Oldest surviving postern gate on the wall. 16th century tower adjacent to Fishergate Bar to the south of York City Walls. The tower is rectangular in shape, with a moulded plinth base on the East, West an South walls and rectangular buttresses on the NW and SW angle and a hipped roof. Four floors are connected through a staircase adjacent to the south wall. During the Yorkshire peasant revolt in 1489, Fishergate bar was burned down and bricked up. The current tower was built between 1505 and 1507 in place of the earlier 14th century Talkan tower, when the City Council decided to create a new postern. Parts of the common rafter timber roof frame have been dated to c.1600-1636 when the tower was used as a dovecote and is shown with a pitched roof on contemporary maps. This replaced an earlier flat roof with open battlements. The embrasures at the top of the tower were converted to unglazed windows when the pitched roof was created. The tower was re-roofed in the later 17th century. The earliest detailed pictorial evidence of the roof in its present shape is Francis’s Place drawing in 1676.


Grid reference SE 6068 5132 (point)
Map sheet SE65SW
Civil Parish York, City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (3)

Full Description

Fishergate Postern Tower was built between 1504 and 1507, replacing the earlier Talkan Tower and at first called by the same name. The position of the latter in this same area is proved by a lease of 1476. Talkan Tower, which presumably derived its name from Robert Talkan, mayor in 1399, may have been the 'new tower' in this area mentioned in 1388. It had been repaired in 1453–4 and was later let to Thicket Priory. Rebuilding apparently followed an intention expressed in 1502 to make 'a substanciall posterne at Fyschergate', and can be more closely dated by an increase of rent charged for Talkan Tower from 1s. 4d. per annum in 1503 to 10s. in 1507. The identity of Talkan Tower and Fishergate Postern Tower can be shown by comparison of a lease and rent payments made by Christopher Conyers in 1548–63. Speed's map of 1610 shows the tower with a roof and by 1636 it was used as a dovecot. The roof appears in its present form as early as 1676 on drawings by Place, on which the tower is labelled 'Edward's Tower'. Payments to bricklayers for work at the tower in the 18th century may be connected with the blocking under the windows in the E. wall and with two chimneystacks, now removed. Prior to 1818 the second floor had been replaced by a gallery. The tower was restored in 1838 and in 1960 when an internal staircase at the S. end was removed.

Architectural Description. The tower is rectangular, with a moulded plinth at the base on the E., W., and S. Rectangular buttresses project at the N.W. and S.W. angles, and there is a spiral staircase in the thickness of the S. wall. It has four floors and a hipped tiled roof with gablets. The fine large ashlar masonry is neatly coursed, though breaks in the coursing at openings indicate that windows, doorways, and other architectural features were not cut on the site. The entrance in the E. wall has a four-centred head, and so has the doorway to the staircase. The two-light windows to the first three floors have blind spandrels and segmental heads. The rear arches and the fireplace heads are also segmental, as is an arched recess in the N. wall of the second-floor room. These features are compatible with an early 16th-century date. The first floor has a projecting garderobe near the N.W. angle, carried on corbels and entered by a short passage. A recess has been hacked into the E. wall on this floor. Holes seemingly for beams or joists in the E. and W. walls of the first and second floors cannot represent altered floor levels since they do not relate to one another.

The third floor was originally a flat roof drained by two stone spouts in the N. wall and surrounded by a crenellated parapet; the embrasures of this last now form unglazed windows. The stairhead rises into the roof space and once projected above the parapet, presumably in a small turret since the stairs continue. The enclosing wall and the sides of the staircase bear numerous mason's marks. In the N. wall are traces of the original chimney.

A timber-framed structure of two bays enclosed by the former parapet supports the roof, which is of 16th-century character but later than the first building campaign. The roof framing is of common rafters only, without a ridge rib, into which high collars are tenoned and pegged. The rafters rest on side purlins supported by inclined curved struts from the cambered tie beam of the centre truss which rests on the enlarged heads of the posts and on the wall plates. The wall plates have curved braces from the posts. The N. truss has in addition curved braces from the posts to the tie beam. At the S. end both wall plates project a short way beyond the posts to carry the tie beam at their extremities. Alternate rafters and two collars at purlin level are modern.

