This week for Historic Houses’ Medieval Monday we are exploring the theme of ‘Ancient Families’. We caught up with Interpretation and Engagement Assistant, Lauren to find out more about the historic Neville family who lived at Raby Castle until 1569.

The Neville Dynasty

‘The end of the House of Neville’

The Nevilles, who in the 14th century developed the castle into what you see today, were in their prime, one of the most powerful families in the North of England. In this month’s Historic Houses blog, we’ll be focusing on an event which brought about the end of the senior line of the Neville family; the Rising of the North.

The male line of the noble house can be traced through Dolfin ‘son of Uhtred’ who was first granted the Manor of Raby in 1131. His grandson, Robert FitzMaldred, married Norman heiress Isabella de Neville, and their son Geoffrey took his mother’s name to capitalise on Norman power at the time. During the Middle Ages, the Neville family had great influence and saw both military and marital success. Robert Neville led English troops at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. Ralph Neville married Joan Beaufort, sister of King Henry IV, and was created Earl of Westmorland in 1397. His youngest daughter Cecily, known as the ‘Rose of Raby’ or the ‘Mother of Kings’, married Richard the Duke of York in 1429 and found herself at the heart of the Wars of the Roses. Their granddaughter Elizabeth went on to marry King Henry VII. The story of the Rising of the North lands us with Charles Neville, the 6th Earl of Westmorland, born in 1542.

Chapel Portraits

1900s painted effigy to the Nevilles seen in Raby’s Chapel, depicting key figures such as Ralph and Cicely Neville

‘But their glory was drawing to a close…’

The Neville family were devout Roman Catholics, with Charles’ father, the 5th Earl, being a steadfast supporter of Mary Tudor. When Mary’s Protestant half-sister Elizabeth came to the throne, his son Charles, the 6th Earl of Westmorland, was forced to choose between his religion and his monarch. The Northern nobility were greatly attached to the ‘ancient faith’ and resented the changes made during the Reformation. They had also found their regional power weakened by losses suffered in the Wars of the Roses, and by the growing power of central government.

A group of Northern Catholic Lords- including two of Charles Neville’s uncles- resolved to oust the Queen and replace her with her cousin, the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. Charles Neville and the Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Percy (whose noble families were once enemies), placed themselves at the head of the movement.

In 1569, many meetings were held at Brancepeth and Raby Castle between the rebelling Earls to plot their campaign. 700 Knights were supposedly assembled in Raby Castle’s Baron’s Hall when the decision was made. It is said that while spirits were wavering during the discussions,

‘Lady Westmorland threw herself in their midst, crying bitterly, and spurred them into action with her taunting words.’

Baron's Hall Baron’s Hall as seen today, where 700 knights supposedly assembled to finalise plans for the Rising of the North

Sir George Bowes, a friend of the Earl of Westmorland but also a Protestant, was keeping watch for trouble in the North on behalf of the Queen and reporting back to the Earl of Sussex based in York. He had spies at Raby castle, and learned that retainers and servants were being furnished with armour and weapons before heading for Brancepeth to meet with Thomas Percy. Sussex ordered Bowes to raise his forces at Barnard Castle and be prepared to counter what was now an open rebellion.

The rebels marched on Durham, where they held a Catholic Mass in the Cathedral before continuing south to meet the Queen’s troops headed from York. But the rebellion quickly failed. The Queen issued a Proclamation stating she would pardon the rebels – except for the Earls – if they retreated. Disagreements arose amongst the leaders, and orders were given to return North.

The rebels returned to the Tees where forces divided. The Earl of Northumberland went back to his castle at Alnwick, while the Earl of Westmorland decided to attack George Bowes at Barnard Castle. This resulted in another failure for Charles, as after a siege of 11 days, Bowes’ forces were reinforced by the Queen’s men travelling up from the South. The Earl of Westmorland retreated with his cavalry to Hexham, where they scattered into Scotland. News of the approaching Royal forces reached Raby, where Neville documents were gathered and taken away.

The Nevill Gateway

Neville’s Gateway, depicting the Neville coat of arms. We have very little evidence left from the time of the Nevilles as a result of the rebellion.

