Although Micklegate Bar is not on the site of the Roman gate from the colonia and excavations have shown that the Roman road runs a little to the south-west of it, the bar does incorporate re-used Roman stone and sarcophagi in the outer archway and side walls. Later Viking influence is suggested by its name which is from the Old Norse mykla gata meaning ‘great street’.
The bar is first documented (as Micklelith) in the reign of Henry II (1154–89) and records indicate that in c.1196 a licence was granted to build a house over the gate. The outer façade gained its current appearance in c.1350–75 when it was heightened to house a portcullis and the barbican was added.
During the Northern Rebellion of 1569, the Earl of Westmorland, who was leading the rebel forces, is supposed to have said that Micklegate Bar was the strongest bar, flanked by the strongest and highest wall, and that, therefore, an assault on it would be unwise.
Despite some rebuilding in 1716 and 1737 the bar is still three storeys high. The barbican which originally projected fifty feet (15.24m) beyond the gateway was demolished in 1826, following its partial collapse in 1810 when it was reported that ‘such parts thereof as are in a decayed ruinous and dangerous state to be immediately taken down’.
Two of the shields on the outer wall depict the arms of the City of York and a third bears the royal arms. All date to c.1370–75 and are probably the earliest surviving examples of the city’s arms.
The three statues set on top of the bar are modern replacements of earlier statues, carved by R. Ridley in 1950. The original statues are first mentioned in 1603 when one was added or replaced and the rest painted for the forthcoming visit of James I, indicating that they existed before this time.
Micklegate Bar Today
The Bar is the royal gateway to the city, welcoming Monarchs for centuries. The most recent royal visitor came through Micklegate Bar in 2012 when HM Queen Elizabeth II visited York as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Micklegate Bar will be focusing on its royal connections with opening of Henry VII Experience, where you will be able to discover the impact the first Tudor monarch had on the city.