Helmsley Castle

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Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

February, 2016

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Travelled with

Adult family

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Helmsley Castle is a splendid ruined castle built on a rocky outcrop above the River Rye on the edge of Helmsley. It only ever saw military action once during the English Civil War.

A wooden castle surrounded by ramparts and ditches was built here around 1120 by Walter L’Espec. It later passed by marriage to the de Roos family who replaced this by a stone castle at the end of the C12th/beginning of the C13th. The castle didn’t have a central keep, but a curtain wall with massive square keeps on the east and west walls. The south barbican was added later in the C13th as were internal domestic buildings inside the walls. A new building was added to the west tower to provide more comfortable apartments for the family.

In the C16th, the castle passed into the ownership of the Manners family, the Earls of Rutland, who converted the old hall into a comfortable family home.

The castle was held for the King during the Civil War and was besieged for three months before surrendering due to starvation. It was slighted by the Parliamentary troops to prevent further military use, although the west apartments were spared. These continued to be lived in until the C18th when the Duncombe family now living in them moved into the newly built Duncombe House.

The castle is reached by a modern bridge across the moat and through the barbican into the outer bailey. The remains of the south gate lead into the inner bailey.

To the left on the inner side of the curtain wall are the foundations of the C14th kitchen and pantries.

In front is the remains of the east tower which was blown up by the Parliamentary forces. This was probably designed to be seen from the town as a symbol of the lord’s wealth and power. Little is left of its internal structures. It had a vaulted basement with a large room above which was probably used to receive guests and conduct estate business. The tower was heightened in the C14th creating extra floors.

Opposite is the west tower attached to the chamber block. The west tower is a sturdy square building which was the private apartments but is now an empty shell. It had massive stone walls with large windows with window seats and small fireplaces on each floor. Doorways lead through into the chamber block.

The Chamber block with the latrine tower to the south had two floors. The ground floor would have been used for storage or service rooms with the state apartments above. It was remodelled by Edward Manners in the late C16th. This now houses the exhibition.

Manners divided the ground floor into three rooms using timber and plaster. The first room was the largest and would have been the Tudor entrance hall and servants dining room, with a large fireplace. The furthest room was probably a service room.

The first floor is reached by an external staircase and has two rooms, the great chamber used for dining, music and dancing and the smaller more private withdrawing room.

The smaller room is left very much as it was in the 1920s with its small fireplace and part of a decorative plaster frieze round the top of the walls.

Beyond is the larger great chamber with wood panelling above the fireplace and on the connecting wall and a decorative plaster ceiling. Against another wall is a large wooden cupboard.

Beyond the state apartments is the latrine block, a simple square tower with a hipped roof. This contained the latrines for the chamber block and the two shafts of the latrines can still be seen against the west wall.

There are good views of the exterior of the castle from Duncombe Park and also Helmsley Walled Garden, but it is worth visiting the castle ruins. They illustrate the development of the castle from the C12/13th curtain wall and keep to the splendid C16th chamber block, which was definitely designed as a status symbol.

The castle is in the care of English Heritage and is weekends only in the winter months and daily during the summer. The post code is YO62 5AB and the grid reference is NZ 610837.

The castle is reached by a well made all weather path suitable for wheelchairs. There is access to all the ground floor remains and there is a virtual tour of the less accessible areas.



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