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Middleham Marketplace
Middleham is located in North Yorkshire
Location within North Yorkshire
Population825 (2011 census)[1]
OS grid referenceSE124878
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Historic county
Post townLEYBURN
Postcode districtDL8
Dialling code01969
PoliceNorth Yorkshire
FireNorth Yorkshire
UK Parliament
List of places
54°17′09″N 1°48′31″W / 54.2859°N 1.8087°W / 54.2859; -1.8087

Middleham /ˈmɪdləm,-dələm/[2] is an English market town and civil parish in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire. It lies in Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales, on the south side of the valley, upstream from the junction of the River Ure and River Cover. There has been a settlement there since Roman times. It was recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as Medelai, meaning "middle ham or village".


The first known settlement came in the Roman period. The IXth Roman Army Legion conquered York in AD 69 and moved north. A branch road from the extension of Ermine Street passed through to the Roman fort at Bainbridge. Nearby the Romans built a guard station on the River Ure.[3]

William's Hill is the remaining earthworks of the Motte-and-Bailey Castle Alan Rufus built.
William's Hill is the remaining earthworks of the Motte-and-Bailey Castle Alan Rufus built.

Before the Norman Conquest, the lands around were controlled by Gilpatrick. In 1069, William the Conqueror granted them to his Breton cousin Alan Rufus, who built a wooden motte-and-bailey castle above the town. By the time of the 1086 Domesday Book, Alan had passed the castle to his brother Ribald. Its earthworks are still visible at William's Hill. Alan also built the castle at Richmond.

Construction began in 1190 of Middleham Castle, which still dominates the town. The Nevilles, Earls of Westmorland, acquired it through marriage to a female descendant of Ribald in the 13th century. It has been dubbed the "Windsor of the North". The castle belonged to Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, when his cousin Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III) came there to learn knighthood skills in 1462. During the Wars of the Roses, both Edward IV and Henry VI were held prisoner there. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became master of the castle in 1471 after Warwick's death at the Battle of Barnet. He used it as his political base for ruling the North on behalf of his brother Edward IV. Richard married Warwick's daughter, Anne Neville, in 1472. Middleham Castle is where their son Edward was born in about 1473 and died in April 1484. Richard III, who died in August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, was the last reigning King of England to perish in battle.[4]

Middleham fountain
Middleham fountain

Under Richard III, Middleham was a bustling market town and political centre.[5] In 1389, the Lord of Middleham Manor received a crown grant to hold a weekly market and yearly fair on the feast of St Alkelda the Virgin.[6] The town has market places: the larger, lower one is dominated by a medieval cross, topped by a modern iron cross in Celtic style. The upper or swine market centres on the remains of a 15th-century market cross and a line of steps. At one end of the cross is a worn effigy of an animal reclining; the other may have had a moulded capital.

The Old School House
The Old School House

Most buildings in old parts of Middleham predate 1600; the old rectory incorporates some medieval features.[7] In 1607 Middleham was important enough to house a royal court for residents of the forest of Wensleydale.[8] Middleham and surrounding lands were part of the Crown estates from the accession of Richard III until Charles I sold the manor to the City of London in about 1628.[9] In 1661 the City of London sold Middleham Manor on to Thomas Wood of Littleton. It has remained in private hands since then.[10] In 1915 the annual livestock market was still regionally important, but the weekly market had been discontinued. Today's livestock market is in Leyburn.

Parish church

The Church of Saints Mary and Alkelda was founded in 1291. Its mainly 14th and 15th-century architecture includes some stones that indicate the presence of a church on the site perhaps a century before.[7] The only remaining Norman artefact is a section of zig-zag moulding that once surrounded a door or window and now appears above the north aisle. The church has a three-metre Perpendicular font cover and a replica of the Middleham Jewel, found locally. West of the church is St Alkelda's Well, whose waters were once said to restore weak eyes.

In 1478 Edward IV gave permission for a leper hospital to be built on the east side of town in conjunction with the church. The location, Chapel Fields, is now given over to a horse-training stables. No trace of a hospital or chapel remains.[3]

Middleham today

The Richard III Hotel
The Richard III Hotel

Today the town is a centre of horse racing and home to Middleham Trainers' Association. The first racehorse trainer at Middleham was Isaac Cape in 1765. Today there are several, including Mark Johnston, Jedd O'Keefe, James Bethell, and Ben Haslam. Racing is the foremost employer in the town and tourism the second. The castle is a ruin, having been dismantled in 1646, but the keep, built by Robert Fitz Ralph in the 1170s, survives, as do the 13th-century chapel and 14th-century gatehouse.

Middleham has four pubs, a village shop, a fish and chip shop, a tea room, several bed and breakfast suppliers, a primary school and nursery and a community centre called Middleham Key Centre. The picture depicts the Richard III Hotel. The building next door was a tearoom called "The Nosebag". It is now a Racing Welfare office, providing support and guidance to hundreds of stable staff based in and around the town.


An electoral ward of the same name exists stretching south-west to Melmerby. The ward population recorded in the 2011 census was 1,284.[11] The parish population was 825 in the 2011 census, and estimated at 781 in 2019.[12]

Middleham Jewel

The front of the Middleham Jewel showing the Crucifixion of Jesus.
The front of the Middleham Jewel showing the Crucifixion of Jesus.

