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Knaresborough History

The History below is that I have researched on the internet and in libraries and hopefully correct, however, history sometimes differs in the views of different historians. Should you find any errors, anything I might have missed or indeed anything  I can include or research please email

Knaresborough History

The castle was first built by a Norman baron in c. 1100 on a cliff above the River Nidd. There is documentary evidence dating from 1130 referring to works carried out at the castle by Henry, In the 1170s Hugh de Moreville and his followers took refuge there after assassinating Thomas Becket.

In 1205 King John took control of Knaresborough Castle. He regarded Knaresborough as an important northern fortress and spent £1,290 on improvements to the castle. The castle was later rebuilt at a cost of £2,174 between 1307 and 1312 by Edward I and later completed by Edward II, including the great keep.[4] Edward II gifted the castle to Piers Gaveston, and stayed there himself when the unpopular nobleman was besieged nearby at Scarborough Castle.

Philippa of Hainault took possession of the castle in 1331, at which point it became a royal residence.[5] The queen often spent summers there with her family. Her son, John of Gaunt acquired the castle in 1372, adding it to the vast holdings of the Duchy of Lancaster. Katherine Swynford, Gaunt’s third wife, obtained the castle upon his death. The castle was taken by Parliamentarian troops in 1644 during the Civil War, and largely destroyed in 1648 not as the result of warfare, but because of an order from Parliament to dismantle all Royalist castles. Indeed, many town centre buildings are built of ‘castle stone’.

Knaresborough has been around since the first century AD. Knaresborough Castle dates back as far as 1100 AD, in the midst of Norman rule. It was around this time that the town began to grow, with a thriving market that attracted shoppers and traders from far and wide. The town is packed full of history, from the 12th century hermit’s cave to the 19th century buildings by the riverside, once used in the local textiles trade. In fact, Knaresborough is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Cenheard’s fortress. Knaresborough Castle is Norman around 1100, the town began to grow and provide a market and attract traders to service the castle. The Castle at Knaresborough is a Norman ruin and was an important Royalist stronghold during the Civil War, In 1644 it was destroyed by parliamentary forces. Nowadays the ruin, including the 700-year old King’s Tower is open to the public to explore its dungeons and find the history of the castle through tours In the grounds, you can also see the Courtroom museum, and the Tudor court and learn about the crime and punishment.

Knaresborough Castle Ravens – Why do we have ravens at Knaresborough Castle?

It will be 20 years since Ravenelf and the late HM Raven Gabriel first came to the castle for the 2000 celebrations, originally just for the year, But the 2 Ravens were so well received that Prince Charles gave us his permission to stay on at the Castle as long as the Borough Council agreed. It took 10 long years to be accepted. The Ravens have admirers all over the world the little African crow sizes raven was even featured on the national news worldwide when her clip went viral because she talks with a Yorkshire accent. People come from all over the country to see them. Raven Izabella has her own Facebook page due to her antics and popularity.

Not many people realise that Knaresborough Castle is actually a royal castle,    King John to King Edward’s the 2nd and 3rd have stayed here, to this very day the castle still belongs to the English monarchy as part of the Duchy of Lancaster. This confuses a lot of our visitors. Why is a Lancastrian castle in Yorkshire? It has nothing to do with counties. The Duchy of Lancaster refers to the House of Lancaster, to the Tudor dynasty.

In 1999, I acquired a raven who was named after the main character in a children’s book I had written, at the time I knew the then raven master Mr Cope at the Tower of London.  He was very helpful.  I love history, and Knaresborough has so much, but many local children are not interested, I wanted to change all that, so made my story revolve around several historical places in Knaresborough, the castle, The house in the Rock, The chapel of the Lady of the Crag, and of cause Saint Roberts Cave where my story starts. My idea was to go into local schools to encourage children to read this story, then learn the true history of the various places. I also wanted to take Ravenelf with me but was unable to get the necessary public liability insurance.

He suggested I approach the Duchy of Lancaster, and the local borough council to see if I could take Ravenelf into the castle grounds because then I could use the insurance that Birds of Prey displays use , only my cover would be for a raven. Not only did I get the relevant insurance, but I got permission from both the Duchy and the council.

Then the following year again with advice from Ravenmaster Cope, I put forward the idea of being a Northern version of the Tower of London to celebrate the millennium, as the castle was part of the crown estate. This was well received and not only that, but we got a royal raven chick from the Tower of London. So was born Knaresborough castle ravens. We were only going to be at the castle for a year, but the ravens went down so well we have been there for 15 years, we had a collection of 13 ravens but sadly that now stands at seven ravens.



