Crowning the top of the well clipped castle mound in the centre of the bustling city of York,
stands Clifford’s Tower so named,
after Roger de Clifford who was hung in chains from its battlements in 1322.
The original defences of the city go back to Norman times when William I, had two timbered motte and bailey forts built just north of the point where the River Ouse joins the River Foss. These towers were to have a very precarious, if not horizontal, history. The first being built in 1068 on the western bank of the Ouse in the "Old Bail" or Bail Hill and the second, early in 1069 on the eastern bank beneath Clifford's Tower. Both of these towers were to be destroyed by September 1069 when the English and Danish armies captured York from their Norman invaders. Their victory was sadly short lived as William and his Norman army recaptured the city and promptly rebuilt the towers that same year. It was the eastern fort which became the Castle of York and to improve its defences the Foss was dammed up to flood a whole "carucate" of land.
William’s revenge attack on the north of England was called ‘Harrying of the North’, a campaign against the population. It is believed the death toll was over 100,000, together with laying waste of
the countryside from the Humber to the Tees.
The first craftsman to be mentioned is a carpenter, in 1086, who is named Landric. He may have built the timbered towers but there is no further information.
In 1190 the castle tower was burned down during anti-Jewish riots in which the Jews of York were massacred. The following year it was rebuilt and, like the previous tower, it was constructed of wood and cost about £219. Little more is recorded until 1228 when the tower was probably blown down by a high wind.
The mason, Henry de Reyns, is believed to have designed and started to build the "Clifford Tower" in 1245, as well as the town’s defences which comprised of a curtain wall with at least five towers encircling the bailey and two gateways. One, the great gateway, was on the south side facing the mill-pool. The second gateway to the north, gave access to the city and, where it faced Clifford’s Tower, there was a timbered palisade in place of a stone wall. Below and surrounding Clifford’s Tower was another timbered palisade. Water from the River Foss pool filled the surrounding moat and also drove the Kings mills as it flowed into the River Ouse. In the bailey itself, were a great hall, chapel, kitchen, prison and other buildings.
These major works, took about twenty three years and cost £2,600.
A 1360 survey showed the castle to be in a deplorable state of decay, in fact it was a complete mess, with the Clifford Tower cracked from top to bottom in two places, the vault of the great gate damaged, part of the tower at the west end of the castle had collapsed into the moat. The tower known as "Ie Boretour" had a crack to the top, the gaol was unsafe because of the encroaching water of the Foss and Ouse and the castle buildings were in a roofless and ruined state. The sheriff was ordered to spend up to 1,000 marks or £666.13s.4d. for repairs made by view of Henry of Ingleby, Cannon of York, Roger of Chesterfield, Kings Clerk and John of Langton mayor of the city. In fact they spent £800 on the restorations. Clifford’s Tower was only patched up but the fallen tower on the west side was rebuilt and another fitted up to serve as a prison. The remaining buildings were repaired and re-roofed. The dilapidation was probably brought about by a general lack of funds and compounded by the encroaching water which undermined the weak foundations.
By 1484 Richard 111 had issued orders for a commission to organise a work force to dismantle the castle as a preliminary to its eventual reconstruction but the battle of Bosworth put an end to his plans.
Henry V11 had other ideas and the castle has remained in a half demolished state, for which, today, the only remains are its ruined stone town walls and keep.
It is now in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.
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