Regular Hisdoryan followers will know I’m all about community and supporting my fellow History Girls – so I’m really pleased I’m able to feature a guest post from Kayla, the lovely lady behind A Regency Girl.
A Regency Girl is a history themed travel blog for period drama fans and historical fiction readers. I get a lot of historical travel inspiration from Kayla’s brilliant blog, and I think you will too.
Kayla has kindly written a post about her recent visit to Raby Castle, a medieval castle in County Durham that has a long and interesting history. Enjoy!
A View of Raby Castle
Situated on 200 acres of picturesque parkland, Raby Castle in County Durham, England, served as a medieval manor for the prominent Neville family. Now, the castle is the family seat of the Baron Barnard, which is a peerage for the Vane family who still use the property as a private home today. Seasonally however, the castle operates like many country houses of its kind, inviting visitors to explore Raby’s architectural features, unique furnishings, extensive art collection and idyllic gardens.
About the Nevilles and Vanes
Raby Castle was built by John Neville in the late 1400’s and then turned from a residence into more of a fortress by his son, Ralph Neville. The Nevilles rose to prominence when King Richard II made Ralph the Earl of Westmorland. Raby Castle served as the childhood home of one of Ralph’s 21 children, Cecily Neville, the mother of King Edward IV and Richard III, and was nicknamed the “Raby Rose.”
In the 1500’s, Charles Neville, the 5th Earl of Westmoreland, was a fervent catholic and a staunch supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots. Charles rose to be one of the leaders of the Rising of the North along with the Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Percy in 1569. Because of the severity of their rebellion, Charles and 800 rebels were executed and Raby Castle was taken over by the Crown.
Almost 50 years later, the Vane family became the owners of Raby Castle when Sir Henry Vane the Elder, the treasurer to Henry I, purchased the estate for $18,000. Though Raby Castle was attacked 5 different times during the English Civil War, and its next owner Henry Vane the Younger was executed for his part in the uprising, the castle survived and stayed in the Vane family. Much of the castle’s alterations and expansions were done in the 18th century, when Gilbert Vane, the 2nd Lord Barnards built a tower, gardens and the entrance hall.
The 11th Lord Barnard, who died in 2016, extensively restored the castle’s architectural features and unique interiors, including a Victorian octagon drawing room which was restored with curtains and fabrics that were copied from the original designs. Today, the new Lord Barnard has been continually expanding attractions around the estate and making Raby Castle’s heritage more accessible to visitors.
Touring the Castle
Raby Castle’s tour is one of the most thorough and engaging I’ve ever been through! At almost 2 hours, visitors got an informative view of the estate during its heyday with the Medieval Neville family, up to the Vane family who still own the castle today. You’ll hear tales of family disputes, the many royal visitors who have stayed at Raby Castle through the decades and a quirky story of a mansion built just for dogs on the estate!
-The Entrance Hall
The Castle’s Grand Entrance Hall is where guests would ride in to see Lord Barnard, and today, it is where tours begin. The impressive hall has large gothic vaulted ceilings, a roaring fireplace and armory adorning the walls. It was designed in 1787 specifically for carriages to be able to pull into the hall itself, rather than having to turn around in the courtyard, keeping incoming guests dry as they unpacked. As modern visitors wait for their tour to begin, they’re able to see just how extensive the hall was to incoming guests, as there is a carriage displayed inside the entrance as it would have been when guests rode up.
The original hall built by the Nevilles’ was called Baron’s Hall because of its purported story of over 700 knights gathering in the room to support the “Rising in the North” in 1569 to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. Consequently, this resulted in the last of the Nevilles living at Raby Castle. Much has changed from the original hall, as the Vane family raised the flooring, blocked the windows and replaced the medieval roof. Today, the room serves as an art gallery, where many of the most impressive artwork from the estate’s art collection are displayed.
The castle’s distinctive blue kitchen was one of my favorite domestic spaces to explore. Built in 1360, the kitchen was in use for over 600 years, up until the 1950s’. This bright kitchen has a considerable collection of Victorian copper cooking utensils and a large oven that shows what an undertaking serving food was for the staff. The wine cellar was originally an oven that was said to be big enough for a tall person to stand up in! Today, visitors can learn about meals cooked for the Vale family as well as the role of the servants through books about servant manuals and housekeeping digests displayed around the kitchen.
Period Dramas at Raby Castle
If you’ve never heard of Raby Castle, the name might ring a bell as the temporary residence of the Royal Family in the new Downton Abbey film. Raby Castle is a popular location for royal storylines it seems, as it has been used in a number of period dramas involving royals! Most notably, Raby Castle was featured in the award-winning period drama Elizabeth (1998). Another queen’s life is filmed at the castle, the popular drama series Victoria (2016-present), that showed parts of the castle in the backdrop of scenes with Victoria and Albert. Most recently, the estate was used in battle scenes in the war drama 1917.
What Not To Miss!
- The estate has an adorable historic barn that has now been turned into a restaurant called Stable Cafe. The cafe has brunch and lunch options on the menu, and from personal experience, the cafe’s afternoon tea is full of beautiful cakes, scones and teas that are too yummy to resist!
- Christmas at Raby Castle is known to be memorable by visitors. The castle put on events such as a Christmas market, festive afternoon teas and their popular Fireside Stories with Father Christmas.
- At £11 a ticket and £22 for an annual pass, the price is definitely reasonable for the amount you get to explore!
Between the informative tour of the castle and exploring the gardens and grounds, Raby Castle is worth a day out in the countryside!