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Barker Tower (aka North Street Postern Tower)
Barker Tower was built during the mid-14th century. The Leonard's Landing ferrymen lived here until 1863. Since then it has been a mortuary, storeroom and cafe,
. . . although not all at the same time!
Why does it have two names?
It's formal name is North Street Postern Tower (because it guarded the adjacent North Street Postern). However, since at least 1380 it has also been known as Barkertowre, Barkertoure or Barker Tower. During the Middle Ages, this part of York was set-aside for leather processing, hence the names of some of the nearby streets (e.g. Tanner’s Moat and Tanner Row). The people who turned animal skins into leather were known as "Barkers", after the tree bark that provided the tannins needed for the tanning process.
Chains for defence and profit
For at least 173 years during the Medieval Period, a strong iron chain was regularly stretched across the River Ouse between Barker Tower and Lendal Tower, with a second chain between Davy Tower and Skedergate Postern Tower. These chains did form part of the city's defences. However, for most of the time, their primary purpose was to enable the city authorities to enforce a tax (known as a 'through toll') that it had levied on river traffic travelling to / from the nearby town of Boroughbridge.
In 1380, the custodians of the northern set of chains were John de Poynton (for the Barker Tower side) and Thomas Smyth (for the St. Leonard's Tower side).
In 1553, the City Corporation decided that the chains were no longer necessary and sold them for "the Comon profett of this Citie". However, from a defensive perspective, this decision proved to be somewhat premature. Just sixteen years later (when the Earls of Northumberland rebelled in a bid to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I), the City Corporation had to take emergency measures to boost the city's defences and it ordered "all boats, pinks, and lighters" to be arranged within the chains (implying that new chains had been procurred). Also, during the English Civil War (1642-1651), palisades (rows of wooden or iron stakes) had to be erected across the river to discourage attack by boat.
The 'ferrymen' were not always 'men'
To keep things short, the traditional term 'ferrymen' has been used in the introduction to this article. However, the gender attribution implied by these traditional words is often inaccurate and it is almost certainly misleading in this case, as evidenced by the following entry on page 77 of Edward Baines' 1823 directory:
Brown Hannah, keeper of ferry, North street, Postern
Source: Edward Baines' "History, Directory and Gazeteer of the County of York" published in 1823.
What happened to the ferry?
The ferry between Barker Tower and St Leonard's Landing (also known as Lendal Landing) provided an invaluable service for many centuries. However, after nearby Lendal Bridge opened on January 8th, 1863, the ferry was no longer needed.
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