Richmond

“Richmond is one of the most beautiful towns in England- and surprisingly few people know.”- Lonely Planet


Richmond is a market town of around 8,000 people and located in North Yorkshire on the River Swale. It is known for its well preserved castle ruins, being home to the largest military base in the country and its beautiful surrounding scenery.

The most obvious feature is Richmond castle, which was built in 1086 and became a strategic defensive position in the North against Scottish invasion. It is a concentric castle in structure, which means that it was built with huge outer walls protecting the castle and keep inside. Once this fortification had become surplus to requirements by the end of the 14th Century it descended into ruin.

Image of Richmond, Photo Credit Mat Robinson, (IFY Community)
Image of Richmond, Photo Credit Mat Robinson, (IFY Community)

 

The Victorians repaired parts of the building and it was then used as a garrison for the North Yorkshire militia. In the early 20th Century it was briefly home to Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouting movement and was also the base for conscientious objectors during the First World War. These included the “Richmond Sixteen,” who were a group of men who refused to fight in the conflict and were eventually court -martialled to France for hard labour as punishment.

Nowadays Richmond Castle is a tourist attraction owned by English Heritage, where visitors can explore the ruins. It also has a garden, known as the cockpit, which was modernised in the year 2000 and boasts a picnic area, herbaceous borders and sixteen yew trees, which commemorate the punished objectors during the war.There is also an exhibition which charts the castle’s history, picnic area and shop.

The Richmond Local History Museum was founded in 1974 and charts the history of the town and surrounding dale. There are prehistoric artefacts on view plus reconstructions of the town’s station and Post office. The interactive displays show life in Richmond market around the 1870s and acts as a learning zone for children.

The Green Howards Regimental Museum has just re-opened after extensive refurbishment and charts the history of this famous Yorkshire regiment until its merger with another battalion in 2006. It has 3,000 medals plus eighteen rewards, including Victoria and George Crosses from the regiment, which first saw action at The Battle of the Boyne in 1690. There are artefacts from the Crimean War, Boer Wars and First World War on view, including letters, diaries and photographs.

Friary Tower and Park is another prominent landmark in the town, linked to its long history. The site contains the well-preserved remains of a Friary bell tower, which dates back to the 14th Century. This would have been part of a friary built and established here by the Franciscan Greyfriars order of monks around 1257. The gardens are well-kept and adorned with bright flowerbeds.

Richmond is also well-known for its ghost walks and there are many spooky tales to tell. One of the most famous is the drummer boy of Richmond Castle. One day at the end of the 17th Century some soldiers found an entrance to a tunnel running underneath the castle’s keep. It was too small for them to fit into so instead they sent in a local drummer boy, who was told to bang his drum loudly as he walked so they could follow the route of the tunnel from above ground. After three miles the drumming suddenly stopped unexpectedly and the drummer boy was never seen or heard of again. It is thought the ceiling of the tunnel caved in and crushed him to death. A stone marks the spot where the drumming stopped and sometimes a faint drumming can still be heard here when all is quiet.

Richmond walks, Photo Credit Kev Taylor, (IFY Community)
Richmond walks, Photo Credit Kev Taylor, (IFY Community)

 

Richmond’s Georgian theatre Royal was built in 1788 and is the oldest original working performance venue in Britain. It was founded by actor, Samuel Butler who owned other venues in Yorkshire in places such as Beverley, Northallerton and Whitby. The theatre was in regular use until 1830, but in the decades after that was used for other purposes, such as an auction room and for storing wine. The Georgian closed down in 1848 and for more than a century lay unloved in the middle of the town. In 1963 the Georgian playhouse was re-opened and in the following decades was expanded and refurbished. Much of its original Georgian features were still intact, including a set of woodland scenery dating back to the 1820s, the oldest in Britain. It is also a tourist attraction and regular tours are conducted from February to October.

In the present day the Georgian theatre offers a mixture of plays, music concerts and the town’s pantomime.

Catterick Garrison is located three miles to the south of Richmond, and has become the largest British Army barracks in the world, covering 2,400 acres. It has an integrated community complete with retail park, sports facilities and primary school.

Richmond is linked to other towns in North Yorkshire largely by the A1 South. The A66 takes travellers into Cumbria; while to the south lays the winding unmarked roads through the hills of the Yorkshire Dales, providing a fantastic scenic drive for those who wish to explore.

