History of the Tower

Early History
When it was built around 1300, Lendal Tower was similar to Barker Tower, on the opposite bank. The towers originally served as a means of both defence and profit. A huge iron chain (known as a boom) ran between the two towers, and could be raised to prevent ships from accessing the city’s interior. This protected the city in times of trouble and ensured that ships couldn’t slip through without paying the toll.

The tower saw action during the ‘Rising of the North’, when the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland staged an attack on the city. The subsequent repairs in 1584-85 added a tiled roof to the tower.

Between 1616 and 1632, an investor named Mr Maltby attempted to use the tower to operate a piped water supply to the city. Using a horse-powered pump, water was delivered to the city via hollowed-out tree trunks. The city corporation (or council) eventually asked for the pipes to be removed and the tower became a riverside warehouse, falling into some disrepair thereafter.

With the advent of the English Civil War and the Siege of York in the 1640's, the Tower reprised its role as defender of the city. Bombarded by Cromwell and Fairfax, the tower is believed to have sustained damage as the city held out for the King. In 1674, Henry Whistler of London proposed a new scheme for supplying water, and in April 1677 the tower was leased for 500 years to the York waterworks company. The tower was repaired, enlarged and heightened to make room for a lead cistern, into which water could first be pumped, before flowing onwards to the growing city.

After Whistler’s death a Col. William Thornton purchased the property for £4,000, and then obtained a mortgage for £1,400 in order to install a Newcomen Steam Engine, of 4.7 horsepower. Public baths with hot and cold water were added next door in what is now Lendal Hill House. Water was also supplied to the Mansion House and the Ouse Bridge Gaol.

Mid-history: providing the city with water
In 1781-4 John Smeaton (the father of Civil Engineering and designer of the famous Eddystone Lighthouses) rebuilt the engine. It now produced 18 horsepower to raise 10,500 gallons an hour. Drawings of the engine are displayed at the tower and evidence of its workings still exists on the heavy beams above the mezzanine floor level. The improved engine worked in the tower until 1836, when it was moved to a new engine house (the red-brick building adjoining Lendal Tower).

Following the incorporation of the York New Water Works Company in 1846 by Queen Victoria, the waterworks moved further upstream to Acomb Landing, and the tower was lowered by 10 feet with the removal of the lead water cistern. A grid from the period bearing the initials of the new company, YNWW, can be found on the garden path near the lawn steps.

The tower then became the proud headquarters for the new company; extensive work was undertaken in 1932 to create a grander interior space and the Board Room (now the top floor master bedroom suite). Having sustained only minor collateral damage during World War II, when a cobblestone came through the copper roof/ornamental ceiling of the tower, the YNWW Company was acquired by what is now Yorkshire Water in 1999.

Recent history: restoration
The building gradually fell into disrepair and was neglected until the previous owner acquired it in 2010. He successfully navigated the complex maze of Planning & Building Control Regulations and stringent Conservation and Heritage requirements, and finally obtained permission to bring Lendal Tower to its current incarnation.

This Grade I listed, Ancient Scheduled Monument became a unique, stunning home in an unrivalled setting (apparently the first such residential conversion of an Ancient Scheduled Monument since that of Windsor Castle).

A team of specialist skilled craftsmen not only achieved the goal of repairing and preserving this historically significant building, but also worked meticulously to ensure the Tower’s character and charm were maintained.

Lendal Tower is more than just accommodation - it’s a living, breathing monument to York’s vibrant past, of which the Tower is a key feature. Knowing the history of the Tower adds to the richness of your experience when you stay here. The Tower has been a major part of York’s landscape for centuries, and so it will remain for all to enjoy.