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YORK CITY WALLS, YO1 6LB

GETTING THERE

WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?

A largely complete circuit of walls started during the Roman era and modified regularly in the subsequent 1500 years.

VISIT OFFICIAL SITE (Opens in new window)

Walls are overseen by City of York Council.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

1. In AD 237 York became capital of Britannia Inferior - so called because it was the furthest of the two from Rome. The south was known as Britannia Superior.


2. In AD 306 Constantine was proclaimed Emperor by the army at York who would later lift worshipping restrictions on Christians.


3. Micklegate Bar was the main gateway leading to the south of England and was - and still is - the ceremonial entrance to the city. It was also the location where heads of executed criminals were displayed. Prominent individuals including Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur) who was executed in 1403 following his rebellion against Henry IV and defeat at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Another key individual as Richard, Duke of York who severed head was displayed after his death at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. The finals heads to be displayed were those of Jacobite rebels William Conolly and James Mayne - the head of the latter was stolen in 1754!


4. When Red Tower was commissioned in 1490, it was built in brick prompting a bitter feud - ending in murder - between the stonemasons and bricklayers.

York Defences. The original Roman Legionary fortress of Eboracum was sited on the east of the River Ouse but its civilian settlement was across the water on the west. In the late third century that was enclosed by defensive walls largely defining both the Viking and Medieval defensive lines.

FATE OF YORK’S ROMAN GARRISON: THE NINTH LEGION

Introduction


After AD 108 the Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana), veterans from the invasion of Britain who'd been the core of the military force in the north of England for almost 70 years, disappeared from the historical record. Their supporting Auxiliary units - Ala Agrippiana Miniata, first Cohort of Nervorium, second Cohort of Vasconum, fourth Cohort of Delmatarum and fifth Cohort of Raetorum - also were not mentioned after this time. The last recorded action of the Legion was the rebuilding of their primary base, the fortress at York (Eburacum), in stone. After this the only certainty we have is that they were not listed in a complete record of Roman Legions made in AD 165 and that in AD 122, arriving with Emperor Hadrian, the Sixth Legion (Legio VI Victrix) rushed north and setup their headquarters in the Ninth's former base at York with additional Auxiliary units arriving shortly after to support them. The Sixth then stayed in Britain for almost another three hundred years conducting the duties originally done by the Ninth. So what happened to the battle-hardened force of over 5,000 men?


The Scottish Theory


The most famous theory, widely publicised by Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel Eagle of the Ninth, suggests they were ambushed and annihilated somewhere in Scotland. Circumstantial evidence supports this theory; wars had been fought with the northern tribes between AD 105 to 117, significant enough for 3,000 additional soldiers to be rushed to the province. As the northern most legion the Ninth would have borne a significant portion of the fighting even if augmented by additional forces. Contemporary historians noted significant military casualties in Britain whilst a further account by Hadrian's biographer stated that in AD 117 the "Britons could not be restrained under Roman control".


The Strategic Transfer Theory


The competing theory is that the legion was simply transferred out of Britain. In support of this argument historians cite the discovery of three tiles in Nijmegen, Holland stamped 'LEG.IX.HISP' (the Roman army stamped all building materials to ensure they weren't pilfered). It is mooted these tiles demonstrate the Ninth left Britain in so much that the stamp implies the whole Legion was present in Holland. Critics argue they could have been made by a vexillation (detachment) deployed in the AD 80s. Supporters of the theory also note that two of the Ninth's tribunes from the period not only survived but had distinguished careers which is more difficult to reconcile with a Scottish rout - when the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Legions were destroyed in Germany in AD 9, their commanders died alongside their forces. But what happened to the Legion if it survived Britain? Two potential options seem to exist - it was either destroyed in the Bar Kokhba Jewish revolt around AD 132 or it was wiped out in a war against the Parthians (Persians) around AD 161. The Jewish revolt is cited as Cassius Dio, the Roman historian, recorded that "many Romans...perished in this war". It is also Dio quoted for the Parthian option - he described an unnamed Legion being wiped out at Elegeia in Armenia. To assign either location to the Ninth however is a little tenuous - there is no record of them being in the Middle East and the destroyed Legion in Armenia was probably the Twenty-Second (Legio XXII Deiotariana).


