Monument record MYO2196 - Micklegate Bar (York City Walls)


Micklegate Bar built in the mid-14th century incorporating an early 12th century gate; barbican removed 1826, inner side remodelled by Peter Atkinson junior in 1827; foot arches 1827 and 1863. Figures carved in 1950 (formerly thought to be by R Ridley) by Walter Rylatt. Restoration and repairs of 1952 and 1968. Four-storey 3-bay front: outer bays in form of pilaster buttresses with battered bases rising into 2-storey embattled bartizans with cruciform arrow slits. Semicircular carriage arch incorporating portcullis slot, of 2 stepped orders of gritstone voussoirs. Formally ‘Micklelith’ or ‘the great gate,’ this is the traditional entrance of monarchs to the city. It was also the traditional place to display the severed heads of traitors and rebels. Many repairs and alterations have been made over the years and the rooms above the Bar have had many uses, including as a prison, as a police house, for a fencing club, for storage and, currently, as a museum. The remains of a minor Roman road have been found just within the gate.


Grid reference Centred SE 5975 5146 (12m by 13m)
Map sheet SE55SE
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (12)

Full Description

Micklegate Bar, formerly Micklelith, consists of a rectangular gatehouse with a passage with arches at each end on the ground floor and three storeys above; the gatehouse has circular bartizans at the angles towards Blossom Street and a low-pitched roof. The outer arch and much of the walling of the passage, of gritstone including reused Roman blocks and sarcophagi, is early 12th-century but the upper storeys, of magnesian limestone, are 14th-century. The inner façade and rear half of the building are of 1827.

The Bar stands 130 ft. S.E. of the line of the main Roman road from Tadcaster in a position probably outside the walls of the colonia but on a minor Roman road. The earliest masonry, namely the outer arch of two square orders springing from a quirked impost, probably dates from the first quarter of the 12th century. The original gate was set within an earth rampart, the approximate profile of which, rising to a height of some 15 ft., is outlined by rougher masonry on the side elevations of the gateway.

The name first appears in the 12th century, when Roger, the priest of the church of St. Gregory, gave to Kirkstall Abbey the land which he held outside the gate of York which is called Micklelith, below the western bar. The gift was confirmed by Henry II (1154–89). Roger also founded the chapel of St. James on the Tadcaster Road outside the gate, which he gave to Holy Trinity Priory. Stephen (1135–54) confirmed this gift.

In 1196 6s. 8d. was owed for licence to build a house over the gate of Micklelith, and a yearly rent of 6d. is recorded in the Pipe Rolls for that year and for a number of years down to 1212, when the dwelling was held by Benedict, the son of Ingelram, clerk. Part of the existing walling over the outer arch probably belonged to this house.

The extract from the Pipe Roll for 1280 preserved in the city's first Memorandum Book records tolls payable at Micklegate. Later mediaeval documents of the city note rents paid for and repairs to the house over the gate. In the mid 14th century the gate was heightened to house a portcullis, giving the outer façade its present appearance. The barbican also dated from this period since the surviving doorways which led to it are an original feature in the heightening. The form of the royal arms on the Blossom Street façade and the shape of the helm surmounting them indicate a date between 1350 and 1375. Some stonework over the outer arch of this façade may belong to the 13th century.

The heads of rebels and traitors were frequently set up here. Among those so treated were Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur) in 1403, Sir William Plumpton in 1405, Lord Scrope in 1415, the Duke of York in 1460, the Earl of Devon in 1461, the Earl of Northumberland in 1572, four of the Farnley Wood conspirators in 1663, and in 1746 William Conolly and James Mayne, the last remaining until taken down illegally in 1754.

