Page images
PDF
EPUB

were resident there until 1727, when it came into the possession of Joseph Hall, who married Catherine, eldest daughter of John Trotter, of Skelton Castle. From him it has descended to the present owner, Mr. W. H. A. Wharton. It is interesting, in view of the number of times the castle has changed hands, to note that the present owner can claim relationship, through the royal house of Scotland, with the ancient Brus barons of Skelton.2

Description. This great 'burgus" fortress—by far the largest (in area) of the timber castles of the North Riding, if we include the “burgus ”—occupied a long, rather narrow, diamond-shaped promontory, some 54 acres in extent, running north and south, and measuring some 1,600 feet in length by some 370 feet in extreme width.3 The slopes of the natural ravines on either side were scarped away to form broad deep ditches defending the long promontory on the east and west, and encircling its northern extremity. The approach to this large fortified enclosure was from the south by a paved bridle path, still bearing the significant name of " Borough-gate."

The entrance to the stockaded enclosure was evidently almost exactly at the point where the road known as “Church Lane' now meets the high road from Skelton to Guisborough, and here was a small triangular-shaped outwork or barbican (see plan, fig. 7), which would certainly be defended by palisading. From this fortified outwork, a gate, almost on the site of the gate now leading into the grounds of the present castle, gave access to the large communal fortified enclosure, or “burgus."

by his grandson, Lawson Trotter, who was holding the property in 1729. Sometime between that date and 1732 he sold it to his brother-in-law, Joseph Hall.

i In order to make clear the recent descent of the castle, it should be mentioned that Joseph Hall, of Skelton Castle, brother-in-law of and successor to Lawson Trotter, died in 1733, and was succeeded by his son, John Hall, who assumed the name of Stevenson, and died in 1785. His son and successor, Joseph, died in the following year, and was succeeded by his son, John Hall Stevenson, who assumed the name and arms (Sable, a maunch argent) of Wharton. Ambrose Stevenson, three generations previously, had married Ann, eventually sole surviving child and heiress of Anthony Wharton, of Gillingwood Hall, near Richmond, by his wife, Margaret, daughter of Sir Wm. Hicks, Bart., of Beverston Castle, Glouces

ter. The Gillingwood estate is still the property of the Whartons of Skelton Castle. The Whartons derive their descent from Henry Wharton, of Wharton, Westmorland, living 10 Henry V, who was the ancestor of the Lords Wharton, the last of whom was created Duke of Wharton. John Wharton, of Skelton Castle, died in 1843 without issue, and was succeeded by his nephew, John Thomas Wharton, who died in 1900, and was succeeded by his son, William Henry Anthony Wharton, the present owner.

2 His great-grandmother, Margaret, Lady Dundas, was a daughter of Major Alexander Bruce of Kennet, who was descended from Sir Thomas Bruce of Kennet, to whom the Kennet estates were granted in 1389 by Sir Robert Bruce of Clackmannan, grandson of King David Bruce of Scotland.

* See fig. 7.

[graphic]

SKELTON CASTLE FROM THE N.N.W. Showing the scarped promontory on which the feudal castle stood.

[graphic][subsumed]

SKELTON CASTLE IN 1762.

From the frontispiece in John Hall Stevenson's "Crazy Tales," first edition, 1762. British Museum, press matt., 840l, 18(2).

[blocks in formation]

This enclosure, as was the case at Barnard Castle and at Whorlton-two neighbouring "burgus" castles-contained the church and village. Around and about the church would cluster the timber huts of the "burgus" or village. The enclosure would be defended by timber palisading crowning the summit of the scarped sides of the ravine or dry ditch on either side.

[ocr errors]

A " burgus was no unusual adjunct to an Early Norman castle. In exchange for the protection thus afforded, the lord would receive rent from the burgers, they would have to grind. their corn at his mill, and perform certain services of value.2 The lord would also receive tolls on all commodities brought into the "burgus," and in the event of there being a market-as was the case at Skelton-would receive a percentage on the goods sold. The village was evidently of some size, for there were 63 taxpayers at Skelton in 1301. How long it remained here it is impossible to say, but the aristocratic aloofness which characterised the late seventeenth century would certainly not have tolerated the existence of any houses here beyond 1700, if, indeed, they were allowed to remain so long.3

The seigneural fortress, or castle proper, occupied the northern or nab end of the long promontory, a highly defensible site, as the ravines-scarped into broad, deep, dry ditches-which encircled it on three sides, are here no less than 240 feet in width and some 50 feet in depth. The castle would be cut off from the “burgus by a deep and broad ditch, now com

