Barnard Castle

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Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle is a market town on the north bank of the River Tees, in County Durham, Northern England. The town is named after and built around a medieval castle ruin. The town's Bowes Museum's has an 18th-century Silver Swan automaton exhibit and paintings by Goya and El Greco.

It sits on the opposite bank to Startforth and is 21 miles (34 km) south-west of the county town of Durham. Nearby towns include Bishop Auckland to the north-east, Darlington to the east and Richmond in North Yorkshire to the south-east. The largest employer is GlaxoSmithKline, with a manufacturing facility on the town's outskirts.


Before the Norman conquest the upper half of Teesdale had been combined into an Anglo-Norse estate which was centred upon the ancient village of Gainford and mortgaged to the Earls of Northumberland. The first Norman Bishop of Durham, Bishop Walcher, was murdered in 1080. This led to the surrounding country being attacked and laid waste by the Norman overlords. Further rebellion in 1095 caused the king William II to break up the Earldom of Northumberland into smaller baronies. The Lordship of Gainford was given to Guy de Balliol.

The earthwork fortifications of the castle were rebuilt in stone by his successor, Bernard de Balliol I during the latter half of the 12th century, giving rise to the town's name. The castle passed down through the Balliol family (of which the Scottish king, John Balliol, was the most important member) and then into the possession of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. King Richard III inherited it through his wife, Anne Neville, but it fell into ruins in the century after his death.

The remains of the castle are Grade I listed, whilst the chapel in the outer ward is Grade II listed. Both sets of remains are now in the care of English Heritage and open to the public.

John Bowes lived at nearby Streatlam Castle (now demolished). His Streatlam stud never had more than ten breeding mares at one time, but produced no fewer than four Derby winners in twenty years. The last of these, "West Australian", was the first racehorse to win the Triple Crown, in 1853.

Bowes and his wife Joséphine Benoîte Coffin-Chevallier founded the Bowes Museum, which is of national status. Housed in its own ornate building, the museum contains an El Greco, paintings by Goya, Canaletto, Boucher, Fragonard and a collection of decorative art. A great attraction is the 18th century silver swan automaton, which periodically preens itself, looks round and appears to catch and swallow a fish.

Although never a major manufacturing centre, in the 18th century industry centred on hand loom wool weaving, and in the early 19th century the principal industry was spinning and the manufacture of shoe thread.

Notable visitors

Walter Scott frequently visited his friend John Sawrey Morritt at Rokeby Hall and was fond of exploring Teesdale. He begins his epic poem Rokeby (1813) with a man standing on guard on the round tower of the Barnard Castle fortress.

Charles Dickens (Boz) and his illustrator Hablot Browne (Phiz) stayed at the King's Head in Barnard Castle while researching his novel Nicholas Nickleby in the winter of 1837–38. He is said to have entered William Humphrey's clock-maker's shop, then opposite the hotel, and enquired who had made a certain remarkable clock. William replied that his boy Humphrey had done it. This seems to have prompted Dickens to choose the title "Master Humphrey's Clock" for his new weekly, in which The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge appeared.

William Wordsworth, Daniel Defoe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hilaire Belloc, Bill Bryson and the artist J. M. W. Turner have also visited the town.

In May 2020, Barnard Castle came to national attention when the chief advisor of the British Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings, was discovered to have driven to the town with his family during the COVID-19 pandemic, while at a significant risk of having the disease himself due to contact with the infected Prime Minister (Cummings developed symptoms the next day). Following media allegations that he had broken lockdown regulations by driving to the town, he told how he drove there to test his eyesight to reassure his wife that he was able to drive them back to London the next day.


Barnard Castle Post Office

Barnard Castle is for all purposes (historic, ceremonial and unitary authority) located in County Durham. Barnard Castle has a Town Council governing a civil parish. The Town Council elects a ceremonial Town Mayor annually.

It is part of the Bishop Auckland parliamentary constituency, which as of 2019 is represented in parliament by Dehenna Davison of The Conservative Party. All four Durham County Councillors whose wards (Barnard Castle East and Barnard Castle West) include part of Barnard Castle are Conservative.

The local police force is Durham Constabulary. The town is the base for the Barnard Castle division, which covers 300 square miles (780 km2). This division is within the force's south area.


Elevation: 180 m (600 ft)

Nearest large towns: Darlington, 16 miles (26 km). Bishop Auckland 14.8 miles (24 km)

Destinations from Barnard Castle


The most important employer in Barnard Castle is Glaxo Smithkline, which has a large pharmaceutical manufacturing plant on the outskirts of the town which employs around 1,000 people. GSK has invested £80 million into the plant since 2007.


Barnard Castle Bridge

Barnard Castle has road connections to Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor and central County Durham via the A688 and Darlington, Stockton-on-Tees, and Middlesbrough by the A67. Barnard Castle is also four miles (6.4 km) from the A66, with access to the M6 to the west and the A1(M) to the east. The B6278 also connects Barnard Castle with Middleton-in-Teesdale. The old road bridge over the River Tees was built in 1569 and is Grade I listed.

Barnard Castle railway station was closed for passenger trains in 1964. A Bill was approved in 1854 for a line from a junction with the Stockton & Darlington Railway at Darlington to Barnard Castle and opened on 9 July 1856, with intermediate stations at Broomielaw, Winston, Gainford and Piercebridge. The terminus at Darlington only lasted five years. In 1856 the South Durham & Lancashire Railway proposed a line from Bishop Auckland to Tebay via Barnard Castle and Kirkby Stephen but only the western section was built with the Company receiving its Bill in 1857.

The line opened on 8 August 1861 from a second terminus at Barnard Castle to a junction with the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway at Tebay with intermediate stations at Lartington, Bowes, Barras, Kirkby Stephen, Ravenstondale & Gaisgill. The two stations at Barnard Castle were some distance apart; the earliest station became a through station and closed to passengers on 1 May 1862, but remained in use as a goods depot. The second station was closed for passenger trains under the Beeching cuts in 1964 and completely on 5 April 1965 and the site was eventually built on by GlaxoSmithKline. Today rail access is via Bishop Auckland, or Darlington. There are two bus routes provided by Arriva North East which connect Barnard Castle to Darlington, the X75 and X76.

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