Page images



W.m. IAnson


About 1110, Henry I enfeoffed Walter Espect in five knights' fees in the North Riding, the principal manors on which property were Helmsley and Kirkham. The grant was made partly out of the Count of Mortain's demesne landswhich had reverted to the Crown in 1088 or, at the latest, in 1104-and partly out of the royal demesne. Historical inferences all tend to show that for some years subsequent to IIIO Espec resided in an aula or manor-house at Kirkham, and here he was probably living when, in 1122, he founded the abbey of that name. Had the earthworks at Helmsley been in existence in 1110, when Espec came into possession of Helmsley and Kirkham, it seems strange that he did not utilise them, admirably adapted as they were for the purpose, in erecting a defensible residence. The fact that he is always termed the lord of Helmsley-showing that it was his seigneural residencethat he was a great warrior, that Helmsley is the only one of his Yorkshire manors on which we find the slightest trace of the former existence of a Norman stronghold—a most significant fact when we remember that he lived through the terrible intestinal warfare of the time of Stephen—tends to show that if the earthworks do not actually owe their origin to him they were, at any rate, utilised by him as the site for a formidable stronghold.

The writer, however, is strongly of opinion that the earthworks are not Roman but that they owe their origin to Espec, and this opinion is held, in a more modified degree perhaps, by such an eminent authority as Professor Haverfield. Probably

1 He was probably the son or grandson of a Domesday baron, William Spech, to whose Bedfordshire property he succeeded (Yorks. Arch. Journal, xvii, 238-9). He appears to have been a favourite of Henry I, and was one of the principal commanders of the AngloNorman army at the battle of the Standard.

2 The romantic story of the foundation of this house, which first appears in a Cottonian MS. (given in the Mon. Angl., v, 280), the date and authorship of which is uncertain, is a mere legend. Espec, the lord of Helmsley, is said to have had an only son, who was killed when out riding, and that in his memory the famous warrior founded the houses of Kirkham (1122), Rievaulx (1131), and Wardon, in Bedfordshire (1130). But no son is mentioned in the foundation charters of Kirkham and Rievaulx (that of Wardon has not been found) in the long list of persons whose souls


were to be prayed for, and Aelred, the
third Abbot of Rievaulx, distinctly
states that Espec was childless,“ nempe
cum liberis careret heredibus .
de optimis, tamen quibusque possessioni-
bus suis Christum fecit heredem'
(Leland, Collect., iii, 361).

3 Professor Haverfield, in a letter to the writer, says : “ Helmsley Castle has puzzled most people. The objections to calling its earthworks of Roman origin are two :-(1 Save for one coin, found omewhere near Helmsley, no Roman remains have ever been detected, either at the Castle or in the neighbourhood, although if such great earthworks are of Roman origin, it is incredible that Roman objects should not have been found in or close to them in abundance. (2) So far as I could judge from a rather hasty visit, the earthworks themselves contain no feature which is characteristically Roman, that is, nothing of which you would say that it must be, in all human


the earthworks thrown up by Espec were considerably strengthened by Robert de Roos, c. 1200, when he replaced the timber defences of the inner ward by works in masonry, for the width of the ditches is altogether unusual for a castle of the time of Henry I. The Pipe Rolls show that there was great working at castle ditches in the reign of John ; probably in order to widen them in

consequence of the longer range of the new siege engines.

The date of the foundation of Helmsley Castle is probably contemporary with that of the beautiful and famous abbey of Rievaulx, i.e. the year 1131. Walter Espec died, probably at an advanced age, in 1153, and the great timber castle of Helmsley was, in 1154--the year with which we are dealing--- in possession of the Roos family through the marriage of Peter de Roost with Espec's sister, Adeline.

Description.--Helmsley Blackamoor, as it is called in the old records, is one of the brightest and pleasantest of our old-world North Riding townlets. It has an air of comfort, cleanliness, and rural prosperity, with its broad sunny market-place, its quaint old houses, its monument to the second Lord Feversham, its ancient cross, and its modernised church-internally the ideal of what a country church should be. Although we possess no concentric stone castle in the North Riding we have, in the earthworks which mark the site of the Espec fortress, clear proof that in the days of King John such a fortress existed in timber.

The formidable earth-and-timber castle of Walter Espec consisted of a level main or inner ward, covering some i} acres, and measuring some 330 feet from north-west to south-east by about 220 feet from north-east to south-west. There is no trace of the former existence of a motte, indeed, considering the nature and extent of the outer defences, the inner ward itself was a citadel of very great strength. Here, probably at the southern side of the enclosure and occupying roughly the site of the existing modernised stone “palace,” would be placed the timber great hall, solar, etc., of the founder of Rievaulx. Whether the enclosure, as at Scarborough, contained a timber keep in addition to the wooden great hall will probably never be known. The ward was completely surrounded by a formidable ditch, some 100 feet in width on its northern side, and about 35 feet in depth. Traces of the banquette on which the timber defences were placed—and which was subsequently crowned by works in masonry-still remain at the south-east end, and also at the northern angle of the ward.

probability, Roman work and nothing else. They are not typically mediæval, no doubt; but as they are also not typically Roman, I see no reason for calling them Roman. You may remember the rhyme

Was man nicht deklinieren kann,

Das sehe man als Neutrum an. Many antiquaries follow this rule; it they cannot explain a thing as mediæval, they call it Roman. Yet all the while it may well be some form of mediæval which they arbitrarily rule out because it is unusual.

There is a somewhat similar puzzle at

Castle Acre in Norfolk. Here a part of the earthworks has been called Roman because it does not look like medieval work. But no Roman remains have been found in that part, or indeed within a mile or two,and ihe earthworksthemselves have no specifically Roman features.

In all such cases it seems to me best either to allow for the possibility that the work is medieval or to admit that there is no real reason known to assign it to any age. At Helmsley I should incline to the first alternative."

1 Arms :-"Gules, three water bougets argent."

Beyond the deep ditch encircling the inner ward is a high counterscarp or ridge, some feet lower than the ward by which it was completely dominated. This ridge, undoubtedly, once bore a strong timber stockade forming the outer palisade of enceinte. It was widened out into broad platforms on the south-east, north-west, and south. The great south-east platform measures some 220 feet in length from north-north-east to south-south-west, and is about 60 feet in width at its broadest or central part. Here would be a very strongly stockaded barbican or outwork, probably provided with flanking timber turrets, and containing the main entrance to the fortress. A timber bridge would give access, across the great ditch, to the main ward. The north-west platform measures some 110 feet in length by 40 feet in width at its broadest part. Here, too, would be a strongly stockaded barbican or outwork, connected by wooden bridges with both the inner or main ward and the north-western or outer ward. The platform on the south measures some 80 feet in length by about 40 feet in width, and probably bore a long rectangular timber tower flanking and defending this side of the fortress. We have, therefore, a castle within a castle, just such a structure as get in masonry at Beaumaris. One is inclined to think that these additional defences were mainly added by Robert de Roos towards the close of the twelfth or during the first decade of the thirteenth century.

The southern side of the outer defences was guarded by another formidable ditch with a counterscarp which, although not now complete, would appear to have been widened out, and which, almost certainly, bore additional timber defences. To the south-east of the main barbican was a ditch-defended outwork of some size, at the north-east angle of which, flanking


« PreviousContinue »