‘The fatal Rising of the North that cost them all so dear…’

The Earl of Northumberland was captured and executed, and Charles Neville fled to the Netherlands where he died in poverty 32 years later in 1601. Having left no male heir, the senior Neville line was ended. Back in England, he was convicted of High Treason, and as a result his title ‘Earl of Westmorland’ became extinct and Raby Castle and its’ estate fell into possession of the crown.

But what of Raby Castle? In 1616, Raby and Barnard Castle were granted to notable politician Sir Henry Vane the Elder. The Vane family’s purchase paved the way for the developments you see today, but not without some quarrels, wars and treasonous acts of their own…

Sir Henry Vane the Elder and Charles Neville Left: Sir Henry Vane the Elder, head of the Vane family who next owned Raby castle. Interestingly, more recent members of the Vane family married descendants of the Nevilles, connecting the two lines of Raby castle owners.

Right: A portrait of Charles Neville painted a year after his death in 1602. This is the earliest portrait we have of one of Raby’s owners.

Raby Castle is now closed for the winter period, but you can still visit our impressive parkland, shop and café until we reopen in March 2023.

Work has progressed this summer on Raby Castle’s project funded by the Castle Studies Trust to create a digital model of the 14th century Neville stronghold.

During July, Durham University Archaeological Services, drone scanned the castle exterior. Every nook and cranny was covered; from courtyard and tunnels, to rooftops and bartisans, relying on the skill of the pilot to navigate the hardware into some pretty tight spaces.  The photographs were taken utilising a 14mm lens and 36 megapixel sensor, supported by RTK GNSS positioning to precisely document every feature of the building. The data captured will then be uploaded and processed through Agisoft Metashape Professional and output as a 3D model utilising AutoCad Map 3D.

As well as creating an outstanding record of the building as it stands today, the software will enable the project team to ‘strip back’ known later additions and ‘rebuild’ known, lost features, such as the Barbican. Throughout the summer, Raby’s dedicated volunteers have continued to research the medieval structure and to collate findings based on evidence in other related sites that will help to build the model and to ensure accuracy as far as possible.  The end result will have many uses, not only in building our understanding the medieval castle but also how it intersects with later additions and how it functioned as a building. The findings will be shared with visitors in new interpretation to be introduced as part of the castle’s wider development plans.

There has never been a full archaeological survey of Raby Castle and opportunities for research have been limited in the past. This project reflects the ambitions and vision of Lord and Lady Barnard, the castle’s owners who firmly believe that it is by understanding and sharing the castle’s past that we will secure its future. We look forward to sharing our progress as the model develops.

Image courtesy of Durham University Archaeological Services.

For this month’s Feature Friday with Historic Houses, we caught up with Interpretation and Engagement Assistant, Lauren to uncover some facts you might not have known about Raby’s Ponds.

Raby’s High and Low ponds have found their way into many a photograph of the castle and surrounding parkland. The 4th Duchess of Cleveland enjoyed seeing the castle from the south ‘doubled in the blue water mirror below.’ They were constructed in the mid-18th century, and formed during a programme of landscaping scheduled by Gilbert the 2nd Baron Barnard. High Pond (also known as Great Pond) was constructed around 1743, and Low Pond around 1748.

But did you know?

Raby once had a Moat Pond

In 1748, the moat which once surrounded Raby Castle was enlarged to form a moat pond. This can be seen in the plan of Raby estimated to be from around 1740-1760. This shows both High Pond and an expanse of water which circles the castle. The moat was later filled in- it no longer appears in an 1812 George Dixon plan of Raby, and the 4th Duchess writing in 1870 says of the moat: ‘the greater part of which is now filled up.’ When this occurred, the remaining body of water became Low Pond.

