Sheriff Hutton in 30 minutes

Sheriff Hutton CastleThe Ryedale village of Sheriff Hutton is unlikely to be on most people’s tourist trails. Yet it is a reminder, if one is needed, that history, like love, is all around us.  Frankly, the first I heard of the place was when reading about the dreadful wars of the fifteenth century and learning that the powerful Neville family had one of their grand castles there.  It beggars belief how many castles there are – or have been – in Britain.  Before you try and find out, I wouldn’t rely on arbitrary figures suggested after a simple search on the Internet – and it depends what you mean by ‘castle’, of course.  Anyway, along with the serious fortresses at Raby and Middleham, Sheriff Hutton was part of the Neville power-base in the north of England.  Like most castles, it is a ruin now but, unlike Raby and Middleham, it is not open to the public as a visitor attraction.  It is a romantic-looking ruin, though, and to the determined heritage-hunter, these things are always worth a look.

Sheriff Hutton CastleHowever, this was not the first Sheriff Hutton castle.  The remains of a rectangular ringwork fortification lie in the nearby churchyard of St Helen and the Holy Cross.  This may have been built by one Ansketil de Bulmer – who possibly had Saxon heritage – sometime after the Norman Conquest.  Alternatively, it may have been constructed a little later, during the period known as ‘the Anarchy’ (1138-53), when England was torn by war between the forces of King Stephen and Empress Matilda.  In any case, the fact that Ansketil and then Bertram de Bulmer (probably Ansketil’s son) were Sheriffs of York added the ‘Sheriff’ prefix to the fairly common Old English (Anglo-Saxon) village name, Hutton, meaning a farmstead (tun) on a ridge or spur of land (hoh).  The Nevilles acquired Sheriff Hutton by marriage and John Neville built the stone castle in the late 14th century, which was complete by 1398.  John Neville’s great-grandson was Richard, the 16th Earl of Warwick, (1428-71), known as ‘Kingmaker’ and at one time the most influential noble in the land.

Sheriff Hutton CastleSheriff Hutton and Middleham were Warwick’s principal bases in the north of England. After the Earl’s death in 1471 at the Battle of Barnet, Sheriff Hutton was seized by the crown and granted to Edward IV’s youngest brother, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, who in 1483 became Richard III.  In fact, the Earl of Warwick was a cousin as well as guardian to the young Richard.  So Richard would have known Sheriff Hutton quite well as a boy. As a grown man and Duke of Gloucester, he effectively ruled the north of England for his older brother, presiding over the King’s Council of the North, established initially at Sheriff Hutton, and had responsibility as Warden of the Western March for guarding the border with Scotland.

St Helen and the Holy Cross, Sheriff HuttonThe Norman church of St Helen and the Holy Cross is just down the road from the castle.  Resting against the wall in the north-east corner is the worn and mutilated effigy of a boy, formed of bone-white alabaster.  The features have long gone, but he wears a coronet, a long, belted, robe and the cenotaph beneath – it is not a tomb – is richly carved with angels and heraldic devices.  The effigy, so ‘tis said, is a representation of the young Edward of Middleham, son of Richard III and his Queen, Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick.  Born in 1473, Edward is thought to have been a sickly child.  He was invested as Prince of Wales at York Minster in 1483, but died at Middleham in 1484, possibly of tuberculosis.  His parents were in Nottingham at the time and were distraught with grief.  The story is that they hastened north as soon as word of their son’s death reached them, Edward was brought south to Sheriff Hutton to meet them and then laid to rest in Neville family chapel on the south side of the church.  That’s the tale, but there is no proof that this is Edward’s effigy – or, indeed, that the poor lad was buried in Sheriff Hutton at all; more likely, he was buried at Middleton.  So who does this sad monument really represent? At some point, it has been very badly treated.  It is now generally thought to represent a young Neville, Ralph, who died sometime around 1436.

Edward of MiddlehamSir Edmund ThwengSheriff Hutton CastleWhile we’re in the church, though, there’s another, much larger, effigy nearby.  This is of a mail-clad fully-armoured knight, with shield and sword.  We know this is represents Sir Edmund Thweng of Cornborough Manor, who died in 1344.  Some accounts suggest he died at ‘the Battle of Stirling’, but the only notable Battle of Stirling I’m aware of is the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.  This was a famous Scottish victory during which Edmund’s uncle Marmaduke acquitted himself well, so I’m thinking that people are getting the two of them mixed-up. It’s a fine monument, anyway, if a little past its best.

