For the purposes of this book we may consider Richmond as the gateway of the dale country. There are other gates and approaches, some of which may have advocates who claim their superiority over Richmond as starting-places for an exploration of this description, but for my part, I can find no spot on any side of the mountainous region so entirely satisfactory. If we were to commence at Bedale or Leyburn, there is no exact point where the open country ceases and the dale begins; but here at Richmond there is not the very smallest doubt, for on reaching the foot of the mass of rock dominated by the castle and the town, Swaledale commences in the form of a narrow ravine, and from that point westwards the valley never ceases to be shut in by steep sides, which become narrower and grander with every mile.
The railway that keeps Richmond in touch with the world does its work in a most inoffensive manner, and by running to the bottom of the hill on which the town stands, and by there stopping short, we seem to have a strong hint that we have been brought to the edge of a new element in which railways have no rights whatever. This is as it should be, and we can congratulate the North-Eastern Company for its discretion and its sense of fitness. Even the station is built of solid stonework, with a strong flavour of medievalism in its design, and its attractiveness is enhanced by the complete absence of other modern buildings. We are thus welcomed to the charms of Richmond at once. The rich sloping meadows by the river, crowned with dense woodlands, surround us and form a beautiful setting of green for the town, which has come down from the fantastic days of the Norman Conquest without any drastic or unseemly changes, and thus has still the compactness and the romantic outline of feudal times.
From whatever side you approach it, Richmond has always some fine combination of towers overlooking a confusion of old red roofs and of rocky heights crowned with ivy-mantled walls, all set in the most sumptuous surroundings of silvery river and wooded hills, such as the artists of the age of steel-engraving loved to depict. Every one of these views has in it one dominating feature in the magnificent Norman keep of the castle. It overlooks church towers and everything else with precisely the same aloofness of manner it must have assumed as soon as the builders of nearly eight hundred years ago had put the last stone in place. Externally, at least, it is as complete to-day as it was then, and as there is no ivy upon it, I cannot help thinking that the Bretons who built it in that long distant time would swell with pride were they able to see how their ambitious work has come down the centuries unharmed.
We can go across the modern bridge, with its castellated parapets, and climb up the steep ascent on the further side, passing on the way the parish church, standing on the steep ground outside the circumscribed limits of the wall which used to enclose the town in early times. Turning towards the castle, we go breathlessly up the cobbled street that climbs resolutely to the market-place in a foolishly direct fashion, which might be understood if it were a Roman road. There is a sleepy quietness about this way up from the station, which is quite a short distance, and we look for much movement and human activity in the wide space we have reached; but here, too, on this warm and sunny afternoon, the few folks who are about seem to find ample time for conversation and loitering.
On one side of us is the King's Head, whose steep tiled roof and square front has just that air of respectable importance that one expects to find in an old established English hotel. It looks across the cobbled space to the curious block of buildings that seems to have been intended for a church but has relapsed into shops. The shouldering of secular buildings against the walls of churches is a sight so familiar in parts of France that this market place has an almost Continental flavour, in keeping with the fact that Richmond grew up under the protection of the formidable castle built by that Alan Rufus of Brittany who was the Conqueror's second cousin. The town ceased to be a possession of the Dukes of Brittany in the reign of Richard II., but there had evidently been sufficient time to allow French ideals to percolate into the minds of the men of Richmond, for how otherwise can we account for this strange familiarity of shops with a sacred building which is unheard of in any other English town? Where else can one find a pork-butcher's shop inserted between the tower and the nave, or a tobacconist doing business in the aisle of a church? Even the lower parts of the tower have been given up to secular uses, so that one only realizes the existence of the church by keeping far enough away to see the sturdy pinnacled tower that rises above the desecrated lower portions of the building. In this tower hangs the curfew-bell, which is rung at 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., a custom, according to one writer, 'that has continued ever since the time of William the Conqueror.'
All the while we have been lingering in the market-place the great keep has been looking at us over some old red roofs, and urging us to go on at once to the finest sight that Richmond can offer, and, resisting the appeal no longer, we make our way down a narrow little street leading out to a walk that goes right round the castle cliffs at the base of the ivy-draped walls.
