The Anglian Tower, York
by Ben Johnson
Here at Historic UK, we have been lucky enough to visit some of the grandest, most historic buildings in all the land. Strange then, that the seemingly inconsequential Anglian Tower in York tops our list of the most interesting historical sites in the country.
Abutted to the western portion of York’s city walls, The Anglian Tower is the only remaining non-ecclesiastical Anglo-Saxon structure in the country. To put this into perspective, this means that during the 600-year dark age period, The Anglian Tower is the only non-church structure still standing to this day.
It was initially thought that the tower was built during the reign of King Edwin of Northumbria, somewhere between 616 to 633AD, although more recent evidence points to a construction date somewhere between the mid-7th to mid-9th centuries.
The tower is one of a kind, and according to English Heritage there are ‘no secular parallel(s) for this tower in Britain, nor in Europe’. Indeed, the tower walls are much thinner than one might expect, being less than 2’ wide in most places.
Built in to the stump of the earlier Roman wall, the purpose of the tower is unknown. It could have been built as a watch tower, and perhaps as a replacement for nearby Roman interval tower. In fact, we don’t even know how high the Anglian Tower would have been in its heyday, since only the ground floor of the structure remains (albeit to a rather impressive height of around 3 metres).
Above: The Anglian Tower (on the right), shown against the old Roman wall in the foreground and the later medieval wall in the background.
It is likely that the tower was only ever in use for around 200 years, and following the Viking invasion of York in 866AD it was buried under a new Danish rampart. For the next 1,000 years, the tower lay undiscovered.
Fast forward over a millennia, and in 1839 the tower was happened upon by a team of workmen who were boring a nearby tunnel. No excavations were carried out during this time, and it wasn’t until 1969 that a full excavation was carried out by Jeffrey Radley, who tragically died on-site in the following year.
How to Find It
The Anglian Tower is not easy to find! Our recommendation is to head to York library, turn immediately left, then right and walk through the gardens. Once you hit the Multangular Tower (clearly signposed), turn right and go through a doorway. From there, you should see the Anglian Tower at the end of the pathway. The exact latitude and longitudes are 53.96164,-1.087117.
- Historic England’s Overview of The Anglian Tower
- Visit York (who kindly arranged for our visit to the Tower!)