I am going back in time now, to places Sophie and I went before BWP (before wordpress) as we can’t go anywhere as yet. But back on a sunny day in August, 2013, we set off to visit Richmond Castle and Easby Abbey just down the road from the castle. My camera was a Nikon D700, a bit of a gorgeous beast, but my treatment of my photo’s was a bit on the bright side, nevermind, we all have to learn and grow!
But first, of course, we must do…
The History Bit 🍪 ☕️ (long post alert!)
Richmond Castle stands overlooking the River Swale in a place originally called ‘Riche Mount’, meaning ‘the strong hill’. We are back in Norman Conquest times now gentle reader so everything gets a bit Frenchyfied. The Castle and subsequently the town of Richmond was built by a chap called Alan Rufus, (Alan the Red) which doesn’t sound very French but rest assured he was one of those Pesky French who played a large part in our history.
Alan was a Nobleman of Breton and companion to William the Conqueror who you may remember from our previous history post concerning Auckland Castle.
Born in 1040 his parents were Eozen Penteur, Count of Pentfiévre and Orguen Kernev known as Agnes of Cornouaille. Eozen was related to Willy Conk’s family and there’s a whole shed load of inter-related and married brothers and sisters, and Dukes this and that of here and there that I think we’ll skip over for sanity’s sake, suffice to say our Alan’s family were well heeled and connected in the upper eschelons of Royal society.
By 1060 our Al had properties in Rouen, and was Lord of Richemont in Upper Normandy prior to 1066. Willy Conk gifted Al a couple of churches therein, St-Ouen de Rouen of the church of Saint-Sauveur and the nearby church of Sainte Croix des Pelletiers. You will have clocked 1066 as the date when The Battle of Hastings happened, when the Pesky French wiped the floor with the English. Now, I don’t want to appear to be a bad loser here, but I’m going to point out that the battle took place on the 14th October, and started at 9am. It’s estimated the Pesky French under Willy Conk, had 10,000 men, cavalry and arches and infantry, whilst good ol’King Harold had 7000, mostly infantry. The English were outmanned and out techied, but held their ground, and by dusk of that day the Pesky French had not been able to break the English battle lines. So what did they do to win? They ran away, pretending to flee in panic, and then turned on their pursuers! It’s just not cricket!!
Anyway I digress. Our Al was with Willy Conk at the Battle, and apparently Al and his Breton men aquitted themselves very well, doing the English ‘great damage’. Later in 1066 Norman cavalry swept into Cambridgeshire and built a castle on the hill north of the river crossing and as Al’s first possessions in England were in Cambridgeshire, he possibly obtained them at this point. King Harold who died at the battle (legend has it he got an arrow through the eye, which is enough to kill most people) was married, (sort of) to a lady known as Edith the Fair, or Edith Swanneck, who held many land titles in Cambridge, and our Al aquired all but one of those. He also aquired Edith and Harold’s daughter Gunhild of Wessex as his mistress who abandoned her life as a nun in Wilton Abbey in order to live with him. She was hoping to marry him but that didn’t happen and after Al’s death she went on to live with his brother Alan Niger (Alan the Black), I suppose one brother is much like the next! Except one’s red and one’s black. Nomenclaturally speaking I mean. I think it was down to hair colour.
In January 1069 the rebellion of York kicked off and Willy Conk got his army together in the latter part of the year, putting down the rebellion and then going on to do the ‘harrying of the north’. As a reward to red Al for his help in the conquest, Willy bestowed what’s known as ‘The Honour of Richmond’ upon him. This ostensibly means a huge swathe of land previously owned by Edwin Earl of Mercia who was part of the rebellion in the North, and was killed trying to escape to Scotland. It was one of the most important fiefdoms in Norman England covering parts of eight English counties. Alan went on to become one of the most important, and wealthy men in England, owning land just about everywhere and being the third richest Baron. But that’s another herd of stuff that isn’t of import to Richmond so there we’ll leave it except to say he had a sudden and unexpected death in either 1089 or 1093, most likely 1093.
Our Al commenced the building of the castle in 1071, and the earliest surviving structures at the castle include long stretches of the stone curtain wall, the great archway in the ground floor of the keep, and Scolland’s Hall. No other castle in England can boast so much surviving 11th-century architecture and it is probably the best-preserved castle of this scale and age in the country. After Al’s death, his brother Al the Black took over and after his death another brother Stephen. By 1136 Stephen’s son, wouldn’t you know it, another Alan Niger (so Al the Black 2nd whomst we will call Alby 2) held the estates.
The King at this point was King Stephen, known as Stephen Le Blois, who we never hear much about, so I’ll digress a little to tell you he was the grandson of Willy Conk, and when Conk’s son King Henry 1st died leaving the succession to the throne open to challenge, Stephen hot footed it over the channel to England and with the help of Henry, Bishop of Winchester, took the throne, before Henry’s daughter Matilda got her little graspy hands on it. Alby 2 had a mint built in the castle that issued coins in support of King Stephen, as his reign was muchly embattled with rebellions and the like.
