Monument record MYO4226 - York City Walls (Bootham Bar)


Mediaeval town gate built on the remains of the Porta Principalis Dextra gateway to the Roman fortress.


Grid reference Centred SE 6012 5223 (12m by 12m)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire
Civil Parish York, City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (16)

Full Description

Bootham Bar (Pls. 28, 31–3; Pl. opp. p. 121; and Figs. pp. 117–20) consists of a passage with archways at each end and of a rectangular gatehouse of two storeys above with circular bartizans at the angles and a low-pitched leaded roof. Much of the outer archway is of gritstone, the rest is of magnesian limestone.

Bootham Bar replaces the porta principalis dextra of the legionary fortress, which lay immediately behind and beside the mediaeval gate. (fn. 38) The Roman gate was probably still in use in the late 7th century, when it was mentioned as a boundary in a land grant known from an early 11th-century summary. (fn. 39)

The earliest parts of the present structure, the jambs and inner order of the outer archway date from the 11th century. The name, which first occurs in c. 1200, (fn. 40) means 'the bar at the booths'. (fn. 41) St. Mary's Abbey had the right to hold a weekly market here, a custom which may go back before the abbey's foundation in 1089 to the period of Earl Siward's minster.

The gate was also known in c. 1210 as Galmanlith or Galmonelid, perhaps a scribal error for Galmouelid, the gate of Galmou, the pre-Conquest name for the hill on which St. Mary's Abbey was built. The identity of Galmanlith and Bootham Bar is proved by documents in St. Leonard's Hospital Cartulary. (fn. 42) One reference is to a plot 'infra portam Civitatis Ebor. que vocatur Galmanlith', (fn. 43) and another to 'Galmanlith scilicet infra Barram de Bouthom'. (fn. 44) By the late 13th century Galmou was also understood to indicate Bootham Bar. (fn. 45)

Tolls collected at the Bar are recorded in 1280. (fn. 46) In 1376 a rent of 4s. was received for a house over the Bar; (fn. 47) rent and expenditure on repairs to this house continue in the city's accounts during the 15th century and later. During the 14th century the Bar was heightened to house a portcullis and a barbican was added; the absence of any means of access to a barbican parapet walk from the first floor of the Bar, as provided in the other three main Bars, suggests that when the heightening took place a barbican was not envisaged. The portcullis is mentioned in 1454–5, (fn. 48) and in 1488/9 there were great gates and a wicket. (fn. 49) In 1511 two guns were delivered to Robert Preston, officer of the ward, for the Bar: 'a brasen gonne and a potte gonne of yren with v. chambres belongyng unto theym'. (fn. 50) Expenditure of £25 in 1581–3 (fn. 51) probably indicates the rebuilding at that time of the rear façade, as at Micklegate and Walmgate Bars. In 1603 over £10 was spent on repairs, including £4 to Edward Bykes, painter, for gilding the Bar on both sides and painting it russet and white. (fn. 52) The Bar was again painted and gilded in 1633. (fn. 53) On both occasions the redecoration was in preparation for a royal visit. There are also occasional references to the display over the gate of the heads of traitors, including that of Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, in 1405. (fn. 54)

The gateway was damaged in the siege of 1644 and repaired in 1645. The bartizans and the upper part of the façade towards Bootham were probably built then, preserving the general form of the earlier work. In 1647 'the kings armes and the citties armes' were carved in stone and set up on the Bar. (fn. 55) In 1719 the façade to High Petergate was rebuilt in stone, (fn. 56) and in 1738 a statue identified as King Ebrauk, the eponymous founder of York, was placed in a niche there. (fn. 57) The gates were replaced in 1748 by new ones made by George Gelson as qualifying work to become a freeman, but after 1780 they were allowed to decay until only one leaf was left, which was removed in 1789. (fn. 58) A passage through the city wall on the N.E. side of the Bar was made in 1771. (fn. 59) The heightening of an outer arch to 12 ft. was ordered in 1785, but it may not have been done. (fn. 60) When St. Leonard's Place was made in 1831–5 the barbican was removed and a length of wall and rampart S.W. of the Bar was demolished. The Bar itself was in danger of destruction, (fn. 61) but in 1834 the inner façade was rebuilt and the sides refaced at the Corporation's expense to a design by Peter Robinson, and foot passages were made on each side, (fn. 62) the one of 1771 on the N.E. being reconstructed to conform. Further repairs were carried out in 1844, and in 1889 the exterior stone stairway was added, replacing the former access to the first floor from within the walls. The three statues on the outer façade were renewed in 1894. (fn. 63) The whole Bar was restored in 1951, but more extensive restoration and conservation, made necessary by serious cracks, and costing some £25,000, was completed in 1970.

