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.

Reopening 2 April 2022

Following vital conservation works and exciting new improvements, Clifford’s Tower will reopen on 2 April 2022! Along with the new free standing roof deck, new internal walkways and historic stairwells, which have been out of use for centuries, help to show the historical layout of the tower and give a better understanding of the history. There is also new information which will shed light on a number of chapters in the tower’s turbulent history. New soundscapes will also bring the tower and its stories to life. Make sure to keep an eye out on our website, as tickets for Clifford’s Tower will go on sale soon.

December 2021 – Topping out

We marked the topping out of the new roof deck at Clifford’s Tower, which will provide spectacular panoramic views of York. The conservation works are now complete, so the team are turning their attention to installing the infrastructure within the tower which will provide a whole new experience for when the tower reopens in the spring.

August 2021 - Glulam Lift

Fourteen enormous structural timber frame sections and over a hundred connecting timbers, some measuring over nine meters in length, were hoisted into Clifford’s Tower by a 200 tonne mobile crane. The elements will help to support Clifford’s Tower’s new roof deck, and were fabricated off site before being transported to the tower by flatbed lorry. The roof deck will provide panoramic views of York’s skyline, and is being constructed in a way which will help to protect the towers historic stonework.

Behind the Scenes

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.

In January 2021, 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.

Our conservation phase of our project at Clifford's Tower is now nearing completion, and the team on site are working hard on the next phase of the project, delivering improvements to visitor infrastructure within the tower, including the installation of the roof deck.

Our stonemasons made great progress with their conservation of the tower’s historic limestone throughout 2021. Expert care of the chapel roof has now been completed, along with the careful conservation of the intricate plaques above the entrance, which show the coats of arms of Charles I and Henry Clifford.

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

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. Our team have repaired and repointed the tower’s historic stonework, including the walls, arrow slits and fireplaces, and undertaken works to allow visitors to climb two spiral staircases which have been inaccessible for centuries.

Specialists have also conserved the chapel roof and interior to allow the public to access it again, cleaned the stonework, replaced structural joists to support the roof and replaced 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, have also been 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 before the tower reopens.

Learn about our approach to conservation
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