Clifford’s Tower, York

Martin Ashley Architects worked in collaboration with Hugh Broughton Architects to re-present Clifford’s Tower in York. 

Clifford’s Tower was built in the mid-13th century, but has stood as a roofless ruin since a fire in 1684. The Tower sits next to three Grade I listed buildings grouped around the Eye of York, and is one of English Heritage’s most visited buildings: an evocative survival from the medieval York Castle.  

As conservation architects our work focused on preserving the existing fabric and archaeology, and working alongside Hugh Broughton Architects to introduce contemporary yet carefully considered elements that both protect the building and enhance public access and understanding of it. 

An initial phase of work entailed repairs to and stabilisation of the existing historic fabric, before the more substantive work could begin. A lengthy and meticulous programme of stone conservation involved testing each stone to ensure it was sound, before undertaking repairs where necessary to the tower’s masonry. Over course of both phases we uncovered previously unknown details, thereby enhancing an understanding of the archaeology and history of Clifford’s Tower, and underpinning the transformative improvements to access and interpretation. Working closely with stone conservation specialists, we undertook an extensive programme of repairs to damaged walls, turret stairs, arrow slits and fireplaces. Two important carved heraldic plaques, featuring the arms of Charles I and Henry Clifford, have also been conserved. 

In addition to conservation works to the historic fabric, the project has made a series of improvements to the tower, with a particular focus on creating an inspiring and sensitively-designed interpretation scheme. Developed through an extensive process of public consultation, the design scheme features a new panoramic timber deck which partially covers the ruin and is supported on four soaring timber columns. We worked closely with project partners and our client – English Heritage – to balance the introduction of these new elements with the preservation of the tower’s historic fabric.  

The new deck offers fine views across York city centre, and includes ampitheatre seating for group activities. A series of lightweight walkways suspended from its structure gives access to previously unseen first floor features, while the project also doubles the access to the roof level through the restoration of two bartizan vices stairs. The chapel has also been conserved and re-presented too, with stonework cleaned, unsightly timber bracing removed, and the roof repaired and re-clad in clay tiles. Access to the tower itself has been enhanced through improvements to the existing stair up the motte.