Field Archeology Specialists Report on the roof structure, December 2009 .
The roof structure is constituted by six posts, two at mid-points in the frame and three in the corners while the one that was located in the South corner has been removed. There is virtually no evidence of carpenters mark on the timbers used, the absense of numbers indicates that the timbers were not prepared beforehand and then assembled on site but they were rather cut into the right shape while the roof was assembled. This operation was possibly carried out on top of the tower.
The purlins of the roof are of a considerable length (7m) and they are evidently not original to the roof structure (no more than 5.5m in length), this is also suggested by pegs cut into them supporting the mortices of the original building. The grooves cut into the struts and the peg present into the north tie beam indicate that these timbers have also been resused.
The West and the East of the Wall plate, the posts, the arch braces and most of the common rafter however show no sign of reuse and they seem to be cut for the structure. The central tie-beam presents redundant mortices in its upper surface and pegs in the vertical surfaces that are not related to any other element in the roof and therefore might have supported a partition wall.
Dating the roof It was not possible to establish the date of the timbers through dendrochronological analysis, however it resulted that the posts analysed came from the same area and they were probably growing in proximity to each other. An approximate date for the construction of the roof therefore can only be established by looking at the roof typology and by comparing pictorial and documentary evidence.
The form of the roof with queen posts, clasped purlins and high collars suggests thata it was constrcted between the 16th and 17th century. Frances Place's illustration of the roof in 1676 can be used as a terminus post quem for the construction however in Speed's map of York the tower is represented with a pitched roof this seems to indicate that the roof was built around this time. The use of the tower as a dovecote in 1636, for which the upper floor would have been needed, also indicates that the roof was already in place by this date.

Arnols, A. and Howard, R.2009. Tree-ring analysis of Timber
Analysis of the current roof structure seemed to indicate that while some timbers belonged to the initial phase of construction of the roof (1600-1636), other were part of a later 17th century reroofing. Sixteen samples were selected for the analysis , ten from the timbers that probably were inserted during the later reroofing and six which show evidence of reuse in the form of reduntant mortices and pegs and possibly belong to the earlier phase. Four samples did not possess the minimum number of tree rings to provide reliable data and were therefore not taken into consideration. The twelve samples were grouped into three main group possibly indicating three site chrononlogies with an average of 88, 90 and 61 rings, however comparison with reference chronologies for oak did not gave any satisfactory date neither for individaul timbers nor for the group. However the heartwood/sapwood boundaries of some of the sample is at a similar relative position, inidcating that the trees were felled at the same time as each other, and in at least one case the degree of cross matching is so high that it is possible that they derived from the same tree. In some cases the relative position of the heartwood/sapwood is very close but the level of cross-matching is not very high indicating that they were felled at the same time but possibly originated into two different woodlands. In the majority of cases, the high level of cross-matching overlaps with the group of timbers that were expected to the belong to the same period of construction, with only one anomaly where there was a high level of cross matching but belonged to the later reroofing. The analysis did not give exact date nor exact sequences of constructions, indeed the reuse of material coming from different sources makes it more difficult to define site chronologies.

Fishergate Postern with its tower was probably built circa 1489 and survives almost unaltered. (2)

The tower is in good condition. See GP AO/63/105/8. (3)

Fishergate Postern c1440, Tower c1505, re-roofed C17, restored 1838 and 1960. 4-storey tower with postern attached. Postern is pointed arch of 4 chamfered orders incorporating portcullis slot. Tower, originally embattled, part on moulded plinth, has clasping buttresses at two angles, one incorporating projecting garderobe on first floor. Doorway on inner side is chamfered with 4-centred head and C20 nail-studded door. Windows are slits in chamfered openings or of 2 segment-arched lights in square-headed surround. Original embrasures converted to unglazed windows by roof construction. Listed Grade I. (4)

Full history and architectural description. (5)

1 Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date) OS 1/1250 1962
2 A history of Yorkshire: the city of York 514 edited by P M Tillott
3 Field Investigators Comments F1 RW Emsley 30-May-1963
4 List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest City of York, 14-Mar-1997
5 An inventory of the historical monuments in the City of York. Volume II: the defences 156-7 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England

RCHME, 1972, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences, p156-157 (Monograph). SYO63.

FAS, 2009, Fishergate Postern Tower (Unpublished document). SYO1198.

Nottingham Tree Ring Dating Laboratory, 2009, Fishergate Postern Tower Leadmill Lane (Unpublished document). SYO1214.

YAT, 2019, Fishergate Postern Tower, Piccadilly (Unpublished document). SYO2222.

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

Sources/Archives (5)

  • --- Unpublished document: FAS. 2009. Fishergate Postern Tower.
  • --- Unpublished document: Nottingham Tree Ring Dating Laboratory. 2009. Fishergate Postern Tower Leadmill Lane.
  • --- Digital archive: NMR. 2019. NMR data.
  • --- Unpublished document: YAT. 2019. Fishergate Postern Tower, Piccadilly.
  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1972. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences. p156-157.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Events/Activities (5)

Record last edited

Nov 1 2021 1:02PM


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