Thursday, December 06, 2012

Richmond and Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire

Richmond ... was like no other town they had ever seen. When they reached the top of the hill they were in one corner of an enormous cobbled square. In the centre was the squat building of a church, in the sides of which were really built some shops. At the top of the huge market square beyond some parked buses, was a great stone pillar crowned with a ball, round which were some steps on which dalespeople were sitting. Shops and inns were round the four sides of the square and between them, the children noticed, were the narrow entrances to many little courts and alleys.
The Secret of Buzzard Scar (1955) Malcolm Saville
The whole castle wall has long since fallen, all along the edge of the rock overlooking the river. Now the mown grass comes to the edge, and there is a fence, not to keep out any strangers, but to keep in the visitors. But the rest of the walls round the great court are there still, hiding the town from the castle and the castle from the town; but there is enough to show clearly what the castle was like
Earthfasts (1966) William Mayne.
My favourite children's writers had given me a clear enough picture of Richmond, yet somehow I had got it wrong. I had imagined a castle high above the town - something like the set up at Montgomery.

In reality, the castle is more intimately connected with the town than any I know. The castle old bailey is the town's market square.

My guidebook says that the ruins of Richmond Castle represent "one of the most important surviving examples of early medieval domestic architecture in the country".

They are right, but that it is not what strikes you most about the castle ruins. Its setting - perched high above the River Swale - is hugely impressive, and its modern history is important too.

Richmond Castle was used to house conscientious objectors in World War I - the Richmond Sixteen. There drawings and writings still exist in the castle gatehouse, though they are too fragile to put on display to the public.

The military authorities' plan, apparently, was to ship them to France, where they could be shot for refusing orders in the face of the enemy. This plan was thwarted, but many of the Sixteen found themselves social outcasts after the war - but they were in the right, were they not?

The castle yard was also the site of barracks of  the North Yorkshire Militia from 1855, and those buildings were the home of Robert Baden-Powell for two years until 1910 - just the period when his Scouting movement was taking shape.

The barracks building were demolished in 1931. Had they survived until the present day, they would surely have been preserved as an important part of the site's history. I met the same change in attitudes at Tynemouth Priory this summer.

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