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Skipton , Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°57′50″N, 2°0′54″W)
SD 991 520
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
  • Rita Wood
17 September 2009

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Feature Sets

Skipton is at an important meeting of roads: W to Clitheroe, NW to Appleby, E to Ilkley and Leeds; SE to Bradford. The town is surrounded by fells, but with an open passage of lowland along Airedale. The name means ‘sheep town’; Sheep Street is a branch of High Street, and both seem made for markets.

The original plan of the Norman castle is not known. Two early round towers on the W side flank the round-headed entrance to the Conduit Court, the heart of the castle with its celebrated yew tree. There are some plain slit windows in these towers, and chambers within them. Much enlargement took place in the 14thc, and rebuilding in the 17thc, as well as at other periods. However, the site, overlooking the precipice along the Eller Beck on the N side and the planned town of Skipton to the S, is no doubt basically ‘Norman’. The parish church, with no remains of our period, is at the top of High Street and immediately west of the outer gateway to the castle.

There is a plan of the present castle in Gee (1968, 28). A plan of the whole church and castle area is in the proceedings of the YAS Excursion in 1899. An 18thc plan is reproduced in Leach and Pevsner (2007, 705).

No Romanesque sculpture.


Bolton-in-Craven was a large lordship in the district of Craven and included Skipton; it was held by the sons of Aelfgar before the Conquest (VCH II, 150). After the Conquest, Bolton, Harewood, and Skipton-in-Craven with an extensive territory in Wharfedale and Airedale, the manor of Wath-upon-Dearne and adjacent manors were given to William Meschin, who selected Skipton as the caput of his fee (VCH II, 185). In Skipton were 4 carucates belonging to Bolton-in-Craven (VCH II, 306). The first structure is said to have been built by Robert de Romille (Gee 1968, 27). William Meschin (or, William de Meschines) married Cecilia the daughter of Robert de Romille (variously spelled).

The church was first given to the priory of Huntingdon in 1120, but then retracted and made part of the foundation gift to Embsay Priory, along with the chapel of Carleton and the vill of Embsay, as recorded by Whitaker in his History of Craven (Wiseman 1948).


Exterior Features



Eric Gee compares the site and shape of the castle to Richmond: ‘a walled enclosure of much the same shape with the long side to the river.’

The towers flanking the doorway contain what the publicity calls ‘Norman fighting chambers’, one in either tower and nearer the exterior. But so much has been changed, updated and restored over the centuries. Morris says the doorway, and perhaps other stonework, is of the first period. The portcullis slots are largely modern.

Some writers say the castle at this period was wooden, but would it have had a stone gatehouse only? Perhaps: at York, some gates are said to contain 12thc stonework, perhaps comparable to this at Skipton, but the city walls were not stone for another century or more.

Leach and Pevsner (2007, 705) date the earliest surviving work, the inner gatehouse, to William de Fors I, count of Aumale, after 1190.


E. A. Gee, 'Skipton Castle', Programme of the Summer Meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute, Leeds, 1968, 27-29.

P. Leach and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Yorkshire West Riding: Leeds, Bradford and the North, New Haven and London, 2009, 701-8.

J. E. Morris, The West Riding of Yorkshire, 2nd ed., London, 1919.

Victoria County History of Yorkshire, vol. II, reprinted 1974.

T. D. Whitaker, The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven, 1805; 2nd edn. 1812; 3rd edn. Leeds, 1878.

J. Wiseman, A short history and guide to Skipton parish church and castle, Skipton, 1948 (reprint).

'Excursion to Skipton and Bolton Priory 1899', Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Proceedings, Wakefield, 1899.