Wall Trail Section 8

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The Trail: Section 8.  Walmgate Bar to Fishergate Postern

Trail map 5

Map 5 – the South Corner, Walmgate Bar to Micklegate Bar

The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: basics
The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: details
The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: views
The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: off-trail extra:  1. Fishergate Bar
The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: off-trail extra:  2. Fishergate Postern Tower
The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: stories: Plague

The Trail 8:  South Corner, part 1: basics [ see map 5 ] 

Looking back from Walmgate Bar steps up to this section. (AF)

Part one of this corner starts with the steps going up to the Walls at the south side of Walmgate Bar and ends where the Walls end at Fishergate Postern Tower.

The first interval tower has excellent views, a bench and broad, low embrasures you can sit in. Looking back there’s the Walls, the bar with its barbican and, further away and to the left, there’s a brick side of the low, rebuilt tower of St Margaret’s church tower, Victorian Rowntree Wharf with its brick tower -and the Minster [more details are in “views” below]. The Walls in this part have no railings but are generally very low on the inside.

City side view of Fishergate Bar – through way for pedestrians and cyclists only. (AF)

You are forced off the Walls to cross a little road at Fishergate Bar. This bar was so badly damaged in an attack in 1489 that it was left bricked up for 340 years, some stones in the archway are scorched pink, probably from when the bar was torched in this attack [there are details in this part’s off-trail extra].

Back on the Walls you soon turn right at a rectangular corner tower, at this corner there is an interesting view ahead [and a bench]. You see Fishergate Postern Tower, it’s guarding a small entrance at the end of this bit of wall-walk. It was also guarding the dam on the River Foss, this dam was where the dual carriageway road now turns left and crosses the river. The dam was to flood the castle’s moats, the moats have been filled in but from here you can see what remains of the castle wall and, half-hidden behind it, Clifford’s Tower which was the castle’s keep. Between the keep and the castle wall is the 1705 prison, now part of the Castle Museum. Some say the new pub/hotel in the middle of this view has spoilt it but architects have tried hard to make the building fit in.

A modern pub echoes the old towers around it at Fishergate Postern [AF]

This part of trail ends with the small, late medieval gateway that’s to your left as you get to the bottom of the steps at Fishergate Postern Tower. This is the only postern gate left in the Walls because, when they were no longer thought of as conveniently easy to block up for defence, these small gates were seen as inconveniently blocking traffic.

FPT drawing SM
Fishergate Postern beside its protective tower. (SM)

The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: details

The wall-walk has just simple battlements for a while then musket loops probably made for the Civil War. They are currently of a height useful to a kneeling soldier. This length of the Walls is one of the few for which there are details of the medieval contract to build it: it was relatively late, in 1345, that the corporation agreed the contract. As well as money, the builder was to receive a robe each year and could keep anything of value he found when digging the foundations.
The outward then sharply inward change of direction of the Walls at the rectangular corner tower was probably to help defend the dam across the Foss. If the dam had been broken by attackers this would have drained the defensive moats in this area [one of the few areas where we are sure the Walls had water in their moat] –and eventually would have drained much of the water from the marshy lake that was used for defence further upstream.

The Walls going towards Fishergate Postern Tower. (DP)

As you approach Fishergate Postern Tower, which was built to replace an earlier tower in about 1500, look how the window just below its roof has been made out of an embrasure in the battlements that were once there. This adaptation is much clearer from the outer side of the tower [on your left] where there are three ex-embrasures and a single slit window; the small postern gate you are coming to could be defended by fire from these battlements, the slit window and the Walls. As you go through the postern gateway you can see it had a portcullis [from the deep grooves on both sides of the gateway] as well as a hinged door. There is an information board here about the tower.  It is just possible that this interesting tower will be open to visitors when you get to it as the Friends of York Walls open it with free entry about 20 days a year, private openings can also be arranged [for details on tower and its opening see ‘off-trail extra 2: Fishergate Postern Tower’, below]

The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: views

From the first interval tower: the basics of the views here are given in “basics” but, closer than the Minster, you can also see other medieval church towers –for example the lantern tower of All Saints, Pavement and, much closer and amongst houses, St Denys.

