Raby Castle, which has stood as a landmark within County Durham for 700 years, has announced the full extent of its significant investment to enhance the visitor experience of the Castle, Park and Gardens, securing it as an important resource for the local community.

The ambitious plans for a two-year major development programme, which were passed by Durham County Council in December last year, will restore and preserve historic buildings within the park and gardens, which have been without purpose for decades.

The development, which has been over three years in the planning, will also support an enhanced visitor journey for Raby Castle, Park and Gardens – providing contemporary spaces for enjoyment but also creating new vistas to the castle within a hub of activity.

The dynamic scheme, known as The Rising, will re-purpose heritage buildings as well as introduce new structures to provide stylish events and exhibition spaces, retail and dining experiences and a visitor information hub – which will all be available without having to pay an entry fee.

Development CGI

The Rising Development

Newly designed walled gardens, soft landscaping, and new entrance car park will reposition Raby Castle Park and Gardens as a historical and cultural asset for local communities to be proud of.

The first phase of The Rising scheme will also see the design and build of a bespoke children’s adventure play area to the north of the castle, on the site of the present Christmas tree plantation. The playground attraction, planned to be open for Easter 2022 will also include a refreshment kiosk with a stargazing deck on the roof, perched amongst the trees.

Lord Barnard, whose family home is Raby Castle, has been determined, since his tenure began in 2016, to make the historic landmark an enjoyable and accessible haven for local people, as well as those visiting the county nationally and internationally.

“The feeling was that Raby Castle and Park has been a visitor attraction for a long time and visitors even since the 18th Century have come here, but somehow it seemed to me that Raby was still very much under the radar, and it has a huge amount to share.

“One of the first things we did was change the paywall, so visitors could enjoy the facilities as well as part of the castle grounds without having to buy a ticket, which felt to us like a much more welcoming experience.

“So, our motivation for this scheme is to really open up the castle and the estate to a great many more people to enjoy. Raby Castle is the flagship of the dale and we wanted to create something that would make people really proud, where they can bring their friends and family and enjoy everything we have to offer,” said Lord Barnard.

Lord and Lady Barnard

Lord and Lady Barnard

The Rising will provide visitors with an enhanced experience, and also provide new, and potentially unexpected experiences to engage, inform and inspire. From the point at which a visitor leaves the new car park, they will be guided naturally towards a hub of activity.

“If you’d arrived in the 1970s, you’d have thought it was a nice place for a cup of tea – that was fine for then, but now it’s time to move on. We felt, apart from opening up the castle’s potential, we also really needed to look after people in a better way as well.

“So, the new Vinery café and restaurant will provide what we hope will be an attractive place to enjoy good food with a stunning view of the castle in the foreground, before taking a stroll through the new Duchess Walk – and all without having to pay for castle entry.

“With a new generation it is time for a new beginning, and we want to make sure that Raby is preserved for future generations to enjoy as well as our own,” said Lord Barnard.


The renovation and development of The Rising will be an important two-year phase of a progressive five-year business plan – bringing together a programme of conservation, restoration, repair and upgrades to historic buildings such as Gainford Hall, Raby Castle Park & Gardens, Unthank, Spring Hill Cottage, The Scar Farm, Bowlees Farm, Beck Foot Farm and Hilton Hall.


“It is a huge project because of the number of beautiful and significant buildings within The Rising development – we couldn’t just have picked off bits and left the rest because these historic buildings would just have decayed beyond repair.

“I have memories of these buildings from my childhood, such as heaving bales of hay into the Dutch Barn when I was working on the farm during the summer but really these buildings haven’t had a lot of use for 50 years. It’s really time to bring them back to life for a wider audience to enjoy,” said Lord Barnard.

CGI of the Duchess' Walk within The Rising development

Duchess’ Walk

A fundamental strand of the renovation project is a commitment to greater engagement with local communities. Training and community educational programmes, as well as social and charitable events will continue to be supported.

Duncan Peake, Raby’s CEO said, “We will continue the tradition of supporting the younger generation by providing apprenticeships, placements and training programmes.

“New volunteering and work experience opportunities within Raby Estate itself have already been created and external relationships with agencies such as Durham County Council, Visit Co Durham, Historic England and the North Pennines AONBs will be fostered to ensure Raby continues to support its local communities.”

