The Castle was built by Alan Rufus between 1071 and 1091. It was an impressive construction consisting of a triangular inner bailey (great courtyard) protected by massive stone walls on two sides and the steep banks of the River Swale to the south. (Click image for image map).
The Castle was untypical of the period in several respects.
It was built of stone rather than earth and wood (of the motte and bailey type). It was the first Norman Castle in England to have projecting mural towers to improve the defences of the walls and eastern gateways. Whilst the Romans were aware of the benefits of mural towers they were not used in England until the end of the 12th century except for Richmond. Alan's nephew Earl Conan built the keep which now dominates the town.
Unlike other Norman keeps it was designed solely for military purposes as an integrated part of the Castle's defence. As such it was located next to the gatehouse and not in the middle of the Castle and it had no domestic accommodation, fireplaces, kitchens or chapel.
Castle viewed from the River Swale
Conan intended that the Castle should be equally strong at all points. This revolutionary principle was later adopted by Edward I in his Welsh castles.
The Castle adhered to a common pattern in maintaining a large open space or outer bailey beyond the defensive walls, essentially so that any attackers would be clearly visible and would have no protective cover. This area subsequently became the market place and was known as the "Bailey" for many centuries.
The "Castle-guard" was owed by all the principal tenants of the Richmond Honour. At specific times of the year they provided a number of knights complete with their retinues. The number of knights contributed was determined by the size of each tenant's holding.
The deterrent effect of the Castle was so successful that it was rarely subject to direct attack.
During World War I (1914 to 1918) the castle was used as a prison for Conscientious Objectors who refused other forms of National Service.
In 1916 a following the introduction of Conscription sixteen Conscientious Objectors were sent to France. After refusing to carry out military duties they were Court Martialled and sentenced to death. Questions were raised in Parliament in response to this harsh treatment and as a result the prisoners were returned to England to serve ten years hard labour in civilian prisons.
The Castle was again used to imprison Conscientious Objectors of the Second World War (1939 to 1945).
Prisoners from both periods covered the lime washed cell walls with graffiti and drawings. They are quite fragile and to preserve them temperature and humidity are carefully controlled. The cells are not open to the public.