Much of York’s layout is the result of Roman and Viking construction but one iconic feature is distinctly Norman. The original mound of Clifford’s Tower, with a timber structure at the top, was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1068 as a statement of his power over the region. This building stood for just over a century before being burnt down in one of York’s bloodiest and tragic moments, when, in 1190, 150 Jews were massacred on the site.
Between 1190 and 1194, it was repaired at great expense, and the mound was raised to its present height. The second timber structure was destroyed (this time by a gale) in 1245. Under pressure from his wars with the Scots, Henry III ordered the tower to be rebuilt and strengthened, this time in stone. Master Simon of Northampton and Master Henry of Reynes, the senior carpenter and stonemason respectively in Windsor Castle, were sent up to York to consult on the new design of the castle. The result was a tower some 50ft (15m) high and 200 ft (61m) in diameter. Its design is ‘quatrefoil’, with four overlapping circles, resembling a four leafed clover.
History of York
The large stone tower, which we now know as Clifford’s Tower, was built in the 1250s during the reign of King Henry III.For much of the 14th and 15th centuries, Clifford’s Tower was used as treasury, exchequer, mint, gaol and seat of royal power. During the Civil War (1642-9), Clifford’s Tower was held by the royalists while the city was under siege. In 1684 the tower was reduced to a shell after a fire. Eventually, most of the castle buildings were swept away when a new prison and court were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, leaving Clifford’s Tower as the principal surviving remnant of the York Castle.