A look at the history of Barden Tower, with Dr Emma Wells

in Bolton Abbey

Barden Tower is a striking medieval stronghold nestled along the banks of the River Wharfe on the eastern outskirts of the Yorkshire Dales. It inspires awe in anyone who crosses the adjacent tight packhorse bridge to behold this architectural masterpiece.

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The current structure was constructed in the 15th century by Henry Clifford, known as ‘the shepherd Lord’; it replaced an earlier hunting lodge set amidst the rural landscape. These origins can be traced back to the aftermath of the Norman Conquest of 1066, a time when hunting deer and wild boar was a favoured pursuit among nobility. The Honour of Skipton, an extensive forested domain, was granted to Robert de Romille, a Norman lord, shortly after the Conquest. Within this domain lay Barden Forest, where Romille likely erected a hunting lodge for the hunt.

At this time, it was one of six hunting lodges but beyond this role, Barden Tower served as a centre for administering justice in the region. It became the principal seat of such services, hosting Forest Courts and providing refuge during the tumultuous raids by the Scots in the 14th century.

Henry Clifford then elevated the Tower to prominence, transforming the lodge into his principal residence rather than living at the family seat at nearby Skipton Castle. At the time of Clifford’s ownership, he installed an astronomical observatory, and, adjacent to the tower, were a Chapel and Priest’s House. Despite its intended peaceful existence, Barden Tower faced turmoil during the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, falling into rebel hands in an attempt to defy Henry VIII’s religious reforms.

Although restored post-conflict, subsequent generations of the Clifford family favoured other residences, allowing the Tower to languish once more. Following Henry’s era, Lady Anne Clifford was tasked with its restoration. After prolonged legal battles for inheritance, she reclaimed the estate and initiated a restoration effort from c.1659 that temporarily revived the Tower’s grandeur. Her efforts ensured its preservation until her passing, when it reverted to the Earls of Cork.

By the late 18th century, Barden Tower succumbed to neglect, its roof stripped of lead and timber, hastening its descent into disrepair. Today, under the ownership of the Dukes of Devonshire, it stands as a crumbling remnant, echoing the rich tapestry of Yorkshire’s medieval past.

Address: Barden Tower, Barden, Skipton BD23 6AS

Books by Dr Emma Wells

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