Richmond Castle sits high on a cliff overlooking the River Swale in North Yorkshire, England. It was most likely built following the Battle of Hastings in 1066 by Alan Rufus, Alan the Red, of Penthièvre in the 1070s. The lands were granted to him by King William for his service and to maintain control in Northern England. Alan was awarded a vast amount of land, more than 400 manors in eleven different shires. His Yorkshire estates included Swaledale, and it was here that he built Richmond Castle as his principal residence. The land and property granted to Alan became known as the Honour of Richmond.
Alan constructed long stretches of the curtain wall, Scolland's Hall, and the archway of the keep, or Great Tower, in the 1080s, which survive today as England's most remarkable 11th century architecture of this size. After Alan died in 1093, the castle passed to his two younger brothers, Alan the Black and Stephen. Stephen's son, also Alan, held the castle by 1136.
Alan's son Conan inherited the Dukedom of Brittany in 1164 and held Richmond Castle from 1146 to 1171. It was at this time that the keep was expanded and later completed under King Henry II, who controlled the castle after 1171 as guardian of Conan's nine-year-old daughter Constance. In addition to completing the keep, towers, walls, and the gateway of the cockpit were built. A barbican with a drawbridge was also built in front of the keep.
The castle remained the crown's property through the end of King John's reign in 1216. Simon de Montfort rebelled against King Henry III during the Civil Wars of the 1260s. He ordered his supporters to lay siege to Richmond Castle in 1265, but there are no records that indicate this siege ever occurred.
Henry III and Edward I oversaw more growth at Richmond Castle, likely inserting the vault in the basement of the keep, upgrading Scolland's Hall, and extending the range along the east wall. Edward or one of the 14th century dukes also added apartments to the Robin Hood Tower and Gold Hole Tower and constructed the Southwest Tower. Duke John of Brittany would oversee the last building campaign at the castle when new chambers and the chapel were added to the north end of Scolland's Hall.
In 1313, the duke's second son, John of Brittany and Earl of Richmond, received money to construct a town wall as the area was subject to a Scottish raid after the English were defeated at Bannockburn in 1314. The town was raided, but the castle was spared. Richmond Castle was attacked in 1340 when a band of locals besieged the castle and injured some of the duke's servants.
By this time, the castle was in decline, and at the inquest into the duke's death in 1341, it was noted that the castle was in ruins and the buildings within required significant repair. The castle continued to lapse into a ruined state. In 1525, Henry VIII made his son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, but the castle was no longer of any military value. A survey in 1538 indicates roofless buildings and fallen walls at the castle.
Richmond Castle would remain a ruin for 300 years until the 3rd Duke began repairing the keep in the 1760s. In 1854, the Duke of Richmond leased the castle, and it became the headquarters of the North York Militia. The Barrack block was added against the west curtain wall the following year, and the keep became a military depot. A detention block of eight cells was also added just inside the castle entrance.
In 1907, the castle became the headquarters of the Northumbrian Division of the Territorial Army and was continuously used through World War I. During World War I, the castle was occupied by the Northern Non-Combatant Corps, a unit of men who had asked for exemption from military service but could contribute to the war effort in non-combatant roles. In 1916, some of these men refused to take part in any work involving the war effort and were then held in cells at Richmond Castle. Some of these conscientious objectors, who became known as the Richmond Sixteen, were sent to France in May 1916, where they were court-martialed and put on trial for refusing to obey orders and sentenced to be executed by firing squad. This sentence was immediately commuted to ten years of penal servitude. They were released in April 1919 following the Armistice of 11 November 1918. After the war, the Victorian Barrack block was demolished in 1931.
Richmond Castle was pressed into service again during World War II when the roof of the keep was used to watch for enemy aircraft activity in the area, and the keep itself was used as an air raid shelter. In the 1940s, the cells again detained prisoners, although these were foreign soldiers and not conscientious objectors.
Richmond Castle has been in the care of English Heritage since 1984.
Richmond Castle is one of the finest preserved examples of an early Norman castle in England. Even in a ruined state, it is a formidable structure with lots to explore. The most impressive feature of the castle is the keep, or Great Tower, which rises over 100 feet in height with walls as thick as 12 feet. The keep differs from most other keeps in that it has straight flights of steps between each level instead of a spiral staircase. It has four levels, and the rooftop battlements are also accessible to visitors, providing great views of the River Swale and the market town of Richmond.
Scolland's Hall is also a prominent feature of the castle and was one of the first stone halls built in England. However, just the outer walls remain today. The Gold Hole Tower, not far from the hall, leads to the formal gardens. The more modern cells are worth a visit, and their walls are still covered with graffiti made by the conscientious objectors held there during World War I. The entrance and shop area for the castle also contains a permanent exhibit about life in Richmond.
Richmond Castle can be thoroughly explored in two to three hours. To make a full day of visiting castles, Bowes Castle and Barnard Castle are to the northeast, and Middleham Castle is to the south.
Richmond Castle is also haunted.