In 1985 the Middleham Jewel was found on a bridle path near Middleham Castle by Paul Kingston and Ted Seaton using a metal detector.[13] It has since been acquired by the Yorkshire Museum in York for £2.5 million. It is a late 15th-century 68-gram gold pendant with a 10-carat blue sapphire stone. The pendant is a lozenge, engraved on the obverse with a representation of the Trinity, bordered by a Latin inscription warding off the evil of epilepsy.[14] The reverse has a decorative engraving of the Nativity, bordered by the faces of 13 saints.[15]

The back panel slides to reveal a hollow interior, which originally contained three-and-a-half tiny discs of silk embroidered with gold thread.[15] The textile contents identify the jewel as a reliquary, containing a fragment of reputed holy cloth. It would have been worn by a lady of high social status as the crest for a large necklace.[13] The sapphire may represent Heaven,[16] and have acted as an aid to prayer.

Archaeological discoveries

Other notable finds from Middleham include:

  • The Middleham Hoard – three pots containing 5,099 silver coins in total buried in the English Civil War – is the largest such hoard discovered.[17]
  • A livery badge for pinning to the chest or a hat, in gilded copper high relief, with Richard III's emblem of a white boar, is likely to have been worn by one of his household, when he was Duke of Gloucester.[18]
  • The Middleham ring in the Yorkshire Museum, found in 1990 is a gold ring decorated with a low-relief inscription along the band reading SOVEREYNLY.[19]
  • A circular, copper-alloy plaque (3-inch (70 mm) diameter) bearing the initials "R" and "A" surrounded by the French motto A Vo. Plaisir (For your pleasure) may be a casket mark given by Richard, Duke of Gloucester to his wife Anne.[20]

Geography and geology

The town lies between 400 and 500 feet (120 and 150 m) above ordnance datum. The valley of the River Ure below the town has an altitude of 325 feet (99 m) and the summit of the hill to the south-west of the town 850 feet (260 m). The parish contains 2,155 acres (8.72 km2) of land, mostly permanent pasture – only about 150 acres (0.61 km2) is arable. The topsoil is mixed. The valley has modern alluvial terraces and gravel deposits, but the subsoil is mainly limestone, although intersected here and there by sandstone with plate. There is a known vein of lead in the northern part of the parish. Braithwaite lead mine lies just outside the parish borders.[7]

Notable people

In birth order:

Popular culture

Middleham appeared three times in the UK television series All Creatures Great and Small. The episode "Against the Odds" had the Manor House as the home of the Barraclough family.[21] In the episode "Where Sheep May Safely Graze", Middleham Antiques, in North Road, became Geoff Hatfield's confectionery shop.[22] Ferndale became the home of the Darnley sisters in the episode "The Rough and the Smooth".[23]

Twin towns

Middleham is twinned with:


  1. ^ UK Census (2011). "Local Area Report – Middleham Parish (1170217169)". Nomis. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  2. ^ Jones, Daniel (2006). Roach, Peter; Hartman, James; Setter, Jane (eds.). English Pronouncing Dictionary (17th ed.). Cambridge University press. p. 324. ISBN 978-0-521-86230-1.
  3. ^ a b "A Pilgrimage to Middleham and Richard's North Country". Archived from the original on 14 December 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  4. ^ "Middleham Castle". Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  5. ^ Weaver, John (1993). Middleham Castle. London: English Heritage. p. 31. ISBN 1-85074-409-2.
  6. ^ Chart. R. 11–13 Ric. II, m. 21; cf. Cal. Pat. 1436–1441.
  7. ^ a b c A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1, William Page, ed., 1914.
  8. ^ Exch. Dep. Mich. 5 Jas. I, no. 8. The earliest lords claimed the forest of Wensleydale by inheritance (Pipe R. 4 John [Yorks.]; Abbrev. Plac. [Rec. Com.], 74; Coram Rege R. Mich. 12 Hen. III).
  9. ^ Pat. 4 Chas. I, pt. xxxiii, Roll B.; Cal. Com. for Comp. 2444; Exch. Dep. East. 13 Chas. II, no. 15.
  10. ^ N. and Q. September 1884; Whitaker, Richmondshire.
  11. ^ UK Census (2011). "Local Area Report – Middleham 2011 Census Ward (1237325139)". Nomis. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  12. ^ City Population. Retrieved 2 November 2020.
  13. ^ a b Cherry 1994, pp. 16–17.
  14. ^ "Middleham Jewel". Art Fund. 11 June 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  15. ^ a b Cherry 1994, pp. 24–26.
  16. ^ Cherry, John. The Holy Thorn Reliquary, p. 7, 2010, British Museum Press (British Museum objects in focus), ISBN 0-7141-2820-1
  17. ^ Barclay, Craig (1994). "A Civil War Hoard from Middleham, North Yorkshire" (PDF). British Numismatic Journal. 64 (8): 84–98.
  18. ^ John Cherry (2003), in Richard Marks and Paul Williamson, eds., Gothic: Art for England 1400–1547, p. 204, no. 69, 2003, V&A Publications, London. ISBN 1-85177-401-7
  19. ^ Cherry 1994, pp. 10–11.
  20. ^ Cherry 1994, p. 40.
  21. ^ "Manor House, West End, Middleham, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Against The Odds (1988)". Retrieved 17 September 2013.
  22. ^ "North Rd, Middleham, N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, Where Sheep May Safely Graze (1989)". Retrieved 17 September 2013.
  23. ^ "Ferndale, Middleham. N Yorks, UK – All Creatures Great & Small, The Rough & The Smooth (1989)". Retrieved 17 September 2013.
  24. ^ "British towns twinned with French towns [via]". Archant Community Media Ltd. Archived from the original on 5 July 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2013.


External links

This page was last edited on 26 June 2021, at 13:45
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