Monument record MYO4237 - YORK CITY WALLS Red Tower (Postern tower)


The Red Tower was built circa 1490 and is a terminal point on the wall. Formerly known as Brimstone House after a manufactory carried out within it. Built of brick with loopholes, it was damaged in the siege of 1644 and repaired. Refurbished and converted in 2018 as a community space.


Grid reference SE 6102 5171 (point)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire
Civil Parish York, City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (8)

Full Description

The Red Tower is probably the new tower on which tilers were employed, by the mayor's command but on the king's work, in 1490. They asked protection from the city council against masons who had broken their tools and threatened to murder or mutilate them. When one of them, John Patrik, was murdered in 1491 leading masons William Hindley and Christopher Horner were charged but apparently acquitted. This feud suggests that the masons resented building work which they felt was their prerogative being carried out in brick instead of in stone. The tower is first mentioned by name in 1511, when artillery was assigned to it. After repair in 1541 and 1545, it was regularly leased. The description of it as 'in the water of Fosse' suggests that when built it was on a promontory, or even on an island, in the fishpond. Casting of lead from the Conduit in 1555 was apparently to cover the roof, shown as flat on plans by Speed (1610) and Horsley (1694). On views from c. 1700 it is shown with a pyramidal tiled roof, but by 1767 and perhaps as early as 1736 the tower was in ruins. By 1800 it had been crudely restored with a gabled roof as a cowshed, and it was then believed that its popular name of Brimstone House derived from a former use as a manufactory of brimstone. In 1857–8 restoration according to designs by G. F. Jones gave it the present appearance. It was again restored in 1958.

The tower is rectangular and now 16½ ft. high, excluding the roof. The original height, including a parapet, must have been about 30 ft., since the ground level on the N. and E. has been raised by about 6½ft. since 1857, concealing limestone footings. The tower is of brick but with footings and some dressings of stone and has a hipped tiled roof with gablets. The city wall adjoins the S. side near the S.W. angle. All external details, excepting one cruciform slit in the S. wall and the E. corbel of the garderobe, are reconstructions of 1857–8 and do not certainly represent original features. There is now no trace of the projecting cornice, presumably once supporting a crenellated parapet around a flat roof, which partly survived in 1767. The entrance is by a modern arched doorway in the W. wall and must originally have been in this position. The ground floor is lit by three slits with stone sills and lintels, one in each of the E., W., and S. walls. The upper floor, reached by a ladder, has two cruciform arrow slits with stone jambs in the S. wall, one slit, and a larger opening with a segmental brick arch in each of the W. and N. walls, and two slits and a similar opening in the E. wall. These approximately represent the original apertures, intended for guns. There is now a projecting garderobe on the N. supported on two stone corbels and with a sloping roof of stone slabs, but the floor level has been raised by 2¼ ft. and seat and drain are lacking, making its use impossible. The roof has a dormer window in each face. On the W. and S. the tower is surrounded by a low modern wall of reused stone.

The city wall extending southward from the Red Tower for the first 45 yds. stands on level ground and is faced with neatly cut, medium sized ashlar. The parapet is at first crenellated, then pierced with musket loops, but was mostly built in 1857–8 when much brickwork here was replaced in stone. Internally the wallwalk is carried on groups of segmental arches, 10 ft. wide and 5½ ft. to 8 ft. high, of late mediaeval appearance. The wall ascends the tail of the rampart in two steps and is there supported externally by three buttresses. A chamfered plinth is visible, beginning 41 ft. N. of the first buttress and continuing along the base of the wall for the rest of the Walmgate defences, usually just above the rampart. The masonry is large, evenly laid ashlar often only three to four courses high between plinth and parapet, and the total height in this length is only 12 ft. 'In this watry situation the walls run all upon arches', and the first of these foundation arches is visible 18 yds. N. of Tower 35, with the crown 4 ft. 2 ins. below the plinth. Near by the wall has been underpinned with bricks resembling those used in the Red Tower. The rampart here has been cut down in the first two of a series of cattle pens formed in 1889, but disused for some time.

