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St Mary's Abbey precinct walls

A Scheduled Monument in Guildhall, York

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Latitude: 53.9636 / 53°57'48"N

Longitude: -1.087 / 1°5'13"W

OS Eastings: 459994.343

OS Northings: 452330.0059

OS Grid: SE599523

Mapcode National: GBR NQVL.GX

Mapcode Global: WHFC3.8MMT

Entry Name: St Mary's Abbey precinct walls

Scheduled Date: 19 April 1915

Last Amended: 18 December 2014

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1004920

English Heritage Legacy ID: YO 12 A

County: York

Electoral Ward/Division: Guildhall

Built-Up Area: York

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: York St Olave with St Giles

Church of England Diocese: York


Medieval defences defining the precinct boundary to the north and west sides of St Mary's Abbey, York. See separate, abutting scheduling for St Mary's Abbey (NHLE 100419) which also includes other parts of the precinct boundary.

Source: Historic England


The monument is divided into two scheduled areas: extending along the precinct boundary from Queen Margaret's Arch, via St Mary's Tower, as far as the north side of 29 Marygate; and secondly from St Mary's Lodge to the Water Tower. Both these scheduled areas abut the larger scheduled area for St Mary's Abbey, this latter scheduling including the gatehouse adjacent to St Olave's on Marygate.

Most of the walls and towers within the scheduling are thought to survive to about their full height, with C19 and later restoration and areas of rebuilding. The post-1318 heightening of the earlier wall is marked by a clear horizontal break internally because the later work is slightly thinner, with the off-set for the thicker, lower wall thought to have formed part of the support for a timber wall-walk. There is also a slight change in stonework, with the later walling generally employing larger blocks of a slightly lighter colour. Unrestored crenellations retain L-shaped slots in the reveals to the embrasures, indicating that these were originally closed by timber shutters. Arrow slits within towers and through some of the merlons of the battlements are generally cruciform, with widely splayed internal reveals.

The Postern Tower, built 1497, is rectangular, extending beyond the outer face of the wall. This is brick built, faced in ashlar, originally of two storeys but with the upper floor divided to provide a third storey probably in the C17. The hipped roof is also thought to be C17. Extending to its south east is a section of wall just over 9m long which stands to full height which is pierced by Queen Margaret's Arch and a much smaller C19 pedestrian entrance. The broken eastern end of this wall is just short of where it is thought to have turned south-west (to be continued by the unscheduled but Grade I-listed length of wall north-east of Kings Manor). Between the Postern Tower and St Mary's Tower about 130m to the north-west, the wall also stands complete, topped by battlements and retaining two interval towers (Towers D and E). However, for much of this length, the wall forms the rear of three terraces of C18 and C19 buildings. These buildings extend beyond the area of scheduling, but include two Grade II Listings (8 and 10 Bootham and 40 Bootham). The interval towers are of similar design and size, being half-round externally, semi-hexagonal internally, with an open back which projects beyond the inner face of the flanking wall.

St Mary's Tower is circular externally, hexagonal internally, of two storeys with a C19 conical roof. Much of the northern half of the building is a C17 rebuild following the partial demolition of the tower in the siege of 1644: the ragged boundary between the two builds being particularly clear on the side facing Bootham. The wall continues just over 140m between St Mary's Tower and 29 Marygate. About halfway along this length there is an open backed, rectangular interval tower (Tower C) which retains a possible door-jamb of a blocked postern doorway. Adjacent to this tower there is a C20 vehicle entrance that is cut through the wall. The southern end of this section of precinct wall (and the southern end of the first area of scheduling) forms part of 29 Marygate: an C18 house that is listed Grade II* and extends beyond the boundary of the monument, also incorporating further medieval remains.

The principal medieval entrance to St Mary's Abbey, the gatehouse immediately to the south-west of St Olave's Church, is not included in this scheduling but is included in the separately scheduled area for the rest of the Abbey. The adjacent Grade I-listed St Mary's Lodge is also not included. This monument's second area of scheduling includes the precinct wall which extends from St Mary's Lodge, south-west to end at the Water Tower on the Ouse riverbank. This section of wall was originally built after 1318, but various sections are C19 rebuilds or alterations. The wall includes two, small, semi-circular interval towers, the northern (Tower B) being a C19 rebuild of the original demolished in circa 1700, the wall to the north standing to full height, that to the south being lower with no crenellations. Just south of the southern interval tower (Tower A) there is a blocked postern doorway. The wall terminates to the south at the Water Tower. This is circular externally, hexagonal internally, now appearing to be single storied because of the embankment of the river. The parapet is much reduced, but was formally battlemented. There is evidence that the tower was connected to a wall running eastwards along the river, possibly forming part of a quay. The medieval style archway through the wall north of the tower is C19, created as part of a riverside walk.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The medieval defences defining the precinct boundary to the north and west sides of St Mary's Abbey, York, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural: the precinct walls represent a very significant survival of medieval monastic architecture;

* Historical: from its foundation in the eleventh century St Mary's Abbey remained one of the most prominent and wealthy monasteries in England until its Dissolution in 1539;

* Archaeological potential: the wall, towers and ground beneath them retain material which has the potential to increase our knowledge and understanding of the abbey, its precinct, and of other sites of this type.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
An Inventory of the City of York II Defences, (1972), 160-173

Source: Historic England

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