Located atop a mound in the centre of Old York, Clifford’s Tower was once the keep of York Castle, built in 1086 by William the Conqueror. The castle now lies mostly in ruins with only the tower and a few walls remaining. During its time, it has famously served as a troop garrison, a prison, and a royal mint.
The reasoning behind the tower’s name is not very clear as its original name was The King’s Tower, with it only being referred to as “Clifford’s Tower” first in 1596, over half a millennium after its construction. It is thought that this may be a reference to the hanging of one of Edward II’s adversaries at the tower, or perhaps to do with the claim of the Clifford family that the tower was hereditarily theirs to maintain.
BLOWING THE ROOF OFF
On 1684’s St George’s Day, an explosion erupted from the belly of the keep, entirely destroying the inside of Clifford’s Tower, leaving the roof irreparable, and giving the inside of the keep’s limestone walls their characteristic pinkish hue. Although the official explanation was the accidental ignition of gunpowder through a fire, many historians believe that the explosion was indeed planned. York Castle had gained great dislike amongst the townspeople when the local government began spending funds on keeping the castle stocked and making improvements to its battlements, largely disregarding the surrounding community. Curiously, most members of the garrison had also moved their possessions out of the keep the morning before, and no casualties were recorded.
A BLOODY MASSACRE
At the foot of Clifford’s Tower, a plaque can be found that marks one of the darkest moments in York’s history: The 1190 massacre. Anti-Semitism was abundant in Western Europe during the 12th century, stoked by the fervour of crusades which led to a tide of aggression towards Jews, especially in England. In 1190, anti-Semitic riots throughout the north-east of England culminated with 150 Jews – the entirety of the community in York – taking refuge in Clifford’s Tower, trapped by a bloodthirsty mob that was disdained by many local high-standing members of the Christian church. Seeing no way to safety, many of the refugees committed suicide, and those who didn’t suffered terribly at the hands of the mob.
In early tours of the castle when it was opened centuries later to the public, this event was largely underplayed in the official history. In 1978, the first memorial tablet in 700 years was placed at the base of the keep and in 1990 the 800th anniversary of the atrocity was commemorated at the tower.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Bracken Hill, Sheriff Hutton
North Yorkshire, England, YO60 6QG
+44 (0)1347 878 660
- Address: 10A Tower Street, York, York YO1 9SA, UK
- GPS: 53.955782573267236,-1.0799190010498023
- Phone: 0044 (0)1904 646 940
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: YO1 9SA
- Entrance Fees: Charges Apply
- Disabled Access: Fair (Base only)
- Visibility from Road: Excellent
- Image Credits: Grzegorz Petrykowski