Monument record MYO4227 - York City Walls (Monk Bar)


Four storeyed town gate with circular bartizans at the north and east angles, and dates from the early 14th century, the uppermost storey being added in the late 15th century. It was built to a sophisticated design with each floor defensible. From 1577 it was used as a prison. The barbican was removed in 1815-25. It retains a portcullis which is in working order.


Grid reference SE 6055 5224 (point)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire
Civil Parish York, City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (16)

Full Description

Monk Bar (Pls. 36–40; Figs. pp. 126–32) consists of a four-storey gatehouse with circular bartizans at the N. and E. angles and a low-pitched leaded roof. The passageway and two lower storeys above have ribbed vaults. A lofty arch on the outer face between the bartizans supports a narrow crenellated gallery at third-floor level. The Bar, which lies 100 yds. S.E. of the porta decumana of the legionary fortress, is built almost entirely of magnesian limestone and dates from the early 14th century; the uppermost storey was added in the late 15th century and windows were renewed in the 16th century. The gatehouse was built to a sophisticated design, making it a self-contained fortress with each floor defensible, even when the others had been captured. Variations in stone sizes and irregular coursing indicate several stages during the construction, with the front wall apparently preceding the vaulting. There is no trace of an earlier gate on this site.

The earlier mediaeval gate probably lay on the site of the Roman porta decumana, where signs of extensive rebuilding and of a former tower may be seen. This position for the gate is indicated both by the alignment of the S. Part of Goodramgate and by the name of the destroyed church of St. John del Pyke (of the gate). Tolls collected in 1280 at Monk Gate (fn. 75) must refer to this earlier gate. The name derives from the street of Monkgate, mentioned as early as c. 1075. (fn. 76) The monks were the community of the pre-Conquest minster, a designation which would have been obsolete in the 12th century. The original Monkgate was a street on the Roman line running from Monk Bridge to the porta decumana and so called because it led directly to the Minster precincts. It is suggested that when the stone defences were built the old gate was replaced by one on the present site and the street name was also transferred. The question has recently been discussed by Mr. H. G. Ramm. (fn. 77) The present form of the name first occurs in 1370. (fn. 78) In 1435/6 the house above the Bar was rented for 4s. A year to Thomas Pak, the master mason of the Minster, (fn. 79) in 1440/1 to William Croft, gentleman, (fn. 80) in c. 1450 to John, Lord Scrope, (fn. 81) and in 1476, when described as the stone tower situated above the Monk Bar, to Miles Metcalf, Recorder from 1477 to 1486, for 5s. (fn. 82) Hand-guns were delivered to William Wode, officer of the ward, presumably for this bar, in 1511. (fn. 83) In 1541 the Bar was cleaned in preparation for Henry VIII's visit. (fn. 84) In 1563 it was used as a temporary prison, (fn. 85) and in 1577 this use became permanent. (fn. 86) In 1583 the rooms there were inspected to see if they were suitable for imprisoning recusants. (fn. 87) They were presumably found so, because in 1594 'Alice Bowman was sent to a place called Little Ease, which is in Monk Bar'. (fn. 88) A recalcitrant apprentice was also confined in Little Ease in 1598. (fn. 89) This prison was probably one of the tiny rooms in the bartizans.

¶Although it was used for a sally during the siege of 1644, the Bar escaped damage since this side of the city was not closely invested. The gates were renewed in 1671 and 1707. (fn. 90) In 1815 part of the barbican was removed, (fn. 91) and in 1825, when a foot-way was made to the S.E., the watch house and the rest of the barbican were demolished. (fn. 92) The gates were removed and together with the old hay weighing machine from Mint Yard sold for £18. They appear to have resembled those of Walmgate Bar, with heavy moulded muntins, curved in the upper part (Pl. Opp. P. 133). (fn. 93) In 1845 another side passage was made through the city wall to the N.W. And the Bar was restored at a cost of £429 for use as a house for a police inspector. (fn. 94) The existing large arch to the S.E. Was made in 1861. In 1913–14 further restoration took place and use as a house was discontinued. The portcullis was put in working order and periodically lowered for public inspection. There was more extensive restoration in 1952–3 at a cost of £6,000 and in 1966 voussoirs of the inner arch and of the vaults to the passage were replaced after damage by a vehicle. The upper floors are now used by the Scouts.Architectural Description. The N.E. Front to Monkgate (Pl. 36; Fig. P. 126) has a round-headed archway of two orders opening to the passage; some of the smaller voussoirs are of gritstone. Behind a portcullis slot is an inner arch of the same size but of a single order and with larger voussoirs. The archway is flanked by projecting buttresses with moulded and weathered plinths. On the N.E. Buttress is a rectangular stone plaque carved in relief and painted with the words MONK BAR RENOVATED 1953 and with a shield of arms of the City of York below a cap of maintenance and upon a sword and mace in saltire. At first-floor level both buttresses are pierced by shoulder-headed doorways, formerly leading to the wall walk of the barbican. Over the passage archway are two cruciform arrow slits terminating in round oillets, and there is a second pair set closer together at second-floor level. Above again and 3¼ ft. In front of the main wall is a pointed arch of two chamfered orders supporting a gallery. A coffered effect on the underside of the gallery may be due to a series of 'murder-holes', now paved over. Below a string course at the floor level of the gallery and in the spandrels of the supporting arch are two shields of arms of the City of York under low canopies with crocketted pinnacles. Above the crown of the arch, on the central merlon of the parapet of the gallery, are the royal arms of England as used after c. 1405, but formerly with Old France in the first and fourth quarters. (fn. 95) The shield is depicted as hanging by a guige below a crowned helm bearing the crest of a crowned demi-lion rampant, the whole under a canopy. The flanking merlons have blocks projecting from their coping, apparently as bases for pinnacles or small statues. The face of the Bar behind the gallery is pierced by two square gunports, each with an equal-armed cruciform sighting slit above. A deep weathered band separates these from a plain parapet.

