(Revised July 3, 2006, with additional photos, July 12, 2006, w/ links)
( Duncombe Park photos added w/revisions April 10 & April 15, 2009 )
(revision June 7, 2015 on York and tags)
Yorkshire is the largest county containing the most castles in England, encompassing 5,000 square miles, referred to at one time as North Riding, West Riding, East Riding and Humber. The latter mentioned region is Yorkshire’s portion of the Wolds giving way to undulating country hills and nature preserves. Today the county’s divisions are North, South, West and East Rising- the North being the largest area.
The castles vary from large and legendary, like Castle Howard and Skipton Castle to richly historical edifices such as 605 year old Bolton Castle and fabulously landscaped and interior appointed Beningbrough Hall. It is difficult to separate the Brontë legend from Yorkshire and yet that small Hall and it’s environs are hardly indicative of the overall picturesque bounty of lush meadows, moorlands and valleys of this foremost region of England.
In this entry I will explore only the North Yorkshire area, where the bulk of the twenty seven Great Halls and Castles of Yorkshire are concentrated.
The most magnificent palace designed in North England, Castle Howard, is still a Howard family possession and its features are imitative of the Taj Majal. Its uniquely temple-like architecture is centered around a North front Great Hall featuring a 20 meter high dome, Carpenter columns and circular gallery. The east and west wing form a courtyard with the west wing featuring the Long Gallery containing family portraits and the Chapel with Burne-Jones and Morris Stained Glass. Throughout, it features fine furniture, particularly 18th and 19th century antiquities along the antique passage with paintings and objets d’art, including a bust of the 7th Earl by J. H. Foley and Holbein’s Henry VIII and the Duke of Norfolk. The west wing was actually an addition built in 1753-9 using the son-in-law of the 3rd Earl, Thomas Robinson’s design.
Two movies were made using this Palace, Brideshead Revisited (the ITV epic adaptation) and was also part of the set for The Buccaneers. Most recently this castle has been featured in the new Garfield movie, “A Tale of Two Kitties”. Sir John Vanburgh was commissioned by Charles, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle in 1699 to erect a family palace. Sir John also collaborated with Nicholas Hawksmoor in the design of Blenheim Palace which is a majestic marvel itself, lying in the Thames Valley. Vanburgh’s last addition to the grounds was the Temple of the Four Winds featuring an onion cupola-shaped dome and four ionic porticoes. It was planned for the opposing end of the terrace and has its own small grandeur typical of an 18th century landscape building particularly for England. Other memorable sights include the Mausoleum, the New River Bridge, the restored waterworks of the South Lake and Prince of Wales Fountain.
Howard’s neighbors just to the north and east towards England’s east coast are Hovingham Hall, Nunnington Hall, Pickering Castle, Scampston Hall and Scarborough Castle. Pickering and Scarborough were of particular interest to me because their strategic placements, especially Scarborough which is directly on the coast. This 12th century buttressed marvel hugs a cliff edge and its rectangular keep retains three storeys despite the fact that it was frequently attacked. It includes a 4th century Roman Signal Station and housed many important people in history. Among them, King Richard III made this part his supply base for all his warships.
The town of Scarborough also has some historical attractions. It was a resort spot back as far as 1626 and has two beaches- South Bay and North Bay respectively- and Anne Brontë is buried in St. Mary’s Church high atop the town. The Museums and Gallery on The Crescent are three buildings housing art from the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and includes archaelogical finds from Star Carr.
