History and Stories

Richmond Castle: History and Stories

Towering above the river Swale in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, Richmond Castle has been an imposing sight since its foundation in the 1070s. 

The castle is one of the finest and most complete 11th-century fortresses in the country. With a history that spans centuries, from the Norman Conquest to the First World War, there is much to discover about this fascinating site. 

Richmond Castle

Top Facts

  • Building of the castle was begun in the 1070s by Alan Rufus, who had fought at the Battle of Hastings alongside William the Conqueror.
  • It is the best-preserved early Norman castle in England.
  • By the early 16th century the castle was derelict and it remained in ruins for 300 years.
  • In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, artists including JMW Turner were inspired by the castle’s ruin.
  • In the Victorian era, the castle became the headquarters of the North York Militia.
  • Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, briefly commanded here.
  • During the First World War the castle was occupied by the Northern Non-Combatant Corps, a unit for men who had asked for exemption from military service.
  • In 1916, 16 conscientious objectors from the Non-Combatant Corps were sent to France where they faced court martial for refusing to obey orders. They became known as the Richmond Sixteen.
Read the full history of Richmond Castle

Conscientious objection at Richmond Castle

Interior of the cell block

Interior of the cell block where the conscientious objectors were held

During the First World War, Richmond Castle was the headquarters of the Northern Non-Combatant Corps. This was a military unit in which those who refused to fight in the war on grounds of conscience could contribute to the war effort. They carried out support roles that did not involve fighting or the use of arms.

Some, known as absolutist conscientious objectors, refused to do work that would contribute to the war effort in any way. These men were often severely treated as a result. At Richmond, some were confined to barracks or detained in the 19th-century cell block.  

In 1916, 16 absolutist conscientious objectors were taken from Richmond Castle and transported to France, where they faced firing squad for refusing to obey orders. They became known as the Richmond Sixteen. 

Drawn and scratched into the delicate limewashed walls of the cell block are thousands of graffiti inscriptions. They record the voices of those held in the cells, including members of the Richmond Sixteen and many other conscientious objectors. 

Learn more about the Richmond Graffiti

Visit Richmond Castle

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