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Described as the Gateway of the Dales, Skipton is an important regional centre as well as a popular tourist destination.

The name Skipton is comes from two Anglo Saxon words - ‘sceap’ (sheep) and ‘tun’ (town) and is recorded in the Doomesday Book as Scepeton. It has been the economic centre for the Craven and Southern Dales from this time.

Skipton Castle was built soon after William I’s ‘Harrying of the North’, a brutal campaign conducted in 1069/70 to suppress opposition to Norman rule in Northern England. This was originally built as wooden motte and bailey castle but was strengthened with a stone keep in C12th in response to Scottish raids. It had strong natural defences on the north and north-west where a steep natural scarp and rock-face descended to the Eller Beck.


The strategic location of the castle on the former Roman road linking Ribchester and York allowed the town to grow and flourish. King John granted a charter in 1204 allowing a weekly market trading in sheep and woollen goods.

During the English Civil War, a royalist garrison was situated at Skipton Castle under the command of Sir John Mallory. It was the last remaining royalist stronghold in Northern England until its honourable surrender in December 1645 after a three year siege.

In the eighteenth century, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal was built through the heart of the town. The canal carried stone, coal, wool, cotton, limestone, grain and other goods and the economy boomed. The canal is now popular with leisure boats and the towpath offers easy walking routes in and out of the town


Skipton is a popular commuter town for Leeds and Bradford and has a thriving shopping centre. A market is held four days a week on High Street, with the livestock Mart on the edge of the town.


Being the largest town on the edge of the Dales, markets itself as the Gateway to the Yorkshire Dales and tourism is a major source of its economy. The Skipton Building Society is the largest employer and the town is the base for several recruitment agencies, environmental and engineering consultancies and financial and legal services.

The town still keeps its essentially medieval layout dominated by the magnificent castle, parish church at the top of the town, along with the tall war memorial.


The very wide High Street is the main shopping street and still hosts a market four days a week. It is lined with large impressive stone buildings.



The Town Hall is at the top of High Street and now houses the Visitor Centre and the Craven Museum with a wide variety of exhibits especially relating to the different aspects of Dales life including lead mining.


Across the road is the equally impressive Free Library building dating from the early C20th. Outside is the statue of Sir Matthew Wilson who was a local magistrate and MP for the area.


Near it is the Black Horse pub dating from 1676. During the English Cilvil War, Skipton Castle was a Royalist stronghold. Local tradition records the pub serving poisoned ale to a troop of Cromwell’s soldiers.


Sheep Street runs parallel to High Street but is much narrower with many small specialist shops.


The Old Town Hall is here. This was originally a Medieval Moot hall which was rebuilt by Lady Anne Clifford in the C17th. The ground floor housed two lock up cells with the courtroom above, reached by the external staircase. Quarter sessions were held here until the mid C19th. It then housed the Skipton Mechanics Institute on the first floor with shops below.


Narrow alleyways lined with stone built terraced houses link Sheep Street with canal street.



Otley Street runs off High Street. On the corner is the impressive Craven Court Shopping Centre on the site of a C16th theatre.


Further down is the Old County Court which was built to replace the Old Town Hall in 1856. It was used until 2003 and still has the Royal Coat of Arms above the door.


Beyond, Otley Street is lined with solidly built terraced houses with small front gardens.


Skipton is compact and easily explored on foot. There is even an app with information about trails to explore the town.

Holy Trinity Church, Skipton

Holy Trinity Church stands at the top of High Street near the Castle.


The church was built around 1300 with money from the Canons of nearby Bolton Priory. The church was extended eastwards in the C15th, with a new chancel, and the change in the style of architecture is very apparent from the outside. The church was damaged during the Civil War and was restored by Lady Anne Clifford of Skipton Castle. She recovered the bells that had been stolen from the belfry, repaired the windows and restored the Clifford tombs in the chancel.

The Church tower was struck by lightning in 1853, which ran along the roof and damaged the chancel. A survey showed the chancel roof to be in a dangerous condition and also highlighted other defects in the fabric. The roof was repaired and several pillars in the nave were strengthened and underpinned. Gas lighting and heating was fitted in the church making the church warmer. Unfortunately it also caused an unbearable smell from the burial vaults under the floor. The stone slabs were taken up and a thick layer of concrete was laid over the floor to seal off the vaults before the stone slabs were replaced.

