About York’s City Walls (Bar Walls)
The story of the city walls starts in 71 AD but much of the walls we see today stands on earth banks which were built up by the Danes, namely the Vikings. No-one knows of stonework Vikings repaired but it is thought they probably strengthened and extended the defensive line of at least the northern half of the Roman fort by building up the Roman earth ramparts to cover the ruined Roman wall and adding a wooden ‘wall’ on top. The course of the wall has changed somewhat since Roman times.
The Romans erected a fort that spanned 50 acres by the banks of the River Ouse. Half of this fort’s defences are now part of the city defences but much smaller bits of Roman wall are above ground. The remaining parts of the original wall headed south-west from the east corner and that crossed the via principalis of the fortress. This is situated at Kings Square where you will find York Chocolate Story. Feasegate is the location of the former walls south corner and continued north-west to the west corner. In St Helen’s Square you can see a plaque for where the wall crossed the via praetoria. ‘Castra’ is the Roman word for ‘fort’.
By 867 the Vikings arrived and the city walls were in poor repair. The Vikings destroyed many of the towers excluding the Multangular Tower which still exists today in Museum Gardens. They built defensive earth ramparts over what was left of the north half of the Roman walls. However, much of the walls we see today date back to medieval times between the 13th and 14th centuries. Some further construction work occurred in the 19th century such as the steps up to Bootham Bar for example.
Some mistakenly conclude that the walls are incomplete due to the obvious gaps south of Jewbury or Layerthorpe Bridge and west of Fishergate Postern Tower. In fact, the city walls surrounding York city centre are the most complete in England.
Useful Information and Links
York City Walls Admission. It is completely free of charge to access the city walls and provide a circuit walk around the city.
York City Walls Opening Times please check here.