Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle – Teesdale capital

Barnard Castle on the Durham side of the River Tees is the `capital’ of Teesdale and is one of the most attractive and most historic towns in the North. Known affectionately to locals as `Barney’, the town owes its origins to one Bernard Baliol who built a castle here in the twelfth century.

Barnard Castle
Ruins of Barnard Castle’s castle above the River Tees : Photo © David Simpson

Bernard’s family were of Norman origin and of high influence. His father Guy De Baliol was the Lord of Verney, Dampierre, Harcourt and Bailleul and Baron of Teesdale, Gainford, Stokesley and Bywell on the Tyne. Descendants of Bernard included Edward and John Baliol, kings of Scotland and John Baliol, founder of Balliol College, Oxford.

Today Bernard’s Castle is a ruin, but a very pretty ruin situated on a high bank overlooking the Tees. The castle has witnessed plenty of history and has been a home to many famous historic characters, including Richard III, Henry VII, Warwick the Kingmaker, and the Prince Bishops of Durham.

Horsemarket, Galgate, Bridgegate, Newgate and Thorngate are the main streets of Barney and are lined by beautiful stone built houses, which give Barnard Castle its typical `Dales town’ appearance. The term Gate was used by the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and later the Normans, but has nothing to do with a gateway. It is in fact an old word meaning road or street. The element `gate’ can be found in the street names of historic towns and cities throughout the North.

Barnard Castle Horse Market
The town of Barnard Castle: Horse Market: Photo © David Simpson

The Market Cross

Barnard Castle’s Market Place stands at the centre of the town and is dominated by an intriguing octagonal building called the `Market Cross’ which was built by a Barnard Castle resident called Thomas Breaks in 1747.

At various times in history this building has served the purpose of court, gaol, Town Hall and buttermarket. A weather vane sits on top of the building marked by two bullet holes reputedly made by a soldier and a gamekeeper in a competition of shooting abilities.

Barnard Castle Market Cross
Market Cross, Barnard Castle : Photo © David Simpson

At the northern end of the market place, a street called Galgate runs north-east following the ancient course of a Roman road that ran from Stainmore to join Dere Street near West Auckland. The name Galgate originates from post Roman times and is so called because it once led to the gallows where public hangings took place, (as at Gallowgate in Newcastle upon Tyne).

A magnificent museum

The market cross forms the centrepiece of a small roundabout at Barnard Castle from which a road called Newgate leads us into what is arguably Barnard Castle’s biggest attraction; the Bowes Museum.Visitors are surprised to find this huge and magnificent building, in such a small north country town. Built in the style of a French chateau, it has one of the most impressive collections of pictures, ceramics, textiles, tapestries, clocks and costumes in the north of England. Its exhibits include a famous life size, silver swan, which can delicately lift a fish from a salver to swallow it. The Bowes Museum developed from the collection of John Bowes, the illegitimate son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore. Along with his French actress wife Josephine, Bowes purchased most of the wonderful items displayed in the museum. Sadly both died before the completion of the building in 1892. See simplified Bowes family tree

The Bowes Museum
Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle Photo © David Simpson

Charles Dickens in Teesdale

Charles Dickens visited Barnard Castle in February 1832 and stayed at the Kings Head in the market place, of which he wrote. “There is good ale at the King’s Head. Say you know me and I am sure they will not charge you for it.” While in the town Dickens visited the shop of a clockmaker called Thomas Humphreys, where a particular time-piece caught his attention. Enquiring further he found that the clock had been made by the clockmaker’s son, William who unwittingly provided inspiration for the Dickens novelMaster Humphrey’s Clock..

Dickens was visiting Teesdale to undertake research for his novel Nicholas Nickleby and the material for this book was collected at the nearby village of Bowes. Dotheby’s Hall, the fictional school portrayed in the novel, was based on the Bowes Boys Academy and the building can still be seen in Bowes village today. A proprietor,of this school, William Shaw was the model for the characterWackford Squeers.. His grave can be seen in a local churchyard.

Thorngate, Barnard Castle
Thorngate, Barnard Castle : Photo © David Simpson

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