Castle of the Week 28 – Richmond Castle

Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire is a striking sight. The keep stands 100 feet high and one side of the castle is perched on the edge of a 100 foot escarpment down to the River Swale. It is the oldest surviving stone built castle in England.

In 1069 William I laid waste to much of north-eastern England after rebels slaughtered the Norman garrison at York. He then divided the land between some of his barons of whom one, Alan Rufus of Brittany, was given Richmond. He started to build the castle in 1071, completing it in 1091, in order to protect Swaledale from border raids and the local dispossessed English and most of his curtain walls still survive. There was a triangular inner bailey with the massive walls on two sides and the steep drop on the third. It was the first stone castle in England to have projecting mural towers. There was a large outer bailey beyond the walls so that attackers would have no cover.

The keep was started by the first Earl of Richmond towards the end of the 12th century over the original gatehouse and was finished by Henry II. It was built on rock rather than an earth motte so that it, too, has survived almost unscathed. As it was built for military use rather than residential it is fairly austere and also means that it is located next to the gatehouse rather than in the middle of the castle. His idea was that the castle should be equally strong all round, a principle which was later adopted by Edward I in his Welsh castles. The living quarters had already been built in the south-eastern corner of the bailey; known as Scolland’s Hall, this is the earliest example of a two-storey four-roomed castle hall in England and would have been a magnificent sight. It makes Richmond unusual in that it had two keeps

The knights to guard the castle were provided by all the local tenants, the number of knights provided depending on the size of their holding. However it was such a strongly built castle that it was rarely attacked directly, only having a few skirmishes with Scottish raiding parties which explains the large amount of Norman stonework that survives.

After the Hundred Years War, the line of the Dukes of Richmond died out and ownership changed frequently until the early 16th century when it was no longer inhabited and began to fall into ruins. In the mid 1800s it was leased by the North York Militia who built a detention block of eight cells just inside the entrance. Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout movement, lived there between 1908 and 1910.

During the two World Wars it was used as a prison for Conscientious Objectors who covered the walls with graffiti and drawings which are being preserved, although they are not open to the public due to their fragility.

There are two legends told about Richmond Castle. One is that King Arthur and his Knights are sleeping deep in a crypt below the keep waiting for the day when England needs them once again.

The other is the legend of the ghostly drummer boy. There is supposed to be a secret underground passage leading from under the keep to Easby Abbey, about 3 miles away down the River Swale, possibly built in medieval times as an escape route to the castle for the monks at the Abbey when the Scots raided. One day in the late 18th century, some soldiers discovered the entrance to the tunnel. As they were too large to crawl down it, they chose a small drummer boy to find out where it led. They followed the sound of his drum about halfway to the Abbey, when suddenly the drumming stopped. He was never seen again but his ghost haunts the tunnel from where a slow drumbeat can sometimes be heard.

Write-up & pictures provided by GillB.


Download Richmond Castle by Wraith