Looking outside the Walls there’s a neat, red brick, early Victorian flax factory [now flats], trees and buildings behind and to its right suggest the rising ground of Lamel Hill where cannon were based to fire on York during the Civil War. Close behind the factory there is the Victorian spire of a church on another site where there were cannon.
Below you and to the right you see wide roads, a fairly gently sloped rampart and a building site/new build –there was room for this because for most of the last two centuries this area was a large cattle market.

As you leave the tower and walk on towards Fishergate Bar there are good views of the Walls in front of you

Approaching Fishergate Bar on the wall-walk. (AF)

From Fishergate Bar: Look towards the city, past the Phoenix pub [not named for the bar, reborn from the fires of 1489, but for an iron foundry that was once close], about 100 metres away there’s the end of a Victorian church on the right of the road and, opposite it, on the left of the road, an older churchyard –this is where Dick Turpin, highwayman and folk hero is buried.

The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: off-trail extra: 1. Fishergate Bar

When you get to the pavement at Fishergate Bar turn left, watch out for passing bikes and go to the inner part of the main archway. Notice the reddened and cracked stones there [most obviously on the left, 3-4 courses of stone from the ground, just before the archway itself]. Some magnesian limestone seems to react this way to extreme heat and it is thought this stone experienced that heat when the bar was burned down in 1489.  The bar had probably been rebuilt only 50 years earlier and at that time was a major gateway into the city. A little further on you can see the deep grooves its portcullis would have slid in.

Go further still and look back at the outside of the arch, there is carving above the arch to commemorate repairs to the Walls you have just walked along, repairs completed at the expense of Lord Mayor William Todd in 1487 [an attack on Bootham Bar was defeated in the same year and the Mayor was knighted as a result].

Plaque at Fishergate Bar tells of a 1487 “mayre” and 60 “yadys” of “wal”. (SM)

 Both attacks were essentially against the rule of Henry VII, the attack that destroyed this bar started as a protest against a new tax he was imposing. The corporation decided to save money on repairs and on paying someone to man the bar by simply bricking up the gateway.

The foot tunnels you can see on either side of the main gateway are probably late medieval and can remind us of when some other gates into York were once short tunnels through the earth ramparts; it was in late Georgian and Victorian times that the ramparts were cut back from the sides of the bars and extra stone arches built for vehicles or pedestrians or both.

Simple mason’s mark in a foot tunnel at Fishergate Bar. (SM)


It is possible to spot masons’ marks in both tunnels, for example if you go back into the walled city through the right hand tunnel you can find a three-line arrow head on your right; it is on the stone that is four in and four up [and also on the stone that is above and to the left of this stone]. The shaping of this stone [and others] with a claw chisel is also still clear in these tunnels where there has been little weathering of stones probably cut almost 600 years ago.

The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: off-trail extra: 2. Fishergate Postern Tower

The tower is open for free entry on about 20 days a year (see  HERE  for details) and private opening can also be arranged with Friends of York Walls – email friendsofyorkwalls@gmail.com .  The Friends plan to open the tower on a more regular basis and are trying to raise funds with a “Sponsor a Stone” scheme.   See details HERE. From outside the tower you can see the business part of its Tudor toilet sticking out over what is now pavement but was once a wide river, or slopes down it.   Inside you can climb the tower’s narrow spiral staircase to its 3 upper floors.

Narrow spiral staircase inside Fishergate Postern Tower. (AF)


The narrow, 500 year old stairs twist to the right as you go up, making it difficult for a right-handed attacker to use a sword [or any weapon] as effectively as a defender facing him from above. It takes you up to the first floor room which has a small twisted corridor off it leading to the garderobe, it seems that human waste from this used to drop straight into the River Foss which was much broader when the tower was built. The river had been made very broad by the building of a dam across it in the time of William the Conqueror, the dam raised the level of the river so it flooded the land between the tower and the castle and also flooded the moat around the other sides of the castle.   Now the modern road called Piccadilly and the Postern Gate pub lie between the tower and the river.

You can see the modern lie of the land if you continue up the spiral staircase to the top floor [look out for masons’ marks on your way] and look through the windows which were the open embrasures of battlements for the first few years of this tower’s life.

