England is famous for its well-preserved medieval towns and villages. Beautiful historical places like York, founded in 71 AD and a famous wool trading centre of the time. Or Chester, the walled city on the River Dee, a former Roman army fort and the place of the brutal and decisive battle between King Æthelred of Mercia and the Welsh army. And let’s not forget Oxford, first settled by the Anglo-Saxons around 900 AD and home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
if you’re planning a visit to England and love medieval history, you can’t miss these unique tows. Here’s our list of un-missable medieval places.
The Romans founded York as Eboracum in 71 AD. The word York (Jórvík in Old Norse) is derived from the combination of eburos “yew-tree” and the suffix *-āko(n) “belonging to-, place of-,” meaning “place of the yew trees.” It was the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior and later of the kingdoms of Deira, Northumbria, and Jórvík. In 866, the Vikings raided and captured York, turning it into a river port as part of the extensive Viking trading routes throughout northern Europe. In the 12th century, York started to prosper and became a major trading center.
What to see in York
The Shambles is an old street with overhanging timber-framed buildings that date, in some cases, as far as the fourteenth century. The street was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The Shambles Market operates daily.
York Castle is a fortified complex comprising a sequence of castles, prisons, law courts, and other buildings built over the last nine centuries on the River Foss’s south side. The castle suffered a tumultuous early history before developing into a major fortification.
Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval townhouse built around 1360 and extended in the 15th century. The earliest parts of the building were ordered by Thomas de Dereford, prior of Nostell Priory. The monks used the building as a hospice or townhouse when visiting the city.
Chester is one of the best-preserved walled cities in Britain. Located on the River Dee in Cheshire, it was founded as a “castrum” or Roman army fort with the name Deva Victrix in the reign of Emperor Vespasian in 79 AD. In 689, King Æthelred of Mercia defeated a Welsh army at the brutal and decisive Battle of Chester and founded the Minster Church of West Mercia. The Saxons extended and strengthened the walls to protect the city against the Danes. The city was one of the last in England to fall to the Normans.
What to see in Chester
Chester Rows are a series of medieval covered walkways on the first floor, behind which are entrances to shops and other premises. The Rows may have been built on top of rubble remaining from the ruins of Roman buildings. Stone undercrofts or “crypts” were constructed beneath the buildings.
Chester Castle is situated at the southwest extremity of the area bounded by the city walls and overlooking the River Dee. The castle was built in 1070 by Hugh d’Avranches. It hosted visits from many powerful figures in the medieval period, including kings Edward I and Richard II.
The Chester city walls are a defensive structure started by the Romans. After the Norman conquest, the walls were extended to the west and the south to form a complete circuit of the medieval city. They were finished by the middle of the 12th century and have a walkway length of 2.95 kilometres (1.8 mi).
Oxford is a university city in Oxfordshire, England. Founded in the 9th century when Alfred the Great created a network of fortified towns called burghs across his kingdom, Oxford has buildings in every English architecture style from late Anglo-Saxon. Oxford is home to the University of Oxford, the oldest in the English-speaking world (1167). Saxon Oxford probably had a market from when it was made a burgh, and it soon became a flourishing town.
You can plan your visit to Oxford using our sist-site, OxfordVisit.com
What to see in Oxford
The University of Oxford is the oldest in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest university in continuous operation after the University of Bologna. The oldest colleges are Merton, Balliol, and University College, dating back to the mid-13th century.
Learn about the University of Oxford and how to visit it here.
Oxford Castle is a large, partly ruined Norman medieval castle, built by baron Robert D’Oyly, the elder from 1071–73. Queen Maud (Matilda) was besieged here. Most of the original moated, wooden motte and bailey castle was replaced in stone in the late 12th or early 13th century.
The Duke Humphrey’s Library is the oldest reading room of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. It houses collections of maps, music, Western manuscripts, and theology and art materials and consists of the original medieval section (1487), the Arts End (1612), and the Selden End (1637).
