgate

The Bowes Morrell House is an historic building on Walmgate in the city centre.

It is the sole remaining building of four for which a construction licence was granted in 1396, in the churchyard of St Peter-le-Willows. It may possibly have been used as a vicarage for the church, or alternatively for St Margaret's Church.

The house is a timber framed, two-storied building with a jettied first floor and subsequently a 16th century extension which created a square plan in place of the original L plan.

The house was partially restored in 1932, and in 1966, when it was bought and more thoroughly restored by the York Civic Trust, it was renamed for John Bowes Morrell, one of the YCT founders, and from 2012 it has been occupied by the Cyrenians’ rehabilitation charity.



Clifford’s Tower (York Castle), Tower Street

The remaining keep of this medieval Norman castle is commonly referred to as Clifford's Tower, built on the orders of William I to subdue the former Viking city of Jórvík. The first motte-and-bailey castle on the site was built in 1068 following the Norman Conquest. After the destruction of the timber castle by local rebels and Viking invaders, York Castle was rebuilt in 1069 and reinforced with extensive water defences.

Documentation shows that construction of the castle was irregular, and possibly not completed until 1290. By the 15th century the castle, particularly Clifford’s Tower, had fallen into disrepair, and it was used increasingly as a jail for both local felons and political prisoners. It was occupied by a Royalist garrison during the Civil War.

In 1902 a campaign of repair and restoration was undertaken, and in 1935 the structure was repaired and improved with the demolition of the 19th century prison buildings.

York Castle is the location of one of the worst religious massacres of the Middle Ages. In 1190, growing hostility towards the Jewish population erupted into a mob attack on the Jews in York, who had taken refuge in the castle tower. Realising that they could not hold out against their attackers, the Jewish population chose to commit suicide rather than be murdered.

The site is owned by English Heritage and is open to the public.



Fishergate Bar, George Street

Fishergate Bar consists of a main arch, flanked by two smaller pedestrian arches. The earliest recorded date is from 1315, when it is referred to as ‘Barram Fishergate’; the present structure, built by Sir William Tod, Mayor of York, dates from 1487.

In 1489 it suffered significant damage during the Yorkshire Peasants’ Revolt against Henry VII’s punitive taxation. The locally despised Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, unwisely delivered the king’s demand to a mob of angry citizens and was ‘furiously and shamefully murdered and killed.’

When the revolt had been suppressed, the gateway was bricked up and re-opened in 1834; a plaque on the gate recalls the rebellion.



Fishergate Postern Tower, Piccadilly

The Postern Tower is an impressive rectangular building, built of fine ashlar masonry at the point where the city walls meet the River Foss.

The earliest definite mention is in the document ‘Custody of the Walls’ dated 1406. This is likely to be the first tower, referred to in contemporary sources as the Talkan Tower, named after Robert de Talkan, a vintner, and mayor in 1399. It is presumed this was rebuilt in or shortly after 1502, and probably forms the tower now known as the Fishergate Postern Tower.

The Tower has battlements and was presumably open to the elements when built, with a look-out tower in one corner, about 8 feet higher than the rest of the roof, accessed by the continuation of the spiral staircase which can be seen today. The top of the tower was covered by 1610; the first floor room contained the garderobe, which originally discharged directly into the River Foss. The Postern itself is a small entrance at ground level, with a grooved inside once holding a portcullis.

The Friends of York Walls open the Postern Tower to visitors on many weekends and Bank Holidays.



The Guildhall, St Martin’s Courtyard, Coney Street

Situated behind the Mansion House, the Guildhall was built around the 14th century. Damaged by bombing in 1942 in WWII, the Guildhall was rebuilt in 1960 and reopened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The stone walls survived the bombing and are original. Each pillar of the original was built of a single oak from the Forest of Galtres. The Hall contains a window showing scenes from York’s history. The inner room of the Guildhall survives intact and also escaped the bombing. It contains the original panelling, two hidden stairways, and ceiling bosses. Richard was on excellent terms with York’s City Council both as Duke of Gloucester and as King, and would have known The Guildhall well.

The Guildhall still plays a full part in York’s civic life.



