Richmond Castle: A Short History and Why You Need to Visit This Historic Landmark

by eHeritage Blogazine
December 9, 2021 | 10 min read

Richmond Castle: A Short History and Why You Need to Visit This Historic Landmark

Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire is one of the mightiest fortifications in the North of England. With its giant Norman tower, and imposing Castle walls, the ruins of Richmond castle dominate the skyline, and can be seen from miles around.

At nearly 950 years old, Richmond castle has a fantastic history. Legend has it that King Arthur and his knights lay sleeping below the castle, and that underground tunnels are haunted by the ghost of a lost drummer boy!

Legends aside, Richmond castle is a incredible historic site of national importance.

I visited Richmond Castle several times as a school kid, and have a very vivid memory of being scalded by a teacher, for running off into the tower, and apparently nearly falling into a well! Looking back now, I think that teacher was just an angry man, but the impression Richmond Castle left on me was incredible. I remember being in absolute awe of that might Norman keep tower.

A few weeks back I was looking for something to do with my mum, dad and daughter, and having been desperate to get back to Richmond, we decided to have a nice day out.

Read on to find out more about my experience of Richmond Castle, the history of this incredible Norman fortification, and why you really need visit for yourself.

Where is Richmond castle?

Richmond can be a bit of a slog to get to, depending on where you are coming from. Fortunately, it’s just a short drive from the A1(M) so it’s fairly accessible from both the North and South. It’s still a fair drive though, so it might be worth visiting a few other sites whilst your at it (more on this later). Richmond sits on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, and is around 47 miles North West of York and 18 miles west of Northallerton.

A very brief history of Richmond Castle

Richmond Castle has a very long and colourful past, dating back almost 950 years. A true Norman fortification, the Castle at Richmond has its roots firmly set in the eleventh Century, and was founded by one of Richard The conquerors closest allies – Alan Ruffus. Rewarded for his loyalty to the new king, he was granted the honour of Richmond, and charged with constructing a mighty castle, capable of controlling the North of England, and reinforcing the border with Scotland.

Building work at Richmond began in 1171, with the castle occupying a Commanding hilltop Position, overlooking the river Swale. Massive Curtain walls and ditches were built to the East and West, with a naturally defensive cliff face protecting the site to the South.

The design of Richmond is quite unique, with the castle enclosure being roughly triangular in shape. At its apex to the North stands a magnificent tower keep. This was actually a later addition, and sits a top the original gatehouse (which is still clearly visible).

In later years, further ranges were added to the site, with a kitchen, panty and buttery being added, along with larger domestic accommodation.

Following the death of Rufus, the castle passed into the ownership of each of his brothers, followed by his great nephew Conan, who was responsible for the great tower.

Richmond castle passed through a succession of owners, and following investment by Edward I, appears to have fallen into disrepair. By the time of the Tudors, Richmond castle was largely ruinous.

It was not until 1854, that the castle gained a new lease of life as a military barracks, and later a prison. As part of this investment the great tower was completely restored with the current floors being added. Following a further period of military occupation during World War 1, Richmond castle eventually passed into the care of English Heritage, who manage the site today.

Exploring the castle

You enter the Castle enclosure via the gatehouse, which is situated just to the left of the tower, as you approach from the North. The tower is a truly magnificent sight and you can only imagine the effect it must have had on the local population, back in the twelfth century. Even today this is an incredible sight.

Once within the castle walls you are struck at once by the great expanse of the main enclosure, spread out in front of you, and seemingly disappearing to the South. Its not quite on the same scale of Scarborough castles enclosure (which is huge), but it is very impressive none the less.

We walked around counterclockwise, starting with the western wall. There is not that much to see here, but in the nineteenth century a large barracks stood within this section of the wall. This was the home of the North York militia, but was sadly demolished in 1931. Apparently on very hot days, the foundations of this Victorian complex can still be seen.

To the south of the enclosure stands the South curtain wall. This is much lower and less substantial than the rest of curtain walls, but for good reason, as it overlooks a sheer drop. The views from here across the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside are outstanding. Dotted across the South curtain wall are foundations of long lost buildings. It is likely that some of these belong to the lost Great Chapel, and it’s supporting accommodation.

