MIDDLEHAM, a parish in the wapentake of Hang West, and liberty of Richmondshire; 9 miles from Leyburn, 8 from Masham, and 9 from Bedale. Fairs, Nov. 5 and 6 for horned cattle and sheep. Principal Inn, White Swan. Population 880. The Church is a rectory dedicated to St. Mary, value 15L. 9s. 4½d. Patron, the King. It is a deanry and royal peculiar.
This is a small market town, containing a population of 880 souls. The market day is on Monday, but owing to its vicinity to the more flourishing town of Leyburn, the attendance has become very slender. As a place of trade Middleham probably never had any high interest, but its castle, even in ruins, will for ages to come attract attention:- This castle was built about A. D. 1190, by Robert, surnamed Fitz Ramulph, grandson of Ribald, younger brother of Allan, Earl of Brittany, to whom all Wensleydale was given by Conan, Earl of Brittany and Richmond. It afterwards came into the possession of Lord Robert de Nevil, who, being detected in a criminal conversation with a lady in Craven, was by the enraged husband emasculated, of which he died soon after. In the reign of Henry VI. it belonged to the Earl of Salisbury, and from hence, in the thirty-seventh year of that king's reign, he marched with 4000 men for London, to demand the redress of his son's grievances. Here, according to Stowe, the bastard Falconbridge was beheaded in 1471, after having received a royal pardon. In this castle Edward IV. was confined, after having been surprised and taken prisoner in his camp at Wolvey, by Richard Nevil, Earl of Warwick, surnamed the king maker, but he escaped, while taking the diversion of hunting in the extensive park by which it was then surrounded, and afterwards vanquished and slew Warwick at Barnet. The estates being forfeited, Edward settled Middleham castle upon his brother of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III. who took so great a liking to it that he raised the rectory to a deanery, and intended to build a college here, in the field called Frodingham field, but his design was frustrated by his death. Edward, the only son of Richard, was born here; but from that time to the present this castle is scarcely mentioned in history. All that is further known of it is, that in 1609 it was inhabited by Sir Henry Linley, Knight, whose effects were sold at his death, and the inventory is still extant. When it ceased to be inhabited is not ascertained. There is a tradition that it was reduced to ruins by Oliver Cromwell, but it is unsupported by history. The castle stands near the town; it is a very extensive and interesting ruin, and the best view is that from the south west. Ascending from the castle towards the south, there stands, at the distance of 500 yards, two eminences, evidently raised for military purposes; and at a station about an equal distance from the castle and these eminences, the walls afford an echo, "the most distinct and loud," says Grosse, from whom we quote, "I ever remember to have heard." The castle was formerly moated round by the help of springs, and some traces of the moat are yet visible.
The Dacres, earls of Holderness, have long held the constableship of the castle from the crown, and in consequence that office is vested in the duke of Leeds. -As it is, majestic in decay, Middleham castle is, says Dr. Whitaker, as an object, the noblest work of man in the county of Richmond. The views up and down Wensleydale, from the windows of this castle are delightful and picturesque.
The parish church of Middleham is dedicated to St. Mary and St. Alkeld, and the living is a deanery, in the gift of the King, of which the Rev. Peter Scrimshire Wood, L.L.D. is the incumbent, and the Rev J. Cockeroft the resident curate.
The rectory of this church was converted into a college by Richard, duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III. but after his death, the design was given up, but the incumbent still retains the stile of dean, the probate of wills and certain ecclesiastical jurisdiction, &c.
There are two dissenting chapels, one for the Methodists and the other for the Primitive Methodists. The town is well built: it is said to have derived its name from having at one time formed the centre or middle of a number of hamlets. About half a mile to the SW. of the town is Middleham Moor, the famous school of the turf, where so many celebrated horses have received their first training.
[Description(s) edited mainly from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson. ©2010]