The Hospitium, Museum Gardens

York Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York.

The Hospitium was one of St Mary’s Abbey’s secular buildings, possibly a guesthouse offering hospitality to those visitors not accommodated elsewhere.

The stone-built ground floor dates from the 1300s, the upper story is 15th century, with the Watergate arch added around 1500.The building was partly reconstructed and heavily restored during the 1930s.

It is now used as a popular wedding venue.



Jacob’s Well, Trinity Lane

Jacob's Well, the parish rooms of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, is a beautiful and historic medieval house dating from the15th century. The origins are not known with any certainty, but it is believed to be built in or around 1474 as lodgings for a chantry priest from neighbouring Holy Trinity Priory and funded by Alderman Thomas Nelson.

It originally consisted of an open hall, extended in the early 16th century. The last prioress of St. Clement's, Dame Isabella Ward, retired to live in the house when the nunnery was dissolved in 1536. Shortly before her death, Isabel gave the building to Holy Trinity Church to provide charity for the parish.

The 15th century timber-framed building was constructed as the Chantry House of the priory priest. It originally consisted of an open hall and has undergone many structural alterations. In the 17th century a floor was inserted into the open hall, creating a two-storey building.

By 1749 the house was serving as an inn, and it was around this time that the name Jacob’s Well began to be used. In 1815 a second storey was added, together with a kitchen extension. A survey conducted in the early 1980s revealed that the medieval frame had been overloaded by the extra storey, which was subsequently removed. The building is in the care of Holy Trinity Micklegate.



Lady Row, Goodramgate

These unassuming, plastered timber-framed cottages with pantiled roofs date from 1316 when a deed was granted for their construction in Holy Trinity’s churchyard, Goodramgate. They are the oldest row of houses in York and one of the earliest examples in England of the medieval ‘jettied’ houses, whose upper story protrudes – or ‘jetties’ – outwards above the lower part. Built within the ancient churchyard with a separate house for the Chantry Priests, the rental income was a considerable sum of money and funded the church’s maintenance, contributing to the Chantry endowment costs on a regular basis.

Though much of Our Lady’s Row has undergone considerable external change, the basic structure of seven of the bays is chiefly intact today.



Lendal Tower, Museum Street

Lendal Tower was built around 1300 and is similar in appearance to the North Street Postern Tower (formerly known as the Barker Tower). It was subsequently remodelled to give additional strength and height. Together with the Postern Tower, on the opposite bank of the River Ouse, it controlled access to the city by way of an iron chain which was stretched across the river, both for defence and to impose the payment of tolls.



The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Fossgate

The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall was built between 1357 and 1368 as the communal meeting hall for the Fraternity, The Guild of Our Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The main building, consisting of the Great Hall and undercroft, is principally mid-14th century, and the chapel attached to the undercroft dates from 1411. The Fellowship of Mercers used the hall to conduct their business affairs and, as was common in trade guilds, to care for the poor.

The Great Hall is timber-framed, built of oak from the Forest of Galtres. The Guild had established a hospital in the Hall by 1372; the brick-built undercroft served as a hospital for the poor and deprived of the city until as late as 1900.

Successive alterations included the construction of a two-storey Tudor annex, and replacement windows during the Georgian period.

The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall is open as a museum.



The Merchant Taylor’s Hall, and the Almshouse, Aldwark

The large, timber-framed Great Hall was built around 1400; in the late 15th century a new wing, now known as the Small Hall, formerly referred to as the Counting House or Counsel House, was added.

18th century rebuilding replaced the external walls in brick, and the present appearance is one of a predominantly brick building, with tiled roofs. The brick exterior is merely a facade encasing a medieval timber-framed structure that stands as one of the architectural treasures of York.

In 2014 a major dendrochronological investigation of the roof timbers of the Great Hall established its build date as 1415.

To one side of the Hall is the Hospital or Almshouse, built in 1730 to house four elderly Tailors - who could be men or women.

The Almshouse stands on the foundations of the Maison Dieu, a medieval almshouse which was destroyed in 1702.The Maison Dieu is believed to be extant in 1415; the first documentation of an adjoining Tailors’ Maison Dieu is 1446.