The south porch with its elaborate carving round the door was added in 1866.


An organ gallery was added off the north chancel when the galleries and box pews were removed in 1909. Panelling from these was used to line the lower parts of the walls of the side aisles.

In 1925, lightning struck again, causing a fire that destroyed the organ.

The inside of the church is equally as impressive as the outside with an arcade of octagonal pillars with pointed arches separating the nave and the side aisles. The wood roof is C16th although the stone corbels supporting the beams were added when the roof was repaired after the lightning strike in the C19th, when the ends of the beams were found to be rotten. The roof bosses in the chancel were repainted in the C20th.



The C13th stone font, with its Jacobean wood cover, is at the back of the church. The tower behind has been opened up to form a memorial area, with the Regimental Colours of the 6th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. The window commemorates the dead of the First World War and there is a memorial board to the dead of the Second World War.


On the north wall is what is thought might have been an anchorite’s cell, revealed during the 1909 alterations.


On the south wall by the shop is the remains of a wall painting, the only bit to survive in the church, which shows the hand of death.


The sedilia in the south aisle date from about 1300 and were moved here from the chancel. Above them is the Royal Coat of Arms of George III. On the wall near them is the old poor box.



The stained glass in the side aisles is C19th.



When Lady Anne restored the church in the C17th, she repaired many of the windows. She included small diamonds with her initials, A P for Anne, Countess of Pembroke. Four of these still survive in the church.


The beautiful carved rood screen dates from 1533. The carved figures along the top would have helped support the rood loft. This was removed in 1803 when the organ was placed above the rood screen.




Most of the choir stalls were removed in 1975, although a row, with their heavy carved arms has survived.


The reredos behind the altar was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1870. In the centre is Christ in Majesty, surrounded by the symbols of the four apostles. He is surrounded by statues of the Virgin Mary, St Peter, St Paul and Mary Magdalene. The outer statues are thought to be St Stephen and St James the Great. Above is the east window depicting the Crucifixion. The Virgin Mary and St John are at the feet of the crucified Christ, On either side are the four Apostles, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.



The chancel became the burial place of the Cliffords of Skipton Castle after the Dissolution of Bolton Priory, with their vault beneath the sanctuary. To the right is altar is the splendid memorial tomb of George, Third Earl of Cumberland, which was erected by his daughter Lady Anne Clifford. Round the sides are all the family coats of arms.



To the right is the Lady Chapel. The wooden reredos dates from 1940.


To the left of the altar is the dark marble tomb of Henry, First Earl of Cumberland. The smaller tomb in front of it belongs to Francis, Lord Clifford, the young brother of Lady Anne, who died aged five.



The north chancel aisle is a prayer corner.


On the north wall around the entrance to the sacristy is the Dole or Charity Board. Dating from 1847, this lists benefactors and originally formed the entrance to the clergy vestry under the tower.


Holy Trinity Church is open daily. The shop and cafe are open Wednesdays - Saturdays from 10-2 (or 3pm on Saturdays).


Skipton Castle

Skipton Castle is one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England, surviving virtually unaltered since its last modernisation more than 300 years ago.

A Castle was built around 1090 to suppress any further rebellion against Norman Rule after the brutal campaign referred to as the Harrying of the North.

Robert de Romille built a wooden motte and bailey castle here. However it did little to stop the frequent Scottish raids into Northern England and was replaced by a stone castle in the C13th which had six massive defensive towers around a central courtyard. It is a very compact design with interconnected rooms all accessible from the Conduit Court.


Being built on the bluff above the Eller Beck it had strong natural defences to the north and north-west. To the south it was defended by the massive Gatehouse.
A town soon grew up beneath the protection of the castle.

The Romille family line died out and in 1310, Edward II granted the Castle to Robert Clifford, who was appointed Lord Clifford of Skipton and Guardian of Craven. Robert Clifford ordered many improvements to the fortifications, but died in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 before they were completed. Skipton was raided by the Scots during The Great Raid of 1322, but the castle, withstood the attack.

A range of state apartments with a long gallery and octagonal tower, were built to the east of the medieval castle in 1536, marking the marriage of Henry Clifford to Eleanor Brandon, a niece of Henry VIII. In the 1680s this was adapted to provide more comfortable accommodation and the living quarters in the rest of the castle were left unoccupied.


