Monument record MYO4228 - York City Walls (Walmgate Bar)


Walmgate Bar is first documented in the mid 12th century although the present structure is mid-14th century. It is the only York town gate retaining its barbican. Partly restored in the 17th and 19th centuries, and renovated in 1959.


Grid reference Centred SE 6107 5140 (26m by 27m)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire
Civil Parish York, City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (13)

Full Description

Walmgate Bar (Pl. 46, 47; Figs. pp. 144–8) consists of a passageway with arches at each end and a rectangular gatehouse of two storeys above. There are bartizans at the angles towards Lawrence Street, and at the rear is a timber-framed projection supported on two stone columns. The barbican, portcullis and wooden inner doors still remain. The Bar is built of magnesian limestone and was heavily restored in 1645–8. Its upper floors are used as a bookshop.

Walmgate Bar is first mentioned in the mid 12th century. (fn. 13) The earliest surviving masonry, the inner arch of the main gate, is of this date. Some of the first-floor walling faced externally with small ashlar above the gate passage may date from the 13th century. The completion of the façade and the addition of the barbican took place in the 14th century. Tolls collected at Walmgate Bar are mentioned in 1280, (fn. 14) and a rent of 10s. per annum for the house over the Bar occurs in 1376. (fn. 15) In 1469 the head and banner of Robert Hillyard (Hob of Holderness) were displayed above the gate. The Bar was burned by the rebels in 1489, (fn. 16) but nothing is known of the extent of the damage. In 1511 guns were delivered for this Bar and for the Red Tower, namely, three serpentines and a murdor with 11 chambers. (fn. 17)

In 1584–6 Walmgate Bar was repaired and new decorations were made; the timber-framed rear projection was no doubt added on this occasion. William Arkendale was paid 1s. for 'one prynt of wood of a lyon'; George Styddye received 15s. 'for cuttinge the Queenes Armes . . . and for wood to the same'; Edward Wilson painted these royal arms, two city arms, and the wall for 32s. There were also three iron 'faynes' (weathervanes) to be painted and set up. Two windows, two casements, and 46½ ft. of glass were used. The total cost was £15 5s. (fn. 18) In 1603 the portcullis was repaired, (fn. 19) in 1631 and 1635 the iron gates needed repair, (fn. 20) and the glass windows and leads required frequent attention.

The fiercest attacks of the siege of 1644 were directed against this Bar, which was bombarded at first by cannon on Lamel Hill and in St. Lawrence's churchyard. Later the enemy 'plants 2 peices in ye street against ye barr, another at ye Dovecoat wthin a stones cast of ye barr; then he works under ground close to ye barr, and makes his mines in two severall places'. (fn. 21) On 8 June the Scottish detachment under Sir James Lumsden 'breakes the port, fires the punchoons filled with earth, and breakes some of the iron gate within'. (fn. 22) This iron gate was no doubt in the barbican arch. Soon the besiegers 'had beaten down ye top of ye barr as low as ye gate which we had barricaded up with earth and besides had made a travers against it'. (fn. 23) Sir Thomas Glemham, the Governor of York, combated one mine, which had penetrated to the middle of the Bar, but was betrayed by a prisoner, 'by Mynding above them, and powring water in upon them. He also caused a new Wall of Earth to be made crosse the Street, a good distance within the Gate.' (fn. 24)

The Bar was restored between 1644 and 1648. Some work was done there in 1644 at a cost of £6 13s. 8d. (fn. 25) and later 'iron that came of Walmgate Barr' is mentioned. (fn. 26) In October 1645 two aldermen 'are desired to sett on workemen presently, to take upp the stones which are throwne into the mine at Walmegate barr and cawse the same to be preserved and laid upp for the citties use and order that the mine be fild up with earthe and that the barr stead and cawsey theirabouts where nede is be paved'. (fn. 27) In April 1646 'great decayes and breaches in Walmegate Barr' and other buildings still remained, 'the repaireinge whereof will require a greater some then at present can well be rased in this cittie'. (fn. 28) The date 1648 on the barbican no doubt indicates the year when the restoration was completed, made possible by the Parliamentary grant of £5,000. A watch house built at this time and removed in 1840 stood on the N.E. side of Walmgate immediately within the Bar. It was a low building of brick on stone footings with a Dutch gable at the N.W. end and a central stone porch. (fn. 29)