Left - Plan of Raby approx c1740-1760. Right - George Dixon plan of Raby 1812

Left – Plan of Raby approx c1740-1760 | Right – George Dixon plan of Raby 1812

There used to be more ponds to the south-west

During landscaping works in the late 1700s, two ponds were created to the south of Raby’s Home Farm and Lady Wood was planted along the south boundary of the Park. A body of water can be seen below the farm in this 1818 Map of Raby. These ponds have since disappeared (they are no longer present on an 1860 OS map,) and have been replaced with marshy ground. In 1870 the 4th Duchess refers to the ponds:

‘To the south of the Home Farm there is some very pretty ground, falling into deep hollows where Langley Beck crosses it:  these were sheets of water in the last century, as Lord Darlington here made a succession of ponds, which subsequently got out of repair, and I am sorry to say have been filled up.’
– 4th Duchesses’ Handbook

Left – Map of Raby, 1818 | Right – OS Map, 1860

There used to be a boat house on the ponds

Historic plans from 1897 up until the 1950s show a Boat House located on the northern banks of the High Pond. This shows how the ponds were used for leisure over the years by the family and visitors to Raby.

OS Map, 1954

The ponds were very useful during wintertime

Arthur Galilee, who lived and worked on the Raby Estate throughout his life from 1923 onwards, spoke fondly of winter times by the ponds:

Never a year went by without at least two sessions of skating, hundreds used to congregate on the top pond, especially at weekends. John Robert Meynell, a farmworker from Home Farm was a marvellous skater and enthralled everyone doing the figure of eight.

Ice gathered from the ponds would also be stored in an Icehouse in Bath Wood. Men were hired to remove and transport the ice to the specially made Icehouse, which would keep ice frozen until around June. This helped with food preservation and the production of iced treats when they became popular in the 18th century.


 There were once major plans to re-design Raby and add lots of water features

In 1774, Thomas White proposed an ambitious scheme for the park involving canals, islands and lakes while Raby was being re-developed by Henry, the 2nd Earl of Darlington. Most of the plans remained unexecuted, except for the previously mentioned ponds near Raby Home Farm.

Thomas White proposed plan for Raby, 1774

Castle Photography – David Dodds

To find out more about Raby’s fascinating history, you might be interested in these other blogs:

The Great Kitchen

Coats of Arms

Discover Raby’s Chapel

Our new highly anticipated adventure playground, The Plotters’ Forest, opened to the public on Friday 15th April 2022, in time for the Easter weekend.

Towering amongst the trees in our Christmas tree plantation, the playground offers an exciting mix of challenge, discovery and intrigue for local visitors, including the young and the young at heart.

Inspired by our past and the part the castle played in The Rising of the North in 1569, the playground will hopefully bring out some modern day ‘Raby Rebels’ as visitors take in the panoramic views of the parkland, experience sky-high turrets and treetop tunnels in the Plotters’ Spire, before slipping down the slides and interacting with the ground-level games that surround the structure.

The playground has also been designed with inspiration from some of Raby Castle’s architectural history, including the famous Neville Gateway.

For the plotters requiring a pitstop, the new catering kiosk, The Plotters’ Pantry, serves takeaway hot and cold drinks, freshly made sandwiches, snacks, cake and ice cream and conveniently overlooks the toddlers’ play area, which includes mini turrets, climbing equipment and chalkboards.

Speaking of the motivation behind the project, Raby Estate’s owners, Lord and Lady Barnard, said:

“Creating The Plotters’ Forest has been a dream of ours for years and is inspired by our own experiences as a family, when our own children were young.

“We’ve taken special care to ensure the playground blends into the forested area where it’s located, by using complementary textures, colours and sustainable materials. We believe that building a relationship with the outdoors inspires children to be resilient, curious and courageous – all qualities found in Raby Castle’s plotters of the past.”

Claire Jones, Project Director and Head of Leisure and Tourism at Raby Estates said:

“The opening of The Plotters’ Forest is a huge step for Raby Castle, marking a new chapter in the much-loved attraction’s history. It is also the first important milestone in The Rising development, which will attract new visitors to the area and create outstanding recreation for the local community.”

The Rising project will include the significant restoration and renovation of several historical buildings on the estate, the creation of a new café and events space, as well as a new visitor hub and landscaped areas. The wider site will launch in Summer 2023.

“With visitors able to purchase tickets that include The Plotters’ Forest, the deer park and castle, we hope it’s a well-rounded offering with something for all family members to enjoy” Claire continues.