Sheriff Hutton CastleRichard III, of course, famously perished at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.  Sheriff Hutton Castle periodically hosted the Council of the North after Richard III’s death and, in 1525, Henry VIII gave it to his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Warden-General of the Marches. As a centre of local government, the castle had a staff of 142 at that time, in addition to the 100 servants in the Duke’s retinue. Despite needing repairs, the castle was described by John Leyland in 1534 as ‘princely’.  It was a rectangular castle with an outer court and gardens, built as a grand home rather than a purely functional fortress.  By the early 17th century, it was in a state of decay and is now in private hands, part of a large farm. However, limited accommodation and wedding facilities are now on offer (website link below).

Sheriff Hutton CastleIt has long been a habit of mine, when driving a reasonable distance, to take the opportunity to divert to interesting, and sometimes obscure, places along the way.  So I had to be somewhere and on this occasion calculated that I’d have time to ‘have a quick look’ at Sheriff Hutton on the way.  After all, because you can’t actually visit the castle, I reasoned that it couldn’t take long.  Now, I have organised a great many large projects in my working life and have always urged colleagues and clients to remember the 6 Ps – vernacular version “Proper Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance”.  I’d then follow that up with the reminder that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”.  Of course, I set out on my little expedition slightly later than intended.  The plan was already unravelling.  Secondly, getting across Yorkshire is never swift – the roads simply do not allow it.  Still, when I reached Sheriff Hutton, I had about an hour to spare; time enough, surely?  Due to a combination of necessity and optimism, I stopped at a delightful delicatessen in Sheriff Hutton, for comfort and coffee.  It was a buzzy kind of place; people were having business meetings there and it sold a wonderful selection of tasty-looking treats.  Alas, the coffee took longer than anticipated and was so hot I had to leave half of it.  Even so, I didn’t need a whole hour – did I?  I almost sprinted down the aisle of the church – close to disrespectful, even for an old agnostic.  I then pulled up near the castle, to scout out somewhere to take a couple of good shots before heading on my way.  This is when the fact that I had ignored my own advice really mattered.  There was a footpath round the castle that I hadn’t expected.  It was a lovely day and the path was irresistible.  But it looked a little muddy.  No problem!  Dashing back to the car, I quickly changed into an old pair of trainers, carefully rolled up my reasonably respectable trouser legs and must have cut an incongruous figure, clad in a tailored single-breasted jacket over a smart shirt, camera slung round my neck, picking my way across the field next to the brimming old moat, or ditch.  Actually, it wasn’t too bad until I reached the point of no return, where the path resembled no man’s land on the Western Front, without the soldiers and explosives.  I straddled the path, one foot either side in an effort to avoid the worst, legs gradually extending to a ridiculous angle as the mud widened.  I slipped, wildly clutching for slimy fence posts, but more often grabbling brambles or barbed-wire.  By the time I got back to the car, the caked mud had rendered my trainers unrecognisable and extended several inches around each foot, like muddy snow-shoes and turning my walk-trot into an amusing, ungainly, waddle.  In order to avoid mud-creep, I had to perform a couple of neat pirouettes in the road whilst changing shoes, but managed to convert back to the required sartorial elegance relatively painlessly.  I won’t dwell on the tractor whose considerate driver pulled out in front of me as I drove out of the village, and who irritatingly chugged along at 20mph , refusing to let me pass.

Sheriff Hutton CastleSo much for not obeying my own lessons.  The castle was beautiful, though. And evocative. Imagine it as the hub of local power, rather than a picturesque ruin.  And I made it to where I needed to be with 10 minutes to spare.  Here’s Sheriff Hutton Castle’s website.

41 thoughts on “Sheriff Hutton in 30 minutes

  1. CherryPie

    HaHaHa I love your description of walking in the mud.

    I try to avoid walking in mud, it is a hangup from my school days. I couple of memorable incidents!

  2. Denise at Forest Manor

    Hi Mike, Nice post! I’m not usually one for ruins, but I love the look of these castle ruins. Wouldn’t you love to have seen it in all its glory? It still looks rather majestic sitting on the plateau as it is. You got some good pictures! I love that Norman church, too, with its pretty clock over the door.

    Just wanted to let you know that I finished your book last week. I really enjoyed it!! Once I got past the prehistoric era and the very early peoples, it moved a lot faster for me. Roman Britain was interesting (they were amazing builders and engineers weren’t they?) but once I got to the reign of Elizabeth I, the book fairly flew for me. I was surprised, and pleased, to see how much of Britain’s history I had already been exposed to through other reading and television.