“This is a new era for Raby Castle, Park and Gardens allied not only to the opportunities presented by the introduction of high-quality new housing in Staindrop and Gainford, but also to a stated ambition by Raby Estates to greatly increase visitor engagement with the castle and gardens, heightening awareness and understanding of the heritage building and appreciating its value as a vital cultural landmark.

“While this development plan includes the creation of new revenue streams and the expansion of existing ones, helping to support the up-keep of the listed buildings and the Registered Park, it is also driven by the celebration of the intrinsic character and uniqueness that is Raby and we hope the community will be proud of the castle and everything it has to offer,” said Duncan.

Phase one of The Rising development programme will begin later this year, led by the senior development team and the appointment of a project manager to strategically deliver the build, which is due to be completed in 2023 and open to the public.

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Gallery of the proposed Raby Castle Development

We are delighted to be taking part in Historic Houses’ #MedievalMondays initiative, to share special stories and pieces from our collections at Raby. For our latest theme, Betrothals and Marriages, we caught up with Castle Curator, Julie Biddlecombe-Brown to explore one of the most famous betrothals connected with Raby. Read on to find out more…


Raby Castle and the betrothal that changed the face of England

As the year 1423 turned to 1424, the youngest daughter of Ralph, Earl of Westmorland of Raby Castle and his wife, Joan Beaufort, half-sister to the King, was formally betrothed to her parents’ 13-year-old ward. No ordinary couple, the future bride and groom were Cecily Nevill and Richard Duke of York and their union, meticulously planned by her parents, heralded a politically strategic marriage that changed the course of British history.

Ralph, Joan and Cecily Nevill

Depictions of Ralph, Joan and Cecily Nevill in the Chapel at Raby Castle

The teenage Richard first met Cecily when he travelled to Raby Castle after his wardship was formalised. Unlike many aristocratic couples in the 15th century, they probably had the opportunity to get to know one another before their betrothal. The ceremony, which formally pledged their intent to marry when the bride came of age, took place in County Durham, either at Raby Castle or close by in Staindrop Church. The exact date of their marriage is not known but possibly after Cecily’s twelfth birthday in 1427. They were certainly married by 1429.  No evidence survives to confirm that the wedding took place at Raby although at least one of Cecily’s sisters was married in the chapel so it is possible that the young couple wed in her childhood home.

Chapel at Raby Castle

The Chapel at Raby Castle

The momentous impact of the betrothal and marriage of this young girl and teenage boy, rocked England during the decades that followed. Standing at the altar, the young couple could never have imagined the turbulent future that was to unfold. During their lifetimes they would become central to the Yorkist claim to the throne during the Wars of the Roses. During the lifetimes of their children, England witnessed some of the most destructive and divisive family relationships in its history; two of their sons became King and their grand-daughter a Queen through which the present day Royalty can trace its lineage.


We asked Annie Garthwaite, whose first novel Cecily will be released this summer, to reflect on Cecily and Richard’s betrothal at Raby, their marriage and relationship. Annie writes…

“Cecily’s was arguably the most brilliant of a series of dazzling marriages that Ralph and Joan made for their children. Cecily was betrothed late in 1423 at the age of eight to Richard Plantagenet, heir to the earldom of Cambridge and dukedom of York. It was a promising match, but not without risk for, as well as being heir to prestigious titles, Richard was also the son of a traitor. His father, Richard Earl of Cambridge, had been executed by Henry V in 1415 for his part in the Southampton plot. To secure his inheritance, the young Richard would have to win the favour of the present King Henry VI. Unless Henry confirmed Richard’s titles at his coming of age, he would not receive them and Cecily’s brilliant marriage would have lost its lustre. One can only imagine that Ralph took upon himself a mission to make a ‘king’s man’ of Richard, to imbibe him with Lancastrian loyalties, to ensure his smooth accession to his titles and, effectively, co-opt the wealth and prestige of those titles into his own family.

Two years later, both the brilliance of the marriage and its risks became greater still. When Richard’s maternal uncle Edmund Mortimer, the fifth earl of March, died childless in 1425, Richard became heir to a vast Mortimer inheritance. All good. However, that inheritance also brought with it a claim to the English throne that rivalled that of the present king. Henry VI took his royal claim from Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt. Richard, meanwhile, could claim direct descent from Edward’s second son, Lionel Duke of Clarence, and his fourth, Edmund Duke of York.