The bartizans spring, as at Micklegate Bar, from three rounded corbel courses broken at the outer angles by the corners of the buttresses below. At third-floor and roof levels they are surrounded by steeply weathered string courses and have two cruciform arrow slits at each level. On each bartizan three of the merlons support a demi-figure of a wild man holding a boulder as if to hurl it (Pl. 37). These are perhaps 17th-century, replacing earlier figures.

The façade to Goodramgate (Plate 37; Fig. P. 127) is ancient; it is the only rear façade of any of the major Bars to have been built originally wholly in masonry. The archway to the passage, round-headed, and of three orders on the face, is inset some 7 ft. And flanked by projecting blocks of masonry. Spanning between the blocks is a segmental arch above which a platform projects, supported on seven corbels of various forms. There is another segmental arch above the platform which is filled by a wall set back to give the platform a width of 2½ ft.; the wall is pierced by a central three-light window with mullions and high-set transom of c. 1580 which is flanked by a doorway 4 ft. High and a small rectangular window. A corbel-course marks the level of the second floor. Above this a central three-light window with trefoil heads to the lights is flanked by two empty niches; the cusped head of the right niche has been restored. The third floor is lit by two windows, each of two shoulder-headed lights, flanking a shallow trefoil-headed niche. The narrow pointedarched doorway gives access to the stairway in the thickness of the N.W. Wall.

¶The side elevations have been much altered by the removal of the rampart for foot passages and on the S.E. By the demolition of the watch house. Variations in sizes and coursing of the masonry indicate numerous repairs. On the S.E. Side prominent features are the projecting garderobe, resting originally on two chamfered corbels, and a row of small square patches of stone at the third-floor level inserted in recent years after the removal of the 19th-century iron tiebars.Inside, the through passage between the main archways is covered with an octopartite ribbed vault springing from brackets (Pl. 39). In the S.E. Wall of the passage a pointed-arched doorway, now blocked, led to the demolished watch house. There are masons' marks (Fig. Above) on this wall and on the N.W. Wall. The rear main archway retains the hooks for the wooden gates on the city side. The through passage continuing beyond the rear archway but within the Bar has a segmental vault supported by three ribs. The staircase passage in the thickness of the N.W. Wall, with a stone roof on a corbel course stepped parallel to the steps, is lit by two slits. At the head of the stairs is a square lobby with archways in all four directions; each archway could be closed by a door.

The first-floor room (Pl. 40) is lit only by the two arrow slits in the front wall and by two windows in the rear wall. It has two bays of octopartite ribbed vaulting, allowance being made for the portcullis to rise behind an arch set inwards from the front wall. When raised, the portcullis partly blocks the arrow slits. There is a wide fireplace in the N.W. Wall below a straight lintel, which has cracked and is supported by a later pier. The floor is stone-flagged. In the S.E. Wall a pointedarched doorway leads to a short passage to the barbican and to a straight staircase ascending in the thickness of the wall to the second floor. A garderobe recess opening off the passage retains its stone seat. The staircase is lit by two slits and roofed with stepped slabs.

¶The second-floor room (Pl. 40) also has a ribbed vault in two bays, a stone-flagged floor and a fireplace in the N.W. Wall. In addition to the arrow slits in the front wall and the three-light window in the rear wall, there is a rectangular window in the S.E. Side wall. A pointedarched doorway, at one time blocked, leads by three steps down to the wall walk on the S.E., and two other doorways, one shoulder-headed, lead to the bartizans. In front of the arrow slits is the wooden windlass with bars and sockets for raising and lowering the portcullis and, at one end, an iron ratchet and pawl to prevent slipping (Pl. 38; Fig. Below). There was a similar ratchet and pawl at the other end in 1834. (fn. 96) The windlass itself is a beam 8 ins. In diameter, cut to an octagonal shape and mounted 3½ ft. Above the floor. The supports now rest on a board set in the floor, but holes in the wall 9 ins. Square may have held beams to support the weight. The portcullis is still in working order and after restoration in 1914 was lowered on Sundays and Bank Holidays. A pointed-arched doorway in the N.W. Wall leads to an ascending staircase. Initials and the date 1617 are incised on the S.E. Wall.The E. Bartizan room has a domed vault with two intersecting ribs springing from a corbel course (Pl. 39). A cross is deeply cut in the wall near the floor just inside the door, perhaps by a recusant prisoner if this cramped room may be identified as 'Little Ease'. The other bartizan has a modern timber ceiling resting on a corbel course; in the W. Angle is a small garderobe, again retaining its stone seat and also a ledge behind it. The floor level in the main room has probably been altered in relation to those of these turret rooms.