1 The original church, probably a stone building-very often for a considerable time the church was the only work in masonry in connection with a Norman castle would be coeval with the foundation of the fortress, c. 1072-5. It was given, in 1119, by Robert de Brus to the Priory of Guisborough. About 1785 the then existing church was pulled down, and the present ugly and tasteless structure erected on its site in the hideous style usually known as "The Churchwarden." In the chancel were interred Christopher, second Lord Conyers (died 14 June, 1538), his wife, Anne, daughter of Thomas, Lord Dacre of Gillesland, and his son, Leonard Conyers of Skelton Castle (Test. Ebor., vi, 263 Reg. Test., xxi, 63). Mrs Wharton drew the writer's attention to a very large stone slab near the altar rails, from which the brass figures, arms, and inscription have been torn away, but which, in all probability, marks the resting-place of Lord Conyers and his wife.

46

2 Mrs. Armitage in her Early Norman Castles of the British Isles, p. 86 note, says: Henry II built a castle and a very fine borough (burgum pergrande) at Beauvoir in Maine (Robert of Torigny, Rec. Ser., p. 243). Minute regulations concerning the founding of the borough of Overton are given in Close Rolls, Edward I (1288-1296), p. 285." There was a market at Skelton from a very early date, and this would certainly be held within the "burgus." In 13 Edward II John, Lord Fauconberg, obtained the king's licence to change the market day from Sunday to Saturday. There was also, in mediæval times, a yearly fair at Skelton on Whit-Monday and the two following days.

3 Close to the drive leading from the east lodge (marked gardener's lodge on plan) is an old mile-stone, which records that its distance from the market "Crofs" at Guisborough is 3 miles. Mr. Wharton suggests that the public road may, at one time, have run across the park in front of the south façade of the castle.

pletely filled up, cut right across the promontory until it merged into the scarped ravines on either side. The motteif one existed?

_would be of small size, and would certainly be placed at the northern or nab end of the promontory.? When, c. 1190-1200, Adam de Brus II pulled down Surdeval's timber stronghold and erected a stone castle on the site he evidently adopted the rectangular keep type, placing the keep at the northern or nab end.3 There is no

reason to think that the keep would ever undergo much alteration, and when pulled down was probably pretty much in the same condition as when Adam de Brus II erected it in the closing years of the twelfth century. Stretching southwards from the keep, along the verge of the western ravine, were the domestic buildings, great hall, solar,

solar, private apartments, etc., and these, doubtless, had been much modernised, in the interests of comfort, by the Conyers and Trotters, indeed Hall Stevenson's sketch suggests that such was the case. It is difficult to ascertain much from his drawing—the only existing evidence we appear to possess—but the polygonal turret, mentioned by him as being “transform'd into a pigeon-cote,” may have been very late fourteenth century in date. 4 Undoubtedly the earliest portion of the castle existing at the time of its destruction was the late twelfth century keep. If we may trust that brilliant but eccentric person, John Hall Stevenson, the castle

1 Hall Stevenson's drawing would rather suggest that the rectangular keep may have been erected on a lowered motte.

2 This was the usual position when a motte existed on such a site. Montferrant, East Riding (there is, or was, a French castle of the same name northeast of Clermont), the great timber castle of the Fossards, is an exception, for there the motte is placed a short distance from the nab end, which is there occupied by a sinall inner ward.

John Hall Stevenson's description, in his Crazy Tales, of the castle as it existed previous to its destruction, tallies very well with his drawing. He says :"This ancient castle is called Crazy, Whose mouldering walls a moat

3

You mount upon a terrace high,
Where stands that heavy pile of stone,
Irregular, and all awry.
If many a buttress did not reach
A kind and salutary hand,
Did not encourage and beseech
The terrace and the house to stand,
Left to themselves, and at a loss,
They'd tumble down into the foss.
Over the castle hangs a tower,
Threatening destruction every hour,
Where owls, and bats, and the jack-

daw,
Their vespers and their Sabbath

environs, Which moat goes heavily and lazy, Like a poor prisoner in irons.

keep ; All night scream horribly and caw,

And snore all day in horrid sleep." He mentions, therefore, the polygonal turret, “ transform'd into a pigeon-cote,” shown at the south - west angle in his drawing; the buttressed terraces and the irregular domestic buildings, also buttressed; and, at the north-west angle, the ancient and, apparently, abandoned keep dominating the entire castle.

* One is inclined to conjecture that it would be contemporary with the two polygonal towers at Warwick Castle, Guy's Tower, and Cæsar's Tower.

A turret also you may note,
Its glory vanish'd like a dream,
Transform'd into a pigeon-cote,
Nodding beside the sleepy stream.
From whence by steps with moss

o'ergrown,

« PreviousContinue »