Architectural Description. In the N.W. front towards Bootham (Pl. 32) the large round-headed archway to the passage is of two plain orders of which the inner is supported on large gritstone blocks, probably reused Roman material; the arch springing is set back from the main plane of the jambs. This order, which is also of gritstone and has been badly scraped by vehicles, is the oldest part of the gate and can hardly be later than c. 1100. The outer order of limestone, which is probably a 12th-century addition and more neatly coursed, rests on a single corbel to the N.E. and a double corbel to the S.W. Several of the voussoirs of this outer order are modern replacements. The archway is flanked by muchaltered buttresses with chamfered setbacks, and above it is a string at the level of the first floor. On the N. buttress is a rectangular stone plaque carved in relief and painted with the words BOOTHAM BAR RENOVATED 1969 and with a shield of arms of the City of York below a cap of maintenance and upon a mace and sword in saltire. A half-round blocking in one of the stones above the string course is the remains of a spout discharging above the arch and represents the 12th-century parapet level.

¶Two small pointed windows light the first-floor room. Above these is a setback. The upper part of the façade projects at the level of the base of the bartizans on a chamfered corbel course. Below the latter are two shields carved and painted with the arms of the City of York and, above it, within a round-headed moulded frame is a larger shield surrounded by a garter and now surmounted by an open crown, added in 1864, when the shield was painted with the arms of England (Fig. below). It probably originally bore the royal arms of the Stuart kings, since these shields are probably those carved in 1647, and was so restored in Portland stone in 1970. On each side of this coat of arms and at a higher level is a blocked rectangular window or gunport. Another string course marks the roof level. The bartizans are supported on plain corbels and lit on the front and outer sides by two cruciform arrow slits with round oillets to the vertical slit. A weathered parapet on the bartizans and central block supports three statues in Portland stone dated 1894, the central one representing Nicholas Langton, mayor in the 14th century, and the others a mason and a knight. These are by George W. Milburn, whose workshop adjoined the Bar.The S.E. façade to High Petergate (Pl. 33), apart from the archway to the passage, was built in 1834. The arch is roughly semicircular and rises from roll-moulded imposts of c. 1150–75 which have been partly dressed off; it is faced towards the city with a skin of masonry added in the 14th century. The arch springing is again set back from the main plane of the jambs; these last have chamfered plinths, also 12th-century. The iron hooks for the gates survive on both sides of the archway. The buttresses, with two chamfered setbacks, were rebuilt to the old pattern in the 19th century, but previously reached only to the string course above the arch. Before 1719 the façade had three gables (Pl. 28) and was probably timber-framed. As rebuilt in 1719 it had a round-headed niche between two round-headed windows (Pl. 33); above was a rectangular plaque, and a continuous cornice broke forward above the spaces between the windows and the niche. The whole was crowned by a high parapet with a pedimental feature in the middle. The niche later held the stone statue of Ebrauk brought from the Guildhall, a replacement for that which, previous to 1501, had stood at the junction of Colliergate and St. Saviourgate and was known as 'Old York'. The statue set in the Bar represented a king in armour, crowned and bearing an orb and sceptre. (fn. 64) The present façade has two cruciform arrow slits at first-floor level, two narrow rectangular windows lighting the second floor, and a plain square recessed panel above in a high parapet in two stages divided by a moulded string. The bartizans resemble those on the Bootham front, but are solid below roof level and the two arrow slits penetrate only to a slight depth.

The side elevations of the Bar are mainly 19th-century, including the doorways at first-floor level and a three-light rectangular window in the N.E. side lighting the second floor.

Inside, at ground level the passage walls are regularly coursed in the lower part, which is probably 12th-century work. In the S.W. wall 6 ft. 10 ins. from the ground are three worn corbels 3 ft. apart, but there are no corresponding ones in the opposite wall where there is an offset for a timber roof. There is a portcullis slot, now blocked, behind the N.W. arch.

The first-floor room is now entered by doorways in the side walls but in 1832 was reached by a spiral staircase approached through a house adjoining on the S.E. The wall walk to the S.W. was reached through a doorway in much the same position as the present one, but another doorway formerly existed to the W., where a low recess marks its site. The two windows opening into a segmental-arched recess in the N.W. wall could have been reached only when the portcullis was lowered. The portcullis is now cut into two and fixed in position; the grating, made of timbers 4 ins. by 3 ins. in section set 7 ins. apart, is now 19 ft. high and 12¼ ft. wide; it has the usual pointed ends to the upright members and a small wicket; the outer frame includes some old timbers. The floor of the room, of concrete and steel joists, is modern. The room itself is loftier since the 19th-century second floor was removed in 1969; the offset on which the floor rested is now exposed. A flight of stone steps against the S.W. wall leads to a low gallery linking the two ancient bartizans. The wall walk to the N.E. was apparently once reached from the second floor by a doorway in the N.E. wall.

The third floor was replaced in timber at the 1969–70 restoration and the space above can only be reached through a trap-door. The portcullis was operated from this level by an upright windlass and ropes, still in good condition in 1834 (fn. 65) but not now surviving. A new rope had been supplied in 1746 as part of the preparations against the Jacobite army. (fn. 66) The leaded roof, which is reached through a trap-door in the N. bartizan, formerly sloped to S.W. and N.E., not as now to N.W. and S.E.

