York Castle is one of two defensive castles built by William the Conqueror following his invasion of the country, although much of the present structure is from the late twelfth and early thirteenth century. Clifford’s Tower is the keep of the York Castle complex of buildings, and the only remaining part.
In 1190 what was then still a wooden construction was where 150 Jewish residents of York sought refuge against a mob attack. Despite seeking protection, they were killed, leading to the Lord Chancellor issuing a large fine against the city.
In 1823 the York Herald’s editorial asked for the plans to remove and level the site of Clifford’s Tower to be reconsidered. The article said that, “Will the city and county of York allow so fine a relic of other time to be levelled, by the rude hands of barbarians without making one effort to rescue it from their odious grasp?”.
In 1824 workmen dug into the mound, and discovered that there was a small void which was surrounded by old wood, and the newspaper was relieved that the destruction of Clifford’s Tower now seemed less likely. In 1826, the York Herald reported that extensions to the Castle and prison were confirmed and would be in the gardens of Clifford’s Tower. The Herald noted with pleasure that the Tower was to be kept and care taken to preserve the ancient tower, which was “so interesting to antiquaries”.
Extensions to these new prison buildings were made throughout the nineteenth century and the site was used as a prison until 1929. In 1935, all the buildings which had been built in the nineteenth century were removed, leaving Clifford’s Tower remaining on the mound.
English Heritage now manage Clifford’s Tower, and it can be visited, although there is an admission charge.