Walmgate; 900 years of history - Hotel Indigo York

Walmgate; 900 years of history

Our boutique hotel in York is situated on one of the oldest streets in the city. Walmgate Bar was originally built in the 12th century and some of the buildings standing today date back to the 14th century.

The Bar is the most complete of York's four medieval gateways – the only one still to have its barbican, portcullis and wooden inner doors. It has stood guard at the south-east corner of the city for almost 1000 years. 

The area in which our York hotel stands has weathered many threats throughout its 900-year history.


Walmgate through the Middle Ages


The inner stone gateway dates back to about 1100, so it is a good 150 years older than most of York's stone bar walls. The Barbican itself dates from the 1300s and the wooden gates from the 1400s. Throughout medieval times, a watchkeeper was based at the Bar, who would have checked visitors coming into the city.

Traitors' heads were displayed from Walmgate Bar in medieval times, as they were at other York bars. In 1469, the head and banner of Robert Hillyard (Hob of Holderness) were displayed above the gate. Robert (or Hob) seems to have been the leader of a rebellion that may have been in part a protest at an ancient tax in northern England levied by St Leonard's Hospital. Twenty years later, in 1489, the Bar was badly burned by rioters, who again seem to have been protesting about taxes.


Civil War on our doorstep


The Bar's most serious test came in 1644 when Parliamentary forces were besieging the city.

It was bombarded by cannon from Lamel Hill and St Lawrence's churchyard. Two cannons were then put in the street near the Bar, and another a 'stone's throw' away. The Parliamentary army also began to dig two mines, with the aim of tunnelling under the Bar and blowing it up from underneath. But they were foiled by the defenders. The Royalists dug a counter-tunnel and flooded the mines that the Parliamentarians had been building.

It didn't save the city: York surrendered to the Parliamentarians on July 16, 1644. Walmgate Bar had been badly damaged, but by 1648 had been repaired.

Almost 200 years later, in 1836, unexploded Civil War mortar shells were found while workmen were working on a nearby drain, according to the Inventory of the Historical Monuments of York. By this time, the Bar had fallen into neglect.


The Victorian Walmgate Slum


It survived a recommendation by the York estates Committee in 1831 for the Barbican to be demolished. And in 1840, the Bar was fully restored by the York Corporation.

You wouldn’t know by looking at it today but, by the mid-19th century, Walmgate the street on which our York hotel now stands had become a notorious slum. It was at the bottom of the social scale in York. Its population had grown rapidly due to an influx of Irish immigrants, whose numbers, though falling, continued to be considerable at the end of the century."

A letter to the York Herald in January 1870 gives a good idea of what the area was like. It describes "a number of men and women" standing nearby, "making remarks upon passers-by, obstructing the footpath and indulging in the most obscene and filthy language even on a sabbath day." Such a thing would never happen in York today, of course.

Within living memory, many York people of a certain age still remember the cattle market on Paragon Street- just around the corner from our hotel in York. It was there from 1827 until the mid-1970s – and the pens stretched right up to the Barbican of Walmgate Bar.

Today the Bar hosts a number of shops, restaurants, bars and two churches as well as our boutique, York hotel.

Book your stay at our York hotel and discover more of our neighbourhood’s fascinating history.

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