Modern woodworkers have admired the individual, on site, crafting of the roof beams beside and above you on this floor.   Some of the beams show signs of being re-used from the walls of a timber framed house so they may be older than the tower itself, though when the roof was added to the tower is a mystery. The tower has a long history of being lived in and the roof must have made the top floor much more useful to residents.

Roof beams visible inside top floor of Fishergate Postern Tower. (AF)

You can see a Virtual Tour of the inside of the tower via the link   HERE

Records for 1501/2 say the Mayor and Corporation of York ordered that a “Substantial Postern” be made in this neighbourhood. It is thought that the present tower was built then, replacing an earlier postern tower on this site. Postern towers guard small gateways [’posterns’]; any gateway here had just become more important because a larger gateway just round the corner at Fishergate Bar had been blocked up after suffering a lot of damage when it was attacked in 1489 [see the previous off trail extra, ‘Fishergate Bar’].

The Friends of York Walls provide guides to the tower and displays on an archaeological dig at the tower, the History of the Walls etc..

The Trail 8: South Corner, part 1: stories: Plague

The Walls were built to defend York from highly visible enemies but the corporation also tried to use them as a defence against a deadly enemy that could not be seen except through the damage it did. In the Middle Ages people did not understand the causes of the illnesses that suddenly spread through the population, in fact even 300 years after medieval times, the people of mid-Victorian England still had epidemics of killer diseases they didn’t understand, there was still talk then of “bad air” –and at that time some thought it would be healthier to get rid of the Walls to improve the flow of air into the city. But in medieval times and for two hundred year afterwards, the corporation tried to use the Walls to keep out the people and the goods they thought might be carrying a plague.

If there was known to be plague in the country the keepers of the bars and posterns were reinforced and instructed to keep out goods [especially cloth] and people that had come from places known to have the disease. People who were likely to have wandered through many places and who had no clear business in the city were to be kept out –including, rather sadly, “women who pretend that they are the wives of soldiers”.

People from places with the plague were barred from the city but might be let in illegally at night – this is Fishergate Bar, bricked up by the time of the later plagues. (SM)


There are records of people being punished for helping tradesmen climb over the Walls with their goods, or for making arrangements to let people through the gates by night. Perhaps because the rules were broken, national plagues usually got into York; in the 1604 plague York lost almost a third of its population. Possibly because of this experience, when plague returned to the country in 1631 the Lord President of the Council of the North [based at the King’s Manor, just outside the Walls] took control of the city’s defences. Posterns [like Fishergate Postern] were kept locked and the walls were patrolled, at Walmgate Bar milkmaids handed their cows over to a herdsman who took them to the common pastures to graze, then brought them back to the city for milking. Plague still got into the city but the death rate was not so high; if plague could be kept out for a while this was useful as plagues tended to die out when winter came.

In 1631 the first victims in the city were taken to special “pest-houses” built in the fields outside the Walls –people who got ill outside the Walls were imprisoned in their own homes. A watchman was put outside their homes, there were soon 4 watchmen on the road leading from Walmgate Bar. A saying about plagues was “the rich fly, the poor die” and there are records showing that during some plagues the corporation found it difficult to continue to govern the city because so few of the city elite actually stayed in the city. The Lord President seems to have stayed at his post, living just outside the walled city where the plague seems to have been worse. Both his wife and youngest son died during the epidemic. His coat of arms is carved on a building he added to the King’s Manor [see part13: off-trail extras 5], he was Thomas Wentworth, the last Lord President of the Council of the North.

The Walls at Fishergate Postern Tower in springtime. (AF)



Wall Trail:     –       map 1

Wall Trail: Introduction

Wall Trail: Overview

PREVIOUS SECTION   = The Trail:  Section 7. Walmgate Bar

Wall Trail:     –      map 5

NEXT SECTION                = The Trail:  Section 9.South Corner, part2

Wall Trail: Appendix

Walls Trail: History & Time Line                                 [map 2]

Walls Trail: Glossary, Maps & Credits

Walls Trail: Contents & Links


Friends of York Walls at FPT – Sponsor a Stone Scheme

Link to document –  History of Fishergate Postern Tower and surrounding area


AF / SM Text    UPDATED     11th Sept 2022
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Any comments, errors/corrections, etc.  to   walks@yorkwalls.org.uk


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