5 July 2002

KING OF THE CASTLE

Farmer Richard Howarth has

more than one royal anniversary

to celebrate this year as

Tom Montgomery reports

KING RICHARD III was born 550 years ago. This milestone marking the last of the Plantagenets is not one likely to be universally celebrated. But for farmer Dr Richard Howarth there is a personal interest. He owns the Kings castle, formerly one of the grandest in the north of England.

The crumbling pile of the 600-year-old Sheriff Hutton Castle, near York, was once part of his farmyard, where machinery was stored and cattle and sheep held court. It is a Grade II listed building, one of the few in private hands with a Royal pedigree. In the 15th and 16th centuries it was a northern residence for no less than eight different monarchs.

Recognising its importance, English Heritage has agreed a £450,000 grant for emergency repairs to its formidable 100-feet high north east tower which is in a dangerous state – 30t of stone recently came crashing down. The work should be completed next year.

&#42 Uphill struggle

As its owner, Dr Howarth will have to contribute £6000 towards the repairs. To fully secure the castles future will cost £1.3m. "Owners of ancient monuments often face an uphill struggle to maintain their buildings. We are constantly striving to help them find workable solutions," said EHs region director, David Fraser.

The castle has been in Dr Howarths family since 1940 when the farm was bought by his maternal grandfather, Wilfred Wagstaff. He grew up in its shadow, a boy who never needed to ask Santa Claus to bring him a fort for Christmas!

"To be honest, I never thought much about it. Naturally I used to play in the castle, you could have lots of fun and climb to some dizzy heights," he said.

Latterly he and his wife, Jenny, have been doing some renovation of their own, not to the structure but to the surrounds, including the double moat.

"The courtyard was once the farmyard and over the years the usual collection of ramshackle tin sheds had accumulated around and about. It looked very unsightly but people were not as conscious of these things in the past," said Dr Howarth. "We have actually done a tremendous amount getting rid of it all and putting in new fencing, styles and footpaths."

The castle has two chambers, which are still in good condition. There is a dungeon, where livestock shelter in harsh weather, and a hall above which the Howarths use for events. Last year 2000 people turned up for a Medieval Fair with jousting and jazz to mark the castles 600th anniversary.

&#42 Ancient well

An ancient well in a ravine, which probably supplied the castle, still has excellent water.

Sheriff Hutton Castle was built by the Neville family whose coats of arms can still be seen on the walls. Of the five kings and three queens who subsequently owned it, the most notable was Richard III, who made it the base of the Council in the North, a kind of parliament. The tomb and effigy of his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, are in the local church. Richard was portrayed as a hunchbacked villain by Shakespeare and the Tudors further blackened his name. But Dr Howarth agrees with modern historians who now regard him as an energetic and efficient king. But he did leave a mystery lingering over Sheriff Hutton Castle. Were the Princes in the Tower, his nephews, here and did he murder them? There is no clear proof and we shall probably never know.

The castle had an important role in the Wars of the Roses but by the mid-16th century its importance had declined and it started to deteriorate. Over the next hundred-or-so years most of the stone was plundered from it to build farms and cottages in the area, but not Castle Farm. It is made of brick! In 1919 it was sold for £100 and 20 years later passed into Dr Howarths family.

Richard III still fascinates today. He is the only Englishman to have four societies named after him and for their members Sheriff Hutton is a shrine. A few hundred people visit each year and Dr Howarth thinks there is scope for this to increase but he has no desire to turn it into a moneymaking venture.

He likes people to enjoy the history and heritage in its present peaceful setting and he has no wish to spoil it. "We are, however, hoping to have more events and open days," he said. "I am also interesting in learning more about the castle, the earliest drawing I have seen dates back to 1715. I am open to ideas on how it might be preserved for posterity."

His father, John, who died eleven years ago loved the castle and took great pleasure in sharing his knowledge of its history with many visitors from all over the world. He wrote a booklet about it, which Dr Howarth has updated.

Land from Castle Farm has been sold over the years and as Dr Howarth is now retired he rents out the remaining 70 acres. "Sadly, despite all its royal connections, we have never found anything valuable in or around the castle. No crowns under the bushes," he said. "We did discover a mediaeval key some years ago and we have a benign ghost, Nancy, probably a former lady-in-waiting. Several people have seen her including my father, who was a down-to-earth Yorkshire farmer."

pa

nephews, here and did he murder them? There is no clear proof and we shall probably never know.

The castle had an important role in the Wars of the Roses but by the mid-16th century its importance had declined and it started to deteriorate. Over the next hundred-or-so years most of the stone was plundered from it to build farms and cottages in the area, but not Castle Farm. It is made of brick! In 1919 it was sold for £100 and 20 years later passed into Dr Howarths family.

Richard III still fascinates today. He is the only Englishman to have four societies named after him and for their members Sheriff Hutton is a shrine. A few hundred people visit each year and Dr Howarth thinks there is scope for this to increase but he has no desire to turn it into a money-making venture.

He likes people to enjoy the history and heritage in its present peaceful setting and he has no wish to spoil it. "We are, however, hoping to have more events and open days," he said. "I am also interesting in learning more about the castle, the earliest drawing I have seen dates back to 1715. I am open to ideas on how it might be preserved for posterity."

His father, John, who died eleven years ago loved the castle and took great pleasure in sharing his knowledge of its history with many visitors from all over the world. He wrote a booklet about it, which Dr Howarth has updated.

Land from Castle Farm has been sold over the years and as Dr Howarth is now retired he rents out the remaining 70 acres. "Sadly, despite all its royal connections, we have never found anything valuable in or around the castle. No crowns under the bushes," he said. "We did discover a mediaeval key some years ago and we have a benign ghost, Nancy, probably a former lady-in-waiting. Several people have seen her including my father, who was a down-to-earth Yorkshire farmer."