Two guns with four chambers were delivered to Richard Gate for this Bar in 1511. At Henry VII's first visit to York in 1486 'a place in the maner of a heven' was to be craftily conceived there with Ebrauc greeting the king in verse and handing over the keys of the city.In 1541, when Henry VIII was expected, canvas towers, turrets and battlements with the king's, queen's, and prince's arms were to be set up at the Bar, although in fact the king entered by Walmgate Bar. In 1603 payment was made 'to one that made a man in stone and set over the barre and for the paintinge of hyme and the rest of the mene ther'. At subsequent royal visits in 1617 and again in 1635 the gateway was painted and gilded. On the second occasion four yards of canvas were bought 'for covering the Kings arms that were taken of Micklegate Barr'; since four years later the arms were 'sett up where they formerly stood' there was evidently a wooden achievement which could be removed and stored. In addition to the expenditure at royal visits, becoming more frequent under the Stuarts, £29 had been spent on the Bar in 1585–6, probably on the rebuilding of the façade to Micklegate, which until 1827 resembled that still surviving at Walmgate Bar and probably replaced an earlier timber-framed façade.

The Bar was apparently not damaged in the siege of 1644, since the Royalist fort on The Mount held out in front of it. However, the royal arms were replaced by those of the Commonwealth and those in turn were 'blotted out' in 1660. In 1670 'was the arch at Micklegate barr taken down and rebuilt and the barr stead without well paved and the coats of arms in the barr stead and without very well gilded and butifyed'. This note perhaps refers to reconstruction of the outer arch of the barbican. Restoration in 1716 was commemorated by an inscription on the inner façade and further work in 1737 added the arms of Lord Mayor Sir John ListerKaye to the outer front. In 1753 an arched passage was made through the rampart on the N. to a design by John Carr and at a cost of £250. A room over the Bar was used for prisoners in 1729, and in 1758 soldiers stood guard during the riots.

Part of a side wall of the barbican collapsed in April 1810 and it was proposed to demolish the whole. It was not, however, completely removed until September 1826. Sir Walter Scott reputedly said that he would gladly walk from Edinburgh to York if this would save the barbican. In 1827 the façade to Micklegate was rebuilt in stone at a cost of £484 and an arched foot passage made on the S. side of the Bar, both to the design of Peter Atkinson. The battlements of the adjoining city walls were also lowered and stairs made up to the wall walk on the N. side. The gates were presumably also removed during these alterations. They had been renewed in 1650 but after c. 1797 could no longer be locked since the keeper's children had lost the key in play. In 1863 two arches on the N. side replaced the single arch of 1753. The whole gate was restored in 1952 when internal divisions were removed and the portcullis, used as the core of a partition, was rediscovered. Further consolidation was required after damage by a vehicle in 1968.

Architectural Description. In the façade towards Blossom Street, the outer archway is of two orders of rectangular section springing from a quirked hollow-chamfered impost. The arch is a flattened semicircle with large carefully squared gritstone voussoirs, probably reused Roman masonry. The side walls project as pilaster buttresses chamfered from ground level to a height of 5 ft. where the vertical face begins. On the W. buttress is a rectangular stone plaque carved in relief with the words MICKLEGATE BAR RENOVATED 1952 and with a shield of arms of the City of York below a cap of maintenance and upon a mace and sword in saltire. Immediately above the arch is a shield of arms of Lister-Kaye set obliquely and carved as if hanging from a nail by a strap (Quarterly: 1 and 4, Argent, two bendlets sable (for Kaye); 2 and 3, Ermine on a fesse sable, three mullets or (for Lister); at centre point the hand of Ulster); below it on a panel are the words RENOVATA A D MDCCXXVII. The walling around this is of small blocks and may be 12th-century work. The first floor is lit by a single narrow rectangular aperture in the middle, and in each of the side buttresses is a shoulder-headed doorway formerly leading to the parapet walk of the barbican. On the second floor is another rectangular aperture between two cruciform arrow slits.

Above this level are three shields each carved in relief as if hanging by a strap from a nail below a cusped canopy. The two smaller at the sides bear the arms of the City of York and the central one, at a higher level, bears the royal arms with France ancient. Above the canopy is a great helm bearing the crest of a demi-lion rampant on a cap of maintenance. On either side of this crest are two larger rectangular windows. The central merlon of the parapet is pierced with a cruciform arrow slit and has a gargoyle in the form of a lion's head below it. The bartizans rest on three corbel courses broken at the outer angles by the corners of the buttresses. They are lit at third-floor level by two cruciform arrow slits, and two of the merlons of their parapets are pierced by arrow slits. At roof level in each there are blocked drainage spouts. The central merlons of the façade and bartizans bear small statues of knights carved by R. Ridley, which replaced earlier statues in 1950.

