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Fishergate Bar

York's Fishergate Bar was once a very important gateway and it would have been a much grander structure than the simple set of openings that we see today.

A brief history

There has been a gateway on this site since the 12th century (and possibly much earlier). However, the structure we see today dates from significant rebuilds in the 14th, mid 15th and early 18th centuries.

The exact form of this gateway during the medieval era is not known. However, it must have had a room (or at least some kind of defended structural framework) above the central arch to support the portcullis and to protect the associated winch mechanism from attackers. In order to completely fill the surviving archway, the portcullis must have been at least 14 feet high, so the structure(s) associated with the archway must have been at least 30 feet tall.

Records from 1440 refer to rent being paid for a dwelling associated with the gateway.

In his report to King Henry VIII (circa 1546), John Leland refers to the gateway as follows:

Fishergate, stoppid up sins the Communes burnid it yn the tyme of king Henry VII.

Source: "The Laboriouse Journey and Serche of JOHN LEYLANDE for Englandes Antiquitees, Geven of hym as a Newe Yeares Gyfte to King Henry the viii in the xxxvii Yeare of his Raygne."

During Elizabethan times, a structure located near - perhaps within - Fishergate Bar was being used as a prison known as the 'Bean Hills'. (At around this time, Fishergate Bar was also referred to as 'Bean Hills gate', hence the possible connection.) In 1593, this facility was being used to accomodate 'lunatics' and their treatment could be extremely harsh. Records suggest that at least one of the mentally ill inmates was whipped, simply to encourage him to be quiet.

From medieval times, the ditch outside the city wall between Fishergate Postern Tower and Walmgate Bar was connected to the River Foss (thereby forming a partial moat). In the 16th century, the water between Fishergate Bar and Walmgate Bar was still deep enough (and fresh enough) to allow the city corporation to issue licenses for fishing.

Artists impressions from 1676 and 1718 show a pair of stone towers (rectangular in plan) projecting slightly in front of the central archway (one on each side of the roadway). The remains of at least one of these towers may still be visible today: note the short piece of stone wall descending step-like into the earth bank, to the right of the gateway in Image 1.

During the second half of the 18th century, large quantities of stone were removed from the upper storey and towers of Fishergate Bar, then reused to improve the King's Staith.

Fishergate Bar was unblocked and repaired in 1826-7, then restored again in 1961.

Controlling the road to the south

Prior to its partial destruction in 1489, Fishergate Bar protected the main road into the medieval city from Selby and the south. In addition to its defensive role, it would have helped to control the movement of goods and people into and out of the city, thereby playing a crucial role in the collection of taxes and tolls.

Gateway to the cattle market

Fishergate Bar was unblocked primarily to improve access to the city's purpose-built cattle market, which opened on the opposite side of Paragon Street in 1827. The new livestock market was extremely successful and trade grew rapidly. To increase capacity, the ditches outside the city walls adjacent to Fishergate Bar and Walmgate Bar were infilled and livestock pens were constructed on the newly reclaimed land. The livestock market was moved to Murton (on the eastern outskirts of the city) in 1971 and the old cattle market buildings were demolished in 1976. Since then, the livestock pens beside the city walls have all been removed and the old cattle-market site is now occupied by the Barbican Centre.

The 1489 Yorkshire Rebellion

The riots referred to earlier were a response to a tax levied by King Henry VII. For political reasons, Henry wanted to raise £100,000 to help Brittany retain its independence from France. However, many people in Yorkshire considered this tax both unnecessary and unfair. They argued that: Brittany was nowhere near Yorkshire; its war with France posed no threat to either Yorkshire or England; Yorkshire citizens were already contributing more than enough in taxes; and there had been a poor harvest the previous year, which was causing great hardship. Many people refused to pay the tax and this led to what historians now call the 1489 Yorkshire Rebellion. To some extent, this period of civil disobedience achieved its objective as the King only managed to raise around £27,000. However, the theoretical victory came at a cost: several notable individuals on both sides lost their lives during the uprising and, for almost three and a half centuries, people wishing to travel to or from the south of the city had to make a detour via either Fishergate Postern or Walmgate Bar.

Practical Information

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Location Information (Where is . . . ?)

Fishergate Bar
George Street

Latitude: 53.953959000000
Longitude: -1.075244000000

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The wall-top walkway does NOT continue across the top of Fishergate Bar. When reaching this point, it is necessary to descend a set of steps, cross the road, then ascend a second set of steps (see Image 3). The Bar (and the adjacent section of George Street) is now closed to traffic except cycles & pedestrians.