Baile Hill is the site of William the Conqueror’s second motte and bailey castle in York. It lies across the Ouse from Cliffords Tower. Both castles were destroyed following an eight day siege in 1069. Very few of the garrisons of either castle survived the experience – although the sheriff’s wife and children were allowed to escape with their lives.
It’s easy to miss Baile Hill. These days its one more set of steps on the way round York’s city wall, though there is a handy plaque with an explanation about building technique for motte and bailey castles.
Archeological survey in the 1970s revealed that William utilised the remnants of earlier fortifications, a practice seen elsewhere including the Tower of London and Colchester Castle where he used Roman fortifications. At Almondbury in the West Riding the Normans made the most of an Iron Age Hill fort. In this case, as in London and Colchester, there are Roman remains buried deep within the motte. The archeologists also discovered the remnants of a timber palisade and a wooden building that dated from the twelfth century along with assorted small medieval finds.
The castle was no longer required by the early fourteenth century and by 1322 it had become part of York’s city wall. There is further recorded reference to it as there was some debate about who had responsibility for the upkeep of that part of the wall. Edward II ordered the city’s defences to be repaired, not surprising given the Scots had the upper hand in the Scottish Wars of Independence at the time. The land and stretch of wall that Baile Hill was part of lay in the bishop’s remit, hence the other name for the area Bishops Hill. In the end the archbishop William de Melton complied, albeit unwillingly.
Leland, the Tudor mapmaker, was not impressed with the remnants of the castle when he visited “ it is of no very great quantity.”
The find on Baile Hill that intrigues me most is an early nineteenth century discovery of a hoard comprising silver pennies of Edward the Confessor and coins from the early part of William I’s rein. (‘The Old Baile’, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 2: The Defences (1972), pp. 87-89. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=125178 Date accessed: 27 July 2014.). Who buried them and why did they not return for their savings? Was it a Norman soldier who met a sticky end in 1069 or was it a local who buried his or her savings to secure them from the Normans?