In 1712 the Bar was again repaired (fn. 30) and minor work was needed there almost annually. John Browne, the artist and historian of York Minster, was born in the Bar in 1793. An enquiry was made in 1797 to see if footways should be constructed and consequently one was made to the N.E. in 1804. (fn. 31) The side walls of the barbican, particularly on the N., became gradually more ruinous after 1810, as several views show, but a recommendation by the Estates Committee of February 1831 to demolish the barbican was not carried out. (fn. 32) In 1836 unexploded Civil War mortar shells were found in constructing a drain near by. (fn. 33) Both Bar and barbican were thoroughly restored by the Corporation in 1840 with the £500 paid by the Great North of England Railway Company for rights at North Street Postern. (fn. 34) Threats by the Board of Health Committee in 1855 and 1859 to demolish the barbican as well as the city wall to the N. were averted. Another side archway had been made on the S.W. in 1840–1 and the N.E. passage was replaced in 1862 by a much larger archway for vehicles. Further restoration took place in 1953 and 1960.

¶Architectural Description. Towards Lawrence Street (Pl. 46) the outer archway is round-headed with continuously chamfered voussoirs and jambs. As on the other bars it is flanked by buttress-like extensions of the side walls with three chamfered setbacks but here largely concealed by the side walls of the barbican. The wall above the arch is of plain small ashlar blocks in regular courses, only relieved by a rectangular slate panel in a moulded frame bearing the inscription, now picked out in gold on a red background, 'This Bar and Barbacan [sic] / restored by the Corporation / of York / A.D. 1840. / Sir William Stephenson Clark Knight / LORD MAYOR'. The square-headed doorways in the flanking buttresses still serve their original function and lead to the barbican parapet walk, although when the barbican was in ruins from 1810 to 1840 they were apparently blocked.At second-floor level there is a chamfered corbel course above which the façade, rebuilt after the Civil War, is of much larger blocks. In the centre above the corbel course is a reset shield carved and painted with the royal arms of England, as used between 1405 and 1603, set in a rectangular frame with a cyma reversa moulding. This is flanked on each side by a small rectangular window. The plain parapet rises above a string course. The bartizans are each supported on five corbels and have one small rectangular window above the roof level of the main gatehouse and five tall merlons. Alleged bullet holes, mainly visible on the N. bartizan, seem generally to be natural, though some on reused blocks might be actual.

In the façade to Walmgate (Pl. 47) the stonework of the round-headed archway, also chamfered but with rectangular imposts, has been much renewed. It is flanked by two extensions of the side walls. These rise vertically from chamfered plinths at the base to a level half-way between the second floor and the roof where they are carried forward on double corbels. Much of the stonework on this side of the gatehouse is concealed by the projecting timber-framed extension, probably of 1584–6, but there is no sign that there has ever been a stone rear wall or arch at the upper levels, and the mediaeval façade may likewise have been timber-framed (Pl. opp. p. 149).

The upper storeys of the 16th-century extension are supported on two stone Roman-Doric columns with pronounced entasis on high square pedestal-bases. The timber entablature, with a plain architrave, four fascie and a moulded cornice, breaks forward over the columns. The first-floor window, of six lights with timber mullions and transom, has a frame projecting slightly beyond the plaster face. Two timber Doric columns support an entablature at the level of the window head. Before 1840 a small rectangular window was visible to the left of the large window. The entablature breaks forward over the columns and window, and still further over the central mullion. The frieze and architrave are plain except for triglyphs and guttae punctuating the three major projections. The second floor is similar, but with a five-light window and Ionic columns and entablature. The entablature again breaks forward above the columns and window but there is no corresponding central emphasis. A wooden balustrade to the roof, with turned balusters and square centre and corner posts surmounted by tall pyramidal terminals, was restored in 1840 to resemble that formerly existing at Micklegate Bar, and was renewed in 1972.

¶The fairly regular coursing of the side elevations of the Bar breaks down next to the bartizans and to the right of a blocked shoulder-headed doorway at first-floor level on the N. side. The only openings are, on the S., two arrow slits of modern appearance, a window probably formed from an original slit, and a shoulderheaded doorway to the wallwalk and, on the N., one arrow slit; also on the N. a garderobe projects over a corbel course. There is an old stone spout at roof level on the N., from which falls a modern drainpipe, and a similar spout formerly existed on the S. A rectangular chimney-stack with several chamfered offsets formerly projected from the N. wall. There are setbacks to both walls, at first-floor level on the S. and about 5 ft. from the ground on the N.
Inside, a portcullis slot separates the outer round-headed archway on the E. from a slightly lower round-headed, mid 12th-century archway with chamfered voussoirs and chamfered impost blocks, but of which only the S. jambs look original. The jambs are not consistently chamfered, unlike those to the E. archway. The restored archway nearest Walmgate is similar again, but with rectangular impost blocks. Above the passage closely spaced joists support a stone-flagged floor. The 15th-century wooden doors (Fig. above), which open westward against the side walls, are of oak boards 1¾ ins. thick strengthened with muntins of equal thickness to form five vertical panels within a frame on each outer face. Each door hangs on three iron hooks. In the N. door is a wicket 1¾ ft. wide and 4½ ft. high below a segmental-arched lintel.

