Clifford's Tower, York

A New Perspective on Clifford's Tower

The fascinating story of Clifford's Tower will finally be told thanks to a major investment by English Heritage at one of York's most important heritage sites.

Our project at Clifford's Tower will do justice to both the history and the experience of visiting this national and local landmark. We also want to conserve and repair the tower to protect it for generations to come.

Latest update

In June 2020, City of York Council granted planning permission to enable conservation and improvements to visitor infrastructure at Clifford’s Tower, following our consultation which showed clear support among the people of York for the plans.

A separate Scheduled Monument Consent was granted in September 2020, allowing our team to start work on the specialist care of the tower’s historic fabric in November, with additional safety measures in place to protect those on site from COVID-19.

Our conservation project at Clifford's Tower has been making great progress, with our stonemasons continuing their conservation of the tower’s historic limestone throughout spring and summer 2021, and expert care of the chapel roof also taking place. Our team have also been undertaking careful conservation of the intricate plaques above the entrance, which show the coats of arms of Charles I and Henry Clifford.

As works continue, our social media team took a tour of the site with the project's conservation architect Martin Ashley:

In January, we invited the people of York to lend their voices to help tell the stories of Clifford's Tower for visitors when we reopen, and in February, with the tower surrounded by colourful scaffolding, our archaeologists discovered the remains of the Victorian flagpole which once soared above the site.

Though the tower will remain closed to visitors until the project is completed we will provide regular updates on the project on this page, and on our facebook page.

Visit the Clifford's Tower Facebook page

Why change Clifford's Tower?

Clifford's Tower is perched atop the mighty castle mound raised by William the Conqueror in 1068. It was the keep and chief strongpoint of York Castle, one of the greatest fortresses in medieval England. The castle served as the backdrop for events of national and international significance including, most notoriously, the attack on the Jewish community in 1190 when the Jews of York took refuge from a vicious pogrom in a wooden predecessor to Clifford's Tower and died in the most tragic circumstances.

The tower is a stunning historic building, but before our project, a visit to was far from ideal and did not reflect the site's importance, both nationally and within the city of York. By making it easier to move around the tower, removing the unsightly temporary shop and providing new interpretation to tell the tower’s fascinating story, we will ensure that visitors get more from their time within the buildling.

View the plans
An engraving of Clifford’s Tower in 1680
An engraving of Clifford’s Tower in 1680, before it was blown up in 1684
© York Museums Trust/York Art Gallery (R1852-2)

How the castle has changed throughout history

The large stone tower, which we now know as Clifford's Tower, was built in the 1250s during the reign of King Henry III.

For much of the 14th and 15th centuries, Clifford's Tower was used as treasury, exchequer, mint, gaol and seat of royal power. During the Civil War (1642-9), Clifford's Tower was held by the royalists while the city was under siege.

In 1684 the tower was reduced to a shell after a fire. Eventually, most of the castle buildings were swept away when a new prison and court were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, leaving Clifford's Tower as the principal surviving remnant of the York Castle.

The arms of Henry Clifford on the forebuilding at Clifford's Tower. Clifford was one of the constables of York Castle in the 17th century
The arms of Henry Clifford on the forebuilding. Clifford was one of the constables of York Castle in the 17th century

What conservation work is taking place?

Exposed to the elements for more than 300 years, the historic fabric of the tower needs specialist care. We will repair and repoint the tower’s historic stonework, including the walls, arrow slits and fireplaces, and undertake works to allow visitors to climb two spiral staircases which have been inaccessible for centuries.

Specialists will also conserve the chapel roof and interior to allow the public to access it again, cleaning the stonework, replacing structural joists to support the roof and replacing tiles to make it water-tight. The intricate plaques above the entrance door, which show the coats of arms of Charles I and Henry Clifford, will also be repaired and conserved.

As part of the major conservation works at Clifford’s Tower, the memorial plaque to commemorate the massacre of the Jewish community in 1190 has been removed for conservation. The memorial plaque will be reinstated later in the year and we will provide an update on the progress of this as the work gets underway.

Learn about our approach to conservation
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