Scheduled Monument: York Castle: motte and bailey castle, tower keep castle (including Clifford's Tower), and site of part of Romano-British fort-vicus and Anglian cemetery (1011799)

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Other Ref AA 020108/1, 13275
National Ref 1011799
Date assigned 07 August 1916
Date last amended 31 March 1992


A tower keep castle is a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the principal defensive feature. The keep may be free-standing or surrounded by a defensive enclosure; they are normally square in shape, although other shapes are known. Internally they have several floors providing accommodation of various types. If the keep has an attached enclosure this will normally be defined by a defensive wall, frequently with an external ditch. Access into the enclosure was provided by a bridge across the ditch, allowing entry via a gatehouse. Additional buildings, including stabling for animals and workshops, may be found within the enclosure. Tower keep castles were built throughout the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid- 15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. A few were constructed on the sites of earlier earthwork castle types but most were new creations. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban or rural situations. Tower keep castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a major concentration on the Welsh border. They are rare nationally with only 104 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence, and to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important. York Castle is a well-documented example of a tower keep castle overlying an important urban motte and bailey castle, known to have been built specifically to control a rebellious population in the years immediately following the Norman Conquest. The large double baileys of the earliest earthwork castle are unusual and emphasise the strategic importance of York in the Norman conquest of the North. In addition to the well-preserved standing remains, extensive buried deposits pertaining to all phases of the medieval castle survive in the area of the baileys and include moat silts in which organic and environmental material will survive well. Part of Castle Yard Anglian cemetery and part of the road, cemetery and settlement area of the Romano- British fort-vicus also lie largely undisturbed in the vicinity of the castle. These earlier remains are known to survive well and will in themselves retain important information on the evolution of the Roman and early medieval town. Details The monument includes the area occupied by York Castle and Clifford's Tower which are situated in the heart of York, above the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss, now the Foss Navigation. The monument comprises several elements within a single area. These include the eleventh century motte and bailey castle, the thirteenth century tower keep castle, a Romano- British cemetery associated with the extramural settlement of the legionary fortress, part of Castle Yard Anglian cemetery, a length of the Roman road that ran north-west to south-east past the south-west gate of the fortress, the remains of part of the Roman and Anglo-Scandinavian river frontages along the Foss, and the water defences of the medieval castle. Nationally important remains extend outside the boundary of the scheduling and, indeed, survive buried in areas throughout York. In the immediate vicinity of the castle, partial excavation has revealed evidence of Roman wharves along the Foss and it is believed that further remains of the fort- vicus, such as taverns, shops and houses, underlie the car-park attached to Clifford's Tower, in addition to Anglian burials indicative of post-Roman activity along the line of the Roman road. A large area of the second bailey to the north-east of the 11th century castle also lies outside the scheduling. The boundary of the scheduling has been drawn to identify the core area of the castle. The eleventh century motte and bailey castle, built in 1086 when William the Conqueror came north to consolidate his power over the country, was of earth and timber construction and the original motte underlies the thirteenth century mound of Clifford's Tower. The main bailey lay to the south-east and extended down to the line of the River Foss. The remains of such buildings as stables, barracks and workshops will survive throughout. A second bailey, a large part of which extends beyond the area of the scheduling, is now known to have existed to the north east of the motte and to include the remains of the medieval Jewish cemetery and that of the thirteenth century Franciscan friary. The original timber keep was the scene of the massacre of the York Jews in 1190. In c.1089, the Foss was dammed to create a moat around the keep and bailey. Although infilled, the line of the moat survives beneath the surfaces of the carpark, footpaths and access roads around the castle. Stone defences were added round the bailey by Henry III between 1245 and 1262 when the keep was also rebuilt in stone. The stone keep, known as Clifford's Tower, is quatrefoil in plan and originally comprised a ground floor with two storeys above and a forebuilding containing a chapel. The tower became ruinous in the sixteenth century and the present forebuilding is a seventeenth century reconstruction. Along with two towers and a length of wall to the south-east, the keep is all that remains standing of the medieval castle, though buried features, including those of stone buildings constructed by Henry III, are believed to survive in the open areas of the bailey. The castle was slighted during the Civil War and gutted in 1684. Between 1825 and 1915, it became part of York prison. Most of the prison buildings have since been cleared, but the former debtors' prison and female prison remain, along with the eighteenth century Assize Court. The prison now houses the Castle Museum and all are Grade I Listed. Clifford's Tower and the castle walls are also Grade I Listed and have been in State care since 1916. The protected area is bounded by the carpark and Foss Navigation to the east, by Tower Street to the north and west, and by the castle wall to the south. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These include the buildings of the Courts and Castle Museum, the surfaces of all roads, drives, private carparks and footpaths, bollards, all English Heritage fittings associated with Clifford's Tower such as steps, kiosk, notices and floodlights, all lamposts, signposts, railings and gates, and all benches and waste-bins. The ground beneath all these exclusions is, however, included. MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. Selected Sources Book Reference - Author: Andrews, Gill - Title: Archaeology in York: an Assessment - Date: 1982 - Journal Title: Survey prepared for the AM Inspectorate of the D.O.E. - Type: DESC TEXT - Description: Pagination 173-208 Article Reference - Title: 12 Castlegate (excavated by YEG, 1974-77) - Journal Title: Yorkshire Philosophical Society Annual Report - Type: EXCAVATION REPORT Article Reference - Title: 1-2 Tower Street/Castle Garage (excavated by YAT, 1981) - Date: 1981 - Journal Title: Philosophical Society Annual Report - Volume: All - Type: EXCAVATION REPORT Article Reference - Author: Addyman, P.V. (ed.) - Title: The Archaeology of York - Date: 1977 - Type: DESC TEXT - Description: In progress from 1977 Article Reference - Author: Addyman, P.V. And Priestley, J. - Title: Baile Hill, York: a report on the Institute's excavation - Date: 1977 - Journal Title: Archaeological Journal - Volume: 134 - Type: EXCAVATION REPORT - Description: Pagination 115-56 Article Reference - Author: Benson, G. - Title: Clifford's Tower (observations during underpinning of motte) - Date: 1902 - Journal Title: Yorkshire Philosophical Society Annual Report - Type: EXCAVATION RECORDS - Description: Pagination 68ff Article Reference - Author: O'Neill, B.H. St. John - Title: York Castle (excavated 1935) - Date: 1939 - Journal Title: Antiq.J. - Volume: 19 - Type: EXCAVATION REPORT - Description: Pagination 85-90

External Links (0)

Sources (2)

  • Unpublished document: FAS. 2016. Cliffords Tower.
  • Unpublished document: On-Site Archaeology. 2017. York Castle Museum, Debtors Prison WB.



Grid reference Centred SE 6051 5143 (193m by 202m) (2 map features)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire

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Record last edited

Apr 8 2021 12:47PM


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