All roads lead back to Yorkshire, where Richmond first took root

Marcia McLuckie (centre) with fellow organisers Carol Watson, and Phil Upton, in Richmond. Picture by Simon Hulme
Marcia McLuckie (centre) with fellow organisers Carol Watson, and Phil Upton, in Richmond. Picture by Simon Hulme
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It is an old English town that has inspired more imitators than any other. At least 118 Richmonds have sprung up through the centuries, in almost every corner of the world.

But come 2021, all roads will lead back to Yorkshire. The foundations were laid yesterday for a year-long celebration of the “original” Richmond, marking the 950th anniversary the beginning of construction on its Norman castle – the first in England to be built of stone.

Richmond is to celebrate its 950th anniversary

Richmond is to celebrate its 950th anniversary

Swaledale’s spiritual capital has long cast its shadow on some of the world’s great sights. Prince Charles said its cobbled market square, one of the largest in Britain, reminded him of the magnificent, 12th century Piazza del Campo in the Tuscan city of Siena.

However, it is its cultural rather than architectural significance that will underpin its anniversary year, with aspirations to involve representatives of Richmonds as far afield as Antarctica.

“It seems to have begun with the Duke of Richmond taking our Richmond down to Surrey,” said Marcia McLuckie, one of the organisers of Celebrate Richmond 950, whose patron is the Liberal peer Baroness Angela Harris, deputy Speaker of the house of Lords and a former mayor of the town.

Richmond was founded in 1071 by Alan Rufus – Alan the Red – a Breton nobleman and Lord of Richemont in Upper Normandy, on land given to him by William the Conqueror in the wake of the “harrying of the North” which saw unrest quelled among the provincial population.

Anniversary organisers Carol Watson, Marcia McLuckie and Phil Upton.

Anniversary organisers Carol Watson, Marcia McLuckie and Phil Upton.

In contrast, Richmond-upon-Thames in Surrey, the next town to use the name, was not founded until some 500 years later, after Henry VII built a palace there.

North America has around 85 Richmonds – the best-known being the state capital of Virginia, where in 1775, the lawyer Patrick Henry demanded, “Give me liberty or give me death”, swinging the vote in favour of sending troops to George Washington’s revolutionary army.

“We are writing to all of the other Richmonds inviting them to send us pennants and pictures of their towns, if they can’t come in person,” Ms McLuckie said.

Its anniversary events will take the form of a pageant of the past, with months of the year substituting for periods of history.

July will reflect the granting of its charter in Elizabethan times, and August its Georgian heyday, when a horse racing track was opened and the Theatre Royal, which now boasts Prince Charles’ patronage, was built just off the market place.

“It became very Georgian. It was a Northern version of Bath, where Georgians came for their summer season, to see and be seen and to get fixed up,” Ms McLuckie said.

The joy will not, however, be unconfined. As the year turns towards the Remembrance weekend, there will be a commemoration of the conscientious objectors imprisoned in Richmond Castle during the First World War.

Among them were the so-called Richmond 16, who refused to obey orders and whose number included a Sunderland FC footballer and a clerk at the Rowntree’s chocolate factory in York.

The graffiti they and others scrawled on the walls as they awaited what they feared might be a firing squad was uncovered a few years ago and has since been exhibited.

“We want to acknowledge that people suffered here through,” said Ms McLuckie, “from the harrying of the North to the 20th century.”

The Richmond most distant from Yorkshire may be the elongated, 31-mile snow-covered mountain in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.

Richmond Peak was mapped as recently as 1957 and named in the 1970s after the chairman of a US State Department committee on Antarctica.

There are four Richmonds in South Africa and one in each in India and Zimbabwe.

There is also a Richmond Castle in Germany and a village bearing the name in Tipperary, Ireland. Even within Yorkshire, the name is not unique to Swaledale, with a district in Leeds called Richmond Hill and a council ward named after Sheffield’s Richmond Road

The town where the name took root will plant 950 trees in 2021 to mark its anniversary.