'Richmond Sixteen' Inspire New Peformance

A new show at Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire will bring to life stories of First World War 'conscientious objectors'

Graffiti carved into the walls of Richmond Castle is the inspiration behind a new on-site performance next month.

'Refrain' is an immersive, choral experience created by award-winning composer Verity Standen and performed by local male singers. It explores the stories of those imprisoned at the castle more than 100 years ago for their refusal to participate in the First World War.

Penalties like those imposed on the so-called 'Richmond Sixteen' were introduced to improve the declining number of volunteer recruits. The prisoners at Richmond Castle in 1916 had all rebelled against taking part in the war effort, whether in combat or support roles, on moral, political or religious grounds.

During their confinement, the Richmond Sixteen known as 'conscientious objectors', left their personal testimonies as drawings on the cell walls of the 19th century prison block. The graffiti features portraits of loved ones, religious verses, political slogans and hymms.

The prisoners were later transported to France and sentenced to death, however the sentence was eventually reduced to 10 years. Their graffiti on the walls of Richmond Castle survives today and is the subject of an ongoing conservation project.

A unique promenade-style performance, Refrain will serve as a contemporary reflection on the conscience and sacrifice of the prisoners. Audience members will also have an opportunity to explore the 11th century site, on which the prison block is built, which is not regularly open to the public.

Kevin Booth, English Heritage's Senior Curator for the north, said:

'English Heritage is delighted to be collaborating with Verity Standen at Richmond Castle. We're working hard to conserve the fragile graffiti left at the castle by the Richmond Sixteen, but we also want to involve local people in their remarkable story and this project is part of that.'

Composer Verity Standen said:

'I am thrilled to be working with such a diverse range of voices - men drawn from all walks of life. It's a great challenge to compose music that will resound not only in a Castle Keep but also in a local pub. It's a daunting task, but I know the power of a room full of voices and I can't wait to start fillig those spaces with sound.'

The performance will also tour two other sites connected to the conscientious objectors: St. Helens, Merseyside in May and Newhaven, East Sussex, in June.

Event Details

7-9 April, 2017
Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire

Tickets are on sale now. For more information visit our event page and to book your tickets visit

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