Bishop Middleham

One of the best things about this task I’ve set myself of posting a photo a day is coming across the unexpected. Something completely out of the blue. It may be a terrific sunset like last week, or a new vista or a close encounter with a bird or mammal, or the evidence of a piece of history I knew nothing about.

I had to take the van to the supplier at Ferryhill, Co. Durham, for the day which meant four or five hours to kill in the Land of the Prince Bishops. I hatched a rough plan to walk the 7 km or so to Hardwick Hall, a bit of lunch there and then back by a different route. Browsing the map my eyes settled on the name Middleham Castle in a Gothic font. That looks interesting. And so it was.

Set on a limestone bluff overlooking the low lying deer park and fish ponds Middleham Castle was more of a fortified manor house than a castle although earthworks and a tantalising glimpse of the foundations are all that’s left now. Between the 12th and 14th centuries it was one of the residences of a succession of the Bishops of Durham. The first bishop known to have lived here was Bishop Hugh le Puiset otherwise known as ‘Pudsey’. By 1349 the castle and estate was still owned by the Bishop but leased to a number of notable families including the Eures of Witton Castle. The site is unassuming. Access is through a muddy farmyard. No tourist carpark exists, there is just an information board, yet the place gives you a real feel for its history. Inquisitive sheep and the drone of the nearby A1M are the only disturbance.

Close by to the north is the village of Bishop Middleham which prosperity has fluctuated over the centuries. When the castle was occupied the village comprised just over 30 households. Middleham itself is Anglo Saxon for the middle village. The Bishop element only began to be used in the 16th century. By the 19th century a colliery, quarries and a brewery resulted in a rapid increase in population.

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