Barnard Castle is a town in Teesdale, County Durham, England named after the castle around which it grew up. It sits on the north side of the River Tees, opposite Startforth, 34 miles (55 km) south southwest of Newcastle upon Tyne, 30 miles (48 km) west of Middlesbrough and 21 miles (34 km) southwest of the county town of Durham. Other than the castle, the Bowes Museum is also located in the town. Nearby towns include Bishop Auckland north-east, Darlington to the east and Richmond to the south-east.
The castle was founded by the Normans shortly after the conquest, but enjoyed its heyday under Bernard de Bailleul during the latter half of the 12th century. The castle passed into the hands of the Balliol family (of which the Scottish king, John Balliol, was the most important member), and then into the possession of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. King Richard III inherited it through his wife, Anne Neville, but it fell into ruins in the century after his death. The remains are now in the care of English Heritage.
Walter Scott frequently visited his friend John Sawrey Morritt at Rokeby Hall and was fond of exploring Teesdale. He begins his epic poem Rokeby (1813) with a man standing on guard on the round tower of the Barnard Castle fortress.
Charles Dickens and his illustrator Hablot Browne (Phiz) stayed at the King’s Head in Barnard Castle while researching his novel Nicholas Nickleby in the winter of 1837-38. He is said to have entered William Humphrey’s clock-maker’s shop, then opposite the hotel, and enquired who had made a certain remarkable clock. William replied that his boy Humphrey had done it. This seems to have prompted Dickens to choose the title “Master Humphrey’s Clock” for his new weekly, in whichThe Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge appeared.
The Bowes Museum housed in a chateau-like building, was founded by John Bowes and his wife and is of national status. It contains an El Greco, paintings by Goya, Canaletto, Boucher, Fragonard and a collection of decorative art. A great attraction is the 18th century silver swan automation, which periodically preens itself, looks round and appears to catch and swallow a fish.
John Bowes lived at nearby Streatlam Castle (now demolished). His Streatlam stud never had more than ten breeding mares at one time, but produced no fewer than four Derby winners in twenty years. The last of these, “West Australian”, was the first racehorse to win the Triple Crown (1853).