The Medieval Castle

Illustration of the medieval castle (from a drawing by Terry Ball for English Heritage)

Christmas 1228:  King Henry III was in York when a great storm shattered the wooden tower and much of the main gate of the castle.  There was no urgency about the repairs in this relatively peaceful time and the castle was allowed to deteriorate.

It was the threat of war with Scotland in 1244 that brought the King back to York and prompted an entire rebuilding of the Castle.  This time it was to be built in stone, including the new keep at the top of the mound, which later came to be known as Clifford's Tower.

The Tower is two storeys high and would originally have had a flat lead roof.  There were four rooms on each floor around a central pillar.  Arrow slits and gun ports were created in the outer walls.

The fortifications took around 20 years and £2,450 to complete.

A stone wall with bastions and two large gatehouses surrounded the castle bailey.  There were also stone bridges across the moat to the gatehouses.

Neither of the gatehouses is standing , though the foundations of one can be seen in the grounds of York Castle Museum.  Large parts of the wall do still exist, however, including the two towers that stood on either side of the southern gatehouse. 

Maintenance has always been an issue - by the mid-1300s the castle was in such a state that Edward III stayed instead at the nearby Franciscan friary.  Known throughout the Middle Ages as the ‘great tower’ the keep was often dilapidated.