The original castle at Helmsley was built in the early 12th century by Walter Espec who also founded the spectacular Rievaulx abbey which you can see nearby. The original castle would have most likely been a wooden and earth structure. It was built in stone later in the 12th century, and the de Roos family modernised it. The earth works you see today date largely from the original castle and are unusual in that they are surviving medieval ring works, as in they literally ring the castle and continue to do so today.
The exceptionally tall east tower was built by Robert de Roos at the end of the 12th century, although it was added to in the 14th century to make it taller and more of a status symbol. Also in the 14th century the rooms on the first floor were probably converted into a private chamber, possibly for the use of the visiting Edward III. The castle passed briefly into the hands of Richard III, when he was Duke of Gloucester, when the de Roos family sold it to him in 1478. When he died at Bosworth in 1485 Henry VII gave it back to the de Roos.
Helmsley faced its greatest challenge during the civil war when it was held for King Charles and endured a three month siege. Ultimately Crowell’s men were victorious and they blew up the east tower, literately splitting it in half. This is the state it remains in today. The east tower is only part of the castle as more domestic buildings have been added as the years went past.
The castle came into the hands of the Duncombe family and they lived there until the 18th century when they abandoned it. During the 18th and 19th century they used the remaining buildings for a manor court and social functions, including renting part of it to the local lawn tennis club. The castle came into the hands of the State in 1915.
Site visit 2012
The photos are all mine