An Alternate Theory


It is not unreasonable to assume that elements of both theories are correct. The wars of AD 105 to 117 must have caused some attrition to the Ninth - they were the most northern unit and would have borne a significant portion of the fighting. Perhaps they suffered death by a thousand blows fighting a sustained counter-insurgency campaign centred on the Pennines and /or Cumberland perhaps being supported by the tribes of southern Scotland. Maybe by the AD 120s they were so depleted that strategic transfer was the only viable option? If so it could explain the Nijmegen tiles (assuming the post-AD 120 date is accepted) and also the survival of the Ninth's tribunes. It would also explain both the construction and scale of Hadrian's Wall; it was a physical control measure to ensure what happened to Ninth did not get repeated to the Sixth. But if so what happened to the Ninth then? Historians have long looked for a definitive battle where they were wiped out. Perhaps, not unlike some military units in modern times, they were just so depleted of manpower the decision was made to decommission rather than rebuild /deploy the Legion. Perhaps the veteran Ninth was simply left under-strength and disbanded at some point prior to AD 165.

Barbicans. Only Walmgate Bar still has a barbican but originally all of York’s Gateways were so equipped. They were demolished in the nineteenth century to ease access.

Notes:  The Walls are a major tourist attraction with clear maps and many interpretation boards guiding the visitor around. Car parking across the city is generally pay and display.


POSTCODE

LAT/LONG

Monk Bar

YO1 7LQ

53.962745N 1.078561W

Bootham Bar

YO1 7EN

53.96272N 1.085052W

Roman Multangular Tower

YO1 7FD

53.961363N 1.086983W

Lendal Tower

YO1 8AA

53.960359N 1.087122W

Micklegate Bar

YO1 6LB

53.95594N 1.090899W

Baile Hill Castle (click here)

YO1 6DU

53.953926N 1.083121W

Clifford’s Tower (click here)

YO1 9SA

53.955884N 1.079988W

Walmgate Bar

YO10 3BP

53.955183N 1.070835W

Red Tower

YO31 7UL

53.957979N 1.071373W

England > Yorkshire YORK CITY WALLS

York was founded by the Roman Ninth Legion as an major operating base within the hostile territory of the Brigantes tribe. The fortress they built led to a civilian settlement which was later enclosed within walls. The Vikings and Normans would both augment the defences which were tested in the wars with Scotland and during the Civil War.

HISTORY OF YORK CITY DEFENCES


The Romans


In AD 43 four Roman Legions, supported by extensive auxiliary units, stormed ashore at Richborough in Kent. This was the start of the Roman conquest of Britain that would consume imperial resources for decades. Nevertheless the Romans overcame resistance in the south, an extensive insurgency in Wales plus the Boudica rebellion and by the AD 70s they were looking to extend their control northwards into Yorkshire and beyond. Circa-AD 65 the Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana) established a fortress at Lincoln (Lindum) but, given the Brigantes tribe (who territory was centred on Yorkshire) had supported rebellions against Rome, they sought to move further north. In AD 71 the site of York was chosen for a new base. Firmly within the sphere of influence of the hostile and powerful Brigante tribe, it was sited at the convergence of the Rivers Foss and Ouse offering both logistical and defensive benefits. Named by the Romans as Eboracum the fortress was configured in a standard playing card configuration and enclosed an area of 50 acres -  sufficient to house the men, animals and work facilities required by the 5000+ strong unit.


