Why are there so many boars in Barnard Castle?

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 2020 Heritage

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…

Traces of 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.

Richard with his wife, Anne Neville. It was his marriage to Anne that led to his inheritance of Barnard Castle. // Source: Wikimedia Commons

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.

King Richard III’s coat of arms, with the white boar seen on the right // Source: Wikimedia Commons


Where are the boars today?

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:

  1. The castle
  2. Blagraves House, which also dates back to the 15th century and is one of the oldest buildings in town
  3. St Mary’s church
  4. Bowes Museum (originally in Newgate)

Fancy hunting down the boars yourself? Here’s the map! // Source: Margaret Watson

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!

Check out the 3D models below:


1. The boar in the castle

This carving of a boar can be seen on the slab over the oriel window of the Great Chamber of the castle in Barnard Castle. It used to be inside, but with the castle in ruins, the carving is subject to wind, rain and frost, and it is significantly weathered.


2. The boar in the church

This carving of a boar can be found outside St Mary’s parish church in Barnard Castle, beside the east window of the south transept. It’s likely that this carving is a connection to the Richard III’s activities at the church. The model was created by George Hodgson.


3. The boar in the museum

This boar carving is currently exhibited at the Bowes Museum. It used to be on the frontage of a building in Newgate that was demolished, prior to which the stone was removed and placed in the Museum.

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