The 12th-Century market town of Knaresborough is perched on the cliffs above the River Nidd in North Yorkshire. Around 1100 AD, the town began to grow and provide a market for traders to service Knaresborough castle. In Edward II’s reign, the castle was occupied by rebels and later invaded by Scots, who burned much of the town and the parish church. The castle eventually fell in 1646, and its destruction was ordered.
What to see in Knaresborough
Mother Shipton’s Cave is situated next to the Petrifying Well, a unique geological phenomenon. Mother Shipton was a strange child born in 1488, in a cave on the River Nidd banks. As she grew older, her prophecies became known throughout England.
Knaresborough Castle is a ruined fortress built by a Norman baron around 1100 on a cliff above the River Nidd. In the 1170s, Hugh de Moreville and his followers took refuge there after assassinating Thomas Becket. The castle was taken in 1644 during the Civil War and largely destroyed in 1648.
There has been a market every week in the Square since 1310. The market offers a vast selection of locally grown fresh seasonal produce, Yorkshire meat, fresh fish, local Cheeses and beers, and the traditional Yorkshire Pork Pies.
Durham is a historic city in County Durham, North East England. Archeological evidence suggests a history of settlement in the area since roughly 2000 BC, but local legend states that it was founded in A.D. 995 by divine intervention. Its Norman cathedral became a pilgrimage center in medieval England as the city was founded over the final resting place of St Cuthbert. Durham Castle is the only Norman castle keep never to have suffered a breach.
What to see in Durham
Durham Castle is a Norman castle built in 1072 under the orders of William the Conqueror. It follows the usual motte and bailey design favored by the Normans. The castle has a large Great Hall created by Bishop Antony Bek in the early 14th century.
Durham Cathedral was begun in 1093, replacing a Saxon ‘White Church’ and is home to the Shrine of St Cuthbert. It’s regarded as one of Norman architecture’s finest examples in Europe and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Not a medieval structure in itself, the Durham Riverside Walk lets you take in some beautiful Durham City-Riverside Scenery. The 3-mile circular walk takes approximately 1-1.5 hours and has many bridges that provide viewing platforms.
The foundation of Reading dates back to Britain’s Roman occupation, when it was known as Readingum – possibly a reference to the Readingas, an Anglo-Saxon tribe.
After the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror gave land in and around Reading to his Battle Abbey foundation. In 1121 Henry I founded Reading Abbey. It contained the tomb of the King and remained under royal patronage until its dissolution in 1539. By 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire and the 10th largest town in England.
What to see in Reading
Reading Abbey was founded in 1121 by Henry I, who is buried within the Abbey grounds. It was conveniently situated on major communication routes. It witnessed many important royal and historical events, such as the marriage of John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster in 1359, and the publication of Edward IV’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464.
The Abbey’s Inner Gateway is one of only two buildings that survived the monasteries’ dissolution between 1536 and 1541 (the other being the Hospitium). The gateway marked the division between the area open to the public and the section accessible only to monks. This is where Hugh Faringdon, the last abbot of Reading, was hanged, drawn, and quartered.
Reading Museum was open to the public in 1883. It focuses on objects that tell the story of the city and its inhabitants. This modern, fascinating museum also houses the Silchester collection (objects from the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum) and the only full-size replica of the Bayeaux Tapestry, acquired in 1895.
Books about Medieval Towns
Explore Medieval Towns and Castles
Framlingham Castle has no central keep but a curtain wall with 13 towers.
Newark Castle is a 12th century castle by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln.
Corfe Castle is a ruined castle on the route between Wareham and Swanage.
Lindisfarne Castle is a 16th-century castle located on Holy Island.
Kirby Castle is a ruined fortified manor house in Leicestershire built by Lord Hastings in 1480.
Windsor Castle is a 1,000-year royal residence in Berkshire.
Berwick-upon-Tweed Castle is a 12th Century ruined castle in Northumberland.
Barnard Castle is a 12th-century fortress passed to the hands of Richard III.