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Collecting tolls on the Ouse at York….

York from St Mary's, showing the Barker Tower slight right of centre

York from St Mary’s Tower, showing Barker Tower slight right of centre

How did the citizens of York collect tolls from vessels on the River Ouse? They had a great big chain across the river, between two guardian towers, the Barker Tower and the Lendal Tower on the opposite bank. Simple, but effective.

“This river-side tower was built in the 14th century. It was positioned at the boundary of the medieval city-centre and, in conjunction with Lendal Tower on the opposite bank, was used to control river traffic entering the city. A great iron chain was stretched across the river between the two towers and boatmen had to pay a toll to cross it. The chain also served as a defence for the city. As early as 1380 Thomas Smyth was named as the tower’s ‘keeper of the chain’.

“For boats coming downstream it would be the second toll in quick succession; St Mary’s Abbey had its own tower and toll collection system a little further up the river.

“Barker tower was leased for long periods to various ferrymen (and at least one woman) who ran passengers across the Ouse until Lendal Bridge was built in 1863. The ferry ran ‘in summer and winter, fair weather and foul, Sundays and weekdays’.

“The ferry was put out of business when Lendal Bridge opened in 1863. The tower has had plenty of other uses over the years, including as a mortuary for a brief time in the 19th century.”

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