The façade to Micklegate of 1827 is of good ashlar of uniform size with a semicircular archway to the passage. Each floor is lit by two-light square-headed windows in the Perpendicular style set one above the other. Between the lower pair is a shield of the royal arms with France modern. The plain parapet is supported on corbels which continue between the upper windows. Before 1827 the wall walk ran above the outer arch and the side arch of 1753 with a crenellated parapet and there was a flight of stairs at right angles to the façade on the S. The first floor had a five-light window and the two upper floors overhung and were supported on wooden columns resting on the wall walk. The upper storeys each had a central panel flanked by narrow two-light windows and pilasters. The lower panel bore the City arms in the centre and the upper, below a round arch, carried the royal arms with supporters and with the inscription 'God save the Queen'. The parapet had an open wooden balustrade like that since added at Walmgate Bar.

Rough masonry at the base of the side elevations is of mediaeval, probably 12th-century, date. It was built against the cut-back face of the older earth rampart, the profile of which, rising to a height of about 15 ft., can be seen surmounted by finer stonework. The upper parts of these side walls are nearly all of 1827, with doorways to the wall walk and haphazard masonry where chimneys have been removed. The upper floors are lit by narrow slits and wider rectangular windows.

Inside, the ground floor has a portcullis slot behind the outer arch. The walls are of large blocks and reused Roman sarcophagi regularly coursed at the southward end (Pl. 23). The inner archway at the rear is unmoulded, springing directly from the wall. The blocked arched doorway in the N.W. wall led to a guardhouse, probably first built in the 16th century and now gone.

The first floor is divided by a thin partition erected in 1960 to give a continuous passage between the stretches of city wall. Windows open off deep recesses in the centre of the side walls, and in the S.W. wall is the window looking down Blossom Street. The passages once leading to the barbican, formed in the thickness of the side walls, are roofed with slabs resting on a continuous corbel course ending flush with the openings to the main room. Secondary doorways into the passages, adjoining the S.W. wall, have flat lintels. The portcullis groove is visible between the two entrances to these passages on each side but the portcullis itself has been sawn in pieces and its remains lean against the S.E. wall. It had fallen in 1820, and part was used in a partition inside the Bar until dismantled in 1952; another piece was given to the Yorkshire Museum in 1852.

The second floor is reached by a ladder. Recesses in the side walls have been altered in recent years. Another ladder against the S.W. wall leads to the third floor. Here there was formerly a fireplace against the N.W. wall and a spiral staircase in the W. bartizan. A setback above the windows in the S.W. wall shows that the roof was originally of lower pitch. The bartizans are entered by square-headed doorways, and hooks remain for the door of the W. one. The S. bartizan has been much restored. The roof, supported on a 19th-century king-post truss, is reached by a trap-door from a leaded platform in the W. bartizan and is now slated.

The barbican , removed in 1826, projected 50 ft. in front of the Bar, was 30 ft. wide at the front and approximately 20 ft. high with walls 5 ft. to 6 ft. thick. The pointed archway was of two orders and flanked by stepped projections at the base of the walls and above by two crenellated bartizans supported on corbel courses like those of the bartizans of the gatehouse and joined below the crenellated parapet by a continuous string course. In the central merlon over the arch and on the bartizans were carved lions' heads, probably serving as gargoyles, and on the two other merlons over the arch were shields of the City arms. Some views show a shield of the royal arms in the form used between c. 1405 and 1603 above or beside the central lion's head.

From Micklegate Bar to the W. angle of the defences supported by a group of closely spaced buttresses; ten of the buttresses of uniform pattern N.W. of the Bar are not bonded into the facing. Near the base here are six limestone blocks 1⅓ ft. by 1½ ft. to 1¾ ft. with lewis holes in the exposed face.

