Barker Tower was built in the early fourteenth century and its name is derived from the word barker, an alternative name for a tanner, such as the nearby Tanner’s Row. The Tower was re-roofed in the seventeenth century, with some alterations in 1840.
Until Lendal Bridge was built, the bridge was used as a base for the ferrymen who carried passengers and cargo across the river. Chains were placed across the river, to Lendal Tower on the other side, but these were often ineffective as boats sailed right through them.
The building became a mortuary from 1879, and has been used for a variety of different purposes over the centuries. It is often cut off when the river rises. The building was again restored in 1970.