About fifteen miles inland from there, Pickering Castle (like Tickhill, Helmsley and Middleham) was hunting ground for the royals. It stands on a limestone escarpment south of the North Yorkshire moors (N.E. corner) overlooking the Vale of Pick. William the Conquerer is supposed to have built a primer castle here while pillaging the north in 1069-70. Henry I issued a charter from the Pickering location about 1119 and by Henry IIs entries in the pipe-rolls stated it was being rebuilt. In 1314 its revenue was £ 385.19s 3 1/2d, money gathered by the sheriff of the forest in which it resides. Today it is a well preserved motte and bailey castle, with much of the 1119 rebuilt wall, towers and keep intact. It is one of the few of its kind to have an exhibition on the castle’s history. www.english-heritage.org.uk/server.php?show=conProperty.374
Fifteen more miles directly west, the above mentioned Helmsley is an imposing ruin, seated close to the market square. This 12th century castle features earthworks around a great Norman Keep. It has an exhibition on the castle’s history. At one time, the castle was so impregnable attempts to besiege it were few, however, 1644 was its final glory after holding out for three months against Sir Thomas Fairfax. The original D-shaped keep had one part blasted away in the Civil War but is still the castle’s most extraordinary feature. Today, the beautiful spired church tower shows most prominently over the town. Helmsley is closed in by two nearby Abbeys, Byland and Rievaux, both in ruins but worth seeing. www.englishheritage.org.uk/server/show/ConProperty.367
Duncombe Park, the Feversham’s restored family home, is only a stone’s throw away from Helmsley Castle and definitely an architectural beauty in Ryedale the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. It sits on a natural plateau which overlooks the Rye River Valley surrounded by thirty-five acres of landscaped “green garden” with temples, terraces and gardens which were set out in the early 18th century. This Baroque mansion commissioned by Sir Charles Duncombe was completed in 1713 but it was his nephew Thomas who became the first inhabitant. After a major fire largely destroyed it in 1879 it was entirely rebuilt to its original design.
The Fevershams, who are direct descendants of Sir Duncombe, set about a complete restoration of the interior in 1986 after sixty years decline during which time it was used as a girl’s school. The family pictures and Lord Feversham’s collection of English and Continental furniture are on display and the primary rooms show off the ‘grand interior’ style which was popular at the turn of the century during Dumcombe’s heyday.
Moving far north up to the northern border to Middlesborough, a beautiful example of some remaining Jacobean architecture, at Ormesby Hall with Palladian classical revival rebuilding- mid-nineteenth century- is a nice change of pace. It’s opulent interiors and gardens are well worth the price of admission. It displays fine plasterwork, recreated kitchen areas and a model railway exhibition in the Old Wing is open to the public in care of The National Trust. The Stable block building is attributed to Carr of York and many features survive, such as a family crest presumably of the Pennyman family. This wonderful building was occupied by the Pennyman family up to the 1980s !
Winding down from Ormesby, the North Yorkshire Moors Tour, another of England’s walks for the pedestrian undaunted, twists for twenty eight miles from Spaunton to the west Beck River. Hutton-le-Hole is a beautiful stop and Rosedale offers old iron kilns from the mid-nineteenth century.
Still far north and westward as far as Richmond in Yorkshire Dales National Park, the medieval fortress of Richmond Castle– a wonderful survival of a 100 foot tall 12th century keep- 11th century ruins of the curtain walls and outbuildings were re-built in 1713 on a natural plateau and overlooks Pickering Castle, spectacularly seated in four hundred acres of arcadian parkland. An interactive exhibition gives the history of Alan Rufus, the 1st Earl of Richmond, who started masonry on the 11 foot thick walls by 1071. The courtyard contains Scolland’s Hall built around 1080 and is one of England’s oldest surviving buildings. Richmond’s walls were unique in that they had projecting towers, making it possible for the archers to cover the wall base without using extensions. The medieval market place surrounding the castle was the castle’s original outer bailey.
Aske Hall , north of Richmond, on the Gilling West road is the ancestral home of the Dundas Family. It is now owned by the Marquess of Zetland. A Georgian house with a remodeled Jacobean tower and an authentic 13th century Pele Tower. The interiors include 18th century furniture, paintings, porcelain art by many popular and various artists and the appointments are positively posh! T-01748 850391
Turning back south, Bolton Castle, Middleham and Braithwaite Hall (a Castle Hotel) are neighbors also within the Yorkshire Dales National Park which is mostly steeply falling valleys and high moorlands.
Middleham, Richard Neville’s (the III!) home castle, is situated near Leyburn, so you’ll head west on A684 when you leave south from Richmond. The remains of this castle are not to be missed if you’re a true castle lover. When Richard III was named Lord of the North, this was one of the strongest fortresses in North England. Many of its stones were carried off and used by the locals but even in its ruinous state it’s still magnificent!