The interior facing in this stretch is of masonry which looks comparatively modern; it contains two straight joints, and beside Bar Lane the wall is 13½ ft. high to the wall walk due in part to lowering of the rampart. The 'Jolly Bacchus' inn stood against the wall here until 1873. The rampart (continues level on top but varies in height relative to the ground outside. On the inside adjoining Bar Lane it was formerly cut away to accommodate houses and yards but has been largely restored. Further N.W. it probably retains the original profile, though giving the impression of having been cut back because of the depth to which the Old Station Yard has been dug, that is, well below Roman ground level. A Roman find at the corner of Queen Street and Micklegate Bar limits the maximum width of the mediaeval ditch to 50 ft. The dimensions of the rampart in this stretch are 136 ft. in width, 31 ft. in height externally and 24 ft. internally.

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 2, the Defences (London, 1972).

NMR Information

Formerly Micklelith, this consists of a rectangular gatehouse with a passage with arches at each end on the ground floor and three storey above. The gatehouse has circular bartizans at the angles towards Blossom Street and a low-pitched roof. The outer arch and much of the walling of the passage, of gritstone, including reused Roman blocks and sarcophagi, is early 12th century, but the upper storeys, of magnesian limestone, are 14th century. The inner facade and rear half of the building are of 1827.

There was formerly a barbican, but this had partly collapsed in 1810 and was demolished in 1826. The barbican projected 50 feet in front of the bar, was 30 feet wide at the front, circa 20 feet high with walls 5-6 feet thick. The pointed archway was of two orders. (1)

Listed. For the designation record of this site please see The National Heritage List for England. (2-3)

The three figures on Micklegate Bar were carved by Walter Rylatt. He carved his late father's face on the central figure and Rylatt's name is carved on the back of each figure. The Royal Commissions Report on the Defences of York mistakenly credits R. Ridley with the work. (4)

1 An inventory of the historical monuments in the City of York. Volume II: The Defences. 1972 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England 95-101

2 List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. York, 14-Jun-1954, amended 14-Mar-1997

3 English Heritage. 2014. ‘English Heritage: The National Heritage List for England’, > [Accessed 03-DEC-2014]

4 Oral information, correspondence (not archived) or staff comments. Email correspondence from D Mason 30-NOV-2014

613515 Architectural Survey Investigation by RCHME/EH Architectural Survey

1595150 Architectural Survey MICKLEGATE BAR STAIRS

BF061946 CITY WALLS, YORK File of material relating to a site or building. This material has not yet been fully catalogued. C

OP07484 A view of the entrance to the City of York at Micklegate on Blossom Street The image has a caption indicating it is Monk Bar, but the shape of the structure together with the buildings on the right of the image still existing on Blossom Street shows it is clearly Micklegate and not Monkgate.

OP07546 A view of Micklegate Bar looking north from the corner of Queen Street

OP07568 Micklegate Bar viewed from the south-west with a group of men and boys leaning against one of the buttresses and a single man stood next to the other

OP07943 Micklegate Bar, York, seen from the south side and showing the cobbled surface on Blossom Street

OP08096 A view of Micklegate Bar, York from the south-south-west On the mount of the photograph there are two conflicting dates, both handwritten. One specifies April 1st 1896, the other 1881.

RCHME, 1972, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences (Monograph). SYO63.


York Archaeological Trust, 2018, Micklegate Bar Building Recording (Unpublished document). SYO2096.

NMR, 2019, NMR data (Digital archive). SYO2214.

Donald Insall Associates, 2021, York City Walls Conservation Management Plan (Unpublished document). SYO2629.

Sources/Archives (5)

  • --- Unpublished document: York Archaeological Trust. 2018. Micklegate Bar Building Recording.
  • --- Digital archive: NMR. 2019. NMR data.
  • --- Unpublished document: Donald Insall Associates. 2021. York City Walls Conservation Management Plan.
  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1972. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (9)

Related Events/Activities (5)

Record last edited

Aug 16 2023 1:56PM


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