The Walls vs The Civil War

In 1644 the defences of York faced the first (and only) serious siege in their long history during the English Civil War, when from 23 April to 16 July York, a Royalist city, was besieged by Parliamentarian forces.

The Defence of York

By 1644 the city was already on the defensive. The threat had begun as early as 1640, when Charles I’s policy led to the invasion of England by Scottish troops and a direct threat to the city. On 29 August it was reported that the Scots had taken Newcastle and intended to be in York within the week. On 31 August the King rode out into the city along with aldermen and citizens to mark out entrenchment positions and fortifications with spades and shovels.

During 1642 and 1643 Clifford’s Tower was strengthened and in September 1642 watch was set. One thousand six hundred men from the city were set to work repairing the walls as well as building barricades at road ends within the city. Opinion in York was not wholeheartedly Royalist, and in the early years of the war those individuals in charge of the city mainly wanted to keep out of trouble if possible. Military control of York was strategically important, however, and the presence of Royalist troops around and within the city decided the matter.

In 1644 the city was besieged by 30,000 Parliamentarians but guns had been mounted on the main gates, on Baile Hill, Clifford’s Tower and the tower of St Olave’s Church.The Parliamentarian armies were kept at bay until the arrival on 3 June of the Earl of Manchester’s Eastern Association troops with cavalry under Cromwell. They established a battery on Lamel Hill from where they bombarded Walmgate Bar and the adjoining walls.

A drawing published in 1683 also shows a great breach in the Roman wall near the Multangular Tower.On 16 June Manchester’s army blew up the cylindrical St Mary’s Tower in Bootham. After the Civil War the tower was clumsily rebuilt with thinner walls on the outside, leaving a jagged join but keeping the octagonal shape on the inside.In the end York’s fate was decided at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2 July 1644, and on 16 July the city surrendered to the Parliamentarian army.

Walmgate Bar

This gate was the subject of some of the fiercest attacks during the Siege of York in 1644. The Parliamentarians set up five guns on the nearby Lamel Hill and in St Lawrence’s churchyard. From here they were able to pound the bar and the Walmgate area.Walmgate Bar was also mined. A tunnel was built underneath the bar and filled with explosives.

This attempt was stopped by the bar’s defenders who dug a separate mine to cut off this tunnel. The city surrendered to the Parliamentarians on 16 July 1644. Walmgate Bar had been badly damaged. Work began on restoring the bar in October 1645. The effects caused by the damage were not fully repaired until 1648.

The Jacobite Rebellion

There were no further major alarms until 1745, when the Jacobite army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart invaded England and there were fears that York would be attacked.Repairs were made to the city walls, weapons collected and four companies of volunteers from within the city were recruited and armed. However, danger passed as the rebels retreated to Scotland, and were finally defeated at Culloden in 1746. For the last time the heads of rebels, William Conolly and James Mayne, were displayed on the bars in York.

Next: The Georgian Walls