Richmond Castle

A magnificently placed eleventh century castle with an imposing twelfth century keep.

Richmond Castle

Richmond Castle

The tower keep [Enlarge]

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Richmond was founded shortly after the Norman conquest by the Breton Alan the Red. It was probably complete by his death in 1089. Unusually for such an early castle Richmond seems to have been built in stone from the beginning. Also unusually there was originally no keep. Due to the sheer drop to the Swale at the south of the triangular hilltop (from which Richmond gets it's name; "Riche Mount" or "strong hill") only two stretches of curtain wall were built to start, meeting at the northern apex of the triangle where a gatehouse provided entrance into the enclosure. The curtain walls were guarded by flanking towers, and these are the earliest of any English medieval castle. Richmond also boasts the earliest medieval hall in England. Scolland's Hall was named after Alan the Red's steward. Following the normal pattern of such things the hall itself was at first floor level, one end being partitioned off to form a solar. Although now nothing but an empty shell it is still possible to get a sense of the place, with magnificent views over the Swale (being built against the sheer cliff face allowed large exterior windows without loss of military strength).

Today the most impressive part of Richmond castle is the 100 foot (30 m) tall twelfth century keep. Richmond was part of the Earldom of Richmond and passed with the title to the dukes of Brittany. They held Richmond, on and off, until 1384 after which it was owned by, among others, the Duke of Balford, Edmund Tudor, and the future Richard III. The keep was built by Conan the Little, Duke of Brittany (though the final flourishes were finished by Henry II). It stands where the original entrance gateway was, the inner archway of which is now incorporated into the keep, leading from the bailey into the vaulted ground floor. A new gateway was constructed beside the keep, protected by a now fragmentary barbican. Although very little of this barbican now remains it was once walled in stone and fortified by three turrets. A ditch protected the barbican from the town and access was by a bridge guarded by a gatehouse complete with drawbridge and portcullis. The current castle gateway is a modern reconstruction, which in its original form also had a portcullis and gatehouse tower. The keep entrance was, as usual, at first floor level, though in this case there is no sign of a forebuilding. Spiral stairs also run upwards from the ground floor. The main stairs of the keep are actually straight, running within the thickness of the walls. The view from the battlements is superbly commanding.

Richmond Castle: Photograph of Scolland's Hall, Gold Hole Tower and South Eastern Range, taken from the top of the keep

View from keep of south eastern range, including Scolland's Hall [Enlarge]

From the keep and entrance way the eastern curtain wall runs away towards Scolland's hall. This is the most interesting section of the curtain, containing most of the flanking towers. The first of these is the interestingly named Robin Hood Tower. This had a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas at ground floor level and may once have been used to imprison the Scottish king William the Lion. At some point an additional two floors were added to the tower. The fireplace of the lower is still visible, as is the support for a walkway which connected the two sections of wall either side of the tower. Further along the main domestic buildings were ranged against this wall, leading to Scolland's Hall. The Gold Hole Tower, at this end of the curtain, was the latrine block. The domestic buildings included a further chapel and great chamber. They were probably built around 1300. At around the same time Scolland's Hall was modified, possibly due to an undocumented fire evidenced by discolouration to stonework in the hall's undercroft. These alterations included making one window into a doorway to provide access to the new domestic range. Three new doors were also punched to provide the obligatory access to kitchen, pantry and buttery (until that time food was presumably delivered through the grand entrance doorway). Near Scolland's hall a postern leads to the "cockpit" an enclosed outer bailey walled in the twelfth century. In the solar adjoining the Hall above is a quite remarkable feature. A doorway leads from beside the fireplace to give access to open air above the cockpit. Externally square sockets can be clearly seen, which are surmised to have once held a wooden gallery from which to look out over the gardens. Also in the cockpit may be seen the remains of a gatehouse facing the town, which would have been protected by the now ruined middle flanking tower of the eastern stretch of wall just described.

Richmond Castle: Photograph showing the slightly obscured postern gate in the west curtain with the open arch above and a flanking tower

The postern in the western curtain wall, with the open archway above it, and the south west flanking tower. [Enlarge]

Very little remains of the southern range. Walking (carefully!) along the edge of the castle escarpment one certainly realises why it was initially felt unnecessary to wall this southern extremity.

The western curtain boasts only one flanking tower, near the southern cliff. Near the southern end a postern leads out through the wall. The large open arch at first floor level above this has been claimed (Harris) to be evidence of the western end of the castle's great chapel but it seems much more likely to have been due to a gatehouse protecting the postern, possibly forming part of a portcullis mechanism. The western approach is still somewhat steep, so the curtain lacks the towers of its eastern counterpart and is quite plain from this point to where it adjoins the great keep.

Despite the castle's strength and succession of owners it was relatively remote and its history is remarkably uneventful. Eventually the castle was left to ruin. A 1538 report recommended it be repaired but nothing was done. In 1540 it was found to be a "mere ruin". Nothing much was done with Richmond for around three centuries, though it became well known enough to be painted by the likes of Turner. In the 1800s the keep was repaired enough to prevent it falling. The castle's useful resurgence came in 1854 when it was leased to the North York Militia and a barrack block constructed by the western curtain. It became the headquarters of the Northen territorial army in 1908. A storage block by the castle gate, which still survives, was used as a prison for conscientious objectors during the first world war. The barrack block was demolished in 1931 and the castle eventually became owned by English Heritage.

Richmond Castle: Photograph of the exterior of the solar seen from within the cockpit. The door from the solar and a socket for the wooden gallery it led to can be seen

View from the cockpit, showing the door from the solar opening to midair. One of the sockets to support a wooden gallery can be seen level with the threshold. [Enlarge]


Castle Website

Richmond Castle: Photograph of Scolland's Hall taken from within the bailey. The extravagant windows can be seen as can the grand entrance at first floor level to the right

Scolland's Hall. Note the large windows and grand entrance to the first floor at the right side. [Enlarge]

Photograph Gallery (yet more photos!)