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Clifford's Tower
York, England

[Thursday - 10/27/94] Clifford's Tower stands on a high mound, overlooking part of York, surrounded by what used to be the Debtors Prison which was built in 1701. The Tower dates back to the 13th century, when it was re-built in stone between 1245 and 1265 by Henry III, as part of the York Castle defenses. Apparently, it was first built in wood but was burned down during one of many uprisings by the local population. Clifford’s Tower, the bailey walls, towers, gates, bridges, two halls, a chapel, a kitchen and a prison were all built at York Castle at this time.

Although the name Clifford's Tower was first recorded in 1596, it is believed to be named after Roger Clifford, a Lancastrian, who was hung there, in chains, after the Battle of Bourobridge in 1332. Before 1596, it was simply referred to as the great tower.

Between 1245 and 1445, the castle had to have major repairs - the keep had cracked from top to bottom. By 1535, it was in ruins. It was repaired and soldiers were stationed there during the Civil War in 1644.

After the war, the castle became a prison. The buildings that now fill the site of the medieval bailey are all prison buildings. The Debtors Prison was built in 1701-5, the Assize Courts in 1773-7 and the Female Prison in 1780. From 1802, the castle was the main place of execution in York. Before then, people had been executed in public on the Knavesmire. Executions continued behind prison doors until 1896.

These buildings all survive today. The two prison buildings are now York Castle Museum, while people are still tried in the Assize Court building. Before they go in front of the court, prisoners are locked up in the original 1773 cells!

Clifford's Tower was the scene of one of the most terrible events in York's history. In 1190, the Jews of York sought refuge there, after being attacked by local mobs. They were given the choice of being baptized or killed. They chose a third option -- they all committed suicide.

For us, it gave us commanding views of York and just a bit of tension. The tower lists to one side and when you look over the edge, you constantly feel as if the tower is going to fall over at any moment!

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Last modified on Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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