The barbican, demolished in 1831 except for the S.W. side which remained until 1835, projected 47 ft. in front of the Bar, was 26 ft. wide and about 16 ft. high, with walls 3½ ft. thick. A wide pointed archway in the front was flanked by two crenellated bartizans, each with one tall cruciform arrow slit and resting on a cone-like corbelling. A string course formed a weather-mould over the arch and returned below the corbelling. Above the arch was a plain parapet supported on corbels and with a rectangular panel in the middle. A doorway in the S.W. wall was probably a sally-port. It is uncertain how the wall walk of the barbican was reached since there is no sign of openings through the buttresses flanking the front of the Bar, as in the other major gateways; moreover the form in 1832 of the stepped fronts of the buttresses was as it is today, making the existence of blocked passages unlikely. Thus the barbican may have been accessible only from ground level outside the main gate, as at Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire. The wall walk was narrow and projected internally on a chamfered ledge. The watch house adjoined the Bar on the S.W., and the 'Bird in Hand' public house abutted against the S.W. side of the barbican.

From Bootham Bar to Monk Bar the wall was restored in 1888–9; it was the last section so to be treated. From G. T. Clark's advice on the restoration and from detailed contemporary drawings, it appears that in 1886 the wall retained generally a plain parapet, although with some embrasures remaining walledup near Bootham Bar, a fragment of wall walk and twenty-nine old buttresses. Clark's suggestions seem to have been followed, and the present crenellated parapet, the upper part of the external facing, the wall walk, and the series of internal arches supporting it were all built in 1888–9. The external face of the wall is exposed and readily accessible along Lord Mayor's Walk but concealed by buildings in Gillygate, where it forms the rear boundary of some twenty different back yards. The internal face is mostly visible in the Deanery, New Residence, and Gray's Court gardens.

The rampart at Bootham Bar was formerly about 16 ft. high with the Norman gateway projecting externally. The greater height here may be due to additional material from the recutting of the ditch. The length of ditch along Lord Mayor's Walk is the best preserved of any on the circuit. Internally the rampart has been damaged by use as a garden feature from the 17th century onwards.


[SE60125223] Bootham Bar on site of Gateway. [GS]. (1)

The Roman NW gate, Porta Principalis extra, is situated underneath and beneath and behind the back of Bootham Bar, a fragment of walling being visible beneath the public lavatory. (2)

Bootham Bar is of 13th-14th century date with later restoration. (3)

The Bar is in good condition. It was internally restored in the 18th century and its barbican removed in 1831. See GP AO63/105/2. (4)

Built on the remains of the gateways of the Roman fortress. Some Norman work, but the superstructure is c14 and retains the portcullis. The barbican has been demolished. Listed Grade I and scheduled. (5,6)

The earliest parts of the bar, the jambs and inner order of the outer archway, date from the 11th century. The gate was also known as the Galmanlith or Galmouelid.

It was heightened in the 14th century to take a portcullis and a barbican was added. The gateway was damaged in 1644-5, after which the bartizans were added. Full architectural description, plans and elevations. The barbican extanded to 47 feet in front of the Bar, was 26 feet wide and circa 16 feet high, with walls 3.5 feet thick. A wide pointed archway at the front was flanked by bartizans. (7)

1 Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date) OS 1:1250 1961
2 An inventory of the historical monuments in the City of York. Volume I: Eburacum: Roman York 25 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England
3 A history of Yorkshire: the city of York 513 edited by P M Tillott
4 Field Investigators Comments F1 RW Emsley, 04-Jun-1963
5 List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest City of York, Jun-1983
6 Ancient monuments in England : a list prepared by the Department of the Environment, corrected to 31st December 1971 1977, 44 Department of the Environment
7 An inventory of the historical monuments in the City of York. Volume II: the defences 116-121 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England

NMR Related objects:

OP07488 Bootham Bar viewed from the west in St Leonard's Place with advertising boards and a carriage and horses to the right
OP07571 A view looking towards Bootham Bar with York Minster in the background and a crenellated wall with arch, part of the precinct walls of St Mary's Abbey, to the left of the image, from the west
OP07941 Bootham Bar, York, viewed from the west with a horse and carriage passing on the right
OP07984 Bootham Bar, York, viewed from the north-west with a girl standing on the pavement in the foreground
OP08098 A view of Bootham Bar, York from the west with two horse and carriages parked on the side of the road and York Minster visible behind

Grouting and restoration to stonework 1951. However, movement in the bar detected in late 1950s due to foundation failure. A 1969 investigation revealed that the foundations of the bar extended to no more than 2ft and were supported by damp, silty clay, probably with underlying stiff sandy clay below. Underpinning was then undertaken using small 5" diameter reinforced concrete piles to a depth of c.10m below ground level. At the same time the bar was strengthened by two stainless steel bars within the walls to form a tightened strap around the whole building at each upper floor level. (City Engineers notes within HER)

NMR, NMR data (Unassigned). SYO2214.

Sources/Archives (1)

  • --- Unassigned: NMR. NMR data.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (3)

Related Events/Activities (1)

Record last edited

Jan 31 2021 7:01PM


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