The quiet market town of Middleham lies on a spur of land between the Rivers Ure and Cover, at the entrance to Coverdale. It is now a centre of racehorse training, but in the past was an important market centre, while during the fifteenth century it the seat of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester and later Richard III, and has been called the Windsor of the North.
The two market squares are now surrounded by elegant Georgian town houses, many of three storeys. The remains of Middleham Castle sit just to the south of the market squares, and are somewhat hidden behind the Georgian buildings. The current castle is the second to be built at Middleham, and dates to 1170. In the following century it passed into the hands of the Nevilles of Raby, who eventually rose to the rank of Duke of Warwick. The castle was the home of Warwick the Kingmaker, one of the most important figures of the Wars of the Roses. One of his wards was the young Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, who spent much of his time at Middleham, and married Warwick’s daughter Anne. Middleham lost much of its importance after Richard, by then King Richard III, was killed at the battle of Bosworth (1485). It remained in crown hands until 1625, and is now back in public ownership, in the hands of English Heritage.
The earlier wooden castle was built on a site south of the current castle by Alan the Red of Brittany, now known as William’s Hill. A legend associated with the hill said that if you ran around it seven times an entrance would open revealing a hidden treasure. A treasure was indeed found close to the hill, but in a rather more prosaic way. In 1985 Ted Seaton, discovered a fifteenth century gold pendant, decorated with a 10ct blue sapphire, and with the Trinity engraved on one side. The Middleham Jewel was sold for £1.3 million at auction, and eventually purchased for the Yorkshire Museum for £2.5 million.
The Church of St. May and St. Aldelda is a mainly thirteenth and fourteenth century building, but with Saxon routes – St. Alkelda was a Saxon princess strangled by the Danes during the ninth century. The church was made into a collegiate church by Richard III, giving it a group of canons. This arrangement lasted until 1845, when it was abolished by act of Parliament.
The race horses are best seen on the gallops on Middleham Low Moor (all year) and Middleham High Moor (summer), on the ridge of higher ground to the west of the town.