Romantic Castles and Palaces

  • Raby
  • Raby

AS we proceed towards Barnard Castle, we suddenly come into view of the

Castle of Raby

The road brings us within a few hundred yards of it. Its grey extent of towers rises before us, with its park, well peopled with herds of deer, stretching around it. Comparatively flat again as is the situation, and which would seem to have been better liked by the Nevilles than more hilly and romantic ones, there is nothing that we recollect to have seen anywhere which impresses us at the first view with a stronger feeling of the old feudal grandeur. It stands in its antiquity and vastness, the fitting abode of the mighty Nevilles. We can almost imagine that we shall find them still inhabiting it. The royal Joan, walking with her maidens on the green terrace that surrounds it, or the first great Earl of Westmoreland setting out with all his train, to scour its wide chases and dales for the deer, or to proceed to the Marches to chastise the boldness of the Scots. The exterior of the whole place has been well preserved in its true ancient character; it is the great, grey, and stately feudal castle,

"With all its lands and towers."

Pennant, when he visited it, had a proper feeling of its exterior. "It is a noble massy building of its kind, uninjured by any modern strokes inconsistent with the general taste of the edifice; but, simply magnificent, it strikes by its magnitude, and that idea of strength and command naturally annexed to the view of vast walls, lofty towers, battlements, and the surrounding outworks of an old baron's residence. The building itself, besides the courts, covers an acre of land; the size may from this be concluded. The south front is very beautiful; the centre is from a design of Inigo Jones; nothing in the Gothic taste can be more elegant than the style and proportion of the windows. The rooms are very numerous, and more modern in their proportion and distribution than one would easily conceive to be possible within the walls of so ancient a building; but by means of numerous passages and closets, many of which have been scooped out of the walls, and back-stairs, the apartments are extremely convenient, well connected, and at the same time perfectly distinct. Several improvements have been lately made, which add greatly to the spaciousness and convenience of the apartments in general. The bed-chambers and dressing-rooms are of a good size and proportion, and some of the lower apartments large, and elegantly fitted up. One of the drawing-rooms is thirty feet by twenty, and the adjoining dining-room is fifty-one by twenty-one; the windows of both of plate glass, and in the smallest and lightest of brass frames," etc.

It is, in fact, this complete adaptation to modern uses and splendour, which disappoints one in the interior of Raby. The exterior is so fine, so feudal, so antiquely great, that when we step in and find ourselves at once in modern drawing-rooms, with silken couches and gilt cornices, the Nevilles and their times vanish. We forget again that we are at Raby, the Castle of the victims of Neville's Cross, and of Joan, the daughter of John of Gaunt, and feel that we are only in the saloons of the modern Duke of Cleveland. We revert to the quaint description of Leland, and wish that we could see it as he did. "Raby is the largest castel of logginges in all the north countery, and is of a strong building; but not set either on hill, or very strong ground. As I enterid by a causey into it, there was a litle stayre on the right honde; and in the first area, were but two towers on a ech ende as entres, and no other buildid. In the 2 area, as in entring was a great gate of iren, with a tour, and 2 or 3 mo on the right hond. These were all the three toures of the 3 court, as in the hart of the castel. The haul and al the houses of office be large and stately, and in the haul I saw an incredible great leame of an hart. The great chambre was exceeding large, but now it is fals rofid, and divided into 2 or 3 partes. I saw ther a litle chambre wherein was in windowes of colorid glasse al the petigre of the Nevilles; but it is now taken down and glasid with clere glasse. Ther is a tour in the castel having the mark of 2 capital Bs for Bertram Bulmer. Ther is another towr bering the name of Jane, bastard sister to Henry IV., and wife to Rafe Neville, the first Erl of Westmerland. Ther 'long 3 parkes to Raby, whereof 2 be plenished with dere. The midle park hath a lodge in it; and thereby is a chace, bering the name of Langeley, and hath fallowe dere. It is a 3 miles in length." It is, in fact, these old towers; these old courts; this great baronial hall, and the kitchen, that are objects of real interest in Raby; remnants of its antiquity, the co-temporaries of those who stamped them with the feeling of belonging to them and their fortunes. The Cliffords' tower, and the tower of Bertram Bulmer, let us ascend to them, and gaze over the parks and glades of Raby, to the far distant scenes that once formed the princely possessions of the Nevilles. Near the top of this tower, which stands separated from the rest of the building, and to which you ascend by eighty-nine steps, are raised those old letters, the initials of Bertram Bulmer, mentioned by Leland, and a splendid prospect south eastward lies before you. Conscliff, Darlington, Sadberge, Long-Newton, Stockton, with the Cleveland Hills and "Black" Hamilton. From other points of the castle you catch equally noble and far views - the distant mountains of Hope and Arkendale, and westward the vale filled with the woods of Streatlam and Lady Close.

