Almost all that remains of York Castle, Clifford’s Tower – perched atop its daffodil covered mound – is one of York’s most iconic sights.
Originally one of two timber towers either side of the River Ouse, it was built by William The Conqueror after his arrival in England as he sought to establish his control in the city -and across the north as a whole.
Wooden towers on the site were burnt down twice. The first fire was started by invading Danes but the second conflagration was a much more shameful episode in the city’s history. A mob had members of York’s small Jewish community trapped in the tower. Fearing they would be killed and their bodies desecrated, many decided to take their own lives – and those of their families – and the fire was started to keep their remains out of the hands of the mob.
The stone tower you can see today was built in the thirteenth century and it would later be used as a Royalist garrison in the Civil War. A seventeenth century explosion destroyed much of the tower’s interior and put paid to its military use.
In an attempt to improve the visitor experience and – perhaps more importantly – justify a higher entrance price, English Heritage plan to add a new platform inside plus some suspended metal walkways. The remodelling also includes a new visitor centre (and shop) cut into the mound on its most visible side. This external addition hasn’t gone down particularly well with locals – in fact its difficult to find anyone in favour of it – and the courts have been involved (although they have ruled in English Heritage’s favour).
Given that Clifford’s Tower is Grade I listed, it does seem rather surprising that permission was given for this development. Anyone who has had any dealings with Historic England will know how difficult it can be making changes to any kind of listed structure – however, they seem to have been one of the project’s major cheerleaders.
English Heritage Membership costs £54 and you get free entry for up to six children accompanied by an adult member. If you take the kids to York Cold War Bunker as well, it’ll almost have paid for itself in one visit to York.