The original intent was York would merely be a temporary base with the Legion moving north as the insurgency in the Lake District and Pennines was suppressed. As the Romans pushed north and achieved what seemed like the final victory over the native Britons at the Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 83), fought somewhere in northern Scotland, the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix) moved north to Inchtuthil on the River Tay. But reallocation of Imperial resources saw the withdrawal of one Legion from Britain and the Romans fell back to the Solway/Tyne isthmus which would later be consolidated into the Hadrianic frontier (Hadrian's Wall). The net effect was York became the permanent base for the northern most army of Imperial Rome. Accordingly the Ninth Legion commenced rebuilding in stone in the early second century AD and this was continued when they were replaced by the Sixth (Legio VI Victrix) between AD 120-2. The fate of the Ninth is unknown (see additional information right). As with other Legionary bases a large civilian settlement developed outside the fort and in York this was situated on the Western bank of the River Ouse.


To aid administration of the province in AD 237 Britannia was divided into two areas of administration with York chosen as the capital of Britannia Inferior. Towards the end of the third century this increased status was reflected by construction of Walls - at this time a prestigious symbol rather than a defensive one - around the civilian settlement. Nevertheless the city remained a major military base with the Sixth Legion being based there until AD 401. At this time it was recalled to Rome and apparently annihilated in the war against Alaric the Visigoth.


After the Romans


Following the withdrawal of the Roman military in the early fifth century, York declined dramatically as the populace returned to subsistence farming although some form of local government may have continued from the site. York became part of the Kingdom of Diera which occupied the land between the Rivers Humber and Tees. By the early seventh century this had merged with the Kingdom of Bernicia becoming the Kingdom of Northumbria - a territory stretching from the Humber north to the River Forth. York was chosen as the seat of the bishop for the new Kingdom and in AD 627 King Edwin of Northumbria was baptised there. On Edwin's death though the centre of power moved north to Bamburgh and the religious centre temporarily relocated to Lindisfarne. In the mid seventh century York again became the seat of the bishop and in AD 735 the post was elevated to Archbishop.


The Vikings


By the ninth century AD the east coast of northern England was being regularly attacked by Vikings. On the 1 November 866 (All Saints Day) a force led by Ivar the Boneless seized York. They would hold the city, which they called Jorvik,  for almost one hundred years with it becoming the capital of the Viking held north - land that became known as the Danelaw. The Roman walls of both the fortress and former civilian settlement continued to provide protection to the city albeit augmented by additional earth banks and wooden palisades as required. However, the Vikings were focused on offence rather than defence - they continued their incursions south throughout the ninth century slowly defeating each of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms in turn until just Wessex remained. It was at this time King Alfred commenced his fight against the Vikings which was continued by his son and daughter - King Edward the Elder and his sister Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians - who pushed them out of the Midlands and East Anglia. By the mid-tenth century the Danelaw was collapsing under Anglo-Saxon attack and it was King Edred, grandson of King Alfred, who attacked and took York from them in AD 954.


In 1066 York was the target of a Norwegian attack. Harold Hardrada, King of Norway sought to wrestle control of the Kingdom of England from its new King, Harold II. After initial assaults along the coast he sailed up the River Ouse, established a base at Riccall and marched on York. He was intercepted by the northern Earls Edwin and Morcar who fought the bloody Battle of Fulford on 20 September 1066 in an attempt to stop him. The Norwegian King won and York capitulated offering hostages and supplies to be delivered to Stamford Bridge; a major junction approximately 8 miles from the city where four Roman roads converged. Here they were surprised and routed by the army of King Harold II; their defeat at the Battle of Stamford Bridge saw the end of Viking incursions into England.


The Normans


Just weeks later Harold himself was killed at the Battle of Hastings and William installed as King. He came to York in 1068 initially building the motte-and-bailey castle that later became Clifford's Tower. A rebellion in 1069 would lead to a military expedition and construction of a second castle, Bailes Castle, on the south side of the River Ouse. The city walls, which at this time were still of Roman origin and showing the signs of age, were also modified and augmented where necessary with earthen banks and new defensive ditches dug. In addition the four great gates of the City - Bootham Bar, Micklegate Bar, Monk Bar and Walmgate Bar  - were likely started at this time as was the great Minister.


