Multangular Tower, Museum Gardens

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One of York’s oldest visible constructions is the defensive Multangular tower situated in the Museum Gardens. The majority of the stone tower was built in Roman times, between 209AD and 211AD by visiting Emperor Servius.

At the time of construction York was populated by a central habitation located where the Minster now stands. The camp was surrounded by city walls, much smaller than today’s. The multangular tower was at the west corner of the legionary fortress and the only surviving section. The adjoining wall was interspersed with six smaller towers, three to each side of a centrally located gatehouse. The protruding style of the polygon bastion was a development then made it easier to fire down on attacking forces.

Although approaching its 2000th birthday it isn’t thought that the Multangular tower was the first defensive structure on the site. Around 70AD it is believed that a primitive form of defence was constructed using mounds of turf and clay, which was then updated by the Romans and again in the middle ages.

Commemorative Stone in front of the Multangular Tower

The stone reads:

The Multangular Tower

This tower formed the north west corner of the Roman Legionary Fortress of Eboracum.

It was built about 300A.D. on the site of an older and simpler tower. The larger stonework at the top is Medieval.

If you stand inside the tower and look at the layers of stone from which the tower is constructed it is easy to see how they differ according to the time they were added. The tower stands just over 9 metres tall in total. The bottom 6 metres were built by the Romans. A square stone, typical of the Romans, called the ‘saxa quadrata’ makes up the internal and external skin, a layer of red tiles then acts as a modern day wall-tie does, holding the two layers together and creating a solid structure, one which has certainly stood the test of time.

One of the arrow slots – a later addition to the tower

The top of the tower was a later medieval addition. It’s quite clear where the building styles change as a larger limestone is used, more in style with the shape of a modern brick which was then laid along each skin but also between skins to act as supports between the two and to form the arrow slots towards the top.

Red slate tiles – used as wall ties by the Romans

Not originally expected to be used as a fortress , but rather as a base from which to control the region the tower has been used to fend off an invading armies as on the adjoining wall, just along from the tower is a hole from an attacking 17th century cannonball.

Although at first glance it may look round, the Multangular tower actually gets it’s name from being made up of ten sides and was only named Multangular Tower in 1683 thanks to Doctor Martin Lister, a member of the Repository of the Royal Society, a group dedicated to documenting  the country and human activity. The insides of the tower have changed considerably over time.

Originally thought to have been built with three floors and a wooden roof but later, in 1807, a drawing of the tower showed it filled with earth right up to the upper lookout points, maybe to provide more strength and rigidity when under attack. The insides of the tower are not all that have changed. While the original Roman name is not known, the tower has been referred to as as Ellerandyng in 1315 and Elrondyng in 1380.

Inside the Multangular Tower

Nowadays the internals have been excavated and Roman coffins found in graveyards throughout the city have been put on display. During the excavations a monumental stone was found, enscribed with ‘Genio loci feliciter’, latin asking for a guardian to protect the location.

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