The market town of Richmond has grown up around the Norman Castle which still dominates the town today. The building of the castle as a military stronghold commenced in 1071 on land gifted to Alan the Red of Brittany by his kinsman William the Conqueror as reward for his part in the victory over King Harold and his subsequent support of William as one of his most trusted advisers. Richmond Castle became the headquarters of the Honour of Richmond, a vast assembly of estates in Yorkshire and beyond.
Before the arrival of the Normans there had been no fortification on the site of Richmond Castle the previous Saxon owner of the land, Edwin, Earl of Mercia, using Gilling as his base.
Richmond grew up under the protection of the castle, but the civilian inhabitants lived outside the present market place, which was then the outer bailey of the castle. When, in the early 14th century Scottish raids posed a serious threat, Richmond gained permission to build a defensive wall around the bailey into which the civilians moved.
Only two stone built castles in England are equal in age to Richmond Castle. They are at Colchester and Durham. The best preserved part of the castle is the Keep which towers over 100 feet above the town; the walls are actually eleven feet thick. The Keep was a 12th century addition to the castle and was built over the original gate-house (the archway at the base of the Keep is of the 11th century and is, possibly, the only remaining part of the original structure).
There were a number of smaller towers in the curtain wall, and the ruins of three of these can still be seen. Perhaps the most interesting is Robin Hood's Tower which is set in the eastern wall. On the ground floor of this tower is the Chapel of St. Nicholas with a barrel vaulted roof, wall arcade of semi-circular arches and, at the east end, a flat sill which may have been the site of the altar.
Two other interesting structures stand in the south-east corner. One is Scolland's Hall, named after Scolland, a constable of the castle who died between 1146 and 1150. The other, the Gold Hole Tower, contained the garderobes (latrines) of the castle. The upper part was rebuilt in the 14th century and contains a room with a fireplace.
There are two courtyards: the Great Court and, through the basement of Scolland's Hall, is the Cockpit or Second Court. This is now the Cockpit Garden.
King William the Lion of Scotland, taken at Alnwick in 1174, was imprisoned in Richmond Castle, as was David II after his defeat at Neville's Cross in 1346. And Charles I lodged in the castle during his journey south in 1647 after he had surrendered to the Scots.
Also at the Castle is an exhibition centre which houses some of the artefacts excavated from the castle grounds.
There is also a virtual reality touch-screen guide about the imprisonment in the castle of the conscientious objectors in the first world war. Conscientious objectors, conscripted into the army and sent to join the Non combatant Corps at Richmond, were put in the cells as a result of their refusal to obey orders.