York 1190: Jews and Others in the Wake of Massacre was organised by Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson of the Centre for Medieval Studies and the Department of History.

The conference was supported by the British Academy, the Jewish Historical Society of England and the Royal Historical Society. The Borthwick Institute republished the essays of Barrie Dobson on anglo-jewish history for the occasion: The Jewish Communities of Medieval England . We are publishing a collection of essays relating to the theme of the conference and developing further related research projects.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The History of Clifford's Tower between 1190 and 1245

Jonathan Clark's report, as sent by Jeremy Ashbee, English Heritage. I am afraid these refuse to be emailed. There is a longer technical report. I post only the shorter version here:

One topic which has hitherto received little discussion is the development of the site of Clifford’s Tower between 1190 and the construction of Clifford’s Tower itself, now generally accepted to have begun in 1245. An assessment of whether any significant archaeological remains of the events of 1190 are preserved on the site is essential for the formulation of policy concerning its future management.

The chronicle sources do not give consistent accounts of the extent of destruction after 1190, and none of them explicitly states that the tower in which the Jews had hidden was destroyed or unusable after the event. However, evidence of expenditure in works on the castle of York, recorded in the Pipe Rolls, strongly suggests that the building was badly damaged if not destroyed. The crucial entries are in the Pipe Rolls for years 2 and 3 of Richard I, amounting to £219, and include the expenditure of over £179 in the first six months after the massacre (ie before the Michaelmas 1190 session of the Exchequer). The inevitable conclusion is that these works were brought on by damage during the siege of 1190.

The generally accepted interpretation of the documentary record is that the tower in which the Jewish community took refuge was replaced by another timber building. The fate of this is unknown. However, since other buildings in the castle are known to have been destroyed by high winds in 1228.it has sometimes been assumed that a timber tower on the motte would inevitably, by virtue of its exposed site, have been lost at the same time. This inference is logical but ultimately cannot be confirmed on present evidence.

Excavations have been carried out on the motte both inside and outside Clifford’s Tower, notably in 1902, when a stratigraphic sequence for the build-up of the motte was established by a trench and borehole within the area of the keep. Of the many discoveries made during these works, two are of particular relevance for the history of the site prior to the construction of Clifford’s Tower.

The first was that the motte had been heightened by some 13 feet in material described as ‘an outer crust of firmer and more clayey material’, with lighter material (‘reddish gravel’) added on the top to bring the motte’s summit up to its present level: the uppermost levels are confusingly labelled in a cross-section drawing as ‘black soil.’ The date of this heightening is debatable: the foundations of Clifford’s Tower are shown penetrating into this layer, but the drawings are not sufficiently detailed to show whether they sit within a construction trench cut through it. (A suggestion that they do is given in the accompanying text:- ‘the walls of the keep go down to a depth of 6 ft and the foundations, 11 ft wide, rest on a bed of puddled clay 1 ft deep.’) The interpretation followed by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments is that this heightening occurred in the 1240s, immediately before the construction of Clifford’s Tower. However, the evidence cited above suggests strongly that the heightening took place some time before work began on Clifford’s Tower. It may be noted that the Pipe Roll entry for Michaelmas 1190 indicates that work had been carried out on the motte (mota).

The second archaeological discovery made in 1902 is that the motte contains traces of timbers, at approximately 15 and a half feet, and 13 feet below the present ground level. The upper timbers formed a platform, 6 inches thick, overlying 2 ft 6 inches of black clay, under which were discovered ‘the remains of a similar oak platform supported by posts.’ These were interpreted as the products of two distinct episodes. It was remarked that large quantities of charred wood were found above the lower timbers, interpreted by the excavators as the remains of a wooden tower of 1068, burnt during the northern rebellion of 1069. An alternative reading is to see the burnt timbers as remains of the building destroyed in 1190, and the upper tier of timber as the footings of a replacement building. Other structures included a ‘wooden boatstay, evidently of great age’.

During the excavations of 1902, and during an investigation of the motte in 1824, human bones were discovered. These have been variously interpreted as Roman or Prehistoric, and some of them are believed to be redeposited in the upcast from the ditch around the motte. The existing record does not allow any statement of the relationship between human bones and the burnt timbers mentioned above. It is simply stated that ‘a large number of bones was found in every part of the mound. Human bones were abundant, especially in the interior of the keep.’

In conclusion, there is insufficient evidence to associate any of the archaeological remains within the motte at Clifford’s Tower with the massacre of 1190 and its aftermath. However, it is clear that the motte is a complex structure incorporating the remains of several phases of occupation. The documentary and archaeological records also suggest that its history is one of accretion and build-up. This leaves open the possibility, perhaps even probability, that in the months after March 1190, some of the debris from the destruction of the tower was buried within the motte. The possibility of cremated human remains being preserved inside the motte likewise remains open.

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