The first floor is reached through a shoulder-headed doorway from the wallwalk to the S. It is lit by the large window in the rear wall and by a widened slit with a rounded oillet set in a deep recess in the S. wall. There are the remains of a blocked fireplace in the N. wall and to the right of them a corbel projecting in two planes supports a beam. On the E. the portcullis hangs against a plain wall. At the opposite end of the room the timber framing is exposed. The floor is mainly of stone slabs and the joists of the floor above, supported on three cross beams, are exposed. The passages to the barbican are angled.

¶The second floor is reached by a modern wooden stairway in two flights set in the S.W. angle. It is lit by the two windows in the front wall and one in the rear wall and by cruciform arrow slits in deep recesses and now glazed, two to the S., and one to the N. There is a brick-lined fireplace in the N. wall. The S. support for the portcullis windlass remains and the portcullis itself projects above the floor. It is 13½ ft. wide and 12½ ft. high overall, made of eleven upright and ten cross timbers 1 ft. apart. A deep ridge beam carries the ceiling joists, which slope slightly down to the side walls. The wall plate has been replaced by two brick courses.

The S. bartizan contains a spiral staircase to the low-pitched leaded roof but the N. bartizan is accessible only from the roof.

NMR Information:

[SE61085140] Walmgate Bar [GT]. (1)

Walmgate Bar is first documented in the mid 12th century, but the present structure is substantially of the 14th century, although the earliest part may date to 1215. (2)

Walmgate is the only bar retaining a barbican. It was partially restored in the 17th century and was last renovated in 1959 (a). (3)

Walmgate Bar and barbican C14 incorporating mid C12 gate, house added c1585, repaired 1645-48, restorations 1840 and later. House on Walmgate Bar timber-framed with plastered infill: Bar has lead roof. 3-storey gate and gatehouse with 1-storey barbican. Barbican has moulded plinth, weathered angle buttresses, moulded corbel course to embattled parapet and corbelled-out bartizans. Archway is chamfered and 2-centred with moulded imposts. Parapet has central painted and carved City of York arms in moulded and pedimented surround, over defaced datestone originally dated AD.1684. Returns have embattled parapets over hollow chamfered corbel courses. Gatehouse front within barbican has chamfered round arch with inscribed slate panel recording 1840 restoration above. Upper storey between embattled bartizans joined by plain parapet has reset painted and carved Royal Arms in moulded surround flanked by 1-light windows. Square-headed doorways open to barbican walkways. Moulded strings beneath upper storey and parapet.

Gatehouse front to Walmgate: chamfered round arch on imposts closed by massive wooden gates with wicket. Upper storeys obscured by extension raised on Doric columns on tall pedestals, carrying entablature with moulded cornice. First and second floors flanked by tiered columns, Doric on first floor with triglyph frieze blocks and moulded cornice, Ionic on second floor beneath entablature with enriched cornice. First floor window of 6 mullioned and transomed lights with triglyph keyblock on first floor, on second floor similar 5-light window. Balustraded parapet with turned balusters and square newels surmounted by obelisk finials. Access to gatehouse through shouldered doorway on first floor of right return. Listed Grade I. (4)

History and architectural description, including elevations and plans. (5)

1 Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date) OS 1:1250, 1962
2 A history of Yorkshire: the city of York 513 edited by P M Tillott
3 Field Investigators Comments F1 RW Emsley 30-May-1963
4 List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest City of York, 14-Mar-1997
5 An inventory of the historical monuments in the City of York. Volume II: the defences 142-151 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England

RCHME, 1981, City of York Volume V: The Central Area (Monograph). SYO65.

Sources/Archives (1)

  • --- Monograph: RCHME. 1981. City of York Volume V: The Central Area.

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (6)

Related Events/Activities (8)

Record last edited

Feb 5 2021 1:47PM


Your feedback is welcome; if you can provide any new information about this record, please contact the City Archaeologist.