English Heritage has released fresh plans to improve visitor access to Clifford's Tower following a dispute over a new visitor centre.
The organisation scrapped plans to open a controversial new building at the base of the tower mound in June 2018 after strong opposition to the proposals, which were approved by City of York Council. A High Court challenge against them was rejected before English Heritage took the decision themselves not to proceed with the project, conceding that many people had a 'deep emotional attachment' to the site, which is the only remaining part of the original York Castle fortress.
They have now published amended plans to develop Clifford's Tower as a visitor attraction, which include new stairways to the top of the keep and an electric vehicle to allow staff to assist those with mobility problems.
The proposals will be subject to a public consultation before planning permission for the changes is sought in 2020.
English Heritage has also commissioned experts to study the tower and ascertain its future conservation needs.
The new designs retain the walkways and roof deck which formed part of the 2016 planning application for the tower, constructed in a way which also helps to protect its historic stonework and allows more visitors to enjoy views of the York skyline.
New elements of the plans include four potential options to enhance the staircase from street level to the entrance of Clifford’s Tower, on which the charity is particularly keen to seek views:-
- Installation of new handrails beside the existing steps
- Two new handrails beside the existing steps and three resting points for visitors during the climb
- A new metal staircase with two landings to decrease the gradient of the climb
- A new metal staircase with a single landing with side areas for visitors to rest
- A new, electric three-wheeled vehicle positioned close to the base of the tower to allow staff to assist visitors at ground level. It would be a stored off-site overnight
English Heritage's territory director for the north of England Andrea Selley said:-
“Clifford’s Tower is one of York’s most important historic sites, and English Heritage is committed to investing in it in a way that protects its historic fabric and improves the experience of those visiting.
“Over the year since we announced that we would not proceed with constructing a new visitor building at the base of the mound at Clifford’s Tower, we have been reflecting on our plans, discussing various options, and consulting with stakeholders in the Castle Gateway area, and in wider York.
“Now, we are keen to know what the public think of our designs, which is why we are today launching a consultation, inviting everyone with an interest in the future of Clifford’s Tower to respond."
There will be two open days at Clifford's Tower with free entry for York residents who can provide proof of address on October 20 and 27, in which the designs will be on display.
To view the plans and give feedback, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/cliffordsrevealed or email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The consultation will close on December 6.
The history of Clifford's Tower
The York Castle complex consisted of a number of fortified keeps, prisons and courthouses built over nine centuries. Clifford's Tower is the ruined keep of the medieval castle, which was first established by William the Conqueror as a symbol of his power over York. It suffered several attacks by rebels and Vikings in its early years. At one time, the castle had its own mint, mills and hospital.
In 1190, 150 of York's Jews died in the keep during a pogrom. Jews had been brought to England by the Normans to work as moneylenders, a profession which was forbidden to Christians. Anti-semitic hatred increased during the Crusades and the Jewish community fled to the tower to escape an angry mob. They set fire to the keep in an act of collective suicide to avoid a massacre at the hands of the crowd.
The castle was rebuilt in stone in the 13th century and became an important military and administrative base during the wars with Scotland.
By the 16th century, it had fallen into disrepair and in 1684, there was a major explosion which destroyed its defences and the interior of the tower, and ended its role as a garrison. The castle was instead used as a jail until 1929. Traitors were hung from the tower walls.
Suspicions were raised that the explosion was deliberate, as some members of the garrison had moved their belongings elsewhere shortly before it happened. A gun salute to celebrate St George's Day was blamed for accidentally igniting the magazine, but the expense and symbolic authority of the castle meant it had become unpopular among the people of York.
The castle bailey was redeveloped as a centre of justice in the 18th century, and in 1825 a new prison was built. The other remaining buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries are now York Castle Museum and the Crown Court.
The tower has survived several demolition campaigns over the centuries, and was finally declared a protected monument in 1890.
It is named Clifford's Tower after the Clifford family, Earls of Cumberland, who became constables of the site at the end of the 16th century.