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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Helmsley Castle is ruined

Helmsley, castle, North Yorkshire, Duncombe, Feversham
So it’s official.  I’m guessing that the man who said, somewhat disparagingly, “Well, it’s just a ruin,” probably didn’t enjoy his visit to Helmsley Castle very much, poor soul.  He was half-right – Helmsley Castle is a ruin – however, not entirely; and I suggest it’s a pretty fine place for you to meander around in a leisurely fashion whilst soaking up the atmosphere – a gentle canter through British history from the Norman Conquest to the Civil War.  I wondered if I was allowing my affection for ruins (they say love begins at home) to get the better of me, so I checked out the comments on Trip Advisor.  One person mentioned that Helmsley Castle is a good place for a picnic, and another pointed out that it’s best visited on a dry day.  I wouldn’t disagree with either of those observations and I’m sure the Norman founders of the castle would be of the same mind.  Robert of Mortain, William the Conqueror’s trusted half-brother, idly picked at his Marmite and cucumber sandwich whilst Mrs Mortain poured a dark brown, steaming, cup of tea from the Thermos.  Nearby, the kids were playing Frisbee, their shouts of joy bringing grins to the scared faces of the men at arms.  “A bit deeper with that ditch, there,” Robert called good-naturedly to the group of contended workmen who were gaily building his new castle.  “Good job the rain’s held off, dear,” he commented to his wife.  “Perhaps we can get the barbie out later and have a couple of tinnies”.

Sculptures, Helmsley, North Yorkshire, English Heritage
Actually, it is generally thought that the builder of Helmsley Castle was one Walter Espec, a warrior who also founded abbeys, including nearby Rievaulx.  The castle would have been built mainly in timber sometime around 1120.  Robert of Mortain had certainly been granted the lands before that, and may well have started work on the two massive ditches which are similar to those at his castle in Berkhamsted.  From 1154-1478 the castle was in the possession of the de Roos, who surely deserve to have someone in the family called Kanga, but who were in any event powerful barons.  The name is sometimes spelt Ros (pronounced Roos) and Baron de Ros is one of the oldest titles in Britain.  Wooden palisades became stone walls and successive generations of Rooses improved the castle until, in 1478, Edmund de Roos (not Edmundo Ros) sold it to the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.  After Richard’s defeat at Bosworth, Henry VII gave Helmsley back to Edmund (presumably he made a neat profit somewhere), but Edmund died in 1508 and that was the end of the Roos.  Now - the weather.

Tudor, Helmsley, Manners, Villiers, Duke of Buckingham
Helmsley Castle was then inherited by the Manners family, staunch Protestants, who converted the old medieval hall into a posh Tudor residence.  In 1632, the castle passed by marriage into the hands of George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, hated favourite of James I and, later, his son Charles I.  If you’re minded to, you can walk past the very spot where George was murdered 300 miles away in Portsmouth in 1628.  Villiers Road in nearby Southsea is very nice.

Like many castles in the North of England, Helmsley was held for the King during the Civil War and besieged by Parliamentary troops.  Helmsley’s siege took place in 1644, from September to November, when the garrison ran out of food and surrendered to Parliament’s talented general Sir Thomas Fairfax, ‘Black Tom’.  He ordered it to be ‘slighted’ – pulled down so that it could not be used again – though he spared the residential block.  The 2nd Duke of Buckingham ended up marrying Sir Thomas’ daughter Mary in 1657, which might have been a neat ending, but the castle was subsequently sold to the Duncombe family, the Barons Feversham, who built nearby Duncombe Park and who still own the castle.

Helmsley, Yorkshire, Civil War, siege, 1644, Thomas Fairfax
So you can blame Parliament for the ruined state of Helmsley Castle today.  And a whole lot more.  But even if you can’t picture the place as a working fortress and home, or under siege, you can surely be impressed by those absolutely enormous ditches, remaining walls and the soaring but slighted east tower - with the fireplaces that would have heated long-forgotten rooms clearly visible.  The castle entrance, through the intimidating south barbican, is now defended by stylised bronze sculptures of warriors, which I rather liked.  The restored Tudor rooms in the chamber block provide a glimpse of the luxury that the Manners and Villiers families would have enjoyed and there’s a small, but interesting exhibition of local finds – canon balls, domestic knick-knacks and the like.  On top of that, the Castle is right next door to the town (or vice versa), a delightful place where I recall once drinking far too many creamy pints of Theakston’s Best far too quickly, followed up with rather too much Glenmorangie.  The memory puts ‘ruin’ in a whole different context. 


Helmsley, east tower, de Roos

Helmsley, picnic, Yorkshire, Theakstons, beer, Glenmorangie

For visitor information, see Helmsley Castle on English Heritage's website.


16 comments:

  1. There you go like you I went to a castle the other day that came off worse in the Civil war Old Wardour Castle. I'll write a blog on it in due course. Great blog as usual there Mike

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  2. Even as a ruin it's thoroughly appealing... and it's got a whole lot of history.

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  3. Good morning Mike, a great post! I enjoyed looking at these delightful photos and reading the history. It looks like a wonderful place and I would enjoy walking around those ruins.

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  4. Some years since I visited but I remember being very impressed by the walled garden which is partly maintained by people with disabilities, mental problems and learning difficulties; a very worthwhile and effective project.
    I'm always a sucker for a good ruin, in fact I am a romantic ruin these days.

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  5. Regarding your comment at my blog, yes, there was a good deal of snow over the winter, and in areas on the watershed of the river, the melt came faster than other places, so this was an exceptional year.

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  6. A shots of the remaining portion of this place. I enjoyed the detailed description of the ruins. Well done.

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    1. Thank you Don - and thanks for visiting A Bit About Britain. Drop by again soon.

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  7. You have really brought life to this amazing ruin with your words. I was pleased to read that you can see some Tudor rooms to help the imagination. Thanks for popping by my blog, I can't wait to go back again, just wished that Holst's house would open to the public. Have a great week.

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  8. still makes for a great photography subject. :)

    (i looked up the size of the great egret for you. they're big. 39 inches so over 3 feet.)

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  9. Loved the account of the Mortains. Were you videotaping that? Helmsley Castle is so interesting and those windows and shadows irresistible to photograph.

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  10. The history of these wonderful places is quite intriguing; however, I suppose we all have a different view of things. Thanks for sharing all the photos and info.

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  11. Please don't post about Rievaulx Abbey this week. :-)

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  12. Hi, I arrived here as a result of the link that Cranberry Morning used in her post today. I'm the other person mentioned in the post. Interestingly I have a friend that enthuses others & myself about walking in the beautiful countryside of North Yorkshire ... past Helmsley Castle as a case in point. I did see the tower from the other side of the wall, thanks for showing me around and it looks like you had a nice day. Never made it back three years on as there are always new paths and places to walk ... past !!

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  13. I also was sent over by Cranberry Morning and I am glad that I did. Your blog is fascinating!

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    1. Thanks Ruth. And thanks for visiting A Bit About Britain. Drop by again soon.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.