Stately Upon the Tees

 Richard III at Barnard Castle

by Alan Wilkerson

 The small market town of Barnard Castle is situated in an area of beautiful countryside in northern England.  The 12th Century castle which gave the town its name stands high on a high and rocky cliff overlooking the River Tees that flows through a wooded valley along the southern boundary of the town.

Though the castle itself is in a ruined condition, it retains sufficient of its original grandeur to be impressive both inside and out, and still deserves the comment of a 16th Century traveler, John Leyland, who wrote “Barnard Castle standeth stately upon Tees”.

A mullioned window overlooks one of the finest scenes in the neighborhood.  In the foreground, a hundred feet below, the river flows over a rocky bed; in the middle distance is the ancient woodland which once formed part of the hunting park of the Lords of Barnard Castle, and in the blue distance are the heather-clad hills of the Pennines where the River Tees has its source.

This mullioned window rests on ornamental corbels which allow it to jut forward from the main building, and in its ceiling is the carving of a boar, the symbol of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III, who, both as Duke and King, was Lord of Barnard Castle.

Before he achieved his later eminence, however, Richard already had strong connections with the area.  His mother, Cecily Neville had lived, before her marriage, at Raby Castle, only six miles from Barnard Castle: she was renowned for her beauty and was known in the region as the “Rose of Raby”.

Richard may well have actually lived in Barnard Castle in his youth, for when he was still a boy, perhaps as young as nine years old, he was placed under the care and instruction of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the owner of the castle.  Richard’s father had died in 1461.  Richard’s elder brother was King of England, and the young lad was “boarded out”, as was the common custom.  He was to be instructed and to obtain practice in all the skills requisite to his aristocratic calling, including the skills of hunting and armed combat.

At the time, the Earl of Warwick had five of his castles in the north of England, and it is not unlikely that Richard received part of his training at Barnard Castle.  If so, he hunted the wild boar and the red deer in the woods adjacent to the castle where a hunting park extended along the riverside for two miles before the boundary wall turned north and extended along the higher part of the valley.

Dilapidated stretches of park wall can still be seen in the ancient woodland, and neighboring farms give a clear idea of the medieval boundaries of the hunting grounds, one farm being called High Park Wall and the other Low Park Wall.

Whether or not Richard exercised himself in these hunting grounds when he was a boy, they were his to enjoy when he later returned as Lord of Barnard Castle.

Military training for single combat took place within the castle walls in the area known as the Town Ward, and warlike strategy requiring more space, for example cavalry training, was learned on a large tract of land just outside the walls of the Town Ward.  This area was known as The Flatts; it retained its expansive nature for hundreds of years and in Victorian days, the town football team played its home matches there.  The area is now covered in housing, but the adjacent woodland is still known as Flatts Woods.

Richard’s youthful training would last for three and a half years, and it was not many years later that he rose to a position of great power in the north of England.

When Edward IV began increasingly to vest powers in the Woodville family, into which he had married in 1464, the Earl of Warwick sought to limit this process and to retain more power for himself.  Relationships between the King and the Earl worsened and Warwick’s attitude hardened into open rebellion culminating in the Battle of Barnet in April 1471, in which Warwick was killed. Throughout this political upheaval, Richard staunchly supported the King.  His military training was put to practical use when he led the right wing of the Yorkist army at Barnet and in the following month, commanded a division in the subsequent Battle of Tewkesbury.

His grateful king granted to Richard the lordship of various castles formerly owned by the Earl of Warwick, including Middleham and Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire, and Barnard Castle in County Durham.  In 1472, Richard’s marriage to Anne, daughter and heiress of the late Earl, gave him additional and firmer rights to the Lordship of Barnard Castle.

Increasingly he began to reside on his northern estates, was popular in the region, and became known as the benevolent Lord of the North.  Both personally and in his official capacity, he was also known for maintaining a lavish household style.  His early seventeeth century biographer, Sir George Buck, recorded that Richard was “a great and munificent housekeeper”. 

The extent and style of the improvements which were carried out in the castle during his lordship show that he enjoyed residing there and was prepared to give considerable expense and time to improving the great residence.  The specifically residential quarters in particular were strikingly improved by the creation of bedrooms with “en suite” sanitary facilities; these arrangements were made in the Mortham Tower, which was five storeys high and was part of the castle, which was elevated more directly above the Tees; and the overflow from the “garderobes” fell directly into the fast-flowing river far below.   The ornamental corbels supporting the outlet shaft match the corbels of the great mullioned window.

To the north of the Mortham Towe is the castle’s Great Hall, which had been rebuilt as part of the castle’s development under successive Earls of Warwick, and next to it is the Great Chamber with the mullioned window adorned by Richard’s emblem, the white (or silver) boar passant.   This and the view from the window might well confirm that this was Richard’s favorite room; if so, as the 19th Century historian Robert Surtees wrote: “The selection does no discredit to his taste. From no point is the wild and beautiful vale of the Tees seen to more advantage.”

