The town of Richmond is indebted for its origin to the commanding and almost impregnable site which its prominent Hill afforded for the erection of a Baronial Castle.
When the Norman Conqueror had completed the subjugation of the Saxons, he portioned out the lands of their nobles among such of his country men as had supported him by their counsel and courage, and shared the dangers of his daring enterprise. Among these, Alan le Roux, or the Red, was distinguished for his fidelity and bravery, and about the year 1069 he was rewarded by his royal master with the dignity of an Earl, and the more substantial guerdon of the whole possessions of Edwin, the Saxon Earl of Mercia. His Yorkshire domains comprised no less than 164 Manors and the chief mansion was situate at Gilling, about three miles to the north of Richmond. Finding, however, the policy, if not the necessity, of erecting a larger and stronger fortress, he began, about the year 1071, the foundation of Richmond Castle; and by virtue of his rank as Earl or Count,* his newly acquired territories were styled a County, under the name of Richmondshire.
* Earl is the Saxon, count the Norman designation for the same dignity.
As regards the name given to the place by its princely owner, Dr. Whitaker alleges that as it was built on a barren rock, he must have called it Rich-mount merely from a feeling of partiality: but surely it is more reasonable to suppose that the Mount was then covered with the dense luxuriance of a natural forest, which would furnish the builders with a rich supply both of timber and firewood.
The erection of so large a pile of buildings must naturally have drawn together a number of artificers and labourers; and after it had become the residence of the Earl and his standing force of military followers, the supply of his household, and the security from rapine, would induce traders and small landowners to settle around its walls. Thus began the borough of Richmond, and in the year 1145, it had so far increased in numbers and importance, that the Earl granted to his burgesses of Richmond, "his borough and the land of Fontenay."
The town was next surrounded with walls and gates: but the steady administration of just laws has long since rendered them unnecessary and they have all been removed as useless obstructions, except the Bargate Bar, on the west side of the castle hill, and the Friars' Postern, in Friars' wynd.
The government of the town, and the management of its corporate revenues, are vested in a mayor and twelve aldermen, who are assisted by a recorder, town-clerk, and other officers. The weekly market is held on Saturday; the charter-fairs are two, one of them on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the other on the Saturday after Holy-rood day. There is also, a toll-free fair for horses at Candlemas.
The borough still continues to send two members to Parliament. The present representatives are Sir Robert and the Honourable John Dundas.