From down below comes the sound of the river, ceaselessly chafing its rocky bottom and the big boulders that lie in the way. You can distinguish the hollow sound of the waters as they fall over ledges into deep pools, and you can watch the silvery gleams of broken water between the old stone bridge and the dark shade of the woods. The masses of trees clothing the side of the gorge add a note of mystery to the picture by swallowing up the river in their heavy shade, for, owing to its sinuous course among the cliffs, one can see only a short piece of water beyond the bridge.
The old corner of the town at the foot of Bargate appears over the edge of the rocky slope, but on the opposite side of the Swale there is little to be seen beside the green meadows and shady coppices that cover the heights above the river.
There is a fascination in this view in its capacity for change. It responds to every mood of the weather, and every sunset that glows across the sombre woods has some freshness, some feature that is quite unlike any other. Autumn, too, is a memorable time for those who can watch the face of Nature from this spot, for when one of those opulent evenings of the fall of the year turns the sky into a golden sea of glory, studded with strange purple islands, there is unutterable beauty in the flaming woods and the pale river.
On the way back to the market-place we pass a decayed arch that was probably a postern in the walls of the town. There can be no doubt whatever of the existence of these walls, for Leland begins his description of the town with the words 'Richemont Towne is waullid,' and in another place he says: 'Waullid it was, but the waul is now decayid. The Names and Partes of 4 or 5 Gates yet remaine.' We cannot help wondering why Richmond could not have preserved her gates as York has done, or why she did not even make the effort sufficient to retain a single one, as Bridlington and Beverley did. The two posterns—one we have just mentioned, and the other in Friar's Wynd, on the north side of the market-place, with a piece of wall 6 feet thick adjoining—are interesting, but we would have preferred something much finer than these mere arches; and while we are grumbling over what Richmond has lost, we may also measure the disaster which befell the market-place in 1771, when the old cross was destroyed. Before that year there stood on the site of the present obelisk a very fine cross which Clarkson, who wrote about a century ago, mentions as being the greatest beauty of the town to an antiquary. A high flight of steps led up to a square platform, which was enclosed by a richly ornamented wall about 6 feet high, having buttresses at the corners, each surmounted with a dog seated on its hind-legs. Within the wall rose the cross, with its shaft made from one piece of stone. There were 'many curious compartments' in the wall, says Clarkson, and 'a door that opened into the middle of the square,' but this may have been merely an arched opening. The enrichments, either of the cross itself or the wall, included four shields bearing the arms of the great families of Fitz-Hugh, Scrope (quartering Tibetot), Conyers, and Neville. From the description there is little doubt that this cross was a very beautiful example of Perpendicular or perhaps Decorated Gothic, in place of which we have a crude and bulging obelisk bearing the inscription: 'Rebuilt (!) A.D. 1771, Christopher Wayne, Esq., Mayor'; it should surely have read: 'Perpetrated during the Mayoralty of Christopher Wayne Goth.'
Although, as we have seen, Leland, who wrote in 1538, mentions Frenchgate and Finkel Street Gate as 'down,' yet they must have been only partially destroyed, or were rebuilt afterwards, for Whitaker, writing in 1823, mentions that they were pulled down 'not many years ago' to allow the passage of broad and high-laden waggons. There can be little doubt, therefore, that, swollen with success after the demolition of the cross, the Mayor and Corporation proceeded to attack the remaining gateways, so that now not the smallest suggestion of either remains. But even here we have not completed the list of barbarisms that took place about this time. The Barley Cross, which stood near the larger one, must have been quite an interesting feature. It consisted of a lofty pillar with a cross at the top, and rings were fastened either on the shaft or to the steps upon which it stood, so that the cross might answer the purpose of a whipping-post. The pillory stood not far away, and the May-pole is also mentioned.
