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SKELTON CASTLE IN 1762.
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.
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 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.
? 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 (Roberi 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 " Cross
at Guisborough is 31 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, private apartments, etc., and hese, 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. Undoubtedly the earliest
4 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
i 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. Mont. ferrant, 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 small inner ward.
3 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,
You mount upon a terrace high,
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,
must have been in a very dilapidated condition when he came into possession of it. It is a deplorable thing, however, that instead of entirely destroying the historic home of the Bruces-an act of vandalism fortunately unequalled elsewhere in the North Riding-he did not carefully restore and judiciously modernise it, as his wealth would easily have enabled him to do. Had it been so restored there can be no doubt that we should have had at Skelton one of the most interesting country houses-both architecturally and historically-in the North of England. The work of destruction, which was carried out only too thoroughly, took place between 1788 and 1794, when not only was the entire feudal castle pulled down, but all irregularities in the ground were carefully levelled. The modern castellated building is beautifully situated on the site of the ancient fortress, and a part of its long façade is evidently ancient work recased, judging by the immense thickness of its walls. This may quite possibly be part of the original walls of the great hall or solar.
1 It is hardly possible to accept, as literally correct, Hall Stevenson's statement that the keep threatened destruction every hour.' Towers with walls from 8 to 12 feet thick, such as would be those of the keep at Skelton, are not very liable to destruction from natural decay. That for several centuries the tower had been left pretty much to the “owls, bats, and jackdaws one can readily believe, for such structures, unless judiciously modernised, were not comfortable places of residence. Probably the floors had fallen in, but structurally the tower would be strong enough, and its complete and much-tobe-deplored destruction would be a costly undertaking. It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to remark that in feudal times the ditches would be dry, as they are to-day. The construction of a dam, and the flooding of the ditches, would take place in comparatively modern times, possibly by Hall Stevenson's predecessor. Some fifty years ago the dam was cut through, and the ditches restored to their original condition. A portion of the ditch still, however, contains water, as will be seen by a reference to the plan. John Hall Stevenson's description of the ** moat," as it existed in his time, is not very attractive :-
Many a time I've stood and thought
With water rats, dead cats and dogs." Ord (History of Cleveland, p. 253) gives us an extract, relative to the destruction of the ancient castle, from a letter written to him by “a West Riding clergyman."
The extract is here reproduced as the