She was the first raven we got, as mentioned above she is named after the central character in my children’s book. ‘The magical World of Ravenelf’ which is available to buy from Amazon.Ravenelf is now 16, she hatched on the 29th of March 1999, bred by a well-respected bird breeder in Cumbria. Sadly, Peter has since died from cancer, but over the years he has bred some fantastic ravens. Ravenelf is now semi-retired, due to having had two broken legs, one the result of a dog attack, the other from Our male raven who we hoped she would pair up with. It was strange, I was in the house when something told me to go out and check the aviary when I got there I saw Ravenelf on the perch and knew straight away, that her leg was broken, it was repaired successfully by zoo vet Johanna Storm. The only ill effect has been that Ravenelf developed what is known as bumble foot, an infection in her foot, that was treated, but once a bird has had this condition, it can be reoccurring, which is the case with Ravenelf, so now it is a chronic condition treated with of all things cream used for piles. Apparently, the steroids in the cream reduce the swelling. Like two of our other ravens Ravenelf uses human speech.


This is our royal raven when Gabriel came from the Tower of London, we believed she was a male raven, that we could pair up with Ravenelf. But when a DNA test was done, it came back female. Which at first I refused to accept, so another test was sent off to a different lab, but it came back with the same result. But as Gabriel can be used for both sexes we left her name as it was. She was hatched on the 10th of April 2000 and came to Knaresborough castle aged just three weeks old. She spent the early part of the summer sitting under a tree in a basket until she feathered out enough to perch on the curtain wall with Ravenelf. In all her 15years I have never heard Gabriel sing, ( ravens are the world’s largest songbird ) neither has she ever said anything, even though Ravenelf speaks to her on numerous occasions every day. She does, however, do a wonderful owl impression her hooting is second to none, we get a wild tawny owl in the garden, so she mimics him.


What can I say about Izzie, she is the raven world’s answer to a hyperactive child? Before Izabella came Gabriel and Ravenelf were allowed to sit on the curtain wall without their Jessies on. They did not pose a problem to our many visitors But all that changed when we got a certain izabella, due to her continued disruptive behaviour by this particular young lady, the ravens now have to be fastened when on public display. So what did she do? Well, it all started off lighthearted, Izzie decided she wanted to greet people in her own special way, by flying on to people’s shoulder and saying “hello” to them. But after a while, she stopped doing this and instead would launch herself at any visitor who stopped to look at her. Not only that but she became quite mischievous, she would fly off with people’s belongings, or take golf balls from the pitch and putt, leaving many children crying because she had taken their ball, she would fly down to the river drop them in the water, then fly back around for another one. I felt like a ball boy at Wimbledon because I had to have a pocket full of golf balls to replace the ones Izzie flew off with. She liked a spot of gardening, much to the chagrin of Nigel the head gardener, who was dismayed that she wanted to pull up the plants when he had just planted them. So we gave her the nickname Alan Tichmarsh. She had to other nicknames, one was Francis Drake not because she liked boats, but because she wanted to play bowls, and I spent most of my time shooing her off the bowling green so people could play uninterrupted, although one chap was happy to let her play because  he said she might  help him win.    Her most recent nickname is David Bailey, because she has taken up photography. One Saturday I was busy chatting to a local resident when Izzie decided to get up to mischief, she spotted a potential victim and like a spider drawing a fly into its web, Izzie did likewise with this poor unsuspecting visitor.


She went to a litter bin, pulled out an empty plastic bottle took it to her favourite spot on the bowling green, once there she lay down with the bottle in her foot, she then started to caw, this lady was sat on a seat overlooking the bowling green eating her fish and chips, she saw Izzie was in some distress or so she thought, so rushing to her aid she left her lunch and camera on the seat while she went to Izzie, who moments later dropped the bottle, flew on to the seat and made off, not with the fish and chips,  as you would expect, but with the camera, she then flew onto the museum roof, by this time I was aware of what was going on and rushed across to the lady. Apologising for the naughty raven. It was some twenty minutes before Izzie let go off the camera and it slid down the roof into our waiting hands. She had only taken a photograph, hence the nickname.     Izzie has quite a reputation in Knaresborough as being the only bird in the locality to get an ASBO. It is a shame that she started to fly at people because she had many visitors in stitches with her playfulness, she would walk along the wall of the bowling green with a stone in her foot dragging it as if to say her Jessies were her ball and chain. She would fly down to the river near the Marigold cafe and terrorise the ducks. Pinch sandwiches and jelly when people dared to picnic opposite her perch, she is eight now and shows no sign that she might grow out of it. Like Ravenelf, Izzize uses human speech and would fly around the castle grounds asking people below ‘what was the matter.’  Alas like Ravenelf she is now using Anglo Saxon in her speech which is not appropriate with so many young children around.


