Monument record MYO4059 - Motte of York Castle


Motte, surviving earthwork of motte and bailey castle constructed in 1068 or 1069.


Grid reference Centred SE 6046 5147 (65m by 70m)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

YORK CASTLE consists of a Norman motte and bailey with a 13th-century quadrilobate stone keep (Clifford's Tower) on the motte and remains of the mediaeval curtain wall and towers round part of the bailey, which now contains the Debtors' Prison of 1701–5, the Assize Courts of 1773–7, and the Female Prison of 1780 and 1803. The two prison buildings now belong to the City of York and house the Castle Museum.

During the past nine centuries the castle has been, like the Tower of London, a fortress, a royal palace, a mint, and a prison, as well as a court of justice and an administrative centre for the county. As a fortress it became obsolete in the 16th century, but the keep was again so used from 1642 to 1684. Its use as a palace was abandoned in the 15th century and the mint was transferred to St. Leonard's Hospital in 1546. It only ceased to be a prison in 1929 and still contains the courthouse for the North and East Ridings. For short periods in the 13th and 14th century it housed the royal treasury and courts, moved from Westminster for convenience in the wars with Scotland. In other ways too it can claim similarity with the Tower of London, for in the 18th century it contained tame deer and a raven as the Tower contained ravens and the royal menagerie. Executions took place here from 1802 to 1896 and intermittently before then of state prisoners, like Lord Clifford and Aske.

'York Castle', in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 2, the Defences (London, 1972), pp. 57-86 [accessed 23 January 2015

William I built the first castle in 1068 as a motte and bailey, but it was destroyed by the Danes in September 1069 and rebuilt before the end of that year. One of the seven shires of the city was laid waste for castle building. The new castle was protected on the S.E. By a damming of the Foss to form the king's fishpond or stew which caused the loss of two new mills and nearly a carucate (about 150 acres) of arable, meadows, and gardens. Access to Fishergate was then by a lane skirting the castle on the W. And crossing by the dam, a route known to have existed in the 12th century.

In 1070 an extension to the castle caused the destruction of a house. In the 12th century there are references to the castle gate and a gaol within the castle as well as to the 'turris'. In 1190 the castle ('turris Eboraci, arx regia') was burnt down in an anti-Jewish riot, killing the Jews who had taken refuge there, and rebuilt again in timber. A reference to the old castle led Drake to assume that the Old Baile was involved.

RCHME, 1972, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences, pp 57-86 (Monograph). SYO63.

FAS, 2016, Cliffords Tower (Unpublished document). SYO1871.

Sources/Archives (2)

  • --- Unpublished document: FAS. 2016. Cliffords Tower.
  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1972. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences. pp 57-86.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (2)

Record last edited

Feb 19 2021 12:08PM


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