The extensive ruins of Barnard Castle, in the town of the same name, are high on a steep bank above the River Tees. The castleís position made it a perfect fortress for the Baliol family in the 12th and 13th centuries. Guy de Baliol owned the lands in the area and built the first castle, but it was his nephew Bernard who continued the work, changing the castle into a strong stone one able to withhold attack. It was 50 years before all the building ceased in 1180.
Go Back: [Top of Page] [Articles
The castle went through the hands of various generations of the Baliol family. In the 13th century the family had financial problems and changed their allegiance from King John to the bishops of Durham to whom they owed money. See-sawing back and forth the Baliols in later years changed their support back to the Crown. John Baliol became wealthy when he married the heiress, Devorguilla of Galloway. It was Johnís son, another John, who became king of Scotland in 1290 and decided to not support Edward I. Defeated, he ended up in the Tower of London. Thus Barnard castle came into the hands of the king. The king eventually gave it to the earls of Warwick who held it for 200 years.
In 1481 the estate came back into the hands of the Crown when Richard became king. It belonged to the Crown until 1603 and was rented out to various families. By 1630 Sir Henry Vane owned the castle and took stone, lead, iron and other materials from it to build his own house at Raby and reduced it to a shell.
The castle had several wards: the town ward, the middle ward, and the inner ward.
The dovecote tower is located in the town ward and has a basement and nesting boxes for birds. The north gate had two square chambers with a passage between. The two rooms had a fireplace and would have had another floor at the time. The two storey rectangular Brackenbury tower dates from the last part of the 12th century. There is a barrel-vaulted undercroft, living quarters, a garderobe chamber, and fireplaces. The east curtain wall is mostly missing. The town ward had, at the time of the castle being occupied, a range of buildings backing on to the curtain walls.
Walls and towers helped with the defence of the middle ward. Most of this ward is gone. A bit of the Constable tower, the site of the gate from the outer ward, can be seen. The inner ward is reached by a bridge (once the site of a drawbridge) over a great ditch. The west wall of a former tower called the Headlam is all that is left of this three storey building in the inner ward. Only a few stones also remain of the Mortham tower.
The inner ward had a central courtyard with a great chamber, great hall, kitchen range, guardhouse, and bakehouse around it. The great hall was rebuilt in the 14th century, and the outer wall still remains to full height.
The great chamber was three storeys high, but only two survive. This building served as the private chambers for the lord of the castle. The round tower in the inner ward is the best surviving building and was four storeys high. The postern tower was built in the 12th century. A prison tower was two storeys in height and had two buttresses added two centuries later as it was sinking. Its basement is barrel-vaulted.
There are two priories nearby to visit: Finchale, constructed on the site of St Godric's 12th century hermitage, and the atmospheric ruin at Egglestone, home to Premonstratensian monks from 1196. Another nearby religious building is Escomb Saxon church, still in good condition.
Barnard, county Durham
Tel. 0 1833 638 212
Open: times and days change depending on the month so visit the English Heritage website.
English Heritage property
Photos © by Barbara Ballard and courtesy of Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows: Egglestone abbey and Barnard castle by David Dixon; Barnard Castle by Jthomas; Barnard castle by David Robinson; Barnard castle by David Lally; ruined tower by John Tustin.