Carriages can pass through the large Gothic saloon, or entrance hall into the interior court. Above the saloon is the old baronial hall, which forms one side of the square of the inner area. It is of the most magnificent proportions - ninety feet in length, thirty-six in breadth, and thirty-four in height. The roof is flat and made of wood; the joints ornamented with shields of arms of the family of the Nevilles. Here, it is said, assembled in their time, 700 knights who held of that family. A gallery of stone crosses the west end of this room used in ancient times for music, and that mimicry with which our ancestors were so much pleased. Unfortunately, here again our notions of the old times are completely disturbed. This roof, which no doubt is of real oak, is now smartly painted oak; and this hall, which should only display massy furniture, suits of armour, and arms and banners properly disposed, is converted into a museum of stuffed birds, Indian dresses, and a heap of things which may be better and more numerously seen elsewhere. In fact, any ordinary room of this many-roomed castle might have served this need. The kitchen, however, remains in all its huge and unalloyed antiquity. "It is," says Pennant, "a magnificent and lofty square; has three chimneys - one for the grate, a second for stoves, the third for the great cauldrons. The top is arched, and a small cupola lights it in the centre; but on the sides are five windows, with a gallery passing all round before them, and four steps from each pointing down into the kitchen, but ending a great height above the floor. There have been many conjectures respecting their use, but they certainly must have been in some manner for the conveying away of viands. From the floor is another staircase, that conducts to the great hall, but the passage is now stopped. What hecatombs must have been carried that way: "To this account must be added, that the kitchen is a square of thirty feet; the side where no chimney is, opens into the larders; opposite to the grate, the steps descend to the floor, and are wide enough for three persons abreast. On each of the other sides, to the right and left of the grate, are two windows, with five steps descending, but not low enough to enable the persons who should stand thereon to receive anything from those in the kitchen. There are narrow passages channeled in the walls, but not capacious enough, we conceive, to allow a person to bear a dish of provisions for the 700 knights and retainers of the Nevilles. Yet we may very well imagine, that in the hurry and confusion of such a dining, those windows and descending steps might be very serviceable for the delivery of orders, and the passages in the walls for enabling one bustling person to avoid another. Besides, they might have some contrivance by a pulley or so, to raise the dishes to the person on the steps. Be that as it may, the kitchen is a right ancient and singular relic of the genuine baronial time.

The park has many fine woods, glades, and lawns, and gives prospects of far beauty, but its aspect partakes of the character of the interior of the castle - newness. We are surprised to see so little timber bearing a relative antiquity to the castle. The trees are comparatively young. You see groups and plantations of a very modern date. The whole has the air rather of a place new made, than of one old as the days of Canute, who is said to have built some part of the original house. You do not see those old, grey, and gnarled oaks around you that you see in the forests of Sherwood, Needwood - Chartley and other parks. It seems as if some great revolution, as is the fact, has passed over it; and that in its days of change, the axe of the spoiler has laid low its ancient forests. The castle looks like a grey patriarch left amid a more juvenile race. Let us rejoice that the strong wall of the stout old Nevilles have defied the ravages of politics as well as of time, and that future generations may see in them a fine example of what the habitation of the great old English noble was. For my part, I looked on the old house with eyes of affection. It had, through the beautiful ballad of the Hermit of Warkworth been to me a dream of youthful poetry. I was carried back into the days when at school we chanted that lovely poem over, day by day, under sunny walls and in our walks, and even at night when we should have been asleep. There was in it a spirit so pure, so refined, so delicate, so full of beauty, of love, and of heroic magnanimity, that it mingled itself entirely with the pulses of our hearts, because our hearts were then like it in soul, in temperament, and in imaginative freedom. What dales of Northumberland - what mountains, and glens, and chieftains' towers of Scotland, did it not bring to our spirits' vision! With what eagerness did we follow the forlorn Sir Bertram and his brother, in their northern quest for the lost fair Isabel of Widrington. How did we weep over the catastrophe! - and when the young Earl Percy and his lovely bride, of the house of Neville, appeared for our comfort, how earnestly did we follow the venerable prior who, to propitiate the princely parents of Eleanor,

"Then straight to Raby's distant walls
Did kindly wend his way."

And how many times did we clap our hands as we learnt that

"Meantime their suit such favour found
At Raby's stately hall;
Earl Neville and his princely spouse
Now gladly pardon all.
She, suppliant at her nephew's throne.
The royal grace implored;
To all the honours of his race
The Percy was restored!"

Mr. Surtees has written a ballad full of the true spirit of that composition, suggested by a scene in Raby Park - Langley Dale; a beautiful dale and ancient chase, belonging to Raby Castle. An old tower, close by the park, is said to have been the residence of a mistress of the last Earl of Westmoreland. Mr. Surtees's ballad, however, rather connects itself with the general circumstances of "The Rising of the North" than with this particular incident, and, like "The Flowers of the Forest," perpetuates a natural and beautiful sentiment, which must have been deeply and long felt, on beholding Raby after that fatal event. With this poem we will close our visit to Raby.

As I down Raby Park did pass,
I heard a fair maid weep and wail.
The chiefest of her song it was.
Farewell the sweets of Langley Dale.
The bonny mavis cheers his love.
The throstlecock sings in the glen;
But I must never hope to rove
Within the sweet Langley Dale again.
The wild-rose blushes in the brae.
The primrose shows its blossom pale;
But I must bid adieu for aye.
To all the joys of Langley Dale.
The days of mirth and peace are fled.
Youth's golden locks to silver turn;
Each northern flowret droops its head
By Marwood Chase and Langley Burn.
False Southrons crop each lovely flower.
And throw their blossoms to the gale;
Our foes have spoilt the sweetest bower -
Alas! for bonny Langley Dale.
Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, Edited and Translated by Esther Singleton. 1901.
Raby Castle by William Howitt. Note: From original text; may contain OCR errors.