During the English Civil War the castle was the last Royalist stronghold in the north of England to surrender in December 1645 after a three-year siege, To prevent its further use in battle, Cromwell ordered the castle to be slighted, leaving the walls and towers in ruins and lead removed from the roofs.

After the death of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland in 1605, Lady Anne Clifford had inherited the estate, along with other major castles in the area. She was responsible for the restoration of Skipton Castle after the Civil War, on the condition the castle's roof was no longer strong enough to bear cannon. The castle's walls on top are thinner than those at the bottom.

Lady Anne planted the yew tree in the central courtyard to mark the repair of the castle. The medieval castle remained the Clifford’s main seat until 1676, when Lady Anne died. In the 1680s, her son in law, Lord Thanet, converted the East Wing with the Long Gallery into comfortable accommodation and the living quarters in the rest of the castle were left unoccupied.

Skipton Castle is at the top of the town by the church. It is approached off the Bailey through the massive defensive GATEHOUSE. The coat of arms of Henry Lord Clifford with the date 1629 are displayed above the gateway. The Clifford motto "Desormais" is displayed on the top parapet. This is Norman French and translates as ‘Henceforth’.



The Ticket office is in the right hand Gatehouse tower. This contains a C17th-century shell grotto, one of only two remaining from this period. Made of ormer shells and coral, this was the work of Henry Clifford between 1626-9. These were very popular on the Continent at that time.


An outer curtain wall encloses the inner wards and subsidiary buildings, including the ruins of a C12th chapel.

Leaving the Gatehouse, the castle is straight ahead, with the Clifford flag flying above the watchtower.


Immediately to the left is the tea room and shop. Beyond is the ruined chapel and the stable block


Skipton Castle cont - Going round the Castle
The entry ticket includes a one way, self guided tour leaflet taking about an hour to complete. This begins on the first floor before going down to the Conduit Court and the service rooms on the ground floor.

skipton - first.jpg

Skipton - ground.jpg

The castle is reached up a short flight of stone stairs to a new entrance to the left of the Watchtower, added by Lady Anne Clifford.


To the left are the steps down to the DUNGEON which was created by Henry Clifford. It is a small space with no natural light or fresh air. Leg irons were used to restrain prisoners, although there are no records of torture or other ill treatment. Incarceration was unlikely to last longer than 13 weeks, as prisoners attended the quarterly court sessions in York.


A wooden staircase continues up to the KITCHENS on the first floor with their massive fireplaces. bread ovens and a serving hatch for the Banqueting Hall.


Off it is a GUARDEROBE (Privy)This has a shute next to it for kitchen waste to be poured down into the stream below.


Beyond is the BANQUETTING HALL. As well as being used to entertain guests, the household lived, ate and slept here. It is a large room with a fireplace set into the long wall.



It can be reached by an outside stair from the Conduit Court. The windows were enlarged in the late C15th.


Beyond and up a few steps is the WITHDRAWING ROOM or PARLOUR, the main living area for Lady Clifford and the family. It was a small intimate room with a small fireplace with Carronades on either side and views down onto the wooded valley of the Eller Beck.


A few steps lead round the corner into the LORD’S DAY ROOM which overlooks Conduit Court. A spiral staircase in the corner leads down into the courtyard. It was for the personal use of the Lord and lady and had a connection to the Long Gallery of the 1536 extension. This would originally have had a flat roof but was replaced by a splendid wood beam roof by Lady Anne Clifford.



Off it in one of the towers, is the MUNIMENT TOWER with very thick walls. As well as being used for defence, this was where records and other important documents were kept.


Next to the Lord’s Day Room is the LORD’S BEDCHAMBER which is a smaller version of the Day Room. The man servant would have slept in the small alcove by the fireplace.



Steps lead down into the WATCHTOWER. This has direct sight of the gatehouse and was the castle’s main lookout post. Windows also give views of Conduit Court.


Spiral stairs lead up to the top floor with access to the roof, or down to the ground floor and Conduit Court.

The ground floor of the watchtower has 13’ thick walls. The tall narrow arrow loops allowed archers to target any approaching enemies while being protected against enemy fire.


The ‘bench around the sides of the middle room indicate the level to which the tower was reduced by Cromwell’s men when the castle was slighted. Cromwell only allowed Lady Anne Clifford to restore the castle on the proviso the walls were thinner and therefore weaker and the roof would be unable to carry the weight of cannons. Defence was no longer as important so tall narrow arrow slits were replaced by larger windows allowing more light in.



