Raby castle, once the stronghold of the powerful Neville Family, guards the entrance to Weardale. The first views of the castle from the A688 are all that a good castle should be, with its battlemented towers and surrounding deer park with herds of red and fallow deer. It must surely rank as one of England’s best medieval castles.
The estate was owned by King Cnut, who may well have built a manor house here in the early 11thC.
John Neville, father of the mighty Neville dynasty, one of the most powerful families in the north, built a stone castle around 1360 as a statement of his power, wealth and ambition. His son Ralph married the daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swineford. One of their three children was Cecily, the Rose of Raby. She was betrothed at the age of three to Richard, Duke of York, who was a ward of Ralph. They married when she was fourteen and she was the mother of Edward IV and Richard III. Her granddaughter Elizabeth of York married Henry VII. The castle stayed in their hands until 1569 when Charles Neville was one of the leaders in the ill fated Rising of the North.
The castle and lands were forfeited to the crown before being bought by Sir Henry Vane who was treasurer to Charles I. He made the castle his principal home, taking stone from Barnard Castle to repair and maintain Raby. His son, another Sir Henry, was sentenced to death on a charge of treason by Charles II, although the family were allowed to keep Raby.
Christopher Vane, the first Lord Barnard did not like the choice of his future daughter in law. In a fit of pique, he sold all the furniture and began to strip the castle of its lead and windows to make it uninhabitable for his son and daughter in law. His son took him to court to stop the destruction and Christopher had to pay for repair works. This explains why there is very little medieval furniture in the castle.
The third Lord Barnard began a major programme of restoration in the C18thC, using John Carr of York as his architect. He was responsible for turning the medieval great hall into a carriage way so coaches and horses could drive through the castle from the main gateway to the east front. The moat was drained and parkland landscaped with an ornamental lake.
In the 19thC, the family were created Dukes of Cleveland and there was another period of rebuilding when the magnificent octagonal drawing room was designed by William Burn in 1843. The Vane family still own the castle and estate with the title of Lord Barnard although the title Duke of Cleveland died out on the death of the fourth Duke.
It is a splendid castle with curtain wall with impressive gateway and nine towers around the walls. The later buildings were added on to the curtain wall. It is worth walking round the perimeter to get some impression of its size and impressiveness as a medieval fortress.
My review of Raby Castle is rather long, so I have split it up into three parts.
Part 2 covers disabled access.
Part 3 covers the guided tour.