The rampart begins 45 yds. S. of the Red Tower, presumably at the edge of the water at the time of its erection. The terrace on which St. Margaret's Church stands suggests that the fishpond once extended even further to the S. and that the rampart may have been carried down into the water. The mound has had the inner face cut back in the 19th century but it is still generally 50 ft. wide and 10 ft. high. The site of the ditch, which still held water in 1852 (OS 1852), is occupied by Foss Islands Road. In 1645 the ditch around the Red Tower, of which there is now no sign, was to 'be maid soe deepe that nether horse nor man cann come or goe that way forth of or into the Citty'. An inventory of the historical monuments in the City of York. Volume II: the defences 139-40 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England

NMR Information:

[SE61035172] Red Tower
The Red Tower, of brick on a stone foundation, is first mentioned by name in 1511. - A history of Yorkshire: the city of York 514 edited by P M Tillott

The tower, a terminal point on the wall, has undergone many restorations since the siege of 1644. It was formerly known as Brimstone House after a manufactory carried on within its walls (a). In good condition. See GP AO/63/105/4. - Field Investigators Comments F1 RW Emsley 30-May-1963 a) Oral information, correspondence (not archived) or staff comments Notice board

The Red Tower built c1490, heavily restored and re-roofed 1857-8, restored 1958. 2 storeys and attic. Red-brown brick in random bond with limestone dressings. Hipped roof of tile with gablets and overhanging eaves. Entrance on inner side is quoined and chamfered doorway with 4-centred head. Generally ground floor openings are plain slits with ashlar sills and lintels; first floor openings either segment-headed of brick blocked by board shutters or cruciform slits with oillets cut from ashlar blocks. One side has dummy garderobe projecting on corbels. Attic windows are gabled dormers closed with board shutters. Listed Grade I. - List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest City of York, 14-MAR-1997

Ben Reeves, CYC Anicent Monuments Team 2023:

• Stands at the northern terminus of the stretch of the City Walls north of Walmgatear, eastern side of the city.
• Known as Red Tower because of brick construction, in contrast to the other Walls, Bars, Posterns which are of Limestone.
• North of Red Tower city defence was a large expanse of water and low-lying marshland created when King’s Fishpool was created by William I. This is now reclaimed land due to 18th century canalisation of River Foss.
• Built in 1490 -tilers (brickies) working ‘apon the Kyngs werk’ complained that their tools had been broken or stolen, ‘which dede was thought to be doon by the masons for dispute’.
• This was work the masons felt was their prerogative. Brick was a cheaper building material and therefore its increasing use was a threat to livelihoods of masons.
• tiler John Partrik was murdered, two masons suspected but acquitted.
• Building was originally approximately 30ft high but is now only 16.5ft high due to raising of the surrounding ground.
• Footings are of limestone. Now concealed.
• The probably authentic featured are a single cruciform arrow slit in the South wall and the east corbel of the garderobe. All other details probably ‘reconstructions’ of the 1857–8 alterations, possibly using original fabric.

• Principally a defensive structure, commanding a view across the Foss.
• addition to existing rampart and walls (built mid-14th century), when Henry VII ordered strengthening of defences after 1489 assault on the City
• provided quarters for soldiers manning the walls (hence garderobe).
• Other past uses:
• horse stables.
• a manufactory of brimstone (sulphur) in 19th century, from which circumstance it was called the Brimstone House, a name it still bears in the locality.’ Sulphur commonly used as a fumigator/insecticide may indicate associations with social issues of the time and slum clearance in the area.
• a cowshed.
• City of York Council storeroom
• 2015 handed over to Red Tower Community Hub, a charity who provide supermarket surplus food distribution to support the local community and raise funds through open days, donations and refreshments to visitors on the walls on a pay-as-you-feel donation system. ‘Offering an inclusive, welcoming space for creative, learning and social activities, run by local people, encouraging local and wider community participation.’

Later repairs and alterations
• repaired 1541 and 1545
• probable flat lead roof, as shown in Speed’s map of 1610 with embattled parapet.
• Flat roof replaced with a tiled hipped roof after 1700.
• Depicted by 1776 by Edward Abbot as in a ruinous condition.
• Patched up by 1825 when sketched by George Nicholson
• Pumphrey 1853 photograph shows signs of rebuilding.
• 185-8 ‘restoration’ (essentially rebuilt) to designs by G. Fowler-Jones
• 1970s roof repairs
• 2015 interior works to create kitchen for community group and meeting room upstairs.
• 2023 completely re-roofed by CYC masons using hand-made tiles (Keymer Tiles, Hull) to match existing, open roof space insulated and insulation material covered in hessian for a more attractive appearance internally.

RCHME, 1972, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences, p139 (Monograph). SYO63.

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

Sources/Archives (2)

  • --- Digital archive: NMR. 2019. NMR data.
  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1972. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences. p139.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (6)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Record last edited

Oct 20 2023 11:27AM


Your feedback is welcome; if you can provide any new information about this record, please contact the City Archaeologist.