The wooden boardwalk through the playground is accessible by wheelchair and pushchair, creating a fun and inclusive space for all of our visitors.

For further information, please visit our Play Page.


Opening Easter 2022

As construction work continues, Raby Castle has revealed the name of its new adventure playground, which will be built amongst the towering trees within its Christmas Tree plantation.

The Plotters’ Forest, which is due to open at Easter this year, draws subtle inspiration from the castle’s history, including The Rising of the North in 1569, when Catholic rebels unsuccessfully plotted to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I, which is said to have been planned at Raby Castle.

“It seemed very fitting that the playground, which has been designed and built for real adventurers to unleash their inner playfulness and mischief, should be named after Raby’s plotters of the past,”

said project director and head of leisure and tourism Claire Jones.

Young visitors will see special features throughout the site, which represent Raby Castle’s architectural history – including its entrance which has been built to honour the famous Neville Gateway, and Plotters’ Spire, a three-story tower with a top-floor slide and unusual pentagon shapes which have been used across the playground.

Raby Estate’s owners, Lord and Lady Barnard, said:

“When our own children were growing up, we enjoyed many happy times with them at adventure playgrounds close to where we lived in Shropshire.
“Children always remember with great fondness, the playgrounds where they had fun and adventure when they were younger, and this is the vision we had for Raby.
“Whilst Raby Castle remains a cultural and educational attraction in the North-East, we also want young families to enjoy fun and adventure at Raby and The Plotters’ Forest, at the heart of our new development, delivers just that.”

The Plotters’ Forest is part of a wider development, known as The Rising, that promises to attract new visitors to the area and create outstanding recreation for the local community. With its name also rooted in a chapter of Raby Castle’s history, the project will include the significant restoration and renovation of several historical buildings on the estate, the creation of a new café and events space, as well as a new visitor hub and landscaped areas.

Lord Barnard continued:

“The Plotters’ Forest is the beginning of a transformation at Raby. Whilst the castle is extremely popular with locals and tourists, the new playground and the wider offering at Raby will cement our reputation as a key attraction in North-East England.
“Tickets to the playground will also give access to picturesque grounds filled with wildlife and in time, the walled gardens. It will be the perfect place to spend the day.”

The new adventure playground is likely to open for Easter 2022, along with its takeaway food and refreshments kiosk.

The wooden boardwalk through the playground is accessible by wheelchair and pushchair, creating a fun and inclusive space for all of Raby’s visitors.

For further information, please visit our new Plotters’ Forest page to receive updates.

CGI image of The Plotters' Forest at Raby Castle (2)-min222

Raby Castle will once again be opening its doors to visitors on Thursday 3rd March for another busy season.

Over the winter period each year, the castle undergoes a magical transformation for Christmas. The New Year then sees a flurry of redecorating and general maintenance tasks getting underway. We caught up with Castle Custodian, Mark Horsley to find out what changes visitors can expect to see for 2022.

Last year Raby Castle closed the doors on the annual visitor season on the 31st of October, after a spooky Halloween Trail. This left us with 25 days to transform the castle into a magical Christmas grotto, ready for our special Fireside Stories event with Father Christmas. This popular experience has become a tradition for visitors, who come from far and wide every year to sit in Raby’s grand Entrance Hall by a roaring fire surrounded by twinkling lights and trees to hear a festive tale. This year the castle team dressed 7 Christmas trees (the tallest standing at over 16ft tall!) using around 1,000 baubles and up to 2,000 lights.

Christmas Trees

With the magic of the festive season behind us we are now looking ahead to the New Year and preparing the castle for re-opening in the Spring. As a new addition for the forthcoming season, we have worked with Lady Barnard and our buildings team to redecorate and repurpose the Lobby on the public route. This room previously displayed a range of Freemasonry material including prints and textiles which, after twenty years, needed to be rested from the damaging effects of lights. The room also contained a popular portrait of the 11th Lord Barnard, painted by Suzi Malin in 1985 (which can now be found on Bulmer’s staircase leading up to the Baron’s Hall). In preparation for the new season, the Lobby walls have been stripped and the floorboards sanded back to bare wood. The room will return to, what is believed to have been, one of its earlier functions – a Boot Room, highlighting the family’s enjoyment of the great outdoors. Our new-look Boot Room will have freshly painted walls and a freshly stained floor. A new bench will reflect times gone by, where people would have removed their riding boots and jackets before entering the castle. A purpose-built coat rack, made by Raby joiners from Raby oak, will hold tweed jackets and caps and an old wall clock and mirror will adorn other walls.

