History of Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle lies beside the River Tees within the District of Teesdale.  Teesdale has two Towns, Barnard Castle and Middleton-in-Teesdale and is located in the South West part of County Durham in the North East of England.

Teesdale describes the area that surrounds the upper reaches of the River Tees, from its source in the hills to just west of the railway town of Darlington in County Durham where the river broadens out into the Tees Valley.

 Teesdale is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is home to England’s highest waterfall (High Force), View of Town Centreopen moorland, wooded valleys and historic market towns.  Barnard Castle is known locally as ‘Barney’ and takes its name from the Norman stronghold around which it was built.  It is a maze of cobbled streets and winding lanes with elegant Georgian and Victorian architecture. A walk through the town will reveal many snippets of historical interest.  The Town has four main access ways, Galgate, Newgate, Thorngate and Bridgegate. The principal route is Galgate which largely follows the old Roman road and at its end lies Scar Top and the ruins of Bernard Balliol’s fortress. The road then follows the curve of the old castle wall into Horse Market, the main street.

The aptly named Market Place is an old cobbled section where an open market is still held on every Wednesday along with monthly Farmers’ markets. At the head of Market Place lies the Market Cross, an octagonal building built by Thomas Breaks and given to the Town. The building is also known locally at the Butter Market due to its function of providing shelter for the farmers’ wives who sold dairy produce each Wednesday. Over the years the building has had a variety of uses including a fire station and a court house. 

The Castle

Barnard Castle itself dates back to Norman times and was built by Bernard Balliol between 1112 – 1132.  His father, Guy de Baliol, came to View of Barnard CastleEngland with William the Conqueror’s invading army and, around 1093, was giventhe land by William Rufus.  The fortress – ‘Bernard’s Castle’ – like the Roman forts before it, became a focus for settlement and the town of Barnard Castle developed around it. The Castle remained an important stronghold until 1569 and the ‘Rising of the North’ saw it besieged by the supporters of Mary Queen of Scots.  For eleven days Sir George Bowes of Streatlem held the fort for his sovereign, Elizabeth I, before being forced to surrender it. 

The Bowes Museum

The world famous Bowes Museum is considered a jewel in the heart of Teesdale.  The magnificent building stands proud within the historic town of Barnard Castle and houses one of the most outstanding collections in Britain comprising a remarkable selection of European fine and decorative arts spanning the period from 1400 and 1875.

The Museum was purpose built in the 19th Century by John & Josephine Bowes in the style of a French Chateau and opened on 10th June 1892.  One of the best loved attractions at the Museum is the Silver Swan, an English silver automaton, bought by the Bowes in 1872.  The life size model is still in working order and is operated on a daily basis.

Today, visitors to The Bowes Museum can not only enjoy wonderful collections but also an exciting programme of events and exhibitions.  All these activities within the Museum and the Museum Park itself have helped to keep the museum vibrant and exciting in the 21st Century.

The Barnard Castle area has a lot to offer and details of all the main visitor attractions are much more can be found at Explore Teesdale or by contacting The Witham Visitor Contact Centre 01833 631107, email: info@thewitham.org.uk.  

For accommodation bookings please contact Durham Visitor Contact Centre on 03000 262 626.

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