The strange looking bird that is black and white, is not a magpie, or a magpie crow cross she is in fact an African pied or white chested raven. She gets her name not from Lord of the Rings, but from the necromancer in Ivanhoe. Because these ravens only grow to crow size they are commonly known in Africa as Pied crows. They are found from Sub Sahara down to the Cape of Good Hope, and also on the island of Madagascar.

Their diet is similar to their cousins, but they will also eat insects, small reptiles.

We bred Mourdour ourselves securing her parents Daya and Desta from what was then North Cornwall Aviaries’ hatched on the 6th June 2008, so she is now 7. Sadly, her parents died after another pied raven Ramases escaped his aviary and caught a disease from some wild birds. He came back by himself; he must have known he was dying and wanted the safety and security of his own aviary.



These beautiful birds came from our friend in America Brian Blazer, who is an animal and bird educationalist, as well as a bird breeder in Alabama. We were the very first people to import this species of raven into the uk. Like Mourdours parents, they too suffered the terrible illness that Rameses died of. Johnna had never seen the disease before, so it was trial and error trying different medicines but alas, by the time you know a bird is sick, it is usually too late. After a valiant effort by the avian vets, nothing could be done, and the birds died. Out of seven ravens affected by the illness, only one survived, that was Vivian.


She came as a young chick from Tropical Wings animal park in Chelmsford after their ravens bred and they needed to dispose of their surplus stock. Vivian is the same age as Mourdour. After we moved Mortimer we decided to try Vivian in with Mongo, and what a good move that was, they paired up immediately and this year not only built a nest picture of which you can see elsewhere on this website, but they produced fertile eggs, which sadly did not reach maturity Mongo took three eggs from the nest and destroyed them. So, we took the next two and put them in the incubator, but one was infertile and the other chick died in the shell. But it means the illness that killed six of our ravens, has not left Vivian infertile and we have high hopes for next spring we will keep one chick to be hand reared the rest will be sold to help finance other raven species that we would like to add to the collection. This year we just missed out on a white neck raven from a conservation centre in Italy. We have permission to import two Australian ravens, but have found no one yet who can supply us with them. They are classed as vermin there like our crows here, so no one specializes in them as export birds.


These two ravens came from a lovely family in Northampton, they had to get rid of their ravens because a neighbour had got some new cats that plagued the ravens and upset them a lot. They were very sad to see the ravens go but felt it was for the best because the older raven was starting to get very stressed and like some parrots, he started to pull out his own feathers. The two ravens had grown up together like Ravenelf and Gabriel, so they did not really want to part with the birds to different owners. They had a choice between us and a gentleman in London.  WE were lucky enough to be chosen.

They are called Mongo our male raven is 12 years old. What a fine raven he is, so big and beautiful, Mortimer is 9 years old But she is very nervous and not trusting.  Both these ravens are parent reared birds, so they are not displayed at the castle, they came to us for sanctuary.  last year we were concerned about Mongo bullying Mortimer, so we moved her to her own aviary and she seems

.The present parish church, St John’s, was established around this time. The earliest identified Lord of Knaresborough is around 1115 when Serlo de Burgh held the Honour of Knaresborough from the King.
A series of interesting characters began their stories in Knaresborough, and there are still traces of them now. Blind Jack still resides on a bench in the Market Square, a man who lost his vision but managed to become a pioneer road builder in the 1900s. The town’s public art trail also shows Guy Fawkes and King John, among others. Hugh de Morville was granted the Honour of Knaresborough in 1158. He was constable of Knaresborough and leader of the group of four knights who murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. The four knights fled to Knaresborough and hid at the castle. Hugh de Morville forfeited the lands in 1173, not for his implication in the murder of Thomas Becket, but for “complicity in the rebellion of Henry the Young King, according to the Early Yorkshire Charters.

The Honour of Knaresborough then passed to the Stuteville family. When the Stuteville line was broken with the death of Robert the 4th (son of Robert 3rd) in 1205, King John effectively took the Honour of Knaresborough for himself. The first Maundy Money was distributed in Knaresborough by King John on 15 April 1210. Knaresborough Forest, which extended far to the south of the town, is reputed to have been one of King John’s favourite hunting grounds.

Although a market was first mentioned in 1206, the town was not granted a Royal Charter to hold a market until 1310, by Edward II. A market is still held every Wednesday in the market square. In Edward II’s reign, the castle was occupied by rebels and the curtain walls were breached by a siege engine. Later, Scots invaders burned much of the town and the parish church. In 1328, as part of the marriage settlement, Queen Philippa was granted “the Castle, Town, Forest and Honour of Knaresborough” by Edward III and the parish church was restored. After her death in 1369, the Honour was granted by Edward to their younger son, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and since then the castle has belonged to the Duchy of Lancaster. After the accession of Henry IV, the castle lost much of its importance in national affairs but remained a key site

The railway age began in Knaresborough in 1848 with the opening of a railway station on Hay Park Lane; this was replaced with the current one three years later in 1851. The town had a railway line to Boroughbridge until it closed to passengers in 1950; it was dismantled in 1964.