Completed in 1399, Bolton Castle is a well preserved ruin with high walls and four-sided right-angled corner towers, five stories high, with a strong turret in the middle of its longest sides. This is where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for six months when she was removed from incarceration at Carlisle. It sits atop Wensleydale northwest of Middleham and six miles west of Leyburn, being the stronghold of the Scrope family. Today the landscaping and gardens fit the venue and guided tours can be arranged even for medium-sized groups.
If you take children with you on your excursions White Scar Cave and The Forbidden Corner ( located in the Tupsill Park Estate in Coverham) will be perfect side trips and both are fun and informative for young and old alike. The latter mentioned attraction – a short distance away from Bolton- is a maze of subterranean passages leading to a grotto. White Scar Cave, in a westernmost region of Yorkshire at Ingleton, is the longest show cave in Britain. The Battlefield Cavern featured in the tour is about 330 feet long with the height of the cavern reaching up to 100 feet. It was discovered in 1923 by the student, Christopher Long, and has been of interest to scientists. A long guided tour will give you insights into the more curious cave formations unique to this location in Yorkshire Dales.
Moving down into the southernmost portion of the county, in Bronte Country and east of the Forest of Bowland, Skipton Castle sits in the southwest corner while Ripley is somewhat further east at Harrogate. Both are equally popular with tourists and native English people alike but their architecture and comparative sizes are vastly different. Accessible from the northern regions of Bolton and Middleham, the Wharfdale passage leads down to another long walk path, Malham Walk, which is seven rustic miles of breathtaking views including Gordale Scar, the Tarn and the Cove (once a waterfall).
Southeast of Malham, Skipton Castle sits right in the center of the busy market town of Skipton on High Street and is open every day. This was one of Lady Anne Clifford’s castles (remember my original mention of her in Cumbria?) and was the Clifford family stronghold from 1310 and is over 900 years old. It was completely rebuilt in the 14th century by Robert de Clifford. The brick drum towers are its most prominent architectural feature, and harkens to the look of Angers Chateau in the Loire in France (although not black in color). It is very much a Norman castle with its entrance arch and gateway towers. The Conduit Court is in Tudor style and was added by Henry Clifford during King Henry VIII’s reign. The yew tree that sits in the middle of it was added by Lady Anne in 1659 to commemorate the restoration work she’d completed after the Civil War damage, since Skipton was the last Royalist bastion in the North, and fell after a three year siege! Lady Anne was able to re-roof Skipton- which Cromwell ordinarily did not permit- under the condition that it should not be able to support cannon.
You can take a quick side trip just three miles west at Broughton Hall. Built by the Tempest family in 1597, three-thousand acres of rolling countryside is adorned with this stunning Classical Italianate manor house. It features engaged ionic columns in the sides of the fascia, mullioned windows and a stunning overall view.
Harrogate had its heyday as the North’s La Costa for thirty-five years prior to WWI and continues its opulence even today with beautiful public gardens and lavish architecture. Ripley Castle is the crown that sits 3 1/2 miles north on the edge of the town and has been the Ingilby home for twenty-eight generations now. Their tours include the amusing and romantic history and their ancestors roles in England’s chronicles. The oldest part is the Old Tower which dates from 1555 and still bears marks from Cromwell’s bullets and houses medieval artifacts. Fine heirlooms can be viewed in the Georgian wing. You won’t want to miss the walled gardens and hot house with their extensive supply and lush landscaping. The town is equally charming and is mostly employed by the castle, much like Arundel in W. Sussex.
As one moves eastward you will encounter Knaresborough, Newby Hall, Markenfield Hall, Spofforth Castle and Beningborough Hall before you will reach York. Knaresborough is five miles east of Ripley and is currently owned by the Duchy of Lancaster. The 14th century ruin sits high above Knaresborough and houses the local history museum in the Tudor Courthouse. www.knaresborough.co.uk/castle
Newby Hall, a few miles north of Knaresborough (two miles northwest of A1 and four miles southeast of Ripon) and Markenfield Hall (three miles south of Ripon) are very near to each other and both are well worth visiting. The latter is an L-shaped 14th century residence inside the moated outer structure and gateway housing.The house features a large banqueting hall, chapel and has a kitchen fireplace worth noting. In addition, the Markenfields were a powerful family who opposed Henry the VIII and his dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. From there, an army set off in 1569 in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I and put Mary, Queen of Scots in her place.
