The Old Baile Hill Castle

A panorama of 15th Century York showing Baile Hill Castle to the left of the Ouse and York Castle to the right – together controlling the entrance to the City.

About the Author

York resident and regular contributor. Fascinated by this historic city and always keen to promote local, independent businesses. The man taking the photographs and tweeting from @Jorvik

York Pass

York is especially noted in the history books for its two Norman-built castles. Baile Hill on the west of the river Ouse and Clifford’s tower, the only remaining part of York Castle on the east.

Both Castles were built in 1068 by William the Conqueror in an effort to bring the city under his control. By 1069, only the following year, both had been severely damaged by the Danish army, intent on reclaiming the North of the country, however both castle were repaired immediately.

The Baile Hill Castle takes it’s name from the traditional Norman castle design it was based on, the Motte and Bailey. The motte being the mound of earth or hill on which would stand a wooden or stone keep, a defensive tower, the bailey an enclosed courtyard, protected by a palisade and ditch. This was a popular design due to the impenetrability of the boundaries and examples can be found all across Europe.

The site of the former bailey is now built on but would have been the area which is now Falkland Street and Bailey Terrace. The hill, or motte, where the tower was built is part-visible from Bishopgate Steet but is obstructed by the City Walls so it is best viewed from Baile Hill Terrace, or even better upon the walls.

The tree-covered mound viewed from Baile Hill Terrace

The mound of earth today is covered in trees and gives only a suggestion of what once stood there. At 40ft high the hill would have been topped with a timber tower and fortified with a timber palisade around the perimeter. The wooden tower would have had steps to the top and from there panoramic views of the city and countryside could have been obtained as well as along the river Ouse. Baile Hill had a chain which ran through the river and connected to Clifford’s tower on the other side. As the two most southern structures in the city the castles were responsible for controlling who was allowed to sail north, up the Ouse and into the heart of the city.

Telltale wall entrance viewed from Bishopgate Street

Baille Hill castle served it’s purpose early on in its life and by 1200 was out of use. It was handed over to the Archbishop in 1322 who rebuilt the defences, first in wood and then later in stone. Extensive quarrels over who was responsible for the upkeep of the castle resulted in the Archbishop being sued in 1423 and forcing him to repair part of the city walls adjoined the castle. After that it was handed over to the city council and in time the bailey was used for grazing cattle before having a prison built on the land in 1807, but that was short-lived and closed soon after in 1868 and demolished by 1880.

The view from the wall at Baile Hill. Bishopgate Street is to the left, Baile Hill Terrace to the right

Today Baile Hill receives little attention, in fact if you didn’t know what to look out for you would probably miss it. It does however make a great place to start a walk around the City Walls.

Leave a Comment