York Castle Museum - History and Facts | History Hit

York Castle Museum


Lily Johnson

18 Feb 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About York Castle Museum

Situated in the shadow of Clifford’s Tower, York Castle Museum is home to a wealth of exhibits surrounding the rich history of York and wider Great Britain, where historical sights from Georgian gowns to Dick Turpin’s prison cell may be found. Its standout exhibit however is a fully-recreated Victorian street, dubbed Kirkgate after the museum’s founder, complete with horse and cart, costumed guides and cobblestones.

York Castle Museum history

Though opening as a museum in 1938, the site on which it stands holds an important place in York’s history. Originally part of the York Castle complex, the area was built upon by William the Conqueror in 1068 as a motte and bailey defence system, and sections of the medieval castle wall can still be seen today nestled amongst the newer buildings.

In the 18th century, York Prison occupied the space with three new buildings constructed on the site of the old bailey. These housed the Assize Courts, now the York Crown Court, and the County Gaol that once held Dick Turpin as he awaited trial. This was eventually converted to the Debtor’s Prison, and a Female Prison was built alongside it. These two striking Grade I buildings were joined and now house the museum.

The Castle Museum today

Today the site welcomes visitors to view its many collections. In a nod to its own history, an exhibition surrounding the old prison cells it once held can be explored, including access to Dick Turpin’s, eerily named the ‘Condemned Cell’.

Kirkgate, the recreated Victorian street, allows visitors to amble through time exploring York’s vibrant past first-hand. Each shop name featured was a real business working in York between 1870-1901, with some even still operating in the city today!

Other permanent exhibits include Shaping the Body, a look into the fascinating history of food and fashion, and Raindale Mill, a Victorian watermill transported from the North York Moors where trained volunteer demonstrations take place.

Getting to the Castle Museum

The Castle Museum is located in the centre of York, directly beside Clifford’s Tower and near to the Coppergate Shopping Centre. There is a car park next to the Tower, and the city also operates various Park and Ride services.

From York train station, it is approximately a 20-25 minute walk, following the signs that read ‘Castle Area’, and the nearest bus stop is Tower Street, where the 3 bus stops a mere 150m from the museum’s doors.

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