Part One: The Construction of Middleham Castle

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Introduction

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Looking towards the South West

Middleham Castle is a 12th Century fortress located in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire. Whilst ruinous, most of its walls are still in tact and it remains a formidable sight.

It sits on a hill above the town of the same name, located on the A6108, 2 miles from the town of Leyburn, and 45 miles from the city of York.

Foundation

In 1069, the land at Middleham was granted to Alan Rufus. Alan Rufus was a relation of

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View from the top of the Keep looking North West

William the Conqueror, and it is thought that he had been present at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was one of his chief supporters, and became a wealthy land owner. He also built Richmond Castle around the same time that he built the first castle at Middleham.

It was a wooden motte and bailey structure that was located a short distance to the south west of the present castle. You can still see the remains of the castle’s ringwork on William’s Hill.

This castle stood for approximately 100 years before it was abandoned.

Construction of the Current Castle

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North face of the Keep

In 1170 – 90, Robert Fitzrandolph began construction of a huge Norman Keep that would become one of the largest in England. He was the 3rd Lord of Middleham, and was the grandson of Alan Rufus’ brother.

The Keep was originally 20 meters (66 feet) high, and consisted of a Great Chamber, the living quarters of the Lord of the Castle, Kitchen, Cellars, Chapel, and the Great Hall.

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View looking into the Great Hall from the top of the Keep

The Great Hall was the heart of the castle, where the great occasions would have been celebrated, feasts held and it also was used as the local courtroom when needed.

There were two wells at each end of the cellar, and these can still be seen today.

The entrance to the Keep was on the East side of the building via a covered staircase which took you to the second floor. Halfway up the staircase was a guardroom that would have controlled access to the Keep.

Once you were granted access to the Keep, you would have waited in an ante-chamber before being admitted to the Great Hall.

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Inside the Great Hall

The Great Hall must have been a sight to behold. It was improved in the 15th century, the ceiling height was raised and a clerestory was built. This would have brightened the Hall considerably through the addition of large windows.

A chapel was built into the north east corner and the north west contained the private accommodation.

The remains of the fireplaces are evocative, with a vast fireplace in the kitchen as you would expect, seeing it would have been used to cook the food for the feasts held in the Great Hall.

The Early Neville’s at Middleham

In 1258, Mary fitz Ranulph inherited the castle. She was known as the Lady of Middleham

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The 13th century Chapel Tower

and was the mother of Ranulph Neville, the 3rd Baron Neville. She married Robert Neville, and this was the beginning of the powerful family of Neville’s lordship of Middleham.

In around the 13th Century, a Chapel was added to the east side of the Keep, and it was part of a 3 storey structure called the Chapel Tower.

The Chapel itself was on the 2nd floor, with the clergy occupying the 1st floor,  and the ground floor being used as storage.

It is thought that this is also the time the curtain wall was built, probably by Ranulph Neville.

Ranulph Neville’s grandson John inherited the castle in 1388, and it is thought he was responsible for many improvements to the castle. These included improved accommodation, latrines, and the castle walls were raised.

This is also about the time that the Neville gatehouse was built on the north side and became the main entrance to the castle.

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The 14th century Neville Gatehouse and main entrance to the Castle

It would be in the 15th century when Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) became Lords of Middleham, and I will write about this period in my next blog.

It is due to these two people who influenced British History so immensely that Middleham Castle remains famous today, and it makes it easy to forget that this formidable castle had already been standing ca. 300 years before they lived within its walls.

If you would like to see more of my photos from my visit to Middleham, please visit my flickr

References:
EnglishMonarchs.co.uk – Middleham Castle
EnglishHeritage.co.uk – Middleham Castle
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