The historic market town of Barnard Castle is dotted with carved stone boars. Perched above doors, and embedded in walls, these mysterious carvings are the distinctive mark of one England's most famous kings - Richard III.
15th December 2020Heritage
If you’ve ever wandered through the historic streets of Barnard Castle with open eyes, you just might have come across a mysterious carving of a boar. You might not have wasted another thought on that discovery, until you saw another carving of a boar. By the third carving, you might start wonder ‘What’s the deal with all these boars?!’
To answer that question, we have to travel back almost 600 years into the 15th century where we meet Richard, Duke of Gloucester – more commonly known as the King in the carpark or King Richard III…
What’s this king got to do with our strange boar carvings? Well, Richard’s emblem was… you guessed it! A white boar.
Regal Barnard Castle, named for its founder Bernard de Balloil, was built in the 12th century. In the following years, the castle was constantly under threat from Scottish attack, well into the 13th century. Alas, the fortunes changed when John Balloil became King of Scotland. Although it admittedly didn’t last long, and he was taken prisoner by the English only a few years later. After a few more swaps, when the castle passed through the hands of the Beauchamp family, it finally fell into possession of Richard. Well, a Richard.
This was Richard Neville, another grand figure famous for being a key player in the renowned War of the Roses, and the current owner of Barnard Castle. In 1475 though, his time was up, and it passed to his son-in-law, Richard of Gloucester. The Richard. Before he became the illustrious King Richard III we all know of today, he actually spent a pretty considerable amount of time in his new castle. Not only that, but he ordered quite a few improvements to be made both in the castle and in St Mary’s church.
In fact, Richard’s lordship of the town was pretty much a blessing for the church. He took a special interest in the building and spent considerable time and money on making his mark. His changes lifted the church (literally), creating a much brighter, raised building. He also added decoration to the north door, which was looking a bit sorry compared to the fancier south door. New windows, ornamental arches and a stone carving of himself are more evidence of his unlimited generosity that can still been seen today, if you know where to look…
By the end of Richard’s rule the church had pretty much became the beautiful structure it is today. Next time you happen to stroll by St Mary’s, have a peek inside!
Richard didn’t intend to stop there, he also had plans to build a chantry and an ecclesiastical college, which would have lifted the profile of St Mary’s immensely. Unfortunately, though, his early death in 1485 marked the end of his vision. Richard’s demise at Bosworth brought about big changes for the country. Who knows what Barnard Castle and St Mary’s would be like today, had he won the battle?
And so, the boar carvings scattered around town are a small reminder of what could have been, and the white boar that proudly sits in the town’s coat of arms marks the impact of Richard’s grand legacy.
If the story of Richard III and his life in Barnard Castle got you thinking, we’ve got something fun for you. Margaret Watson created ‘the trail of the boar’ in the early 1990s, which took visitors on a tour through the town following in Richard’s footsteps. While there might have been many more during the time following Richard IIIs time in Barnard Castle, today we still know of four boar carvings in the town:
If you want a close up look at these little hints of history from the comfort of your own home, we’ve got you covered. As part of the Windows to the World project, we formed a group of interested volunteers and started creating 3D models of the boars in early 2020. This is a record of these important pieces of heritage that will survive forever and can be shared with everybody and anybody. How awesome!