But despite all this squandering of the treasures that it should have been the business of the town authorities to preserve, the tower of the Grey Friars has survived, and, next to the castle, it is one of the chief ornaments of the town. Some other portions of the monastery are incorporated in the buildings which now form the Grammar School. The Grey Friars is on the north side of the town, outside the narrow limits of the walls, and was probably only finished in time to witness the dispersal of the friars who had built it. It is even possible that it was part of a new church that was still incomplete when the Dissolution of the Monasteries made the work of no account except as building materials for the townsfolk. The actual day of the surrender was January 19, 1538, and we wonder if Robert Sanderson, the Prior, and the fourteen brethren under him, suffered much from the privations that must have attended them at that coldest period of the year. At one time the friars, being of a mendicant order, and inured to hard living and scanty fare, might have made light of such a disaster, but in these later times they had expanded somewhat from their austere ways of living, and the dispersal must have cost them much suffering.
Going back to the reign of Henry VII. or there-abouts, we come across the curious ballad of 'The Felon Sow of Rokeby and the Freres of Richmond' quoted from an old manuscript by Sir Walter Scott in 'Rokeby.' It may have been as a practical joke, or merely as a good way of getting rid of such a terrible beast, that
'Ralph of Rokeby, with goodwill,
The fryers of Richmond gave her till.'
Friar Middleton, who with two lusty men was sent to fetch the sow from Rokeby, could scarcely have known that she was
'The grisliest beast that ere might be,
Her head was great and gray:
She was bred in Rokeby Wood;
There were few that thither goed,
That came on live [= alive] away.
'She was so grisley for to meete,
She rave the earth up with her feete,
And bark came fro the tree;
When fryer Middleton her saugh,
Weet ye well he might not laugh,
Full earnestly look'd hee.'
To calm the terrible beast when they found it almost impossible to hold her, the friar began to read 'in St. John his Gospell,' but
'The sow she would not Latin heare,
But rudely rushed at the frear,'
who, turning very white, dodged to the shelter of a tree, whence he saw with horror that the sow had got clear of the other two men. At this their courage evaporated, and all three fled for their lives along the Watling Street. When they came to Richmond and told their tale of the 'feind of hell' in the garb of a sow, the warden decided to hire on the next day two of the 'boldest men that ever were borne.' These two, Gilbert Griffin and a 'bastard son of Spaine,' went to Rokeby clad in armour and carrying their shields and swords of war, and even then they only just overcame the grisly sow.
If we go across the river by the modern bridge, we can see the humble remains of St. Martin's Priory standing in a meadow by the railway. The ruins consist of part of a Perpendicular tower and a Norman doorway. Perhaps the tower was built in order that the Grey Friars might not eclipse the older foundation, for St. Martin's was a cell belonging to St. Mary's Abbey at York and was founded by Wyman, steward or dapifer to the Earl of Richmond, about the year 1100, whereas the Franciscans in the town owed their establishment to Radulph Fitz-Ranulph, a lord of Middleham in 1258. The doorway of St. Martin's, with its zigzag mouldings must be part of Wyman's building, but no other traces of it remain. Having come back so rapidly to the Norman age, we may well stay there for a time while we make our way over the bridge again and up the steep ascent of Frenchgate to the castle.
On entering the small outer barbican, which is reached by a lane from the market-place, we come to the base of the Norman keep. Its great height of nearly 100 feet is quite unbroken from foundations to summit, and the flat buttresses are featureless. The recent pointing of the masonry has also taken away any pronounced weathering, and has left the tower with almost the same gaunt appearance that it had when Duke Conan saw it completed. Passing through the arch in the wall abutting the keep, we come into the grassy space of over two acres, that is enclosed by the ramparts. It is not known by what stages the keep reached its present form, though there is every reason to believe that Conan, the fifth Earl of Richmond, left the tower externally as we see it to-day. This puts the date of the completion of the keep between 1146 and 1171. The floors are now a store for the uniforms and accoutrements of the soldiers quartered at Richmond, so that there is little to be seen as we climb a staircase in the walls 11 feet thick, and reach the battlemented turrets. Looking downwards, we gaze right into the chimneys of the nearest houses, and we see the old roofs of the town packed closely together in the shelter of the mighty tower. A few tiny people are moving about in the market-place, and there is a thin web of drifting smoke between us and them. Everything is peaceful and remote; even the sound of the river is lost in the wind that blows freely upon us from the great moorland wastes stretching away to the western horizon. It is a romantic country that lies around us, and though the cultivated area must be infinitely greater than in the fighting days when these battlements were finished, yet I suppose the Vale of Mowbray which we gaze upon to the east must have been green, and to some extent fertile, when that Conan who was Duke of Brittany and also Earl of Richmond looked out over the innumerable manors that were his Yorkshire possessions. I can imagine his eye glancing down on a far more thrilling scene than the green three-sided courtyard enclosed by a crumbling grey wall, though to him the buildings, the men, and every detail that filled the great space, were no doubt quite prosaic. It did not thrill him to see a man-at-arms cleaning weapons, when the man and his clothes, and even the sword, were as modern and everyday as the soldier's wife and child that we can see ourselves, but how much would we not give for a half-an-hour of his vision, or even a part of a second, with a good camera in our hands?
