Wall Trail Section 12

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The Trail: Section 12.  Micklegate Bar to the river Ouse

Trail map 6

 Map 6 – the West Corner, Micklegate Bar to Bootham Bar

The Trail 12: West Corner, part 1: basics
The Trail 12: West Corner, part 1: details
The Trail 12: West Corner, part 1: views
The Trail 12: West Corner, part 1: off-trail extras: Café
The Trail 12: West Corner, part 1: stories: The Railway King

The Trail 12:  West Corner, part 1: basics [ see map6 ] 

Steps up to this wall-walk section at Micklegate Bar. (AF)

This corner can begin with the steps on either side of the road on the city side of Micklegate Bar; you turn right at the top of the steps. In this part of the Walls railways have had a big effect and the later views are the most interesting thing to experience [possibly along with some fear of heights if you are quite vulnerable to this].

The outer ramparts before the corner tower probably have the most varied wild flowers of anywhere on the ramparts. At the corner tower [it has a bench] the view out of the city gives you an idea of how much it has expanded in the last two centuries and reminds you that railways were the major cause of this expansion in Victorian times. Inside the Walls you see modern buildings some think are too big and too close to the Walls, they are next to great arched holes in the Walls, holes that were created to let trains steam into York in the 1840s.

Looking towards The Minster along the wall-walk. (AF)

As you walk further the view improves. Outside the Walls you have the later Victorian station and the hotel built next to it but much better is the view that develops and changes in front of you and inside the Walls till the end of this part of the trail. You see the Walls arching over two roads [built to give city people access to the later station], these lead the eye to Lendal Tower and then to the Minster, with the half-spire of St Wilfrid’s to the left of the Minster. Closest to you on the right is the light coloured mix of buildings that make up the new council offices [these include the 1840s railway station]. Beyond these is the elaborate 1906 railway office building [now a hotel]. The contrasting, simple, white memorial is to the war dead of the railways. From the top of the last 2 arches you can see, on the near bank of the river, the conical top of tiny Barker Tower [medieval with a café] and to the right [and just a little more noticeable!] the Aviva building, also on the river bank, also in local magnesian limestone and thought to be the best wholly modern building in central York.

The Trail 12: West Corner, part 1: details

Wall-walk looking back towards the corner tower – Tofts Tower. (AF)

There is an information board -and one of the metal maps for rubbing [see “Information Boards” section] at the foot of the steps that are on the right as you look at Micklegate Bar from the city side, they deal with this part of the trail as well as with the bar. There is another pair of boards on the parapet by the very last bit of the wall-walk on this trail.

The corner tower was rebuilt after being “shot down” by cannon fire from the Scots army in the Civil War siege. Almost 100 metres after the tower there is a stone sign set in the paving of the wall-walk, it rather neatly suggests that ahead of you and to the right is the old railway station [now hidden from here behind new building in 2020] and that an old signal box is in the opposite direction. You can see a very small old railway building, if you lean over the battlements to look at where the ramparts have been dug away completely. Some railwaymen today say it’s unlikely that this was ever a signal box as it only has good windows on two sides of it but others say it controlled traffic going under the Walls into and out of the old station.

Shadowy signal box (?) where railways once ran through the Walls. (SM)

After another 100 metres there’s an interval tower [the third from the corner], from here, until you come to the first arch over a road, you can see that the old city moat has been made into a graveyard. This was done in 1832 when there was a cholera epidemic in York and so there was a sudden need for more space for graves, there was even a plan to use all the remaining moats for graves but this was rejected. Many of the graves here are unmarked but the yew trees, traditional in English graveyards, help to mark this as a burial place.

Towards the end of the wall-walk, starting above the road arches, there are a set of musket loops, several seem to have been made by blocking up the embrasures of battlements. The loops are of uncertain age as much of the Walls from here back to the Corner tower has been taken down and rebuilt in Victorian times to allow the arches to be built.

Civil War musket loop set into small embrasure in Victorian rebuild. (SM)

Bits of the rampart were removed at the same time and mainly not rebuilt –though the inner ramparts beside the new council offices are probably a rebuild as they have air-raid shelters in them. Roman walls were found each time the ramparts were dug into but they do not seem to have been definitely the defensive walls of the Roman civilian town.

The Trail 12: West Corner, part 1: views

From the first interval tower: look back to the buildings at the cross-roads outside Micklegate Bar, facing you is the Georgian “Bar Convent”. If you think that it doesn’t look like a place where nuns lived, taught and worshipped then the architect has been successful; in the 1760s Roman Catholic worship and teaching had not become generally tolerated [and was not clearly legal for another 20 years] so it was done secretly –there’s a chapel behind the frontage you can see but when it was built it was described as “a new front wall” to the house.

Looking back to the Bar Convent from the next interval tower. (SM)

From the corner tower: the suburbs of York stretch for 3 to 4 kilometres from here. The closest building to you on your left is the Railway Institute –built to replace a pub so that the most convenient place of recreation for railway employees was a place where they’d be encouraged to improve themselves rather than intoxicate themselves. To the right of it and behind there used to be factories for making railway rolling stock, as well as buildings and lines linked to York’s being an important railway junction. From an older era, though they overlapped, you may be able to see a black-bodied, white-sailed windmill, in direction it’s mid-way between the Railway Institute and the glazed ends of arched roofs of the railway station, but it’s a kilometre away. It was from high ground in this sort of area that Scots army cannons fired on this tower, almost destroying it in 1644 during the civil war siege.

