Beverley was founded as a religious community around AD 705 by John, Bishop of York (later St John). Over the subsequent centuries a small trading settlement grew up servicing the needs of the religious order and the pilgrims that flocked to the site. King Athelstan fought the Battle of Brunanburh nearby in AD 937 and, it is alleged, he granted the settlement the right to levy a tax on corn through the East Riding of Yorkshire in gratitude for his victory. Perhaps this is true or perhaps such rights were established over a gradual period - either way Beverley grew into a substantial settlement aided by such revenue. In the eleventh century the ownership of the site was conferred by Edward the Confessor onto the Archbishops of York who held the settlement in their role as Lord of Beverley.
The Anglo-Saxon Archbishops of York promoted the legend of St John to encourage pilgrims which was a forerunner of today’s tourist industry that provided a lucrative source of income. The legend continued to be respected by the Normans who by-passed the settlement in their Harrying of the North. Nevertheless the town's increasing wealth prompted the populace to build defences. Known as the Town Dyke, these took the form of an earthwork rampart topped with a wooden palisade and a ditch. Two stone gatehouses (bars) were constructed - North Bar and South Bar.
It was likely it was the collection of taxes, rather than any serious concerns over defence, which prompted the construction of the Town Dyke. Nevertheless the defences were tested in 1321 when Robert the Bruce, attempting to force the English into accepting an independent Scotland, raided deep into Northern England. The town paid a substantial ransom to avoid destruction and subsequently petitioned the Archbishop of York for permission to build a substantive town wall. No action was subsequently taken.
Beverley continued to thrive as a mercantile community aided by the construction of a canal to link the town with the navigable River Hull. This increased commerce and by the fifteenth century the settlement was a large town - certainly bigger than nearby Hull - made rich by extensive trading in wool and leather whilst it also became a major producer of bricks and tiles. As a demonstration of their town's status, the North Bar was rebuilt in brick in 1409 as was South Bar (now renamed Keldgate). A new gateway, Newbegin Bar, was also built in brick at this time. Again these defences, primarily designed to enable taxation rather than serious defence, proved inadequate for they failed to stop rebels accessing the town during the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537.
The town saw a significant decline following the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. The monastery and friaries were suppressed by the King's Commissioners, resulting in an end to the flow of pilgrims, whilst the various industries that had supported the religious community no longer had a function. The town was also confiscated from the church and taken into Crown ownership. The populace declined markedly with nearly one-third relocating in just a handful of years.
At the time of the Civil War, Beverley supported the Royalist cause but its proximity to Hull, a major Parliamentarian port, saw it captured. It was reclaimed by William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle as he moved to besiege Hull but this operation would ultimately be unsuccessful and, following the defeat of the Yorkshire Royalists at Marston Moor (1644), Beverley fell to Parliament once more.
After the Civil War the defences of Beverley were not maintained. Newbiggen Gate was demolished in the eighteenth century and Keldgate in the nineteenth whilst the town's ditch was filled in to allow expansion. North Bar itself only narrowly avoided demolition in the early twentieth century when the Council considered options for improving access for double-decker buses! Thankfully it survived when East Yorkshire Motor Services was commissioned to modify the roofs on the buses to fit under the arch. Today it is the only brick-built town gate in the country.
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Beverley North Bar is the sole surviving gate from the town's defences. This brick built structure dates from the early fifteenth century and is a particularly fine example of a town gatehouse. It is still used by road traffic which can make viewing the main access hazardous. There is no routine access to the interior or parapet.
Beverley North Bar. The impressive brick built gatehouse dates from the early fifteenth century. The town had grown rich thanks to its religious community who promoted the legend of John, Bishop of York (died AD 721). He had been canonised in 1037 after having become linked with miracles of healing. Initially promoted by the Anglo-Saxons, the legend continued to be popular throughout the Middle Ages fuelled by Archbishops keen to ensure revenue flowed into their coffers by way of Beverley. One of the associated relics was his banner which was used by Thurstan, Archbishop of York at the Battle of the Standard (1138) where a large Scottish army was defeated. It was later used by Edward I, Edward II, Edward III and Henry IV.
Warton Family Coat of Arms. The North Bar displays the coat of arms of the Warton family who once owned the adjacent Town House.
Sole Survivor. The North Bar is the only surviving town gate as the others were demolished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
BEVERLEY NORTH BAR
The only surviving brick built town gate in the country, Beverley North Bar was part of a series of defences that surrounded this once prosperous settlement. Constructed in 1409, its primary purpose was to facilitate taxation and it did nothing to stop attacks on the town during the Pilgrimage of Grace or the Civil War.
Beverley North Bar is found on the A164 in central Beverley with the road running straight through this historic monument. Car parking (pay and display) is available in the immediate vicinity.
Beverley North Bar