December 6, 2023

Raby castle & Restormel Castle

Raby Castle

Raby Castle stands within a vast park to the north of Staindrop. Despite the alterations inevitable in a castle that has become a stately home, Raby ranks among the finest of later medieval fortified mansions. It reflects the aspirations of the Neville family, who became the most powerful of the Bishop of Durham’s vassals. Ralph, Lord Neville, commanded the English forces at the Battle of Neville’s Cross and probably started building here. His son John obtained a license to crenellate in 1378, but the castle was probably nearly complete by then.

The irregular layout suggests a piecemeal development around an older residential core. On the east side of the courtyard is a hall range, with a small tower – the original pele – attached to it. This was built up into a pentagonal enclosure surrounded by residential ranges. Massive, oblong flanking towers project at regular intervals. Clifford’s Tower is the largest of them, placed at the northwest apex. Next comes the Kitchen Tower at the northeast corner.

The east front was peculiar because its towers project deeply from the back of the hall range. There was thus a deep recess between Mount Raskelf, an adjunct of the Kitchen Tower, and the Chapel Tower in the middle of the east front. However, an eighteenth-century block has filled the recess. The same has happened to the void between Chapel Tower and Bulmer’s Tower. The latter once stood curiously isolated from the rest of the castle and was therefore presumably a tower house.

Two campaigns in particular affected the appearance of the castle. In 1782, John Carr drove a carriageway through the Chapel Tower and heightened the lower hall at the expense of the great hall and chapel above. The second was the rebuilding of the south range and the extension of the great hall in the 1840s.

Restormel Castle

Restormal Castle occupies a knoll above the River Fowey, a mile north of Lostwithiel. Its plan is quite a curiosity. A perfectly circular bailey with a set of internal buildings arranged concentrically against the curtain. The domestic buildings are all ruined but the curtain is virtually intact. The sense of compactness is heightened by the absence of an outer bailey, because although one existed every trace has disappeared.

There is no historical reference to the castle until 1264, when Simon de Montfort seized it, but Restormel is clearly older than that. From outside the embattled curtain appears to crown a motte, and the structure is often described as a large shell keep, but the “motte” is really a ringwork. Furthermore the inner bank was removed when the curtain was built, so the rampart now looks as if it has been heaped against the outside.

In 1270 the castle passed to the earls of Cornwall and enjoyed a brief ascendancy. Earl Edmund chose Lostwithiel as his administrative center and Restormel became his residence. It is to this era that we owe the interesting apartments which back onto the curtain, resulting in a bewildering group of curved chambers. An inventory of 1337 identifys these apartments as the kitchen, hall, solar, ante-chapel and two large guest chambers. Apart from the kitchen, the main apartments all stood at first-floor level over cellars.

The chapel, reached from the ante-chapel, occupied a contemporary square tower which projects boldly from the line of the curtain. A square mural tower in the Edwardian age is typical of Cornish conservation. At the death of Edmund in 1299 the earldom reverted to the Crownm and with the creation of the duchy the castle was seldom visited. The only military episode was a siege in 1644, when it fell briefly into Royalist hands.