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Yorkshire Pickering, North Yorkshire

I’ve always liked Pickering. It is a small busy market town on the A170 which is the main road linking Thirsk and Scarborough. It is still very much a local service centre. Even though there are Lidl and Co-op supermarkets on the edge of town, they have not taken trade away from the Market Place. This is lined with small independently owned shops shops and you are spoilt for choice with a butcher, bakers, deli, fishmonger, greengrocer, chemist, bookshop, hardware, outdoor ware, clothes shops, hairdressers. It has a weekly market on a Monday and a farmers market on the third Thursday of the month.




It is less touristy than nearby Helmsley with fewer tourist gift shops. It does have a range of cafes (I can recommend Russell’s Cafe and Traditional Bakers) and there are antique shops on Southgate on the A170.

Pickering Beck runs through the town with ducks.

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There is plenty to attract the tourists to Pickering. The North York Moors Railway starts from Pickering and runs to Grosmont with connections to Whitby. At 18 miles, this is one of the longest of the preserved standard gauge steam railways. It is a splendid run in beautifully preserved coaches and some interesting locos, including visiting steam locos. For Harry Potter fans, Goathland was Hogsmeade station. If your tastes run to Hearbeat, Goathland village was Aidensield.


The ruins of Pickering Castle (#2) to the north of the town, are worth visiting. It is one of the best examples of a motte a motte and bailey castle and still has a virtually intact curtain wall.


The Church of St Peter and St Paul (#3) stands at the top of Market Place and is a big church.

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Many people pass it by which is a shame as it has some of the best preserved wall paintings in the country and really really do give an impression of what a medieval church would have been like.

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Tucked away behind other buildings at the top of Castlegate near the castle is the Friends Meeting House. The only indication it is there is a small sign on the wooden gate, and visitors are welcome to visit.

The Quaker movement started in the mid to late C17th in the aftermath of the English Civil war, when many people were wanting to radically reshape religion. This was led by George Fox, who believed that everyone should have their own direct relationship with God and there was no need for churches or priests. Worship could take place anywhere. Early Quakers met outdoors for worship or in local public buildings. As the movement grew in size, they began to build their own small meeting houses.


Pickering Friends Meeting House was built in 1793 and is typical of the early meeting houses, with a main room used for worship, and a smaller room for women’s business meetings. The larger room with its raised stage is used by community groups. The smaller room is now used for worship and is simply furnished with a circle of chairs around a small table. There is no priest or altar, and everyone is equal, only speaking when to feel moved to. Windows are high and there are few things to distract the worship.


The Meeting House is surrounded by attractive gardens with a turf cut maze. The grounds are open until dusk and visitors are welcome to sit on the seats and enjoy the peace, only disturbed by the occasional whistle from the steam railway below.


For those interested in Social History, there is Beck Isle Museum, housed in a lovely old Regency stone building, which was the home of a number of doctors over the years.

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The museum has over 50 thousands objects depicting Pickering’s social, agricultural, and industrial industry. There are 27 themed rooms including the Victorian pub, chemist’s shop, gent’s tailors, hardware store, Victorian parlour… There are photographs taken from 1900-56 and outside is a collection of farm implements and a black smith’s shop.

The Kirk Theatre on Hungate is home of the Pickering Musical Society and hosts a varied programme of theatre, music and arts throughout the year.

There is some parking along Market Place but this is always busy. There is a short term Park and Display car park by the Co-op and long term car parks signed round the edge of town.
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1000+ Posts
Pickering Castle

Standing on high ground above the marsh valley bottom, Pickering was an important pre-conquest settlement controlling the main north south route from Whitby to Malton and the east west route between Scarborough and Northallerton. A motte and bailey castle was constructed here by William I as part of his attempt to subdue the rebellious North. It would have had commanding views across the area.



A stone wall replacing a wooden palisade was built at the end of the C12th by Henry II. This enclosed the inner ward which was entered through the Coleman Tower. William’s wooden castle was replaced by a stone shell keep by Henry III at the start of the C13th after increasing trouble with rebellious nobles in the north of England. The outer curtain wall with three towers enclosing the outer ward was added at the start of the C14th by Edward II.

The castle never had any major military significance and mainly served as a hunting lodge by the Kings of England, hunting the deer and wild boar found in the adjacent Royal Hunting Forests. By the mid C16th, it was no longer used and played no role in the English Civil War. It was gradually plundered for building stone, becoming an abandoned ruin. The chapel used as a legal court long after the castle was abandoned, is the only structure still in good repair.

Pickering Castle is one of the best examples of a motte and bailey castle topped by a shell keep and surrounded by a curtain wall enclosing outer and inner wards.

The curtain wall still stands to nearly its original height and is protected by a dry ditch. Walking round the outside of the castle, the latrine chutes and holes used for scaffolding erected during building, can still be seen.




Visitors still enter through the gatehouse into the Outer Ward. This would have had drawbridge, portcullis and sturdy double doors. Nothing is left of the stables which would have been built along the inside of the wall.


The large square Mill Tower stands at the south western corner of the outer ward. This may have taken its name from a horse mill in the corner of the outer ward or from a water mill on Pickering Beck below the castle. At the beginning of the C17th this was used as a prison tower with the gaoler living on the first floor.


The northern most of the three curtain wall towers is the Rosamund Tower on the north east wall where the inner and outer wards join. This had a small postern gate leading into the dry ditch.


The inner ward and its wall are protected by another dry ditch.


The Coleman tower protected the entrance to the inner ward with its motte. It which was defended by a drawbridge and portcullis.


