Built in the late eleventh century, Richmond Castle was one of the first stone built fortifications raised by the Normans. Its garrison opposed the King in the First Barons' Wars resulting in an attack by Royalist forces. After the fourteenth century the castle was allowed to decay but in 1854 the site was used as a base for the militia and later the Non-Combatant Corps.
Situated overlooking the valley of the River Swale, the early history of Richmond Castle is somewhat vague. Although attributed to William the Conqueror, it was probably built by Alan Rufus, Count of Penthièvre in the early 1070s. He had commanded the Breton contingent at the Battle of Hastings and was suitably rewarded with extensive estates that had formerly been owned by Edwin, Earl of Mercia (who died in 1071). It was certainly Count Alan who built the curtain wall possibly as early as 1080 as well as the elaborate Gateway that later formed the basis of the Great Keep. He also added Scolland’s Hall in the south corner overlooking the river intended to serve as a lavish residence fit for a person of his status. Unusually Richmond Castle was built in stone from its conception unlike most Norman fortifications that were originally earth and timber structures and later upgraded.
Count Alan died in 1089 and the castle passed through his brothers and eventually to his nephew, another Alan, who took the title Earl of Richmond. A fortuitous marriage also brought his successor, Conan, the title of Duke of Brittany although effective control was ceded to Henry II in exchange for marriage between his daughter and the King’s eldest son, Geoffrey. Conan’s new prestige encouraged him to enhance the Gatehouse into the Great Keep seen today. The original exterior entrance was blocked by stone and a new Gatehouse built. Upon Conan's death the castle passed to the Crown and the Pipe Rolls suggest that work on the Keep was completed by Henry II.
Records are unclear whether Richmond was still a Royal possession in the early thirteenth century during the reign of Henry’s son, King John. What is certain though is that in 1215 the castle’s Constable, Roald, opposed the King during the First Barons' War. John attacked Richmond as part of a military campaign in the north and evicted the Constable and imprisoned the garrison. Fifty years later, during the Second Barons' War, Richmond Castle again opposed the King by the supporting the rebel leader Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.
By the fourteenth century the castle’s heyday was over and the condition of the structure slowly declined. It was granted to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) in 1478 adding to his other extensive estates in Yorkshire including Helmsey, Middleham, Sheriff Hutton and Skipton. Thereafter the castle drifted into ruin and a survey of 1538 found it to be derelict. Its poor condition saved it from slighting during the Civil War and in 1854 it found a military purpose once more when the Duke of Richmond leased the grounds to the North York militia who built a dedicated barracks. In 1908 the castle became the headquarters of the Northern Territorial Army and during World War I it served as a base for the Non-Combatant Corps – a uniformed service that was compulsory for conscripted men who refused to join the traditional fighting arms of the military. A number of individuals drafted to this organisation refused to co-operate and cells were constructed near the entrance to confine them.
Richmond Castle was decommissioned as a military base at the end of World War I. The dedicated barracks were demolished in 1931 and the whole of the castle was passed into the care of the Ministry of Works.
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Richmond Castle is a well preserved eleventh century stone fortification. The later Keep includes the stone archway of the original gateway and the parapets of the tower can be accessed giving a good view of the surrounding area. Regrettably the cells used to hold the conscious objectors are not open to the public.
Richmond Castle Layout. The castle occupied a 'D' shaped area but there was also a large barbican and eastern enclosure both of which were probably contemporary with the founding of the castle.
Keep / Donjon. The elaborate arch at the base of the Keep is a legacy of the original gatehouse. The Keep was built on top of this earlier structure in the late twelfth century.
Cell Block. A cell block was built around the Gatehouse to house conscientious objectors.
Scolland Hall and Cockpit Gardens.
Richmond Castle is a major tourist attraction and accordingly well sign-posted. There is no dedicated car parking but there are ample (pay and display) facilities in Richmond. Care should be taken in selecting these to avoid a steep uphill walk!
Car Parking Option