The most substantial buildings still standing at Richmond Castle, are situated in the South East corner. We headed there next. Here stands the Great Hall, known as Scolland’s Hall (named after one of the castle’s stewards), and the main domestic accommodation. This range of buildings is massively significant as according to English Heritage, it is one of only a few grand castle buildings in the country certainly dated to the reign of William the Conqueror.

Scolland’s Hall is absolutely incredible. You have to go inside to truly appreciate its scale. Originally the hall would have sat above an undercroft, and would have had a stunning high-pitched roof, with a decorative cornice of arches running below it on either side (evidence of these still exist).

From this range of buildings there is also a small gateway to the Cockpit (possibly named after cock fighting which was popular from the sixteenth century onwards). Today the Cockpit contains a lovely garden which was commissioned by English Heritage in 2002.

From here we made our way up past the Eastern walls and back towards the tower. Nestled within this section of the walls are the remains of the eleventh century St Nicholas’s Chapel, and Robin Hood Tower.

Back to that magnificent tower keep then, wow just wow! It’s difficult to not shudder when you look up at this 100ft tall incredible feat of engineering.

Not an original feature of the castle, the great keep was added in the 1160’s by Rufus’s great nephew Conan. Only the finest castles in England featured such incredible stone keeps, and they were very much an expression of the lord’s wealth and power. Richmond’s tower has an incredible four storeys and sits atop the original gatehouse which serves as an entrance point to the bottom of the tower.

The ground floor features a lovely vaulted roof, added in the the late thirteenth century, and a well (which I could have fallen in all those years ago!). You can then access the upper floors from a spiral staircase (a later addition), or climb up to the first floor via some steps which take you up and over the nineteenth century cell block.

Amazingly, you can access every floor of the tower keep. I’m not entirely sure what the first floors purpose was, but it’s a very wide open space, with a supporting pillar in the middle, and large windows which would have once reached right down to the floor.

Coming up the stairs from the first floor, you emerge into a small lobby before going through to the magnificent hall. This vast space would have been used for formal gatherings, and incorporates two small external chambers which would have been used by VIP guests wanting to escape for some private time. A lovely timber roof (a much later addition) adds to the grandeur of this incredible space.

From the hall, another staircase takes you up to the roof. Here you are rewarded for your efforts (it’s a long way up) with incredible views over Richmond and the beautiful surrounding countryside.

I wondered again, just how incredible these views must have been for people back in the twelfth century. It’s easy to take for granted what an incredible feat of engineering this Norman tower actually is. I mean, when you remember that this tower is around 850 years old, you can truly appreciate the effect it must have had on the population of the day. It’s mind-blowing actually!

For further photos of Richmond Castle click here to view the gallery.

Why you should visit Richmond Castle

Richmond castle is really quite special. It’s a rare example of an original Norman stone fortress, with a beautifully preserved great keep, and surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside Yorkshire has to offer.

The tower is one of the finest and well preserved Norman keeps in the country, so if you’re able to, you absolutely do need to get up to the top. The range of buildings situated in the South East of the enclosure, are also well worth spending some time exploring. If you want to get a taste of what early Norman architecture was really like, this is a very good place to start.

Richmond itself is a lovely little market town and it really is worth spending a few days exploring the town and castle if you can. There are some great pubs and guesthouses if you decide to stay a few nights.

Whilst in the area why not also visit Bolton Castle and Middleham Castle. Middleham is also managed by English Heritage so if your a member you could have a pretty cheap day out. Easby Abbey is also just up the road, and its history is very much entwined with that of Richmond Castle.

How much does it cost?

Entry to Richmond Castle costs just £6.50 for adults and £3.90 for children. There is no onsite parking unfortunately, but you can park in town for free for a couple of hours, or there are several private car parks situated around town which are quite reasonably priced.

For more information and opening times check out the English Heritage website here.

I really hope you enjoyed reading about my experience of Richmond castle. Another article you might want to have a look at is a list of six of my favourite castles in Yorkshire. You can read this here.

If you have anything to say, have visited Richmond Castle yourself, or just want to get in touch, please feel free to drop a comment below.

Thanks for swinging by!

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I’m Mikey Holden. I have a real passion for historical places. I’ve always loved visiting colossal houses and castles, daydreaming about the schemes that have been thought up within their walls, keen to discover the stories waiting to be told. I am a heritage travel blogger with a simple mission: To discover, explore and photograph historical places in Yorkshire and beyond.

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