In the lower part of what is called Robin Hood's Tower is the Chapel of St. Nicholas, with arcaded walls of early Norman date, and a long and narrow slit forming the east window. More interesting than this is the Norman hall at the south-east angle of the walls. It was possibly used as the banqueting-room of the castle, and is remarkable as being one of the best preserved of the Norman halls forming separate buildings that are to be found in this country. The hall is roofless, but the corbels remain in a perfect state, and the windows on each side are well preserved. The builder was probably Earl Conan, for the keep has details of much the same character. It is generally called Scolland's Hall, after the Lord of Bedale of that name, who was a sewer or dapifer to the first Earl Alan of Richmond. Scolland was one of the tenants of the Earl, and under the feudal system of tenure he took part in the regular guarding of the castle.
There is probably much Norman work in various parts of the crumbling curtain walls, and at the south-west corner a Norman turret is still to be seen.
Alan, who received from the Conqueror the vast possessions of Earl Edwin, was no doubt the founder of Richmond. He probably received this splendid reward for his services soon after the suppression of the Saxon efforts for liberty under the northern Earls. William, having crushed out the rebellion in the remorseless fashion which finally gave him peace in his new possessions, distributed the devastated Saxon lands among his supporters; thus a great part of the earldom of Mercia fell to this Breton.
The site of Richmond was fixed as the new centre of power, and the name, with its apparently obvious meaning, may date from that time, unless the suggested Anglo-Saxon derivation which gives it as Rice-munt—the hill of rule—is correct. After this Gilling must soon have ceased to be of any account. There can be little doubt that the castle was at once planned to occupy the whole area enclosed by the walls as they exist to-day, although the full strength of the place was not realized until the time of the fifth Earl, who, as we have seen, was most probably the builder of the keep in its final form, as well as other parts of the castle. Richmond must then have been considered almost impregnable, and this may account for the fact that it appears to have never been besieged. In 1174, when William the Lion of Scotland was invading England, we are told in Jordan Fantosme's Chronicle that Henry II., anxious for the safety of the honour of Richmond, and perhaps of its custodian as well, asked: 'Randulf de Glanvile est-il en Richemunt?' The King was in France, his possessions were threatened from several quarters, and it would doubtless be a relief to him to know that a stronghold of such importance was under the personal command of so able a man as Glanville. In July of that year the danger from the Scots was averted by a victory at Alnwick, in which fight Glanville was one of the chief commanders of the English, and he probably led the men of Richmondshire.
It is a strange thing that Richmond Castle, despite its great pre-eminence, should have been allowed to become a ruin in the reign of Edward III.—a time when castles had obviously lost none of the advantages to the barons which they had possessed in Norman times. The only explanation must have been the divided interests of the owners, for, as Dukes of Brittany, as well as Earls of Richmond, their English possessions were frequently endangered when France and England were at war. And so it came about that when a Duke of Brittany gave his support to the King of France in a quarrel with the English, his possessions north of the Channel became Crown property. How such a condition of affairs could have continued for so long is difficult to understand, but the final severing came at last, when the unhappy Richard II. was on the throne of England. The honour of Richmond then passed to Ralph Neville, the first Earl of Westmoreland, but the title was given to Edmund Tudor, whose mother was Queen Catherine, the widow of Henry V. Edmund Tudor, as all know, married Margaret Beaufort, the heiress of John of Gaunt, and died about two months before his wife—then scarcely fourteen years old—gave birth to his only son, who succeeded to the throne of England as Henry VII. He was Earl of Richmond from his birth, and it was he who carried the name to the Thames by giving it to his splendid palace which he built at Shene. Even the ballad of 'The Lass of Richmond Hill' is said to come from Yorkshire, although it is commonly considered a possession of Surrey.