Later Middle Ages


In 1226 Henry III granted the city permission to impose taxes on goods brought to York in order to fund upgrades to the Walls. This led to a major re-building of the Walls in stone including major upgrades to all the Bars into the city. Also added at this time was Lendal Tower on the banks of the River Ouse; this was equipped with a chain to control access along the River for both defensive and taxation purposes.


The Walls were tested during the first War of Scottish Independence. In 1319 - with Scottish forces still dominating the north of England following the defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) - an army arrived at York under Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. His intention was to capture Queen Isabella but, as she had already left the city, the Scottish commander burnt the area around Bootham Bar. Further upgrades were made to the Walls during the fourteenth century. Barker Tower was added to compliment Lendal Tower on the River's edge whilst the City's Bars were once again enhanced.


The Tudors


Henry VII defeated the final Yorkist king, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. York had enthusiastically supported Richard, whose powerbase had been centred on the north, but nevertheless sought to welcome the new Tudor King. A northern revolt against Henry, led by Lambert Simnel, was not supported by the cities leaders however trouble in the city saw damage to the Walls; Walmgate Bar was burnt by rebels in 1489 as was Fishergate Bar. These were repaired and the Tudor era also saw new defences built; Red Tower in 1490 and Fishergate Postern Tower between 1504 and 1507.


The Civil War


During the Civil War York was held for the Royalists becoming their headquarters in the north. The city was besieged by a combined Parliamentary-Scottish army number in excess of 30,000 men in April 1644. Heavy fighting ensued as the Parliamentary force attempted to breach the Walls. Walmgate Bar, on the east side of the city, took the brunt of the attack and was heavily damaged. Likewise Toft's Tower, on the South West corner of the city Wall, was destroyed during the siege as was St Mary’s Tower near Bootham. A breach was also made near the old Multangular Tower. The Parliamentarians withdrew in June faced with the approach of a Royalist field army under Prince Rupert but the rest bite was short-lived. Rupert pursed the Parliamentarians but was engaged and decisively defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor fought on 2 July 1644. With the Royalist threat removed the Parliamentary army returned and, with no prospect of relief, York fell just two weeks later. The damaged towers were rebuilt over the subsequent years.


Jacobites and Georgians


The last significant time the walls were prepared for a potential assault was in 1745 during the final Jacobite rebellion. The army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) had evaded Governmental forces in northern Scotland and had invaded England. An attack on York was feared and the walls were hastily repaired. However, the rebels did not attack the city and were pursued back to Scotland where they were routed at the Battle of Culloden (1746).


The threat just fifty years earlier did not stop a concerted effort from the York Corporation to demolish the Walls in the late eighteenth century; they were ruinous by this time, regarded as obsolete militarily, expensive to maintain and were constraining the expansion of the city. The state owned defences required approval of Parliament before they could be demolished - bids were made but never approved. Nevertheless the towers at St Leonard’s Place and Skeldergate plus the barbicans at all the bars except Walmgate were demolished in the early nineteenth century. Growing interest in heritage - plus fierce opposition from the Archbishop of York - prevented any further significant destruction.


Arrival of the Railway


After the proposed destruction of the Walls during the Georgian period, the Victorians took a kinder view albeit a practical one. They demolished small portions of the wall to allow access for the railway; in 1841 a section was replaced with an arch to allow access for the tracks to pass through the parameter and this was followed by a second arch in 1845 and a third in 1876. They also built a new gateway through the Walls - the Victoria Bar - in 1838 under the direction of the Lord Mayor, George Hudson. Finally they also "preserved" some elements of the wall and "restored" them in their own imagining of medieval style. Robin Hood's Tower was one such example rebuilt in 1888-9 - probably one of the few defensive towers than can claim to have former tram tracks included within its structure!

Micklegate Bar

Fishergate Postern Tower

Monk Bar

Fishergate Bar

Red Tower

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