Newby Hall is a little closer to Ripon and has remained in family hands since the late 17th century. The gardens are equally as impressive as the house with the interior being attributed to Robert Adam (the Scottish architect and furniture designer) especially the domed Sculpture Gallery and Tapestry room. The house follows the symmetrical styling of Wren. William Weddell, ancestor to the current proprietor, Richard Compton, made a grand tour of Europe during the 1760s and filled the house with treasures from this period, including a set of Gobelin Tapestries. Don’t miss the Autumn and Rose Gardens or Fountains Abbey which is west of Ripon.
Going back south and back to Harrogate, Spofforth Castle, an English Heritage protected site has some interesting features such as the unusual practice of the undercroft having been built into existing rock. William de Percy (called Aux Gernons, or “whiskers”, hence Algernon) invaded the north along with William the Conqueror and Spofforth became his possession along with eighty-six other manors. It was licensed for crenellation under King Edward II, when the border threat became greater and most of the remains of it date from that time. Harry Hotspur was born there but after three hundred years as stronghold to the Percies, they became so wealthy that Alnwick came into their possession and they permanently left Spofforth. (A photo of Spofforth can be found in my March 14th entry in the archives.) www.castlexplorer.co.uk/england/spofforth/spofforth_photos.php
H.D Thoreau once said, “The perception of beauty is a moral test.” Beningbrough Hall is one of the strongest tests of this kind of moral fortitude! This baroque manor rests in absolute Eden-like landscaping and gardening. Built entirely in bright red brick and bordered by pavilions with cupola roofs and ornamentally carved interiors richly finished and furnished, it is a masterpiece of restoration. It was saved from the wrecking ball in 1970 by The National Trust which embarked on the restoration by 1977. Over one hundred portraits from the National Portrait Gallery were donated to the Hall. A prized portrait of Alexander Pope as a young man among other treasures fills the posh rooms. Restoration of the explosively colorful gardens was started in 1997 and has been named one of the most beautiful Edwardian parklands in England . Beningborough Hall is eight miles northwest of York and three miles west of Skipton.
The walled city of York built by the Romans circa 71 AD and called Eboracum (a place of Yew trees) retains ruins of a Roman bath which can be seen in Samson’s Square. Occupied first by the Saxons, then the Vikings it became Jorvik. Many of York’s street names still can be traced back to the Saxon name origins , such as Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate ( means, neither one thing nor the other). Much of it is medieval and is a living, breathing museum. Old York Minster, the largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe, dates from 1220 and should be visited along with York Castle Museum and Clifford’s Tower. If you have the time a three day stay would only be sufficient to take everything in and enjoy the unique atmosphere. Fairfax House is a vision, so definitely check it out!
Unlike some historical cities it was spared heavy bombing during WWII and the urban redevelopment of the 1960s just didn’t happen here. This means that almost the entire history of York since its inception during the Roman occupation is still in clear evidence within two and half miles of the walled city! King George VI once commented that “the history of York is the history of England,” and his words still apply.
South of York, Cawood Castle was once the stronghold of the Archbishops of York. It is now a gatehouse with a residence wing on one side of it. The Landmark Trust took it over and found it was a daunting task to save it because it was divided between two owners and a second floor had collapsed. Today it is leased to short term visitors, who will experience a late medieval room brought back to its former splendor. A little taste, which Archbishop Kempre turned into a Palace. It is reduced but his Cardinal hat, his pride, appears on several of the intricately carved stone shields (crests) over the archway.
So here it is, my promise for Yorkshire kept. Next month we will explore South Yorkshire, East and East Riding. Tomorrow you can expect a nice entry on the Castle and Manor Hotels for N. Yorkshire.
Remember, The Castle Lady
loves you like a song!