The stone carving of the boar is now sadly eroded, but the boar and ornamental surround are still discernible.  An English Heritage information panel nearby includes an artist’s impression of the carving’s original appearance.

Past historians of the town tell us that several other carved examples of Richard’s emblem could formerly be seen in various part of the town and that the word “Ricardius” in raised Gothic lettering was once a feature of one old house - but the stone must have been moved from some demolished building, for the unknown owner had inserted the name upside-down in his own walls.  Its whereabouts is not now known.

Three of the carved boars remain to show Richard’s interest in the town itself.  One example was formerly on a building which has since been demolished, but the carving has been preserved in The Bowes Museum, a few hundred yards away.  Another boar is on an ancient house known as Blagraves, from the name of a 17th century owner; this boar is high on the exterior wall of an inner part of the building and can be seen only with the permission of the present owner.

The town’s other carved boar is on the outside of the Parish Church on a stone which forms part of the moulding over the east window of the south transept.  Richard was a very generous benefactor of the town’s church (it was not a parish church in those days) and the alterations which date from his time show an imaginative awareness of the needs of the building as well as the generosity with which he attended to them.

It must have been a rather dark and low building until the work attributed to Richard improved matters greatly.  The walls of the main body of the church were raised and fitted with a clerestory, the south transept was widened and a large new window was added.

A new chancel arch was built with a rood-loft over it; simplified carvings of roses were carved on the arch which terminated in two carefully sculpted heads.  Opinions vary on the interpretation of these heads: one is masculine and wears a crown or coronet and the other may be feminine.  Perhaps they represent Richard, and his wife, Anne, or they may present Richard and King Edward IV.

If the latter is the case, its significance might be that Richard was acknowledging his close relationship with Edward, not only as brothers but as partners in public affairs.  In 1477, Edward IV granted Richard a license to found and endow a collegiate college which would offer up prayers for the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and their family.   It was to be known as the College of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

The establishment would have to be of considerable size and importance having a Dean, twelve secular priests, ten clerks and six scholars.  To raise funds for this project, Richard was empowered to purchase lands not exceeding an annual value of 400 marks.

There is no documentary evidence for the completion of this project, but there is circumstantial evidence that it was built in the street of Newgate.  The Parish Church stands at the junction of Newgate and two other streets.  The Bank and the Market Place; in medieval days this was the town centre.  Newgate itself has a long tradition of containing most of the town’s religious buildings, and in the 15th Century there were already two; one was the church and the other was a chapel attached to a hospital for impoverished women; it had been founded by John Baliol, Lord of Barnard Castle in the 13th Century.

Newgate afforded a suitable place for a college for priests and choristers; it was a quiet street, near the town centre, and one site had the added advantage of being near to the east end of the church.  A very short and narrow lane leads from a side door of the church into Newgate and emerges almost directly opposite the site of the now demolished building which formerly was marked by Richard’s emblem of the boar passant.

There is one more piece of evidence to support the idea that the chantry college once stood on this very spot.  In the Parish Church, there is a carving of St. Anthony, holding a cross, and flanked by two wild boars. This piece of sculpture has not always been in the church but was rescued from an undignified position in Newgate, where it had been placed to prevent horse drawn vehicles from bumping against the building at the corner of the street.  It was removed for safety to the garden of a large house in Newgate, before being eventually placed in the parish church for safe-keeping.

The historian, Robert Surtees suggested (1813) that the stone had originally been “removed from some dis-used chantry”.  Another writer, G. Layton, wrote in 1823, that the sculpture “looked like an ornament to the gateway of some religious house”.  The only other religious building in Newgate in medieval times was John Baliol’s hospital that was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and the town church was dedicated to St. Mary’s so it must have been some other building that was adorned by St. Anthony.  According to a modern historian, Professor A.J. Pollard, St. Anthony was one of Richard’s special saints.

It all supports the suggestion that this was the College of Richard of Gloucester in Newgate which was marked by Richard’s own boar passant and dignified St. Anthony, his cross, and two of the boars that, according to legend, befriended the saint during his youth in the wilderness.

When the Duke of Gloucester became King of England, Richard had little time to spend in Barnard Castle.  During the two years of his reign, he was frequently on the move on lengthy journeys through England and Wales.   Even though he was accompanied by a large retinue, he sometimes traveled between twenty and thirty miles a day.

On his northern itinerary in 1484, he traveled from Nottingham to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, the most northerly point of his journey.  On his way, he included a visit to Barnard Castle; it was the last time he saw the castle and the town for which he had formed such strong attachments.     

©Article appeared in the July 2001 issued of the Medelai Gazette, and is copyrighted.



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