Protected by the great castle, there came into existence the town of Richmond, which grew and flourished. The houses must have been packed closely together to provide the numerous people with quarters inside the wall which was built to protect the place from the raiding Scots. The area of the town was scarcely larger than the castle, and although in this way the inhabitants gained security from one danger, they ran a greater risk from a far more insidious foe, which took the form of pestilences of a most virulent character. After one of these visitations the town of Richmond would be left in a pitiable plight. Many houses would be deserted, and fields became 'over-run with briars, nettles, and other noxious weeds.'
Easby Abbey is so much a possession of Richmond that we cannot go towards the mountains until we have seen something of its charms. The ruins slumber in such unutterable peace by the riverside that the place is well suited to our mood to go a-dreaming of the centuries which have been so long dead that our imaginations are not cumbered with any of the dull times that may have often set the canons of St. Agatha's yawning. The walk along the steep shady bank above the river is beautiful all the way, and the surroundings of the broken walls and traceried windows are singularly rich. There is nothing, however, at Easby that makes a striking picture, although there are many architectural fragments that are full of beauty. Fountains, Rievaulx and Tintern, all leave Easby far behind, but there are charms enough here with which to be content, and it is, perhaps, a pleasant thought to know that, although on this sunny afternoon these meadows by the Swale seem to reach perfection, yet in the neighbourhood of Ripon there is something still finer waiting for us. Of the abbey church scarcely more than enough has survived for the preparation of a ground-plan, and many of the evidences are now concealed by the grass. The range of domestic buildings that surrounded the cloister garth are, therefore, the chief interest, although these also are broken and roofless. We can wander among the ivy-grown walls which, in the refectory, retain some semblance of their original form, and we can see the picturesque remains of the common-room, the guest-hall, the chapter-house, and the sacristy. Beyond the ruins of the north transept, a corridor leads into the infirmary, which, besides having an unusual position, is remarkable as being one of the most complete groups of buildings set apart for this object. A noticeable feature of the cloister garth is a Norman arch belonging to a doorway that appears to be of later date. This is probably the only survival of the first monastery founded, it is said, by Roald, Constable of Richmond Castle, in 1152. Building of an extensive character was, therefore, in progress at the same time in these sloping meadows, as on the castle heights, and St. Martin's Priory, close to the town, had not long been completed. Whoever may have been the founder of the abbey, it is definitely known that the great family of Scrope obtained the privileges that had been possessed by the Constable, and they added so much to the property of the monastery that in the reign of Henry VIII. the Scropes were considered the original founders. Easby thus became the stately burying-place of the family and the splendid tombs that appeared in the choir of their church were a constant reminder to the canons of the greatness of the lords of Bolton. Sir Henry le Scrope was buried beneath a great stone effigy, bearing the arms—azure, a bend or—of his house. Near by lay Sir William le Scrope's armed figure, and round about were many others of the family buried beneath flat stones. We know this from the statement of an Abbot of Easby in the fourteenth century; and but for the record of his words there would be nothing to tell us anything of these ponderous memorials, which have disappeared as completely as though they had had no more permanence than the yellow leaves that are just beginning to flutter from the trees. The splendid church, the tombs, and even the very family of Scrope, have disappeared; but across the hills, in the valley of the Ure, their castle still stands, and in the little church of Wensley there can still be seen the parclose screen of Perpendicular date that one of the Scropes must have rescued when the monastery was being stripped and plundered.
The fine gate-house of Easby Abbey, which is in a good state of preservation, stands a little to the east of the parish church, and the granary is even now in use.
On the sides of the parvise over the porch of the parish church are the arms of Scrope, Conyers, and Aske; and in the chancel of this extremely interesting old building there can be seen a series of wall-paintings, some of which probably date from the reign of Henry III. This would make them earlier than those at Pickering.
More to follow ....