The Legend of the Black Castle

| January 2, 2014 | 0 Comments

In the Domesday book of 1086, the area we call Bradford was described as wasteland after the Normans had burned it down. It was said to be worth just £4! Bradford had less than 1000 people at the time of the Norman Conquest. A man of Norse descent named Gamel was the biggest land owner.
In 1070, the people of Bradford rebelled against The Concur but the Normans were too strong and let Bradford go to waste. They were living in very violent and treacherous times.

A very early Bradford Coat of Arms

A very early Bradford Coat of Arms – coloured black due to the Black Death which significantly dropped the population of the city and the dominant Black Castle.

The Normans were still feared and hated harassing local people and even the Nobles. The Lords of Bradford said ―Attila did not more deserve the name of Scourge of God than this merciless tyrant William of Normandy.
Bradford was then given to Ilbert de Lacy who probably never visited Bradford. In 1311 the population of Bradford was only 650 and the Scottish were beginning to raid the town. By 1379, the Black Death had dropped the population to just 325.
The Nobles had to travel long distances and the journeys between castles were hard going. The fatigue on such a long march in an almost inhabitable country required a halting place.
Bradford stood in a very important position. A strong fortress and garrison had to be built. They built a good and strong castle. The Black Castle became a place of leisure where John of Gaunt and his closest friends would stop just outside to get changed into their finest clothing before entering the town.
It was a great place for pastime hunting especially near Denholme, at Doe Park where the land was stocked with the finest deer and other game for many decades. The King and lots of other significant figures from the medieval times stayed at the castle. In 1316, an inquest into the death of Henry de Lacy, the last earl of Lincoln was held at the fortress.
After John of Gaunt passed away in 1399, the years passed and the Castle with its tall dark walls wasn‘t liked any more and the local people hated the unwelcoming atmosphere around it. It became an area of fear and superstition. The castle was made of local millstone grit from the local area and over the years it became blackened with the damp climate and soot from nearby fires. It therefore became known as the “Black Castle.”
There were unsettling stories about people who were taken in through the dark walls of the castle and never seen again.
What started as a place of safety had become a place of death. The people of Bradford demanded that a church be built on the site to bring Christianity back to the town.
The people were so sick of the castle that they even petitioned the King that the castle be demolished. As times became more settled, by 1500, the town had begun to grow.
The Black Castle was eventually demolished and a Manor House built there instead. An old book tells us that the castle was in the Westgate area at the highest point of the city. Today, on the exact spot is the High Point building (the former Yorkshire Building Society HQ – possibly the ugliest building in Bradford!)
It had a large market area around it where John Street Market is today. It was the perfect area for a castle with a good view and steep hills either side.
The Legend of the Black Castle has caused many arguments with historians over the years with different books mentioning various different theories. But one thing is for sure – something big at one time was on the hill.

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