Page images
[ocr errors]

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. ? 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

[ocr errors]


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 Dacré of Gillesland, and his son, Leonard Conyers of Skelton Castle (Test. Ebor., Vi, 263: Reg. Tesl., 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.

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 (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. 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 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 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,
Whose mouldering walls a moat

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

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-

Their vespers and their Sabbath

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



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.

[ocr errors]



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 the keep at Skelton,
are not very liable to destruction from
natural decay. That for several cen-
turies the tower had been left pretty
much to the “ owls, bats, and jackdaws
one can readily believe, for such struc-
tures, 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-to-
be-deplored destruction would be
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, con-
tains water, as will be seen by a refer-
ence 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

Seeing the boat upon this ditch :
It looked as if it had been brought
For the amusement of a witch
To sail amongst applauding frogs,

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 description, save for the dates and the very wild architectural observations, agrees fairly well with Hall Stevenson's description and drawing. “The enclosed sketch”—a copy of Hall Stevenson's drawing-“represents the castle at that period, and, it is supposed, for three centuries previously. The old castle, built about 1140, was beautiful specimen of antiquity and picturesque loveliness, being nearly surrounded by a deep glen, finely wooded. In 1788 the grandson of John Hall, who assumed the name of Wharton, commenced the work of destruction, and, at an enormous expense, contrived to flood the glen, demolish the terraces, pull down every remnant of Norman antiquity, including a magnificent tower, and has left behind him the most extraordinary specimen of folly and bad taste to be found in the whole country. I have no doubt but that the round tower”--the writer evidently refers to the polygonal turret-" which had been converted into a pigeon-cote, and the large square tower introduced into the sketch”-i.e. the keep-“ were there before the Conquest." Reading between the lines of this description one is inclined to think that the main body of the castle had been much modernised. We notice that neither Hall Stevenson nor the clergyman make any reference to the famous chapel, one of the Jewells of this kingdom," and one is inclined to think that it really was destroyed in the reign of Mary Tudor, as narrated in the Cott. MS. already referred to.

The view of the castle given in fig. 8 is taken from the north-northwest in order to show the nab end of the promontory on which once stood the rectangular keep of the ancient fortress of the Bruces. One of the most interesting portions of the modern residence is the chapel-like part, running east and west, the position and dimensions of which may possibly be intended to represent the one-time existence on this spot of a chapel which, in mediæval times, would certainly appear to have been of note for its surpassing beauty. One of the windows is seventeenth century in date with original mullions, and contains some late seventeenth century stained glass, bearing the arms of Trotter impaled with Witham, Pudsey, Forcer, Cholmley, Boyce, and Lowther.1

Below the castle is a deep, heavily-wooden glen, which winds down to the sea with the pretty little watering place of Saltburn-by-the-Sea on its banks.


History. At the time of the Survey, Hugh Fitz-Baldric3 was the principal landowner in Thirsk, where he held 12 carucates of land, the king holding 8 carucates. After Hugh's death, c. 1190, Thirsk would appear to have passed to that powerful baron, Robert de Stuteville, who married Ernburga, Hugh Fitz-Baldrick's daughter. Stuteville may have erected the castle c. 1092, but after the battle of Tinchebrai, in which he was captured (see Buttercrambe), Henry I bestowed this portion of his vast estates upon Nigel d'Albini, a cousin on the mother's side to Robert de Mowbray.5 Nigel had greatly distinguished himself at the ruthless battle of Tinchebrai, where he is said to have personally captured the unfortunate Duke Robert. He died in 1136.

The writer desires to thank the owner of the castle, Mr. W. H. A. Wharton, who is a life member of this Society, for showing him all round the building and for allowing him to examine the working drawings used at the erection of the existing structure-these, however, throw no light upon the dimensions and arrangements of the ancient structure.

2 D.B., fo. 300b, col. 2; fo. 327a, col. 2.

3 Hugh Fitz-Baldric was, in 1069, appointed Sheriff of Yorkshire. He seems to have died whilst the Summary of the Domesday Book was being completed (Wm. Farrer, V.C.H. of Yorks., vol. ii, p. 178). He gave lands in Hutton Le Hole, Normanby, and Kirkby Misperton to the abbey of St. Mary, York.

