Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire
An atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire Helmsley Castle was built in the 12th century By Walter Espec. In 1120 Walter built a timber structure. It may have been the site of an earlier castle that was erected after the Norman conquest of 1066.
This castle would have been a ringwork fortification with an earthen ditch and bank topped by a timber palisade. This may have been constructed in an attempt to protect the lands of Helmsley from William the Conquer’s ‘Harrying of the North in 1069’.
The impressive ruins of Helmsley that stands today are all that remains of the stone castle built by Robert de Roos after 1186 which replaced the original timber, Helmsley Castle. Walter Espec also founded Rievaulx Abbey and Kirkham Priory.
- Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire
- Where is Helmsley Castle?
- Helmsley castle history
- What to see at Helmsley Castle
- Things to do in Helmsley
- Where to stay in Helmsley
Where is Helmsley Castle?
Helmsley Castle and Gardens are located in the historic market town of Helmsley, on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors in Rydale.
Helmsley Castle is on Castlegate, just off the marketplace in the centre of Helmsley. There is a large pay and display car park and English Heritage members are, given free entry to the castle.
What are Helmsley Castle’s opening times?
Helmsley Castle is open all week from 10 am until 6 pm and from November 28th the Castle is only open Friday, Saturday and Sundays.
What is the cost of tickets to Helmsley Castle?
Tickets to visit Helmsley Castle cost per adult £9.00 and you can purchase them online at English Heritage.
Who owns Helmsley castle?
The castle is still legally owned by the Feversham family of Duncombe Park but is cared for by English Heritage.
Is Helmsley castle haunted?
Yes, there are several legends of haunting at Helmsley which you can read about further down.
Helmsley castle history
The first castle at Helmsley in North Yorkshire England was built sometime after 1120. This ringwork-style castle was surrounded by two earthwork ditches and the Castles rectangular shape was a result of the limestone outcrop it was built on.
When Walter Espec died in 1154, Helmsley Castle was passed to Peter de Ros, the husband of his sister Adelina. It wasn’t until 30 years later that his grandson Robert rebuilt Helmsley Castle using stone.
Robert had the inner bank levelled and replaced with a stone curtain wall. Two towers were built on the east and west portions of the wall but there was no central keep.
Robert’s son took over Helmsley when Robert dies and left it much as his father built it. He did build a new chapel within the inner bailey which was consecrated in 1246.
William’s son made additions to the castle during the late 13th century which included the barbicans and he remodelled the South Gate.
He also added domestic buildings and accommodations, for his men at arms. He raised the East Tower by a story with angled turrets and built new rooms for the family including a grand hall and kitchen.
The de Ros family owned Helmsley until 1478 when it was sold to the Duke of Gloucester and the future King of England Richard III. When Richard died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 the Castle reverted back to the de Ros family.
The castle then passed by marriage to the Manners family. Thomas Manners was created Earl of Rutland in 1525. His grandson, Edward, the 3rd Earl, made major changes in the middle years of the 16th century, altering the old hall to a Tudor house now called the West Range.
Helmsley Castle did not serve any apparent defence for the North until the English Civil War in the 17th century. At this time the castle served as a garrison for the King.
Between 1642 and 1651, armies loyal to King Charles I and Parliament faced off in three civil wars over longstanding disputes about religious freedom and how the “three kingdoms” of England, Scotland and Ireland should be governed
Helmsley Castle was besieged in 1644 by Parliamentarian forces under Sir Thomas Fairfax. The Castle held out for 3 months but the lack of food forced a surrender. The troops were offered a chance to live if they joined the Parliamentarian army.
Sir Thomas Fairfax was told to destroy Helmsley Castle and tore down the East Tower where it fell into the ditch and still lies there today. Only the Tudor house converted from the West Tower survived but it was abandoned in the 18th century.
Interestingly Sir Thomas Fairfax’s daughter married Fairfax’s son and so Helmsley Castle remained in the family so to speak. In 1687 the castle was sold to Charles Duncombe and the family built a large house in the nearby Duncombe Park, leaving Helmsley Castle to fall into ruin.
The castle is owned by the Feversham family of Duncombe Park but is cared for by English Heritage. The Cleveland Way National Trail passes near the site and leads to Rievaulx Abbey, about four miles away.
What to see at Helmsley Castle
The major highlights at Helmsley Castle include the Tudor Mansion and its displays, the ruined east tower and the incredible dry moat.
The West Range
This extraordinary Tudor residence was built between 1563 and 1587 by the Manners family. The interior of the house has large mullioned windows, oak panelling and some finely detailed plasterwork.
The Lord’s private apartments are replete with incredible panelling, a stunning fireplace with an overmantel and painted friezes.
Inside the house, you will find an exhibition that tells the story of Helmsley and the Civil War siege. You will see swords, daggers, arrowheads, cannonballs and a massive unexploded bomb and the Chatelaines Keys to Helmsley.
Helmsley Archaeology Store
If you are interested in seeing the archaeological finds from Yorkshire and in particular Helmsley Castle you can take a free guided tour of the Helmsley Archaeology Store which holds the extensive archaeological collections and paper-based archives from English Heritage guardianship sites from the North of England including the counties of Northumberland, County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire, Cheshire.
The range of collections spans English history from Prehistory to the modern day, from flint, and architectural stonework to ceramics and small artefacts.
The collections may be accessed by researchers by appointment, please contact the Curator on 01439 770008.
Bailey and East Tower
In the 12th century, the double bailey was combined into one and the East Tower was heightened to serve as a focal point for the Castle. Historians believe that the East Tower might have been heightened for the visit of King Edward III who stayed at Helmsley for 45 days in 1333.
