Castle of the Week 39 – Bolton Castle

Bolton Castle is in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park which is one of the most beautiful parts of England (although maybe I’m just slightly biased as my family comes from nearby and I spent my honeymoon there). Today’s rolling hills covered with heather and low scrub were, when the castle was built, hidden by an ancient forest. The castle has never been sold and remains the property of Lord Bolton, a direct descendant of the Scrope family who initially built it in the 14th century. Although partly in ruins now, the castle’s original grandeur is still plain. Another castle much in demand for filming purposes, it has been seen in Ivanhoe, Elizabeth (the film), Heartbeat and All Creatures Great and Small amongst others.

The building work started in 1379 for Sir Richard le Scrope who, as Chancellor of England, was granted a licence by Richard II to crenellate his manor house. He felt he needed a home more fitting to his rank and status so he left the house and chose a site half a mile away to build himself a castle. The mason was Johan Lewyn who is also thought to have built Ayton and Warkworth amongst other northern castles.

Like Bodiam, Bolton was built at a time when the castle was a home as well as protection. The courtyard was rectangular surrounded by three storey residential walls, 9 feet thick, with residential towers at each corner. The Great Hall was on the first floor of the north side. Because it was a home, Bolton didn’t have elaborate fortifications but what it had were excellent for defence. The gatehouse, on the east side, had a portcullis at each end; past that there were arrowslits in the ground floor rooms which covered every part of the courtyard. The four entrance doors into the castle are in each of the corners of the courtyard in the towers. Each of these had a portcullis and machicolations in the towers overhead. If these doors were breached, access to the upper levels was by narrow staircases.

In 1568 Mary Queen of Scots stayed at Bolton Castle for 6 months, plotting with many of the northern catholic nobles against Elizabeth I. However the Scropes were not involved in her plots, being loyal to the Queen so they persuaded her to move elsewhere.

During the Civil War, John Scrope held the castle for the Royalists. It was besieged and bombarded with mortars in 1645 though, when taken, the garrison was allowed to leave with honour. Two years later Parliament ordered it to be rendered uninhabitable and a new manor house was built 5 miles away.

After this, the castle was plundered for its stone by local people and in 1761 the north-east tower,weakened by artillery fire during the Civil War, collapsed. An extensive conservation project has been undertaken with the assistance of English Heritage. The remaining buildings have been repaired and made safe and the grounds have been improved with a walled herb garden, a vineyard and a maze in the style of medieval times. The castle is open to the public with furnishings and tableaux in some of the rooms.

Write-up provided by GillB. Pictures courtesy of Jayhawk.


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