4 The first mention of the castle known to the writer occurs in the Pipe Rolls, 35 Hen. I (Rec. Com.), 138.

The story of how Mowbray was besieged by the Red King in his castle of Bamborough (Ordericus Vit., viii, 23); how he left the fortress in the middle of the night, and was pursued by part of the garrison of the siege castle; how he was captured and brought as a prisoner before the walls, and how, in order to save her husband's eyes, his wife surrendered the stronghold, is a story too well known to bear repetition. With that brutality so characteristic of the age, the Earl's eyes were put out, and he was imprisoned for many years in the royal stronghold of Windsor. Released by Henry I, he became a monk at St. Alban's, where he died in 1106.

His widow, Gundreda, survived him, and the pretty story of how she sheltered at Thirsk Castle the homeless monks of Calder is narrated in Dugdale's Mon. Angl. Her son, Roger, who assumed the surname of Mowbray, fought at the battle of the Standard, and was the founder of the monastic houses of Byland and Newburgh. His descendants bore the arms: "Gules, a lion rampant argent." Of all the North Riding barons of his day Mowbray would appear to have been the most attractive. He wins our interest from the first as the boy-hero of the battle of the Standard, he is not only famous for his unfailing generosity to monastic houses, but as a distinguished

1 In 1134 (Dugdale's Mon. Angl., v, 349, No. 8) Gerald, a monk of Furness, with 12 companions, founded the Abbey of Calder, in Cumberland, but three years later the house was plundered and burnt by the Scots. The monks returned to Furness, but the Abbot refused to house them, consequently with only one wagon and eight oxen they set out to interview Thurstan, archbishop of York. As they were painfully making their way to York, they were met by Gundreda's steward, who suggested that they should call at Thirsk Castle. Gundreda, from an upper window of the fortress, watched the monks approach, and pleased by their demeanour, and pitying their miserable condition, sheltered them in the castle for a little time, finally committing them to the care of her relative, Robert d'Alncto, the hermit of Hode or Hood Grange. Here they lived until, a year or two later, Roger de Mowbray, the young heir, came of age. Roger gave them his cow-pasture at Cambe, with all the lands of Wilden, Scakilden, and Erghum, and at Hood they erected a timber church and house. For four years the community resided there, and then, finding the place unsuitable, they removed to Old Byland, where they built a small cell on the banks of the Rye, Mowbray again assisting them. Here, however, they found themselves too near the Abbey of Rievaulx, for "at every hour of the day and night, the one convent could hear the bells of the other," quod non decebat, nec diu potuit aliqualiter sustineri." Again they appealed to the long-suffering Mowbray, who at once gave them two carucates of land at Oldstead, near Coxwold, together with the churches of Thirsk, Hovingham, and Kirkby Moorside, and at Stocking they erected a small stone church, a cloister and offices. Here they abode for thirty years, and finally, in 1177, they left the place and erected a new house at Byland, ubi, Domino annuente, fœliciter manebunt in æternum." What particularly strikes one in the interesting history of the wander

[ocr errors]

ings of this community is the unfailing kindness and generosity of Roger de Mowbray. In an earlier portion of this article we have commented unfavourably on the character of the average Norman baron. But it is pleasant to realise that they were not all men of the type of Robert Belêsme or Hugh d'Avranches, and it is with a sense of relief that we turn from such to study the characters of say William de Warrenne, Robert de Brus, Walter l'Espec, and Roger de Mowbray, men who combined the qualities of a first-class soldier and an able administrator with that gentleness and courtesy which one has come to regard more as an attribute of the fourteenth than of the twelfth century. In 1145 (Dugdale, Mon. Angl., vi, 317) Mowbray founded the Priory of Newburgh, to which he gave, among other donations, the church of St. Mary at Hood-the original Yorkshire home of the monks of Byland (ibid., 318, No. 1), which eventually became a cell to Newburgh. Several of these gifts were made by Roger for the souls of his father and mother, Nigel and Gundreda, for his own soul, and for that of Adeliz, his wife (ibid., 320, No. 5). The gifts were confirmed by his son, Nigel (ibid., vi, 318), and by his grandson, William. The famous Roger de Mowbray is said (ibid., vi, 320) to have been interred at Byland, "in muro capituli ex parte australi juxta matrem suam Gundredam." For some unaccountable reason his putative bones were dug up in 1819 by Mr. Martin Stapylton, who is said to have taken them away in a basket hidden under the box-seat of his carriage, and to have buried them in the churchyard at Myton. It is also said that the bones were subsequently taken back and reinterred in the Chapter House at Byland, but on this point there would appear to be a good deal of doubt (The Antiquary, xxiv, p. 186). It is probable, however, that Mowbray died in the Holy Land, and that the bones taken from Byland were not those of the famous baron.

« PreviousContinue »