Alby 2 had married Bertha, the heiress to the Duke of Brittany and they had a son named Conan, (not the Destroyer, nor the Barbarian) and he eventually inherited the Duchy of Brittany and the Earldom of Richmond, thereby becoming subject to both the King of England and the King of France. He began to assert control over his English lands from 1154 and during the next 10 years spent a lot of time at Richmond, commencing the building of the castle keep, a statement of his vast power and wealth. The 100 feet (30m) high keep was built of honey coloured sandstone and it’s walls were 11 foot (3-4m) thick.
Henry II was our King at this time, and in 1166 after getting help from Henry to put down rebellions in his lands in France Conan betrothed his daughter Constance to Henry’s 4th son Geoffrey ceding the duchy of Brittany to the king as part of the agreement. Constance was only 9 years old when Dad died in 1171 so Henry took control of Richmond castle, and held the guardianship of Brittany until Geoffrey and Constance could marry. Royal accounts list several buildings as objects of repair or new work under Henry II, including the tower and houses of the castle (1171–4) and the ‘king’s house’ (1186–7), probably a reference to Scolland’s Hall.
Although Geoff and Connie did marry in 1181, the castle remained in royal hands until the end of King John’s reign in 1261, though there’s no evidence that he did any building works at the castle.
Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries Alby 2’s combination of the French Duchy of Brittany with the English Earldom of Richmond caused a long running international dynastic dispute. The French and English Kings were often having fisticuffs, so the incumbent at Richmond castle had dual allegiances, never really works that does it? As a result the Honour and castle were confiscated from time to time and held by either the English Crown or a royal favourite. Finally in 1372 the castle was surrendered to the Crown.
The Dukes who intermittently ruled Richmond in this period continued to invest in it. In 1278 Duke John II entered into an agreement with Egglestone Abbey to provide six canons (priests, not implements of war- they have an extra ‘n’) for the castle’s Great Chapel so they could spend their time praying for the soul of his late wife Beatrice. Beatrice must have been really bad to need that many prayers I think. The chapel isn’t standing now, so the prayers probably didn’t work too well.
By the end of the 14th century the castle was not in good nick anymore and surveys in 1538 had it ‘derelict’, and in 1609 ‘decayed’ but parts of the castle were still being used. At some point in the 16th century expensive glass was imported from Europe to refurbish the Robin Hood tower’s chapel, and at another point that was abandoned too.
The castle remained in this condition for another 300 years with ownership passing back to the Dukes of Richmond in 1675. These lot were not the Pesky French but started with the extramarital son of King Charles II, probably better keeping it in the family. Every one of the Dukes was called Charles Lennox, Charles Gordon Lennox, Charles Henry Gordon Lennox or Frederick Charles Gordon Lennox. My eyerolling knows no bounds gentle reader. There are 11 of them and apart from one nephew all are sons of the fathers. At least the 3rd Duke made some repairs to the castle keep, but other than that, it stands a ruin. In the 18th and 19th centuries artists including JMW Turner painted the castle in the landscape which encouraged admiration of the castle as a romantic ruin, and the town became a fashionable place for tourists to visit.
In 1854 the North York Militia leased the castle for it’s headquarters and built a barrack block against the west curtain wall. They adapted the keep as a depot and built a range beside the main castle gate, intended as a reserve armoury for the militia. Then in 1908 it became the headquarters of the Northern Territorial Army commanded by Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts until 1910 when the army handed over the historic fabric of the castle to the Ministry of Works, but retained control of the buildings.
When World War 1 happened the Northern Non-Combatent Corps occupied the building. They were a military unit of chaps who had asked to be exempt from going to war but would contribute to the war effort in some other way. However there were a few chaps who didn’t want anything to do with the war at all as it was against their fundamental beliefs and in 1916 some of them were detained in cells at the castle. The tiny rooms where they were held still have the graffiti on the walls that the objectors drew.
Some of these conscientious objectors, who became known as the Richmond Sixteen, were sent to France in May 1916, where they were court martialled for refusing to obey orders. They were given a death sentence, but it was commuted to 10 years penal servitude. Their transportation to France, trial and sentencing have become notorious in the history of conscientious objection.
After the war, from 1920-28 the barracks were used by Richmond Council to help alleviate the shortage of housing in the town and the block was demolished in 1931. In the 2nd World War the roof of the keep was used as a lookout post against enemy activity, and the keep was used as a daylight air raid shelter. In 1940 the cell block was once again used to detain prisoners, although these were soldiers rather than conscientious objectors. Many of them also pencilled drawings and inscriptions on the cell walls.
In 1987 English Heritage became the guardians of the Castle, and now we are bang up to date! That was a long read and I salute you gentle reader for staying to the end, you are still my favourite 🙂 .
So let’s have a look at the castle.
Built by John Yorke as a feature in the park surrounding his mansion, The Green, which was demolished in the 1820s in the 19th century it was known as the Cumberland Tower, or Temple. It was built on, or close to, the site of an earlier peel tower but an exact date has not yet been discovered. It must however be between 1732 – as it bears the arms of Anne Darcy who Yorke married in that year – and 1749 when it is described as a ‘Gothick Tower on an eminence’. The Culloden Tower fell into disrepair in the 1970s and was rescued by The Landmark Trust which completed an exemplary restoration in 1982.
Well that will do for today, you must have finished your cuppa tea by now, but stay tooned, next week we’ll have a look at the town and the river.
All the pictures are embiggenable with a click if you like.