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York Castle originated as a Norman motte and bailey, built in 1068 when William the Conqueror came north to consolidate his power over the country. It was of earth and timber construction and the original motte underlies the thirteenth century mound of Clifford's Tower. The main bailey lay to the south east and extended down to the line of the River Foss. The remains of such buildings as stables, barracks and workshops will survive throughout. In circa 1089 the Foss was dammed to create a moat around the keep and bailey. Although infilled, the line of the moat survives beneath the surfaces of the carpark, footpaths and access roads around the castle. The castle was burnt down in 1190 in an anti-Jewish riot and was rebuilt the same year, still in timber. Documentary sources indicate that the 12th and early 13th century castle included a tower, palisades, gatehouses, bridges, houses, stables, prisons and a chapel. Stone defences were added around the bailey by Henry III between 1245 and 1262 when the keep was also rebuilt in stone (SE 65 SW 395). Along with towers and a length of curtain wall to the south east, the keep is all that remains standing of the medieval castle, though buried features, including those of stone buildings constructed by Henry III, including halls, a kitchen and a prison, may survive in the open areas of the bailey. Documentary evidence indicates that a mint was in operation in the castle during the 14th and 15th centuries, and was moved elsewhere in 1546. The castle was slighted during the Civil War and gutted by fire in 1684. It became part of York prison after 1825. Most of the prison buildings were demolished in 1935, but the former debtors' prison (SE 65 SW 393) and female prison (SE 65 SW 337) remain, along with the eighteenth century Assize Court (SE 65 SW 280).

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