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Clifford's Tower

Visited September 2019

Location York, Yorkshire
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby Yes- York
Parking Yes
Facilities Gift Shop


Clifford's Tower is the remaining part of York Castle, and due to its very high motte it can be seen for miles around.






York Castle was built by William the Conqueror in the late 1060s, as his northern power base. He built a second motte called Baile Hill across the river from this one, this also survives today but has been incorporated into York Town Walls. During the mid 1200s the keep was re-built in stone in a four-lobed shape now known as Clifford's Tower. It was given this name as Lord Roger de Clifford, a constable of the castle, rebelled against King Edward II and was executed in 1322. His body was then hung from the tower walls which subsequently took on his name. Tough way to ensure your name lives on!


Another notorious event at the castle happened in 1190, when the Jewish residents of York took refuge in the castle to avoid persecution. The castle was then surrounded by angry mobs trying to get in. The Jews held the castle for a few days before realising they had no means of escape so burned the tower down and killed themselves.


It is thought that as many as 150 people died in this episode, but some sources have put the death toll as even higher. It is clear though that is was a very low point  in the history of York, and there is a plaque in memory to those that lost their lives at the castle. 







What remains today of the great castle of York is the motte with Clifford's Tower on the top, and a few scant pieces of the curtain wall with two remaining towers to the south. In between these two towers there would have been a gate with a drawbridge, this was demolished in the 1730s but the position of it can still be made out in the wall. The inner bailey of the castle is now the site of the present day Castle Museum, which was formerly the prison. There is also the Assize Court in the bailey- both these buildings are from the 18th century.





Clifford's Tower is empty and roofless today. There are no floors, just an open space inside. The fore building has a chapel inside it, but this was not open the day we visited. The wall walk is complete and there are extensive views of York from above. A visit to Clifford's Tower does not take long, but there are some children's dressing up & toys available, as well as a large book on castles for the kids to look at. There is a gift shop which is housed in a cabin inside the shell of the tower. It is the sort of castle that does not take long to visit but at the same time is an absolute must-do attraction in York.


Once you have been inside the Tower  and are back at pavement level take a walk all around the outside perimeter -here you can see a large crack in the masonry. The castle has been dogged with subsidence since the 14th century- mainly caused by the flooding from the nearby River Foss which fed the moat.


There are many other attractions in York to make a full day or even weekend trip.  Our reviews of York Town Walls , St Mary's Abbey, and Eboracum Roman Fort should give you some ideas, but don't forget the fabulous York Minster when you visit.





More info:  English Heritage Clifford's Tower

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