Monk Bar is one of four major fortified gateways on York’s city walls. It was built in several stages, beginning in the early 14th century, when the threat from a hostile Scotland was particularly great. Its top storey was added in 1484 during the reign of Richard III.
When first built, Monk Bar had state-of-the-art defensive features. It had a gated barbican, a roofless walled enclosure to guard the approach to the main gateway. The main gateway itself contained a portcullis, which remains in place to this day, along with the machinery needed to operate it. A series of ‘murder holes’ overhead allowed missiles to be dropped onto any attackers drawing too close.
There are projecting ‘bartizan’ towers at each of the bar’s front two corners. These are crenellated, as is an outer gallery at third-floor level. These features, together with gunports and many arrow slits, were designed to allow the bar’s defenders to engage attackers with projectile weapons. In the event of attackers breaking into the bar, they would have found each floor individually defensible: the staircase is not continuous, so they would have had to cross each guard room to reach the next flight.
As well as being part of the city’s defences, Monk Bar has also been used as a temporary prison and a police house. It retains two of its medieval toilets (known as ‘garderobes’). The figures on top of the bar represent men hurling boulders.
Monk Bar Today
The Bar now plays host to the Richard III Experience, exploring the history of the last Plantagenet King of England and the legacy he has left on York.