¶The third-floor room is lit by the gunports and their sighting slits in the front wall and by two-light shoulderheaded windows in the other walls. Shoulder-headed doorways in the front wall lead to the bartizans, of which the E. Is occupied by a stone spiral staircase, probably a later insertion, ascending to the roof. From the bartizans similar doorways lead to the outer gallery. The 16th-century timber roof is supported on two main trusses, but corbels built into the walls suggest a different earlier arrangement. On and near a corbel in the N.W. Wall are several 17th-century graffiti.The roof is of low pitch and leaded. The doorways to it from the bartizans have flat lintels. The plain parapet rises in two steps to shelter these doorways, and the chimney stops at the parapet level.

¶The barbican (Figs. P. 42, above), demolished in 1825, projected 44 ft. In front of the Bar, and was 27 ft. Wide and 17 ft. High with walls 5 ft. To 6 ft. Thick. The round-headed archway of two orders resembled that of the outer archway of the Bar and was set in a plain wall below a low parapet with moulded cornice. By 1807 this had no merlons and the bartizans may have been lowered; the latter, set at the outer angles, were polygonal, supported on three corbel courses. Four slits in the parapet over the arch and two in the front walls of the bartizans appear to have been too low down for use as loopholes. There was a rear arch internally and in the centre of the N.W. Wall was a narrow doorway which could be used as a sally-port. Views of c. 1820 show wooden gates in the outer archway (Pl. Opp. P. 133). (fn. 97) In demolishing part of the barbican a reused 13th-century coffin lid of Milicia, wife of Jeremy de Lue, was discovered. (fn. 98) The watch house adjoining the Bar on the S.E. Was a single-storeyed rectangular building, measuring 10 ft. By 15 ft., presumably added because the gatehouse was used as a dwelling or later as a prison.From Monk Bar to Layerthorpe Postern the city wall (Pl. 41) is known to have been repaired in 1579, (fn. 99) and 1666. (fn. 100) It was thoroughly restored in 1871 and 1877–8, when a wall walk was added where missing. The line of the mediaeval wall near Monk Bar is slightly sinuous with numerous buttresses, indicating instability; part collapsed in 1957. When in 1858 the Board of Health Committee in order to make a new road proposed removing 158 ft. Of the wall and rampart adjoining the Bar, the wall was described as ruinous. (fn. 101) The outer face is in places battered for the whole height and there are signs that at least one length has been taken down and rebuilt. An irregularity E. Of the Bar may mark the site of a small tower. Internally the inner face of the Roman fortress wall within and below the mediaeval wall was cleared and exposed in 1875 and 1928, the rampart having already been removed. Some of the internal arches (Fig. Above) supporting the wall walk here already existed in 1827 when George Nicholson sketched them. (fn. 102)

The parapet adjoining Monk Bar is pierced by a series of thirteen musket loops, most of which are modern rebuilds. At a point 32 ft. N.W. Of Tower 31 is an unusual feature comprising, externally, a solid buttress 7½ ft. Wide and projecting 3¼–4¼ ft., but internally two arched recesses, apparently garderobes, opening off the wall walk. The latter are 2¼ ft. And 2½ ft. Wide, 4¼ ft. High, and 1¾ ft. Deep; the N.W. One has a round hole in the floor and is railed off.

¶The rampart S.E. Of the Bar was originally about 95 ft. Wide and 14 ft. High, but the internal ground level has been lowered by 7 ft. To 8 ft. To expose the Roman wall. Miller excavated here in 1925–8. The church of St. Helen-in-Werkdyke (or St. Helen-onthe-Walls) stood near the rampart foot at about NG 60625219. It was demolished in c. 1580. A tablet commemorating the proclamation of Constantine I as Emperor in 306, allegedly at this spot, was set up by the Corporation in 1914.An early 19th-century brick ice-house, now ruinous and partly filled with rubbish, is built into the outer slope of the rampart at NG 60595221. It is circular, 12½ ft. In diameter, roofed with a pointed dome, and entered from the N.E. By a passage 7 ft. Long and 3½ ft. Wide, originally vaulted

List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest City of York, 14-Mar-1997

NMR related objects:

OP07567 Monk Bar viewed from the north side and looking towards Goodram Gate
OP07942 Monk Bar, York, viewed from the north-east
OP07985 Monk Bar, York, viewed from the north-north-east
OP08097 A view of Monk Bar, York with a group of men leaning up against the wall to the right of the central arch
OP08100 A view of Monk Bar, York with a group of three men next to the arches, one with a broom

NMR, NMR data (Unassigned). SYO2214.

RCHME, 1972, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences, p125-32 (Monograph). SYO63.

Sources/Archives (2)

  • --- Unassigned: NMR. NMR data.
  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1972. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume II The Defences. p125-32.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (4)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Record last edited

Feb 5 2021 9:38AM


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