Going round Skipton Castle cont...

As well as connections between the rooms around the castle, they can also be accessed from Conduit Court. The Coat of Arms above the doorway of the Watchtow is that of Margaret Bromflete, the wife of John, the 9th Lord of Skipton. They lived in the Castle at the time of the Wars of the Roses. His arms are above the entrance to the new kitchens.



The CONDUIT COURT is a large open courtyard in the centre of the castle with the 450 year old yew tree planted by Lady Anne Clifford. The lead down pipe heads bearing the initials, A P, for Anne Countess of Pembroke.


The name comes from the cistern beneath the courtyard which was the water supply for the castle. Pipes made from elmwood brought water from outside, but if the castle was besieged and the pipeline cut off, the inhabitants had to rely on rainwater collected from the roof.

To the left of the Watchtower is the Fighting Chamber and the original NORMAN DOORWAY into the castle. The end of the massive draw bar used to barricade the door can still be seen. Its other end is in the Fighting Chamber.



The FIGHTING CHAMBER is on the ground floor of the smaller tower between the Watchtower and Lady Clifford’s new entrance.


It would have formed the southern bastion of the Norman gateway. Arrow slits covered the approach to the castle as well as protecting the main entrance. They could also fire on any enemy who succeeded in gaining access to the courtyard.



An inner wall was added in Tudor times with a squint allowing allowing the defenders to shoot anyone gaining access to the chamber.


On the opposite side of the courtyard are the cellars and kitchens. The CELLARS were originally a single room. Large quantities of beer were needed by the Castle garrison and was brewed in the cellar, being cooled in the large lead tank before being stored in barrels on the wooden gantry.


Later when more wine was drunk, the cellar was subdivided to provide a smaller wine cellar.


A small doorway leads into the NEW KITCHEN.


These rooms were part of the alterations to the castle by Henry, 10th Lord Skipton in the early C16th, when they became reception rooms near the newly added Long Gallery. In the 1680s when the east wing became the main living quarters, and these rooms were adapted to become the new kitchens. The charcoal burning stove under the window probably came from the old kitchen


There is a second smaller one on a side wall.


The cast iron coal fired range dates from the 1840s and was placed in the earlier open fire place.


Next to the kitchen is the CURING ROOM where meat could be dried, smoked or salted for preservation. The sink and bread oven were later additions.



There has been a CHAPEL in the Castle grounds since the C12th, although the present building dates from the C14th. Dedicated to St John the Evangelist, it was used by the family, their retainers and the Castle garrison. The last two recorded uses of the chapel were the marriage of Elizabeth Clifford and Lord Dungarvan in 1635, and the baptising of her daughter Katherine in 1637.


The chapel was then used as a coach house, stable and cattle byre before being restored in the mid C20th.


The font had been left discarded in the Conduit Court and has been replaced in the back of the nave.


There was a small side ailse off the north wall with a squint giving a view of the chancel and altar.


Beyond the Chapel is a small walled grassed area with views across the town.

The Castle is open daily apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It is also completely dog friendly. It takes about an hour to go round the inside of the Castle (be warned, there are a lot of steps). Visitors are given self guided tour leaflet and there are information panels in each room. The guide book has a lot of pictures but little more in the way of information than what is on the panels.

Skipton Castle Woodlands

This is an area of natural woodland dominated by ash, which provided fuel, building materials and food for the castle. The Eller Beck provided fresh water and fish, later becoming a source of power for the local wool, corn and saw mills. It is now managed by the Woodland Trust.

The woods are a popular walk for both locals and visitors, well away from the bustle of the town.

The walk starts from Mill Bridge, dropping down to the footpath which runs along side of the old High Corn Mill. Dating from 1310, this is powered by water from the Ellerbeck and still has its waterwheel.


The footpath leads to a raised walkway with the canal on the right and Eller Beck on the left beneath Skipton Castle. This is one of the best views of the Castle.

Skipton woodlands.jpg

There is a footbridge over the Eller Beck and a few steps leads to the entrance to Skipton Castle Woodlands.

A good track leads along the side of the stream and past a small damed lake before climbing up at the end. There are herons and kingfishers. At dusk five different species of bat can be seen.

Either return the way you came or climb up out of the woodland for a longer trip back to Skipton.

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