York’s Clifford’s Tower impresses with new restoration by Hugh Broughton Architects

One of England’s most important historic ruins, the centuries-old Clifford’s Tower receives new interventions to enhance people’s experience at site.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Apr 27, 2022

The 800-year-old Clifford's Tower in York, England, which sits high above the city as the only remaining architectural remnant of the medieval Norman Castle, has received fantastical makeover by London-based practices Hugh Broughton Architects and Martin Ashley Architects. The project comprises key conservation works as well as building additions to enhance people's experience at this ruin which is known for its notorious history.

  • Clifford’s Tower and the motte | Clifford’s Tower | Hugh Broughton Architects | STIRworld
    Clifford’s Tower and the motte Image: Dirk Lindner
  • A new roof deck added to the Clifford’s Tower allows unparalleled views of the city of York | Clifford’s Tower | Hugh Broughton Architects | STIRworld
    A new roof deck added to the Clifford’s Tower allows unparalleled views of the city of York Image: Dirk Lindner

Erected on the orders of William I in 1068, for centuries Clifford's Tower served as the keep and chief strongpoint of the castle. Over the last few decades, the site suffered a strange reception of people. Though it received footfall in huge numbers, many people described their experience as poor, boring, too expensive, and underwhelming. Except for the magnificent views of the city that the tower offers, the climb as well as the structure itself people felt had little regard for visitors. And this resulted in them never paying a second visit. Clifford’s Tower is a place of many stories, but its state of architecture combined with a lack of maintenance as well as closure of most of its key spaces for the public never let the architecture speak to people. Speaking of the past, in 1190, the tower was the site of one of the worst anti-Semitic massacres of the Middle Ages, when several members of a Jewish community who were trapped here by a violent mob chose suicide over mass murder. Its interiors were also gutted by a massive fire in 1684, the time when the site was used to store armaments and gun powder. The tower was reduced to nothing but an empty shell which segued into nothing but disappointment.

  • The timber structure with aerial walkways have been installed in the tower’s interiors | Clifford’s Tower | Hugh Broughton Architects | STIRworld
    The timber structure with aerial walkways have been installed in the tower’s interiors Image: Dirk Lindner
  • The walkways allow access to previously unseen spaces of the tower | Clifford’s Tower | Hugh Broughton Architects | STIRworld
    The walkways allow access to previously unseen spaces of the tower Image: Dirk Lindner
  • The timber structure also opens up access to the roof | Clifford’s Tower | Hugh Broughton Architects | STIRworld
    The timber structure also opens up access to the roof Image: Dirk Lindner

With an aim to revive the lost heritage of Clifford’s Tower, the interventions by Hugh Broughton Architects and Martin Ashely Architects include a free-standing timber deck within the tower’s interiors, supported on four timber columns. The structure of the deck is made up of a series of lightweight walkways that allow access to previously unseen features on the first floor, in addition to an amphitheatre seating for people. The deck also opens up entry to the roof through the restoration of two bartizan vices. Elsewhere, the design team shares, “The chapel has also been restored, with stonework cleaned, unsightly timber bracing removed, and the roof repaired and re-clad in clay tiles.”

"The timber deck and suspended walkways,” as per Hugh Broughton Architects, “improve access, introduce visitors to previously unseen historic fabric, allow more time to enjoy the spectacular views of York and complement the special character of Clifford’s Tower.”

The main stairway to access the tower| Clifford’s Tower | Hugh Broughton Architects | STIRworld
The main stairway to access the tower Image: Dirk Lindner

On the outside, entryway to the tower also sees a major uphaul. On the existing stair up the motte, new handrails and three resting points for people to pull off to the side to sit down have been added. An enlarged public area feature at the base of the motte serves as a place to engage those unable to take the hike. Facilities like route maps and facts about the history of the tower has also been integrated along the landscape design. “The existing fabric has been carefully conserved, and enhanced interpretation introduces visitors to the many stories associated with the tower and the wider castle precincts,” adds Hugh Broughton Architects, a firm specialising in the heritage sector and the design of research stations in extreme locations.

  • Access to the historic fabric of the tower has been made possible by the restoration | Clifford’s Tower | Hugh Broughton Architects | STIRworld
    Access to the historic fabric of the tower has been made possible by the restoration Image: Chris Ison
  • The £5m restoration is commissioned by British charity organisation English Heritage | Clifford’s Tower | Hugh Broughton Architects | STIRworld
    The £5m restoration is commissioned by British charity organisation English Heritage Image: Dirk Lindner

The £5m restoration is commissioned by English Heritage – a British charity organisation that manages over 400 historic buildings including prehistoric sites, medieval castles, and Roman forts. The revised look of the Clifford’s Tower was unveiled to the public on April 02, 2022.

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