Another change visitors can look out for is the relocation of some of the portraits that adorn the castle walls. First and foremost, the 12th and current Lord Barnard’s portrait now hangs in the Baron’s Hall, taking pride of place above the Steinway piano. Sitting alongside this will be another relocated painting of Charles Neville, the 6th Earl of Westmorland, who has moved from the medieval corridor at the beginning of the public route. Charles Neville was the last of the Neville family to own Raby Castle before the Rising of the North, after which the castle was purchased by the Vane family who still own the castle today. By hanging these portraits side by side it highlights the two main families who have owned Raby Castle since its creation in the 14th century.

Baron's Hall

(c) Daniel Casson

Another new addition to the Baron’s Hall is a portrait of Lady Anne Monson, the daughter of Henry Vane, the first Earl of Darlington and his wife Lady Grace Fitzroy. A great-grandchild of Charles the second she later found fame as a “remarkable lady botanist”. The last painting to be moved will be a painting of a Bay Horse, after J Wootton. This used to hang in a room rarely seen by the public, but will now feature in the Victorian Corridor, just off the Entrance Hall. It is currently away for conservation, so the team are looking forward to seeing it back at Raby.

These exciting winter changes at the castle have been undertaken alongside our usual annual tasks, the deep clean of the public route. This involves building scaffolding towers in the Octagon Drawing Room, Entrance Hall and Baron’s Hall, as these rooms have high decorative ceilings that we couldn’t reach to clean by any other means. The beautiful wooden floor in the Baron’s Hall is also lovingly waxed and polished. All other rooms are stripped of all furniture, cleaned and the furniture replaced. Our incredible collection of copper and pewter moulds and pipkins in the Castle Kitchen are all cleaned prior to the season starting and the 500+ pieces take a small team two weeks to polish.

Kitchen Coppers

As you can hear, there is plenty to keep the castle team busy over the winter period and we can’t wait to welcome our lovely visitors back on Thursday 3rd March. Please pre-book your castle and deer park tickets below.

Book your Castle & Deer Park ticket

October 2021

A grant from Historic England has been awarded to Raby Estate for important repairs to Raby Castle’s historic 14th century Keep Tower, and the 19th century clock faces and sundial. The Keep is one of Raby’s nine towers, located in the centre of the castle. In the medieval period the base of the Keep incorporated access to the castle’s well, and the tower protected this important source of fresh water. Above ground, each floor provided levels of living accommodation for members of the powerful Nevill family and their retinue.

Over the centuries, the roof of The Keep has benefitted from repair and maintenance. Along with the rest of the castle, it is inspected regularly by Castle architects Donald Insall Associates. This grant allows re-roofing, repairs and conservation work to take place in early 2022, replacing cracked and patched sections of the lead work and keeping the castle and its contents safe from water damage.

The two historic clock dials and the castle sundial are open to the elements on the north and south walls of The Keep. Over time, the faces of these historic timepieces have been damaged by the harsh British weather and will receive full conservation and restoration by historic clock specialists. Repainted and gilding using traditional, hardwearing techniques will breathe new life into the faces of the historic timepieces so that they can continue to display the time in the years to come.

Harry Vane, 12th Lord Barnard is the current owner of the castle, whose family have lived in the spectacular medieval building for almost 400 years. Lord Barnard thanked Historic England and Historic Houses Foundation for awarding this grant to Raby;

“We are delighted to have been awarded funding by Historic England via the Historic Houses Foundation to carry out important repair and conservation work on Raby Castle’s historic Keep Tower. This grant supports the vital programme of ongoing repair and maintenance required to ensure that this outstanding Grade I listed building can be enjoyed by future generations”.

The grant, from Historic England, has been received through the Historic Houses Foundation as part of the second round of the Heritage Stimulus Fund.

