The York City Walls
The city or ‘bar’ walls of York are the most complete example of medieval city walls still standing in England today. Beneath the medieval stonework lie the remains of earlier walls dating as far back as the Roman period.
The Roman walls survived into the 9th century when, in AD 866, York was invaded by the Danish Vikings. The Vikings buried the existing Roman wall under an earth bank and topped with a palisade – a tall fence of pointed wooden stakes.
The wooden palisade was replaced in the 13th and 14th centuries with the stone wall we see today.
The medieval city walls originally included 4 main gates or ‘bars’ (Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar), 6 postern or secondary gates and 44 intermediate towers. The defensive perimeter stretched over 2 miles encompassing the medieval city and castle.
By the late 18th century, however, the walls were no longer required as defences for the city and had fallen into disrepair. In 1800, the Corporation of York applied for an Act of Parliament to demolish them. In addition to the poor condition of the walls at the time, the narrow gateways of the bars were inconvenient and the walls themselves hindered the city’s expansion.
Many other cities, including London, were removing their outdated, medieval city walls at this time. In York, however, the city officials met with fierce and influential opposition and by the mid-nineteenth century the Corporation had been forced to back down.
Unfortunately, the call for preservation came too late for some parts of the walls – the barbicans at all but one of the gateways (Walmgate Bar) had been torn down along with 3 postern gates, 5 towers and 300 yards of the wall itself.
Since the mid-nineteenth century the walls have been restored and maintained for public access, including the planting of spring flowers on the old Viking embankment. Today the walls are a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade 1 listed building.