Another landmark is the statue of John Metcalf, otherwise known as Blind Jack Born in 1717 and blind from the age of six he was responsible for building some of the North’s first turnpike roads, he became a pioneer in road-building, despite his severe disability. During his interesting life, he was also an accomplished violinist and tour guide.

Old Mother Shipton’s Cave is one of the biggest draws of Knaresborough to visitors. In fact, the cave and petrifying well is known as England’s oldest tourist attraction, as it has been open to intrigued tourists, including Henry VIII, since the 17th century. Ripley Castle and Deer Park are just a short distance away, providing yet more for visitors to do in this charming old place. Boat hire is available too, you can meander at your leisure on the River Nidd, looking at the historic architecture of the town and the impressive viaduct.


Knaresborough Today:

The remains of the castle are open to the public and there is a charge for entry to the interior remains. The grounds are used as a public leisure space, with a bowling green and putting green open during summer. It is also used as a performing space, with bands playing most afternoons through the summer. It plays host to frequent events, such as the annual FEVA (Festival of Visual Arts and Entertainment). The property is owned by the monarch as part of the Duchy of Lancaster holdings but is administered by Harrogate Borough Council.

The castle, now much ruined, comprised two walled baileys set one behind the other, with the outer bailey on the town side and the inner bailey on the cliffside. The enclosure wall was punctuated by solid towers along its length, and a pair, visible today, formed the main gate. At the junction between the inner and outer baileys, on the north side of the castle stood a tall five-sided keep, the eastern parts of which have been pulled down. The keep had a vaulted basement, at least three upper stories, and served as a residence for the lord of the castle throughout the castle’s history. The castle baileys contained residential buildings, and some foundations have survived. In 1789, historian Ely Hargrove wrote that the castle contained “only three rooms on a floor, and measures, in front, only fifty-four feet.

The upper storey of the Courthouse features a museum that includes furniture from the original Tudor Court, as well as exhibits about the castle and the town. Some of the surviving areas of the castle keep wall also bear impact scars left by bullets fired during the Civil War siege.

The town has a large supermarket Lidl, which is located on the site of a former Co-Op store in Chain Lane, as well as smaller supermarkets in the town centre. The St. James retail park on the outskirts of the town, off Wetherby Road, has several retail chain units. The town has 15 public houses, a wine bar, two working men’s clubs and several restaurants. There are a number of national retailers with branches in the town centre, mostly around the High Street, Market Place and Castle Courtyard which is a shopping arcade in the former town hall. The town also has a small public swimming pool.

Knaresborough is mostly a commuter town however it serves as a local centre for the surrounding rural villages. The town has a small tourism industry and service sector. There is a small industrial estate on Manse Lane in the East of the town. Knaresborough has its own local weekly newspaper; the Knaresborough Post.

Knaresborough has five primary schools and one secondary school; King James’ School. There is a further education college in nearby Harrogate. The town has a two-storey library on the Market Place.

The town has two Church of England churches, one Roman Catholic and one Methodist. It also has one United Reformed and one Mormon.

Knaresborough Town F.C. is based at Manse Lane; they play in the Northern Counties Eastern League Division 1. Youth football is catered for by Knaresborough Celtic with junior teams from Under 6s to Under 17s. Scotton Scorchers offer youth football for boys from the under 6s to under 12s and girls to under 17’s. Knaresborough Town is also developing youth football. Knaresborough Rugby Club play in the Yorkshire Leagues. The club was formed in 1982 and play at their Hay-a-park ground which opened in 2014. Unusually for a Yorkshire town, there is no rugby league club, the closest being in Wetherby.

The town has two cricket clubs. Knaresborough Forest Cricket Club were in Nidderdale League Division, 3 winners, in 2005, afterwards promoted from Division 2 as runners-up in the following season. Knaresborough Cricket Club has a ground on Aspin Lane, where adult teams play in the Airedale & Wharfedale Senior Cricket League and junior teams play in the Nidderdale Junior Cricket League.

Each June, there is a famous bed race at Knaresborough – in which 90 teams of six runners and one passenger race to complete a 2 1/2 mile course around the town. It has been held since 1966 when the newly formed Knaresborough Round table wanted a new fundraiser for the community. The event has since become a highly anticipated and popular event around the county. The course starts at Knaresborough castle, where the teams are judged for the best bed design. Early afternoon they parade through the town centre in fancy dress. The decorations are then removed ready for the race itself, this includes a short swim across The River Nidd.  The event generates an estimated £100,000 for charity.

On 6 July 2014, Stage 2 of the 2014 Tour de France from York to Sheffield, passed through the town.

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