    Congratulations on getting your first book out there, Mike!! I certainly hope there will be a Part 2! 🙂 I’ve enjoyed your blog friendship, and as you’ve said to me on occasion, “Keep blogging.” Take care and have a good week!


    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Hi Denise. I love a good ruin and, fortunately, so does Mrs Britain! 🙂 I was lucky with the light that day. Thank you so much for buying the book in the first place, and for your very kind comments. If you have the time and energy to leave a review on Amazon, that would be great – unknown authors are so dependent on reviews. All the best, Mike.

  3. Clare Pooley

    A very enjoyable post, Mike. I have made a few visits to places on my way to an appointment and I usually regret it, as the place is so much more interesting than I imagined. You were very fortunate with the weather and local amenities, the photos are excellent as always and the castle ruins extremely attractive.

  4. Cee Arr @ Dora Reads

    Two questions:

    1. What is a ‘Ryedale’…?
    I know quite little about the North of England – sorry! XD

    2. Are those fake flowers on the effigy or real ones?
    I’m driving myself scatty trying to decide! I kind of hope they’re fake cos real lillies aren’t something I’m a fan of – not least b/c they’re poisonous to cats.

    …I realise this is an odd comment. And I’m good with that! XD

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Two answers: 🙂
      1 – Ryedale is a district of North Yorkshire, around the Howardian Hills and southern part of the North Yorks Moors.
      2. I think they were real. I was wondering why I hadn’t seen any cats…
      We like the odd comment – thank you ; please do it again!

  5. Henriet Ferguson

    Very nice item about that old Neville stronghold. As an interested reader from the Netherlands, I was wondering what the official English view of Richard III would be nowadays. The evil Shakespeare figure or the completely rehabilitated hero of Josephine Tey’s book “Daughter of Time”?

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Thank you very much. And also thank you for being an interested reader from the Netherlands – I need more of those! I don’t think there is an official view of dear old Uncle Richard and I’m certainly no expert. That said, in the context of the times and given he had both motive and opportunity, I shouldn’t be at all surprised if he bumped the young lads off – they were a threat. Does that make him a bad person, or a medieval monarch? 🙂

  6. derrickjknight

    I’ll bet that you hadn’t anticipated quite the amount of research this detour would incur. very well done. I liked your last section describing your process. I think you might rival my risky escapades.

  7. marmeladegypsy

    Quite the adventure, Mike. I always learn something new from you. Today I learned (among other more cerebral things) to a) carry back-up shoes and b) avoid muddy paths. I think the barbed wire and brambles were just unavoidable after that! I’m glad you survived with your humour in full gear (though I suspect at the moment it might have been a wee bit lagging!)

  8. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – when I posted my A-Z Castle series in 2012 somewhere I have a ‘count of the castles’ … but can’t find it today … probably buried under a mound of mud. Those walks … great exercise – but keeping clean is nearly impossible. The poor young chap dying so young – yet remembered anonymously for ever. That period of history has almost escaped me – except for the headlines … Council of the North, Lord of the North and some of the rulers/nobles … each little snippet will add to my meagre jigsaw puzzle … lots more pieces needed for the brain. Great fun to read … and I love the history – cheers Hilary

  9. shirley taylor

    I am a ‘newby’ here, and have so enjoyed your familiar warm ‘tones’.
    Another Historic Day yesterday leaving the EU, which will provide historians with lots of ‘facts’ to sift through, which the coined phrase ‘Fake News’ will provide plenty of.
    Best wishes
    Shirley Taylor

  10. M.B. Henry

    “Yet it is a reminder, if one is needed, that history, like love, is all around us.” – Nice. 🙂 Great pictures and write up. I thought you’d like to know I very much enjoyed my visit to Bletchley!

  11. Eunice

    The only thing I know about Sheriff Hutton is that there is, or was, a camp site there. The castle looks intriguing however and I’m sorry but I had to laugh at your encounter with the mud, in fact I’m still giggling now 🙂

  12. willedare

    Another terrific blog post. I have never heard about an Empress Matilda! So much to learn on this planet. This sentence, in particular, sums up why I am enjoying your blog posts so much: “Yet it is a reminder, if one is needed, that history, like love, is all around us.” What a lovely sentence and perspective and reminder!!! Thank you, as always, for sharing your enthusiasm and knowledge and humor and humanity with the rest of us.

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