Open for the first time in living memory – the York tower built 523 years ago

Brick rolling… the Red Tower. Photograph: Friends of York Walls
Brick rolling… the Red Tower. Photograph: Friends of York Walls
Brick rolling… the Red Tower. Photograph: Alan Fleming, Friends of York Walls

York residents will soon get their first chance to see inside one of the city’s most historic buildings. The Red Tower on Foss Islands Road will be opened to the public for the first time in living memory during the Residents’ Festival weekend.

The tower, made of distinctive red brick, has a long and fascinating history – and even motivated a brutal murder.

Although the stairs in Red Tower are unsuitable for public access, thanks to a platform installed by VP Hire Station visitors will be able to see into the upper room.

The Friends of York Walls will show visitors the tower during the weekend, January 25 and 26, between 10am and 4pm.

They are also opening Fishergate Tower and leading guided walks along the walls between the two.

These walks will take place at 11am and 2pm on the two days, departing from Fishergate Tower and limited to 30 people for safety reasons. All free, but the Friends will be delighted to accept donations.

Six Red Tower facts

Another view of the tower
Another view of the tower

1. It’s half a millennia old

This Grade I Listed building was built in 1490 at the point where the city walls surrounding Walmgate used to end in the Kings Fishpond.

2. Killed by the guild

Red Tower was built from bricks to save the city corporation money. But this led to the murder of a bricklayer, John Patrick, by members of the mason’s guild, who were angry at the loss of work. The leading mason, William Hindley, was arrested, but never prosecuted. The masons got their way ten years later when the next new tower, at Fishergate, was built of stone.

3. Cannon fodder

It was badly damaged by Parliamentary cannon fire during the Siege of York in 1644, and was still semi-derelict in the 1770s.

4. Gunpowder spot

In the early 19th century, it became a stable. It was also known as Brimstone Tower because of its use as a gunpowder store.

5. Victorian makeover

The present building is the result of a major restoration in 1857 by the architect George Fowler-Jones, when the Kings Fishpond was also drained and filled-in and Foss Islands Road built.

6. Lizard squatter

In early January, members of the Friends of York Walls were looking around the Red Tower with John Oxley, City Archaeologist, when they discovered a gecko inside. The sleepy animal was easily captured by council workmen and taken away. It has now been found a new home.