Clifford’s Tower York Castle

Clifford’s Tower Audio Guide

The audio guide contains more detail than the text below. Audio files are typically less than a megabyte in size.

Clifford’s Tower Quick Facts

  • Clifford’s Tower is the remaining survivor of York’s two castles that sat at either side of the River Ouse.
  • The castle was originally made out of wood but was later upgraded to stone.
  • What is left is the castle’s keep. In its day, a moat surrounded the circular mound it resides upon.
  • A bridge once crossed the moat to a rectangular walled area to where the Castle Museum resides today. You can still see part of the castles walls at the rear of the museum.
  • You can enter the remaining structure today and walk upon the castle top to receive a panoramic view of York.
  • The circular structure once contained a rectangular structure inside that provided rooms and storeys. Of course, the castle originally had a roof.

Where to find Clifford’s Tower

Clifford’s Tower in More Detail

Clifford’s Tower is part of a castle complex that was erected in 1245 but this structure is not the original one. In fact, the original castle was made out of wood. In addition, this is the survivor of two castles which sat side by side looking over the River Ouse. They were built by William the Conqueror’s men around 1068. The wooden castles were burned down during a rebellion against William the Conqueror. Consequently and not unexpected, William the Conqueror was angry and took revenge using his troops to quench the rebellion. However, his manner was brutal and barbaric and is termed the Harrying of the North. Everything was burned down between York and Newcastle Upon Tyne (north-east of England).  This included buildings as well as animals and crops too.  It is also understood that he even salted the soil to prevent further crops being grown. Understandably, many thousands of people died. 

Clifford's Tower York England resides upon a circular mound of earth that once had a moat.
Clifford’s Tower York England resides upon a circular mound of earth that once had a moat.

The castle was upgraded into a stone structure during the 13th century.  However, what you see today is not the full structure because it had a roof. In addition, Clifford’s Tower also had a wall and a moat. Clifford’s tower is the Keep and you can access the top of the walls and walk around them giving you a 360 degree view of York.   The roof is missing because in 1684 a gun solute went embarrassingly wrong as not only were the canon’s set alight, but also the gunpowder store and you can imagine the rest.  Amazingly, there were no fatalities but it is said that the man responsible for the mishap was found swimming in the moat outside! Shortly afterwards, the Castle was closed. 

Clifford's Tower from within the structure.
Clifford’s Tower from within the structure.

Clifford’s Tower gets its name from the Clifford family who were prominent landowners for a considerable amount of time. 

Castlegate 

Castlegate was the original street that took you to the castle.  It is down this street you will find York’s tallest spire at St Mary’s church.   It is also the home of Fairfax House that was built around 1740 to 1745.   However, today, you can get to the castle down Clifford Street.  It is on this street you will find York Dungeon and this building used to be the Grand Hall of Victorian Institute of Learning.