This summer, a very special piece of research has been taking place at Raby Castle. Funded by the British-Irish Furniture Makers Online (BIFMO), the project brought together two research students working on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Postgraduate students Cara Caputo, studying American Material Culture at Winterthur and Andrea Gonzales, studying Art Gallery and Museum Studies at Leeds University were selected from a number of applicants to the scheme. Although they have never met in person, their outstanding teamwork has created a fascinating blog exploring Raby Castle’s Octagon Drawing Room, in their own words.

Screenshot of Cara and Drea on Zoom, researching into the Octagon Drawing Room

Our thanks to BIFMO for funding this project. For more details of their work visit https://bifmo.history.ac.uk/

“In the current guidebook for Raby Castle, the entry for the Octagon Drawing Room focuses mainly on the story of a major 1990s restoration project. While an important aspect of its history and a fascinating point of interpretation, this blog post focuses on the origins of the Octagon Drawing Room, including the people involved in the creation of the room and purposes for which it was used. In order to highlight the original use of the home, research was conducted to place the room and its furnishings in historical context. Were the choices made in the furnishings typical of the time or unusual? How did Raby’s 19th-residents use and enjoy the space?

Through a project funded by the British-Irish Furniture Makers Online (BIFMO), this blog post uses source material to explore these questions, emphasize new perspectives, and ultimately, to capture the room in a moment at a time, through the words of someone who lived and entertained in this room and among these objects.

Oil painting of the Duchess of Cleveland

In 1854, Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina Stanhope married Sir Harry George Powlett, the 4th Duke of Cleveland. After their marriage, Catherine became the Duchess of Cleveland and mistress of Raby Castle. In 1870, she authored a handbook for Raby Castle that essentially functions as a guided tour of the Castle, Park and Gardens. Throughout the handbook, the Duchess offers her opinion on aspects of the interior spaces and their furnishings, created by previous generations. Excerpts from her section on the Octagon Drawing Room serve as the narration for this blog post.


Directions: Click on the dots in the picture below to explore various aspects of the room and learn more about the original function and use of Raby’s Drawing Room. To make the picture full screen, click on the two arrows in the bottom right-hand corner.

The Duchess’ Handbook offers a glimpse into how those who were most familiar with the Drawing Room viewed and used this space. Among entertaining and formal use, the Drawing Room served one last unique purpose for the Duchess as after her death it was the setting for her formal visitation. On June 1, 1901, the Hastings and St. Leonards Observer reported the funeral of the “Last Duchess of Cleveland,” stating that her remains were “removed from the Octagon Drawing Room at Raby Castle to the Parish Church of Staindrop.”

Newspaper clipping about the Funeral of the late Duchess of Cleveland

Exploring the previous iterations of the room and comparing them to the Drawing Room’s current, now-restored, state reveals the layered and nuanced history of this space. Not only did those who designed and furnished the space play a role in shaping the Drawing Room’s history, but those who lived among it, or merely visited it, have also left an impact and impression on the space. As a room in a private residence often opened to the public, the Octagon Drawing Room remains a dynamic space even today.

Though open to the public, the Lord and Lady Barnard are committed to welcoming visitors as guests to Raby Castle. Their approach encourages visitors to feel as though you could pick up a cushion and park yourself on a couch with a good book and the light of the fireplace to keep you company. Naturally, the furniture is carefully maintained, but the ambiance is very inviting. Through parties and COVID-19, the castle nearly seems to have been untouched by the passage of time. This is glaringly obvious in the Octagon Drawing Room. In fact, it seemed out of date even for the duchess herself! But no one can deny, walking into that room is a breathtaking experience, with everything glittering in the light as the red and gold tones create a warm yet opulent vibe”.

If you’d like to find out more about our Octagon Drawing Room, read our previous blog to find out how our team cares for the ornate collections during the winter months when the Castle is closed to the public. Or delve into the history of our grand Entrance Hall.

The Castle will be closed at the end of October and will re-open in Spring 2021. Book your Castle, Park and Gardens tickets before the 31st October to see our Octagon Drawing Room in person.

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