Richmond train station opened in 1847 but closed in 1969 and has been re-developed since into a community space with two cinema screens, restaurant art gallery and heritage centre opened in 2007 and known as “The Station.” The town does have a number of bus services to places such as Darlington, Ripon, Northallerton plus a Dales service to Ingleton and Middlesbrough.

Shopping in Richmond is dominated by the town’s large market square and its unusual obelisk in the centre. This was constructed in 1771 and replaced an older market cross, which had stood there since Medieval Times. The obelisk stands on a large filled in reservoir which can hold 12,000 gallons of water.

Shopping in Richmond, Photo Credit, Paul Buttitta (IFY Community)
Shopping in Richmond, Photo Credit, Paul Buttitta (IFY Community)

 

Above ground the market has taken place since 1090, even before the town was given its charter in 1155. Nowadays the markets are held on Saturdays around the obelisk selling everything from fresh fruit, fish, cheese and flowers. The indoor market hall is open seven days a week and sells a wide variety of goods, while farmer’s produce stalls join in the fun every third Saturday of the month. The streets around the marketplace are full of local independent stores to discover, selling everything from walking boots to jewellery and gifts.

Richmond is a historic and romantic town right at the top of North Yorkshire, surrounded by the spectacular valleys of the Dales.


There is strong evidence to suggest the existence of a Roman settlement in the Richmond area. Over the centuries several Roman hordes have been discovered, the largest in 1724 when 620 silver coins and spoons were found. Other recent discoveries have included a haul of pottery in 1937 and more Roman coins in 1956.

The town of Richmond was founded by the Norman baron, Alan Rufus who was given the land by William I in 1071. He named his new estate after Richemont a place in his native Normandy meaning “strong hill.” His castle soon followed and was completed in 1086, with a keep added in 1146. Richmond’s central location in the north made it a key defensive position against Scottish attacks throughout the medieval periods. King William the Lion, leader of the auld enemy was kept prisoner here in 1174 after the battle of Alnwick. The Scots reached the town during their short-lived invasion of the North, after victory at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. A town and market grew near the castle walls, which became one of the largest cobbled marketplaces in the country.
Richmond suffered badly from bubonic plague in 1349, which wiped out large numbers of its inhabitants. The population recovered and by the Georgian period had reached its heyday, with many magnificent buildings and structures created, including the obelisk in the market square, which replaced an older cross. The Georgian theatre, which dates back to 1788, is one of the oldest surviving entertainment venues in Yorkshire. The town’s prosperity was further fuelled by the growth of wool-making and lead mining in the surrounding dales, along with hospitality for those travelling the Great North Road.

The 19th Century saw little of the rapid expansion that affected other Yorkshire places, but it was the birthplace of one innovation; street lighting.

In 1821 the Richmond Gas works was founded to provide the town with a very far-sighted scheme, to light its streets at night. This project was the first of its kind in Europe for a provincial town.

Richmond marketplace pictured in 1975. Picture credit: fotorus flickr creative commons.
Richmond marketplace pictured in 1975. Picture credit: fotorus flickr creative commons.

The 20th century also saw Richmond become one of the north’s principal military towns. In 1914 Catterick garrison was first established. Located three miles south of Richmond, it was originally used as a Prisoner of War camp during both the World Wars, but has now expanded to become the largest British army garrison in the world.

Richmond has, in the modern day, lent itself to tourism, with one of the best preserved castle ruins still dominating the skyline.  Its location, close to the Yorkshire Dales National Park, means it is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. This has prompted travel writers to describe the town as “one of the most romantic places in the country.” “Richmond” is also the commonest British place name in the world, with fifty-five other places sharing this title.




Richmond is one of the most popular placenames in the world. Not only is there the one in London (on Thames,) but there are also Richmonds in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, St Vincent, Jamaica and Grenada. There are 57 in total, but the Yorkshire version remains the original and best!
The walls of Richmond Castle are some of the oldest outside London, dating back to 1071.
Richmond was given to Alan Rufus, the nephew of William the Conquerer. His estate was reportedly 250,000 acres, which has a modern equivalent value of £80bn, making him the richest man who ever lived.
The Gilling Viking Sword, dating back to the 9th Century, was found by a nine year old boy playing in a stream near Richmond in 1976. The sword is now on display at the York Castle museum– the boy’s reward…..a Blue Peter badge…
Richmond is one of the first towns in the world to have its own streetlighting, after one of Europe’s first gas works was founded here in the 1820s.
Lewis Carroll, who wrote “Alice in Wonderland” attended Richmond Grammar School.