The Nevill Gateway

The Nevill Gateway at Raby Castle, Cecily’s childhood home

The fact of Richard’s royal claim dogged their married life and though conspicuously loyal to Henry VI, Richard was always under suspicion. Despite this, Cecily’s closeness to Richard is evident. They spent time together whenever possible and she accompanied him on his travels to France and Ireland when royal duties took him there. She bore him twelve children, lost five in infancy, but succeeded in bringing four sons and three daughters to adulthood. She had a long wait for children, however. Though Richard and Cecily began their married life together in around 1431, she had to wait eight years, until 1439, to deliver a living child (a daughter, Anne) and another three to bring forth a son (Edward) that survived infancy. This must have been challenging. Of the many demands placed upon a medieval aristocratic woman, the greatest was to bear children. But there is no evidence that Cecily’s early failure in this regard led to any fracture in her marriage. She and Richard appear to have remained close during this time and, since there is no evidence that Richard owned any bastards, it seems likely he was faithful or, at least, discreet. Fortunately, after a slow start, Cecily’s childbearing potential – and her ability to deliver strong sons – became one of her most valuable assets.

Rumours emerged, later in Cecily’s life and after her husband’s death, that her eldest living son, by this time Edward IV, was not in fact Richard Duke of York’s child. Whilst these can’t be entirely disregarded, the story is unlikely and the evidence scant. It’s worth noting that the rumours emerged in the French court and while Cecily’s nephew, the Earl of Warwick, and second son, George Duke of Clarence, were in league with France in rebellion against Edward. Accusations of bastardy were effective weapons of war at a time when the right of kings depended upon legitimate descent.

But back to Cecily’s marriage. As her husband Richard’s loss of royal favour became increasingly serious, Cecily shows every sign of striving to revive it. Like Richard, she seems to been at pains to persevere in loyalty to the crown for as long as possible. In 1453, for example, she petitions Queen Marguerite on her husband’s behalf, begging no favour but that he be returned to the king’s good graces. However, it seems to me that, as matters progressed from bad to worse, Cecily must have come to recognise that she and Richard faced a stark choice – either to take power or be destroyed by it. As a wife and mother, and as a woman of high noble birth, I can well imagine she might have reached the conclusion that the only place of safety for her husband – and by extension, her sons – was on the throne.”

Annie Garthwaite with her debut novel, Cecily.

Annie Garthwaite with her debut novel, Cecily. Image credit: MNA Media

Annie Garthwaite’s debut novel Cecily, will be published by Penguin on 29 July and can be pre-ordered now from all good high street and online book retailers. You will also be able to pick up a copy from our Stables Shop at Raby Castle. We caught up with Annie for an exclusive Q&A to find out more about Cecily. This will be released on our blog soon.

To explore more Historic Houses themes from Raby, read our #FeatureFridays blog post.

Raby Castle is open Tuesday – Sunday from 11am.
The Park and Gardens are open daily from 10am – 4pm.
If you’d like to learn more about Cecily and see her portrait in the Chapel, you can book tickets to the Castle, Park and Gardens on our website.

To celebrate another glorious summer at Raby, our Estate Chef Tom Parry has shared a new recipe for Raby Redcurrant and Red Onion Relish for you to recreate at home.

This delicious sweet chutney will be served in our Stables Café and is perfect for every occasion, especially with our homemade sausage rolls.

Preparation time: 55 minutes

Serves: one 400 gram pot


  • 200g Red currants
  • 140g Light muscovado sugar
  • 200ml Red wine vinegar
  • 2 Medium red onions- peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 Medium red pepper- seeded and chopped
  • 2 Cloves of garlic
  • 20g Fresh ginger grated
  • 1 tsp Five spice
  • 1 Small red chilli, seeded and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil



  1. Roll the onions with red peppers and Olive Oil in a frying pan for 5-8 minutes over a high heat until lightly charred and softened. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Put the chilli, garlic and ginger in the pan with half the vinegar. Bring to the boil then simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the onions and pepper plus remaining vinegar, all the sugar, spice and 1tsp salt.
  3. Bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes until thickened. Add redcurrants and simmer for about 5 minutes more.
  4. Remove and pour into a large heatproof jar and seal whilst hot.
  5. The relish will keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Download our Raby Redcurrant & Red Onion Relish Recipe

Recipe by Estate Chef Tom Parry

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