Enjoying the outdoors in 1948.
The name Barden means “the valley of the wild boar” in Anglo-Saxon and hunting has been popular in the forest since earliest times. The Tower was originally one of several hunting lodges in the forest. However, its importance soon grew as it became an administrative centre holding forest courts and a miniature castle, capable of defending itself against marauders including the Scots, and also an outpost for chasing poachers. In fact, alongside several others in neighbouring valleys (including what is now known as Hellifield Peel), it became part of the outlying defences for Skipton Castle.
This imposing ruin, overlooking the River Wharfe and the valley below has a history as long and romantic as its appearance suggests. Barden, lying between Bolton Abbey to the South and Burnsall to the North was part of the Craven Estates granted to the Norman baron Robert de Romille after the Conquest.
In 1310 Barden all the surrounding lands came into possession of the Clifford family. They were staunch Lancastrians and became the sworn enemy of the Yorkist kings. Henry, the 10th Lord Clifford “the Shepherd Lord” was born during the War of the Roses and had to live in exile hidden in the Cumbrian Fells. When Henry VII became king in 1485 the Lancastrian families regained their lands and The Shepherd Lord decided to live at Barden Tower in preference to other much grander castles.
He enlarged the Tower and built the chapel at the Priests House and, with the Canons of Bolton Priory, had a keen interest in astronomy which led to the upstairs dining room being named the “Stargazers Room”. He became more recluse from the outside world although holding regular feasts for the locals in the Great Hall.
During the Scottish war of 1513, then in his sixtieth year, Henry Clifford commanded the men of Craven at the battle of Flodden Field, when Upper VVharfedale and Langstrothdale echoed with the pomp and tramp of feudal warfare for the last time. The Craven men marched north to
"The stern strife and carnage drear Of Floddeu's fatal field,
Where shivered was fair -Scotland's spear,
And broken was her shield."
We are told the men of Craven bore themselves well and did good service for their country in this furious battle, where
"Groom fought like noble, squire like knight, as fearlessly and well."
Obstinate was the fight, the slaughter dreadful; the Scottish king was slain, and the contest still not ended at nightfall. Dispirited by the loss of their king, in gloomy despair the remnant of the Scottish army retreated under cover of darkness.
It is thought the pikes and halberds still hanging from the beams in the House dining area were used in this battle.
Years, later, Lady Anne Clifford contested the will of her father that the estates should be bequeathed to the male heirs and finally came into possession of them in 1643. Initially the Civil Wars prevented much progress being made but by 1657 restoration work on the Tower was underway. As a seal of her work a plaque on the South Wall says ....
“ By the Ladie Anne Clifford countess Dowager of Pembrokee Dorsett and Montgomery Baroness Clifford Westmerland and veseie lady of the honor of Skipton in Craven and high sherifesse by inheritance of the Countie of Westmerland in the yeares 1658 and 1659 after it had been layne ruinous ever since about 1589 when her mother lay in itt and was greate with child with her till nowe that itt was repayred by sayd lady. ISA. Chapt. 58. Ver. 12. Gods name be praised!”
After Lady Anne died in 1676, it descended to the Dukes of Devonshire who still own it today. However the Tower has not been lived in since the death of Lady Anne and it became a ruin through the 18th Century.
The Priests House, was as its name suggests, the private chapel of the Barden Tower community where up to 100 individuals in the early days, including soldiers, lived. The roof is supported by large oaken beams and its walls, of immense thickness, date from the thirteenth century whilst the porch has evidently been built with an idea of refuge and defence. The House forms with the Chapel a most unique piece of architecture with its curious oaken beams and huge fireplace, mullions and diamond-shaped panes. The main dining area in the House was actually the balcony to the Barden Chapel. However, times changed and so did the use of the building. For the last 75 years or so the Chapel has been unloved, unoccupied and gradually left to decay, its windows vandalized and boarded up.
Now though, a new lease of life is in the air...
Works commenced in November 2015 to improve the basic fabric of the House itself and also renovate the Chapel to bring back into use as a brand new function venue. It will be completed by May 2016 and will be able to accommodate up to 80 for weddings, dining, music nights, plays and a facility for the local community. It will become a quite stunning, genuine medieval venue befitting the history and romanticism of the site.