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The Water Tower (aka Marygate Landing Tower, York) was built beside the River Ouse circa 1320-24 during works to strengthen the defences of St Mary's Abbey.
The walls of the Water Tower are built from Magnesian Limestone. The exterior is circular in plan, but the interior is hexagonal. There is a single opening in the approximate centre of each hexagonal face. Four of these openings take the form of a cruciform arrow slit. A fifth is a simple rectangular slit, while the sixth (beside the Esplanade) is a doorway (originally at first floor level) that once opened onto a wall-top walkway.
The tower was originally much taller than it appears today:
- When first built, it was two storeys high and had crenellations running around the top of the wall. A narrow parapet provided a walkway between the crenellations and the roof (which was probably conical). However, the roof collapsed (or was removed) sometime before 1700. The crenellations and upper courses of stonework were removed (or collapsed) sometime between 1700 and 1827.
- The tower was partly buried in 1836, when the adjacent land surface was raised to create the Esplanade. (A quick glance through the window beside the path will confirm that the modern-day land surface has been raised to approximately the level of the tower's first floor.)
The pedestrian arch beside the tower was inserted in 1836, when the Esplanade was constructed.
From circa 1354 to the end of the 17th century, a wall ran parallel with the bank of the River Ouse from a point a few yards to the southwest of Tower A towards Lendal Tower. However, all traces of this had been completely removed by 1736, as recorded in the following contemporary account:
The foundations of the wall which faced and ran parallel with the river, were of late years dug up, which I my self saw run very deep in the ground, and all ashler stone. The stone was carried to build the Staith, or Key, on, which is now at Lendal-ferry. The kitchens and other offices of the abbey have been built near this wall; some vestiges of them do yet appear.
Source: Drake, F., Eboracum: History and Antiquities of the City of York (1736), p577.
The standing remains of St Mary's Abbey defences (including the Water Tower) have been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument and are Grade I listed.