Detail of graffiti portrait of woman etched onto limewashed wall

The Richmond Graffiti

Within the imposing Norman walls of Richmond Castle, an unassuming 19th-century military cell block holds a fascinating secret. Inscribed on its fragile walls are thousands of pieces of graffiti that span several decades and two world wars. New research is now shedding light on the artists behind the graffiti, including the conscientious objectors known as the Richmond Sixteen.   

Although the cell block isn’t currently open to the public, you can use these pages to discover the story of the graffiti, and find out what we’re doing to conserve it for the future.

The Graffiti

Layers of graffiti including a First World War battleship, Second World War planes and an early jet plane

Layers of graffiti drawn across the 20th century including what appears to be a First World War battleship, Second World War planes and possibly an early jet plane

Drawn and scratched into the delicate limewashed walls of the 19th-century cell block at Richmond Castle are thousands of inscriptions. They record the voices of those held in the cells across two world wars, those who watched over them and those who otherwise gained access to the building throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

While we know a little about a small number of these inscriptions, the vast majority are yet to be researched. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a new volunteer led project aims to explore the stories behind the graffiti and to unlock the extraordinary potential of this previously untapped resource. 

This page will be updated with discoveries made, and stories uncovered throughout the project.

HLF logo

Read more about the Richmond Castle Cell Block Project

The Richmond Sixteen

May 2016 marked 100 years since 16 conscientious objectors – who have come to be known as the Richmond Sixteen – were imprisoned at Richmond Castle for their opposition to the First World War. On 29 May 1916 they were transported to France, where they were court martialled and faced a death sentence for refusing to obey orders in a war zone. 

Find out below what happened to these men, and learn more about conscientious objectors and how they were regarded during the First World War.

See some of the graffiti by the Richmond Sixteen and others, and hear the voices from the walls, in this video.

Gallery of Graffiti

One of the drawings made by a conscientious objector on a cell wall at Richmond Castle

A portrait of Annie Wainwright by her fiancé, John Hubert Brocklesby, dated May 1916. A later prisoner has relabelled the drawing ‘My Kathleen’

Explore in detail some of the inscriptions and drawings pencilled on the walls of the cell block at Richmond Castle over the years, including pieces created by First World War conscientious objectors such as the Richmond Sixteen.

From family portraits to a design for lace, and from sheet music to biblical verse, learn more about the stories behind the graffiti.

Explore the gallery

Conserving the Cell Block Graffiti

The thousands of graffiti written and drawn by prisoners and others from the First World War onwards on the walls of the cell block at Richmond Castle form a unique and remarkable record. But the graffiti are extremely fragile – they line the walls of a 19th-century building that wasn’t designed to last.

This short video explains why it’s so important to preserve the cell block and graffiti, and how we plan to protect them for the long term.

read more about our plans to conserve the graffiti

More about Richmond Castle

  • Richmond Castle in the late 19th century

    History of Richmond Castle

    Read an in-depth history of the castle, from its Norman origins to its use as a base of the Non-Combatant Corps during the First World War.

  • Aerial view of Richmond Castle

    Description of Richmond Castle

    Read a description of this spectacularly sited castle, which has long been celebrated as one of the great ruins of northern England.

  • Plan of Richmond Castle

    Plan of the castle

    Download this PDF plan to explore the castle in detail and find out when different parts of it were built.

'step into englands story