Bootham Bar, York England

Bootham Bar Audio Guide

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Bootham Bar Quick Facts

  • Bootham Bar is the most northern gateway
  • Bootham Bar has existed for around 800 years although another Roman gate had existed almost 2000 years ago
  • The stone figures at the top are Nicholas De Lanterne who was a Lord Mayor and he resides in the centre. You will also see a stonemason holding a model of the bar as well as a soldier who defended the city.
  • The steps up to the city walls at Bootham Bar were actually installed by the Victorians at a later date.

Where to find Bootham Bar

Bootham Bar in More Detail

York’s Bar Wall’s obviously required gates (or Bar’s/York City Gateways) to enter the city. 

In York it is important to remember that streets are known as “Gates”, gates are known as “Bars”, and to confuse you further, bars are known as “public houses” or pubs for short. The Dane’s influence in Viking times has a bearing on this because Gates comes from a Viking word for street being Gata. However, the gates are bars due to the influence of the Normans, in the same way you might use the word “barrier”. 

York Bar Walls contain 5 main gates, however, only 4 of them contain a structure with internal rooms. 

Bootham Bar is the most northern gateway and has existed for around 800 years.  However, in Roman times it was also the northern gate into the fortress almost 2000 years ago.  If you have good eyesight, you may have observed the stone figures on top of the structure. The centre figure is Nicholas De Lanterne and he was the Lord Mayor of York during the 1300’s representing the citizens at the time who paid for the walls. You will also notice the stonemason holding a model of the bar as well as a soldier who is prepared to defend the city. 

Bootham Bar has some of the oldest stonework from the 11th century, yet ironically, has a 19th century touch owing to the constructed staircase to the city walls. To confuse you further, the structure we see today dates back to the 14th century! It is slightly offset of the porta principalis dextra which was the north-western gate of Roman York, and York was known as Eboracum to the Romans. In the 12th century the gateway was known as Barum de Bootham meaning the Bar of the Booths relating to market booths.

Bootham Bar's portcullis, York England
Bootham Bar’s Portcullis

Inside the structure at the top of the stairs to the city walls, you will see a portcullis that was lowered to prevent undesirables coming into the city, and of course raised to allow more friendly folk through. Today, the portcullis is kept in its raised position to allow traffic through the arch underneath.

One point of note is that the wall opposite Bootham Bar is not part of the city wall. This wall was built to circumference St Mary’s Abbey (located in Museum Gardens).  This was to protect the Abbey from the Scots who were threatening England’s second city. You will also see another section to this wall down St Marygate.  This wall also prevented local residents from seeing what the Monks were up to within the Abbey walls! It was the largest protective wall at an Abbey in England.

Sadly, in 1835, the barbican was removed. In fact, the Victorians spoilt the city walls somewhat, creating arches for the then York terminus railway station etc. In fact, the statue opposite Bootham Bar is of William Etty who, with the York Footpath’s Association, prevented the city council from demolishing the walls. Etty was a Victorian artist who’s work was especially controversial because he painted nudes. Much of the time his paintings were covered up! Be that as it may, thanks to Etty and the Footpath’s Association, the walls remained where they are today.

Like the other bars to the city, they were to limit access and keep out the undesirables and had a defensive purpose, but they were also used to extract tolls. Today, many people use the staircase here to begin their city walls walk heading clockwise around the city.