Inside the walls here, the big buildings are appropriately named after 2 giants of the Victorian railway boom [George Stephenson and George Hudson – the newer ones you are yet to reach are in a mixed development called the Hudson Quarter;  this part of the guide’s story, is about Hudson “the Railway King”].

The railways encroach on the Walls: 1840 arches beside modern office buildings. The 1870’s Railway Hotel is in the background. (SM)

From the second interval tower past the corner tower: this gives you the best view from the Walls of the present, 1877 railway station. It was said to have been the largest in the world when it was built and a flagship station for the North Eastern Railway so perhaps its modest fore-building of pale brick was designed to fit in with the Walls. It is thought the finest Victorian building in York but it is much better appreciated from inside. From this tower you see the hotel to the right of the station [built just after the station].

The 1870s railway station hotel – now The Royal York. (AF )

This is taller and more decorated than the station but it is also respectfully pale and turned away from the Walls -with its octagonal entrance hall turned to the station and its grand front on its opposite side facing its gardens. Just to the left of the octagonal entrance hall you see the station’s only original “end screen” [for the canopies arching above the railway lines and platforms], the replacement screens in the rest of the station have squarer, simpler, less attractive glass panels. It is the roof, 250 metres by 75metres, comprising 4 curving canopies supported by arches on elaborate pillars, that is usually most admired in the station.

The 1870s and present railway station, and hotel. (SM)

In the foreground, by the edge of the ramparts, partly hidden by trees you see a more modern modest public transport building: the only bus shelter designed to fit its York context.

On the inside of the Walls at this point you can see an even more recent transport building, a very grand council bike shelter. Though it was built in 2012, its slender pillars and the iron work they support are re-used from the old railway station that once filled this space. This 2012 build is a small part of C.Y.C.’s support of cycling, York is often high on lists of top cycling cities in Britain.

Council Offices newly developed from former station’s buildings. Lendal Bridge and Minster beyond. (SM)

Trail 12: West Corner, part 1: off-trail extras: Café

At the very end of the wall-walk there are benches and the trail turns right to the pavement; if, instead of going to the pavement, you go to the steps to your left you see Barker Tower. It is on the banks of the river -and occasionally surrounded by the river- about 20 metres away. This medieval tower has a beautiful café called the Perky Peacock, but it is small and without a toilet; –if it is open it will have tables and chairs outside it [www.facebook.com/theperkypeacock or https://www.instagram.com/theperkypeacockyork/?hl=en may give you details]. The archways through the Walls beside the tower replaced a medieval postern gate which survived till an early railway company needed better access to its coal yards. The archways are still sometimes called North Street Postern.

Barker Tower with café. Lendal Tower on the other side of the river Ouse. (SM)

The Trail 12: West Corner, part 1: stories: The Railway King

Up to the start of Victorian times York had various groups of citizens who had local power in the city and some of these elected a Lord Mayor who, for a year, was a something like a local king. Most ordinary people had no clear part in this “corporation” –not even if they were well enough off, and were male and old enough to vote to elect a member of parliament. When this was changed and there were “proper elections” the first result in York was a Lord Mayor who seemed rich enough to give all sorts of treats to the new voters. This was George Hudson, who saw himself as a self-made, successful businessman who brought the railways to York.

A legend grew up that, though he had been happy tailoring and running a successful draper’s shop, George decided that the new railways were the opportunity York needed to recover its prosperity so he worked and argued and risked his own money to “mak all t’railways cum t’York”. He was certainly successful for a while, he was Lord Mayor three times, was elected to parliament and was said to have controlled a third of the railways in England. National newspapers named him “the Railway King”. In York he organised the building of a railway station inside the Walls –and the cutting of 3 arches through the Walls, 2 of them to let his trains into the station.

draw14.1Hudon Forever
Hudson’s election postcard

Then things seemed to go sour for him, the railways did not seem to be making much money, he was accused of paying dividends to old investors by using money from new investors; he was also accused of bribery and of moving money between his different businesses in mysterious and suspicious ways. People started to pursue him for personal and company debts rather than offer him money to invest. He was at the point of winning an election campaign to get into parliament again when he was arrested for debt and imprisoned in York’s debtors’ prison, he had to withdraw from the election -and the Conservative Party talked of its candidate having been kidnapped. After a few months friends paid this debt so he was released from prison but he felt he had to exile himself to France to prevent future imprisonment.

In the last years of his life he was said to be living in poverty so a popular collection was made to help him live comfortably. Then, and perhaps just as important to him, imprisonment for debt was ended in Britain so he returned to the country shortly before he died in1871.

Some think that when Charles Dickens wrote Little Dorritt he based his financier, Merdle, on Hudson – though when Merdle’s popular business schemes collapse he chooses suicide, it is one of his investors who goes to the debtors’ prison that Dickens is attacking in the novel.

The classic view of The Minster beyond Lendal Bridge. (AF)



Wall Trail:     –       map 1

Wall Trail: Introduction

Wall Trail: Overview

PREVIOUS SECTION   = The Trail:  Section 11. Micklegate Bar

Wall Trail:     –     map 6

NEXT SECTION                = The Trail:  Section 13. West Corner, part2

Wall Trail: Appendix

Walls Trail: History & Time Line                                 [map 2]

Walls Trail: Glossary, Maps & Credits

Walls Trail: Contents & Links



AF / SM text   UPDATED    9 August 2022
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