Middleham

Middleham is the home of Middleham Castle, King Richard III and a centre of English horse racing.

Middleham towards the market square

Middleham, looking towards the market square

Middleham is a lovely, bustling market town in Wensleydale, steeped in history and sitting close to where the River Cover joins the River Ure.

The town is dominated by Middleham Castle, ruined during the War of the Roses. The castle, called “the Windsor of the North”, was the home of Richard III, England’s last Plantagenet King. Latterly the area around Middleham has become one of the main centres for racehorse training in the UK, with many stables established around the town.

In brief

  • Lovely market town, with shops, pubs and hotels around the market square
  • The ruins of Middleham Castle dominate, childhood home of Richard III
  • Plenty of places to stay and eat
  • A centre for horse racing, many stables locally
  • Middleham Gallops a great place to watch thoroughbreds being put through their paces
  • Home of Middleham Trainers Association.

A bit of history

As is usually the case, when people settle an area, it is close to water. Middleham was no exception, in this case just above the junction of the River Ure and River Cover. Certainly, there was a settlement here during Roman times, around a guard station built by the Romans to control movement along the River Ure.

Middleham Castle

The Great Hall, Middleham Castle

The Great Hall, Middleham Castle

A more substantial wooden Motte-and-bailey castle replaced the Roman guard station, built on William’s Hill around 1169 by Alan Rufus who was William the Conqueror’s nephew.

Rufus started building the current castle in 1190. The Nevilles inherited the Castle by marriage and became increasingly powerful during the Medieval  years. Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, known as the “Kingmaker” played a key figure during the Wars of the Roses and held two Kings prisoner at the castle during the conflict – Edward IV and Henry VI.

Richard III

Earliest surviving portrait of Richard III

Portrait of Richard III

In 1462 young Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III) arrived, in the midst of the Wars of the Roses, to be trained as a Knight. Richard became master of the castle in 1471 on the death of Warwick, using it as his base to govern the north for his brother King Edward IV. He married at the castle and his son, Edward, was born around 1473 dying here just 11 years later.

Richard III was crowned in 1483 but sat on the throne just 2 years. As King he never visited Middleham again. He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 aged just 31, and immediately acquired a list of ‘lasts’ – last of England’s Plantagenet Kings, the last Yorkist monarch and the last King of England to die in battle. His death is also regarded as the end of the Middle Ages.

Market charter

Unsurprisingly, for a town that was politically powerful, Middleham had grown into a bustling market town around its castle. It was granted a charter to hold a weekly market in 1389 along with a fair each year on 28 March, the feast day of St. Alkelda the Virgin. There were actually two markets in Middleham, the lower and the upper which both featured market crosses. The upper seems to have been for livestock sales as it was known as the swine market.

Most buildings in the old part of Middleham date from 1600 although the old church rectory still has some medieval features. Given it’s Royal connections, it is unsurprising that Middleham was the seat of a Royal Court which covered everyone who lived in the forest of Wensleydale. Middleham and the land around it were incorporated part of the Crown estates when Richard III became King. They remained there until King Charles I sold it to the City of London around 1628. Since then it has remained in private hands. With the death of Richard III the Royal connection was severed, and the towns importance and influenced diminished. The livestock market remained until 1915 when it moved to Leyburn although the weekly market had already ceased by then.

Racing

The growth of the racing industry in the 1700s resulted in the rebuilding of much of Middleham. Isaac Cape is the first recorded racehorse trainer in the area in 1765. During the 18th century there were regular race meetings on the High Moor.

Middleham today

The rebuilding of Middleham during the 18th century coincided with the development of the town and surrounding area as a centre for race horse training. Racing and businesses associated with racing is now the largest employer in the area followed by tourism. Large numbers of visitors come to the town to marvel at the Castle, the lovely market square and the historic buildings. Much of the town is now designated as a conservation area with European funding helping to re-cobble the town squares.

In another recognition of its rich history, Middleham is now twinned with the town of Agincourt in northern France.

A centre of English horse racing

Middleham Gallops

Middleham Gallops

A modern centre of horse racing in the UK, the town is to the Middleham Trainers Association. There are several racehorse trainers based such as Mark Johnston, Jedd O’Keefe, James Bethell, and Ben Haslam.

Middleham Gallops are on public land a short walk from the town centre and thoroughbreds are regularly walked through the town to the Gallops. Members of the public are welcome to stroll up to the Gallops to watch these beautiful animals being put through their paces.

Middleham Jewel

In 1985 the Middleham Jewel was found on a bridle path near to Middleham Castle by Ted Seaton a metal detector enthusiast. The jewel dates back to the mid-15th century and is a 68 gram gold pendant with a 10 ct. blue sapphire stone. Experts have suggested that the sapphire may represent heaven. One side of the diamond-shaped pendant is engraved with the Trinity while the other side is engraved with a Latin inscription suggesting that the pendant is a charm against epilepsy. Inside is a piece of wood reputed to come from The Cross.

It was sold at auction for £1.3m and has since been acquired by the Yorkshire Museum in York for £2.5 million.

Remains of Richard III – completing the story

The Battle Bosworth took place near Nuneaton, midway between Tamworth and Leicester on 22 August 1485. After the death of Richard III his body was taken to Leicester and buried in Greyfriars Church, a small Franciscan monastery in Leicester. The church was demolished many years afterwards, possibly at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the location of the grave was lost.

In 2012, however, a team of dedicated enthusiasts from the University of Leicester, Richard III Society and Leicester City Council began a painstaking search for clues about the location and settled on an area that had been used for a car park in Leicester. The area was dug up and a skeleton was found which, after extensive tests and DNA analysis , proved to be the remains of Richard III.

In keeping with his turbulent life, there is now a battle raging to determine where he should be reinterred, either at Leicester Cathedral or further north at York Minster.

Where to stay

As you’d expect, there’s plenty of choice of places to stay in Middleham. Here is just a small selection.

Hotels

White Swan Hotel & Restaurant
The Black Swan Hotel
Waterford House Hotel

Bed & breakfast Guest houses

Domus Guest House
The Priory Guest House

Photos in and around Middleham

A range of photos taken in and around Middleham showing the town, the castle and horses on the public Gallops.

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