Ghosts of Helmsley Castle
Legends of Helmsley Castle talk of a haunting by a soldier who died of starvation at the Castle during the siege of the Civil War. They also tell of the ghost of the Green Lady who has been seen both outside and inside the Castle. Nobody seems to know however who or why the Green Lady is haunting Helmsley.
Then there are the weird pixie-like creatures wandering the castle grounds, as well as the surrounding countryside that locals talk about in hushed voices.
Helmsley is a Yorkshire Market Town that I simply had to visit repeatedly I loved its quirky ambience the lovely town square and the one of a kind shops that you can find up and down the small cobbled streets.
Things to do in Helmsley
Helmsley Walled Garden
Built to provide fruit and vegetables to the Feversham family at Duncombe Park, there has been a walled garden at Helmsley since 1758. The garden sits beneath the commanding ruins of Helmsley Castle
After WWI the garden was left derelict until 1994s when a local nurse – Alison Ticehurst saw its potential as a therapeutic horticultural garden.
The ethos of the garden is to create a place where people can tap into the healing power of horticulture, or simply find a quiet place to sit and enjoy a stunning display of flowers throughout the seasons. The gardens are developed and maintained by a small core of staff with the help of a dedicated band of volunteers.
There is a stunning collection of clematis and many rare species of flowers, trees and shrubs. Along with 52 species of Yorkshire apples, and 34 Victorian vines.
Helmsley Market Place
On Fridays, there is a market in the town square that everyone comes to shop at. With fresh vegetable vendors, clothing and lots of interesting stalls with gourmet food products. In the centre of the square, you will spot the Feversham Monument which was installed in 1867.
All Saints Church
All Saints Church stands just off the busy marketplace in Helmsley. It was built in the 12th century, though there was a church on this spot before the Norman invasion of 1066.
Legend says that St Aidan preached here in the 7th century, and although there is no evidence of an earlier church there is a 10th century Viking gravestone carved with traditional interlacing patterns.
All that remains of the earlier church from the 12th century are two rounded arches, the chancel arch and the south doorway. But the most incredible feature of the church is a series of Edwardian murals covering the north aisle wall. These tell the story of Christianity in the Helmsley area and the tree branches of the mural show the local parishes including those of Rievaulx Abbey.
Duncombe Park Gardens are open to the public but not the stunning privately owned Baroque Mansion on the hill. The parkland is over 450 acres, and the National Nature Reserve manages 182 of these. Here you can see tall broadleaved trees, as it is open to the public for most of the year (except around Christmas time).
There is a car park at the top, but many people walk up to the mansion house from Helmsley town centre, which takes about 20-minutes.
Parklands, Nature Reserve & Walks
Monday 1st January – Friday 23rd December 2022, 7 days/week
10.30am – 5pm, last admission 4pm. Tickets can be purchased from the National Centre for Birds of Prey Centre located at the Parkland Centre within Duncombe Park, or the Duncombe Park Shop in Bridge Street, Helmsley at a cost of £1.00 per person per visit.
Monday 18th April 2022 – Wednesday 31st August, 6 days a week, closed Saturdays
10.30am – 5pm, last admission 4pm, £5 adult, £3 child
Helmsley Tea Rooms
If you love an afternoon tea then you will be spoiled for choice in Helmsley. You can do tea at The Feathers, the Black Swan and The Porters.
National Centre for Birds of Prey
The National Centre for Birds of Prey can be found at the magnificent Duncombe Park estate, set within the world-famous North York Moors National Park. They are open to visitors 7 days a week from February until the end of October.
Many of the birds take to the skies in a spectacular flying demonstration or are part of important breeding projects. From the tiny terrestrial Burrowing Owl to the mighty and majestic Steller’s Sea Eagle the National Centre for Birds of Prey houses the largest collection of birds of prey in the north of England.
The Owl House Cafe at the National Centre is set within the grounds and serves a variety of locally sourced snacks, hot and cold meals – as well as fresh coffee and Yorkshire Tea. All the cakes are made on the premises. Please check www.ncbp.co.uk for details
The Cleveland Way National Trail
Helmsley is the beginning point for the magnificent Cleveland Way National Trail, a 110-mile National Trail that goes through the North Yorks Moors and the coastline up to Whitby and Scarborough.
Where to stay in Helmsley
A must is a meal at the Black Swan Pub once the main stop off for weary travellers on a stagecoach route linking Leeds to York, The Black Swan dates back to the 15th century. With an Elizabethan building on one end, a Tudor one to the other and a Georgian House in the middle, the Black Swan is wonderfully higgledly-piggledy, with bags of character.
You can also book a stay at the Black Swan just watch out for the ghosts. Book your stay here.
The Feathers opened for business early in 1959 having previously been two private houses, both owned by the local Duncombe Park Estate and each with very different, but equally fascinating, histories. The Feathers offers great dining and their Chefs concentrate on locally sourced ingredients. You can dine in the pub or the dining room and then rest upstairs in the gorgeous boutique rooms.
Book your stay at The Feathers here.
The Feversham Arms has a long history of hospitality, stretching back over 150 years. It exquisitely blends the traditional comforts of its Victorian heritage with an irresistible boutique design.
Originally an old coaching inn, the hotel was rebuilt and renamed in 1855 by the Earl of Feversham on the site of an older hostelry. It was previously known as The Guest House, The Board Inn and latterly The Bay Horse where beer and candles were made for sale.
In 1967 the hotel was bought by Charrington’s Brewery before being bought by Mr. and Mrs. de Aragues in 1977. The de Aragues then purchased the three cottages to extend the hotel and added the swimming pool and gardens. The Feversham Arms Hotel & Verbena Spa, as it is known today, was born.
Book your stay at the Feversham Arms here
I loved Helmsley Castle and village and would happily live there – have you visited yet?
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