Micklegate Bar, Micklegate

The most important and southern of the four gateways to York, the present structure replaced a wooden Norman gate. The name was originally Mickleith: “Great Gate”.

The lower section of the Bar dates from the 12th century, the top from the 14th century; it was inhabited from 1196. Above the entrance are the arms of Edward III; the tradition of the monarch entering York through Micklegate dates from 1389 during a visit by Richard II. Richard III entered York by Micklegate on his visit in September 1483.

It was above Micklegate that the heads of traitors were displayed. The head of Henry Percy, (Hotspur) was sent to York and exhibited after his death at the battle of Shrewsbury. In 1460 after the battle of Wakefield, the heads of Richard Duke of York, Edmund Earl of Rutland and Richard Neville Earl of Shrewsbury were displayed. When Edward IV entered York by Micklegate after the battle of Towton in 1461, his first act to order the removal of the heads of his father and brother.

Micklegate Bar now houses an exhibition on its history and is open to the public.



Monk Bar, Goodramgate

The City’s NE gate, Monk Bar, was built in the 14th century, replacing the12th century Muncegate. Two arches were added at ground level to deal with modern traffic, and the Bar stands four storeys high; the first floor having a portcullis with its mechanism. All the floors are capable of independent defence. The first and second have vaulted ceilings. The fourth floor of the Bar was built, and paid for by Richard III in 1484. Tolls have been collected on the spot since 1280.

For several years Monk Bar has been a Museum dedicated to Richard III. It is open to the public.



The Old Baile Hill Castle

Two early Norman castles were built in York: Baile Hill on the west of the River Ouse and Clifford’s Tower, the only remaining part of York Castle, on the east. Both were built by William I in an effort to bring the city under his control, and both were the traditional motte-and-bailey design.

The site of the former bailey is now built upon, but it occupied the area which is now Falkland Street and Bailey Terrace. The hill, or motte, where the tower was built, is partly visible from Bishopgate Steet but is obstructed by the City Walls so is best viewed from Baile Hill.

Before the 14th century the Old Baile had passed into the possession of the archbishops, resulting in controversy over the defences of the Castle between the city and the archbishops for lack of repairs; this ended with the city obtaining possession of the Castle.

The first tower was known as the Talken Tower, named after Robert de Talken, a wine merchant, who was York mayor in 1399. The present tower was built between 1504 and 1507, with the exception of the tiled roof, which was added in the 16th century. The Postern itself is a small entrance with a pointed archway, the only surviving one of its kind left in York. There is a groove inside which once held a portcullis.



St Anthony’s Hall, Peaseholme Green

The Hall, located on Peasholme Green, was built between 1446 and 1453h as the headquarters of a number of city Guilds, one of which was the Guild of St. Anthony. The Hall contained a chapel, hospital for the aged and sick poor, and a Great Hall. The 1453 date relates to the year of the consecration of the chapel, although the building itself was not completed until several years later.

As well as the timbered Great Hall, St, Anthony’s has the remains of the original chapel, and many architectural features.

Following extensive renovations to the Hall complex, the buildings were occupied by a variety of organisations. The garden has been remade as a sensory garden, open to the public. The Hall is currently home to Trinity Church York and is owned by York Conservation Trust, which has drawn on its many years’ experience to undertake extensive restoration and conservation.



St Mary’s Tower, Marygate

St Mary’s Tower is built into the defensive precinct wall of St Mary’s Abbey. It was constructed in the early 14th century as a tall circular tower, 34ft in diameter, with thick walls and an octagonal interior of two storeys, and the original height was over 40ft. On the upper floor, two doorways originally provided access to the wall walks along the Bootham and Marygate walls.

Following partial destruction during the Civil War, the Tower was rebuilt, preserving the octagonal interior.



Walmgate Bar, Foss Islands Road

Walmgate, built in the 12th century, is the only Bar with a surviving barbican and retains its portcullis and 15th century oak doors. An Elizabethan house extends over the gateway. The Bar was damaged by bombardment during the Siege of York in 1644, during the English Civil War, and repaired the same year