Skip to main content
Clifford's Tower on a sunny day

The restoration of York Castle: A towering achievement

Clifford's Tower | Image: Shutterstock

York Castle’s iconic Clifford’s Tower has reopened after an extensive English Heritage conservation project worth approximately £5 million.

The refurbishment will allow visitors to explore new areas of one of the city’s most famous landmarks, thanks to a series of new walkways, staircases, and a picturesque roof deck. The inside of the royal chapel is now accessible to the public for the first time, as well as Henry III’s toilet. Other conservation work has been carried out around the site to fix, upgrade and protect damaged stonework.

Clifford’s Tower: A jewel of Northern England restored

Clifford’s Tower was rebuilt with stone in the 1250s as the keep for the rest of York Castle. It replaced an older wooden structure that was built almost two centuries earlier by William the Conqueror. King Henry III oversaw its build and, as a lover of luxury, made sure that it was more than comfortable enough for him to live.

Throughout the Scottish wars in the early 14th century, York Castle and Clifford’s Tower played a pivotal role as the centre of royal administrations and a leading military base. However, the rest of its history is sadly not as regal, as for the following few hundred years it was mainly used as a jail for political prisoners.

There was a brief period of restoration and fortification at the beginning of the English Civil War, eventually lending a helping hand to the Royalist defence of York in 1644. However, it has laid empty since 1684 when an explosion and resulting fire, caused by stored gunpowder, completely destroyed its interior.

It is now a Grade-I listed building and has been described as one of the most important buildings in the country.

Despite its historical significance as the lasting remnants of the imperial York Castle, Clifford’s Tower has reportedly left visitors underwhelmed in recent years. The empty, open courtyard and narrow walkways meant the history, character, and stunning views of the city were hard to appreciate.

It’s hoped that with the latest developments and new interactive elements, Clifford’s Tower can be the royal jewel of North England it once was.

5 facts about Clifford’s Tower

1. William the Conqueror originally built the two motte-and-bailey castles in York in 1068. The mound of Clifford's Tower is all that remains of his original castle.

2. The tower is the site of one of the worst anti-Semitic massacres of the Middle Ages that occurred in 1190 city’s when the city's entire Jewish community was trapped by an angry mob inside the tower of York Castle.

3. In 1537 Robert Aske, leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace revolt against Henry VIII was hanged in chains, allegedly from the tower walls.

4. Much of York Castle's stonework was replaced in the 18th century, leaving little surviving from the medieval era apart from Clifford's Tower.

5. From the 1820s, the York Castle area was turned into a prison with high walls built around the base of the mound.

To find out more about the history of York, check out Britain’s Most Historic Towns on History PLAY where Professor Alice Roberts investigates the city’s ancient past.