Pocket Britain

A Norman castle and market town, full of interesting old buildings

After William the Conqueror took control of England, he constructed dozens of new castles all over the country. One of these fortresses was in North Yorkshire, at the edge of the dales. It was built on top of a "strong hill", which translates into French as "riche-mont". A town soon grew up around the new fortress, and this phrase was used as the settlement's name. In the modern world, Richmond is a relatively common place name, with examples to be found everywhere from Jamaica to New Zealand. America has at least 30 Richmonds all of its own! Yorkshire's town though, was the very first to adopt the title, way back in the 11th century.

Richmond in North Yorkshire
Photo Nick Bramhall
The settlement grew quickly, and soon became an important centre for retail. In medieval times its marketplace was said to be the biggest in England. Regular markets are still held throughout the week. Stalls and shoppers are watched over by a tall stone obelisk, originally erected to mark the location of Richmond's water supply. A well still exists beneath it though locals are now more likely to meet here for social reasons than to draw water.

The centre of Richmond as seen from the Castle
Photo Cacolantern
Richmond is full of historic structures like this. Another is the Georgian Theatre, which dates from 1788. It's the most complete theatre of its age in the country. There's a museum on-site, explaining the building's history, and its life. You can see all the old posters, and mess around with the sound effect machines.
The town's biggest landmark though, is Richmond Castle, the building that started the settlement in the first place. Its huge stone keep still gazes protectively over all the shops and houses that have since been built in its shadow. This 30-metre high keep is the best preserved part of the castle. It would have been an imposing stronghold in its day, with walls over three metres thick! If you climb up to its battlements you will be rewarded with a great view of the town. Most of the castle's other walls and towers are in ruins, but they still reflect a sense of their former glory.

Richmond Castle
Photo I.broadhurst
On the outskirts of Richmond, you'll find another building that's a little past its best. This is Easby Abbey, which is a hollow shell of its former self. Like most monasteries, this one was dismantled during the reign of Henry VIII, when he took control of the church. The abbey's skeletal remains are surrounded by trees and grass, making for a nice picnic spot. It's only a few minutes walk from Richmond's town centre, via a pretty riverside path.

Easby Abbey
Photo Nick Bramhall
Along the way, you'll pass close by to the infamous "drummer boy" stone. This is linked to one of the town's most famous legends. It began 200 years ago, when a group of soldiers stumbled upon the entrance to a mysterious tunnel. It was too small for them to fit inside, so they recruited a young drummer boy from the town, and sent him instead. As the boy entered the tunnel, he started banging his drum as loudly as he could. On the surface, the soldiers were able to follow the boy's progress, using this noise as a guide. This went on for a several miles, until the drumming suddenly stopped. The soldiers waited and waited, but heard nothing. Even more unusually, when they went back to the tunnel entrance it seemed to have disappeared completely. The boy was never seen again, so the townsfolk erected a stone memorial at the place he disappeared. Rumour has it that on some nights, you can still hear the sound of his drum, coming ever so faintly from deep underground!

The Drummer Boy Stone
Photo dalesbus.org
Visitor Information
Richmond Castle is managed by English Heritage and is open daily, April to September, 10am to 6pm (plus limited winter opening). Entry costs around £4.60 for adults, £2.80 children. Riverside Road, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL10 4QW. Tel: 01748 822493
Georgian Theatre Museum is open February to November, Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Entry is £3.50 for adults, £1 for children. Victoria Road, Richmond, DL10 4DW. Tel: 01748 823 710

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