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Eye of York
The 'Eye of York' is a small oval of grass in the middle of York Castle's inner bailey. It was previously known as 'Castle Yard', then the 'Eye of the Ridings'.
The area was traditionally used for proclamations and announcements, such as the accession of new monarchs and declarations of war and peace. Prior to 1882, it also used for county elections.
The inner bailey yard was levelled in 1777 and partially grassed-over in the late 18th century (circa 1790). Formal paths were laid and Castle Yard (as it was known at this time) quickly became a popular spot for a leisurely stroll. The leisured classes would promenade around the area sporting their most fashionable attire, pausing occasionally to observe and comment upon the prisoners exercising in the railed-off courtyard at the front of the Debtor's Prison / County Gaol. This captive source of entertainment was removed in 1835 when the prisoners where moved to a new prison - known as the Felons’ Prison - beside Clifford's Tower (the area now used as a pubic car-park). The new prison area was completely surrounded by a high and foreboding gritstone wall, so nothing could be seen of the activities within. However, an alternative source of entertainment was soon provided: the prison governor took to keeping tame deer and these were allowed to graze freely among the promenading gentry.
The Felons’ Prison and its perimeter wall were demolished during 1935-6 and, in 1939, work began on the construction of a new suite of offices for York Municipal Corporation. However, with just the foundations and basements constructed, the outbreak of war halted all work on the site. The post-war shortages caused the original plans to be abandoned and the site was levelled to create the car-park we see today. An unintended benefit is that the Eye of York is now easily accessible from Tower Street and that Clifford's Tower now stands in (and dominates) a relatively open area.
The Eye of York is now used for occasional special events, such as the Viking re-enactments performed annually during the February half-term holidays and the traditional summer fair depicted in Images 1, 2 and 3 above. For the rest of the year, the small oval of grass is usually taken-over by small numbers of wild geese.
In the centre of the grassy oval, a large oak tree stands tall and alone: a reminder of the soldiers who once stood to attention on the parade ground that once occupied this area of the castle.