This great tower, perched high on a Norman motte, remains a solemn reminder of York's troubled past. In 1068, William the Conqueror constructed a large mound (motte) on the banks of the River Ouse and built a wooden castle at the top. Just over 100 years later, amid the riots in York when a group of Jews took refuge in the tower, it was burned to the ground. Something of a gruesome legend exists about this incident. Apparently, the reddish vein running through the brickwork on the outside of the tower, was 'dyed' by the blood of the Jewish victims as they were mercilessly slaughtered.
A second timber construction was erected but, early in the 13th century, this tower was blown down by a devastating gale. In 1245 Henry III ordered the tower to be rebuilt and strengthened. Consequently, a quatrefoil tower of four overlapping circles - resembling a four-leafed clover - was built, as well as a curtain wall with semi-circular towers, and two gateways built around the bailey of York Castle. The stone building was completed in 1313, but less than fifty years later the castle cracked from top to bottom when part of the mound subsided into the moat. In 1322, Roger de Clifford was hanged by chains from the wall of the tower for opposing Edward II, and after that the keep was known as 'Clifford's Tower'.
What remains today dates largely from the 13th century, albeit with some later alterations. As well as Clifford's Tower, parts of the curtain wall around the old castle bailey still remain. The unusual shape of the motte was as a result of flooding in the Middle Ages.
Entrance to the Clifford's Tower is through a forebuilding, located at the juncture of two adjoining 'foils'. The purple coloured stone dates from the 17th century, but there is evidence of the earlier building where the east wall joins the tower. Part of the archway and the stone bench date from the 13th century, as do the corbel stones that supported the original first floor timber joists. The room above the entrance was used as a chapel, and the portcullis was operated from the second floor, passing right through the chapel.
Spiral staircases, on either side of the archway entrance to the tower, lead to the upper floors and the wall walk. Looking over the area of the castle bailey, it is possible to see the three buildings dating from the 18th century that have survived - the Debtor's prison, the Female prison and the Assize Court.
York has so much history, and there are many monuments to investigate, but it is worthwhile leaving time to explore the surviving Keep of the old castle - if only to enjoy the spectacular views across the city from the top.