Skipton Castle is a large manor house with gardens in Skipton, North Yorkshire, England. Its origins date to the thirteenth century when it was built for the De Lacy family. It has formed part of a local college campus since 1967 and is now open to visitors on some days.
The entrance to Skipton Castle itself is fairly unassuming—a small door at the end of a brick courtyard flanked by tall plane trees and ivy-clad walls. Passing through this arched doorway, one enters a dimly lit corridor, flanked on either side by walls full of heraldic shields and portraits of men in medieval and Tudor dress. This is the entrance to the “Medieval Court”, itself a reconstruction of the De Lacys’ living quarters in the fourteenth century.
The De Lacys were a powerful Norman family who came to England with William the Conqueror. They came to prominence in Yorkshire and served as custodians of strategic castles along the country borders: Skipton, Knaresborough and Pontefract. Their tombs, which can be seen in the Medieval Court, are among the most impressive in northern England.
The Medieval Court leads to a nineteenth-century banqueting hall, where medieval knights would gather to eat and drink after a day’s hunting or fighting. The room boasts fine plasterwork on its ceilings and is decorated with sixteenth-century heraldic shields. From here one passes into a courtyard enclosed by tall sandstone walls. At its centre stands the sixteen-sided great keep, parts of which date back to the thirteenth century. In one alcove is a modern recreation of a medieval latrine, or garderobe.
Adjacent to the keep are the Great Hall and King’s Chamber. The former was built by the De Lacys in the fourteenth century and has an impressive hammerbeam roof, as well as fine tapestries which once hung in nearby Skipton Castle (demolished in 1740) and were later brought here.
The King’s Chamber (often referred to as “the King’s Bedroom”) was built partly on top of an existing stone Keep of Henry II, which had been rebuilt by Edward III in 1348-50. This portion of the castle remained a royal residence until the late fifteenth century. It has been known as the King’s Chamber since King James I granted it to Skipton Castle’s owner, Sir Thomas Metcalfe, in 1605.
The next section of the castle is part of a Tudor manor house built for Sir Thomas Metcalfe in 1590. This was partly reconstructed from an existing building on the site by Anthony Salvin in 1858-59. It contains the Corton Porch, decorated with plasterwork by Salvin. It leads to a fine oak staircase hall and then to the Victorian-style dining room. Much of the furniture in this room was made around 1600 and was owned by the Metcalfe family until the nineteenth century.
From here one goes on to a small chapel built in 1509 and extensively modified in the eighteenth century. A pew at its centre is said to have belonged to Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife. The chapel overlooks a secluded courtyard planted with box hedges and surrounded by walls two metres thick. The rooms on the ground floor of this Tudor building include a kitchen, buttery and dining room. The first-floor rooms are known as “the Arundel suite” after the earl of Arundel who stayed here in 1795.
Returning to the Tudor manor house, one crosses a large vaulted hall to reach the later Victorian section of the castle. This was built in 1873 by Bertram Blomfield as a girls’ boarding school, with additional classrooms added on some twenty years later. In 1921 the school closed and for a while parts of the building were used by the Red Cross. The rest of it was leased to a girls’ preparatory school, which remained in the castle until 1967, when it moved to nearby Cowling Castle. After this the castle passed into local authority ownership and was opened to visitors.
Skipton Castle lies within an estate on a loop of the River Aire just south of Skipton. It is approached from Skipton via a country lane called Skipton Road, which leads past Cowling Castle towards Keighley. The castle is some east of the town centre.
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