Portly as he was, he had to stay outside, standing in front of the barbican.
- The Romance of Reynard the Fox, translated by D. D. R. Owen
Walmgate bar is the most complete of the four major gates opening into York's city centre. The oldest part of the gate dates from the 12th century and constitutes an archway probably erected during the reign of Richard I (1189-99) at a time when York was environed by earth ramparts and not the stone wall seen today. There was, however, a bar and tollbooth prior to this date, as can be seen from a grant document of the mid-12th-century referring to Walmgatebarr.
The barbican was constructed in the 14th century and it was originally built over a moat. Its purpose was to trap attackers between two gates, making them easy targets for the archers on the wall. The name itself, barbican, comes from the Arabic word barbahanne which means shelter, while the outer fortification was called barmkyn, a word possibly originating from a corruption of the word "barbican". The other three major gates also were equipped with their own barbicans but these were removed for traffic reasons in the 19th century, making Walmgate Bar York's only extant barbican.
The portcullis (barely visible on a picture below) and the wooden gates are features of the 15th century, while the timber and plaster inner facade was added in the Elizabethan period. During the Siege of York in 1644 Walmgate Bar suffered badly from the Parliamentarian artillery, and records tell of a Scottish detachment under the command of Sir James Lumsden that entered the barbican and damaged the inner gates of iron. No breach of the gates was recorded. Walmgate bar was restored in 1840 during the mayoralty of William Stephenson Clark and is currently housing a coffee shop.