The ground floor of the Coleman Tower was probably used used as a prison for offenders against the forest laws as well as petty criminals and robbers. The upper floors would have housed the soldiers.

The grassy motte is surrounded by another dry ditch and the well is here. During Edward II’s reign a new cord was bought for the well measuring 20 ells, the equivalent of 75’.



Stone steps lead up to the shell keep on top of the motte. This was known as the King’s Tower in the C14th and would have provided secure lodgings for the King. The foundations of some of the buildings can still be see in the grass. By Tudor times it was in ruins and no longer used. It has good views down onto the rest of the castle.


The inner ward contained the domestic buildings with kitchens, food stores and brewhouse. only foundations are left, although the base of the circular ovens of the brew and bake house is still clearly visible.



The chapel is the only part of the castle to survive with its roof and dates from the C13th. By the C17th it was being used as a court house.


Next to it are the foundations of the New Hall, or King’s Hall. This was built in the early C14th to replace an earlier old hall on the other side of the chapel. This was also used as a courthouse until the mid C17th when it was considered unsafe.

Only foundations remain of the Constable’s Lodgings near the Rosamund Tower. The constable was the military commander of the garrison and responsible for guarding the castle for the King at all times. This was an important role and these buildings added sometime in the late C13th or C14th would have housed the Constable and his family.


The Castle is in the care of English Heritage.
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1000+ Posts
The Church of St Perter and St Paul

This is a big church at the top of Market Place. Set in a churchyard and surrounded by tall yew trees, it is difficult to photograph. The present building dates from 1150. The tower collapsed in 1200 and had to be rebuilt. In the C15th, a clerestory was added to the nave and the wall paintings repainted. Two chantry chapels were added. The church underwent a major restoration in the late C19th.


There is a large square tower with carved parapet and tall stone tower. The long clerestory nave has battlements with side aisles, transepts chancel with south chapel and a large south porch with a 1817 sundial.

The north arcade is pure Norman with round pillars with carved capitals and arches. The transept and chancel arches are later and pointed. There is some rather nice carving round the base of the arches in the north transept.



What really makes this church special are the Medieval wall paintings (#4) in the nave. There is a danger that the rest of the chuch may pale into insignificance after them.

At the back is a Saxon tub font.



Pews are C19th and the carved C18th round pulpit is described as a Hepplewhite style.

By the chancel arch is the Bruce effigy dating from 1340-50 of a knight in full armour with sword and shield. His feet are crossed and his head is supported by angels.


The chancel screen and the linen fold panelling and reredos in the sanctuary date from the 1920s. The screen has very delicate tracery at the top supported by floor pillars. On the top is a crucifix. On the north wall is the King Memorial tablet with the British and American flags. Nicholas and Robert surveyed the City of Washington DC.



On the south wall is a rather nice three seater sedilia set beneath ogee arches with carved heads.


The north chantry chapel now houses the organ. The south chapel as built in 1407 for the tomb of Sir David and Dame Margery Roucliffe. He has his feet on a lion, hers are on a dog. Winged beasts support the pillows.


This originally had a priest’s room above which later became a school. This is now the Lady Chapel with a painting of the Annunciation on the reredos. Tucked away in the corner is the old poor box.

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1000+ Posts
The Church of St Perter and St Paul - the wall paintings

In the Middle Ages, the inside of churches were covered with wall paintings. During the Reformation these were whitewashed and forgotten. It wasn’t until Victorian restorations of churches they were rediscovered. In many churches paintings were destroyed when the restorers stripped off all the plaster down to the bare walls. In other churches, tantalising glimpses of paintings can be seen. The Church of St Peter and St Paul is unusual that all of the paintings on the north and south walls have been preserved. Pevsner describes Pickering as “one of the most complete series of wall paintings...... and they give one a vivid idea of what ecclesiastical interiors were really like"

The wall paintings are truly are amazing. When they were discovered during the 1852 restorations, the Rector took exception to them "as a work of art (they are) fairly ridiculous, would excite feelings of curiosity. And distract the congregation" They were promptly recovered with a thick yellow wash. They were only uncovered again in the 1870s when work began on rebuilding the transepts. They were extensively and sensitively restored. It is best to visit of a dull day as on a sunny day with light streaming in through the clerestory windows they can be difficult to see.



The first painting is St George on horseback killing the dragon. Next to him is St Christopher carrying the Christ Child across a river with serpents round his feet.




This is followed by a scene showing the Beheading of John the Baptist with a kneeling and now headless John with his head on a plate being presented to Salome by Herod. Above is a scene of the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin with Mary being crowned in Heaven by God the Father.



Next to it is a scene showing the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket by four knights wearing C15th armour. Below this is the martyrdom of St Edmund when he is shot with arrows.




There is a comic strip presentation of the life of St Catherine of Alexandria. At the top is the pagan idol-worship which Catherine protested about. Catherine was condemned to prison. In the next tier, Catherine, has been released from prison and is debating with the philosophers sent by the Emperor. She converts them to Christianity and they are condemned and burnt. Catherine is sent back to prison before being scourged. In the final scene, Catherine is flanked by the four wheels used to torture her, but they break and kill several soldiers. At the bottom, Catherine kneels while an angel blesses her as the executioner raises his sword.



Next is a long narrow painting showing the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy including visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, burying the dead.


This is followed by scenes of the Passion and Crucifixion.


Below is a splendid representation of the Jaws of Hell with sinners being pushed into the mouth of a red monster.



The final image is of the Resurrection of Christ.


The colours are now faded but the paintings are still full of life. The camera revealed much more detail than we could see with the naked eye.
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