Although Richmond Castle dates from the Norman era and has been in ruins since the 15th century, it remains an essential and active part of the town.

The military link – the castle was one of a series built to secure the wider area – has never been lost and even today it remains a preferred location for ceremonies conducted by regiments based at Catterick Garrison.

It is also an important attraction that helps to support the area’s visitor economy.

However, the castle performed a stark function in an era which has only recently passed from living memory, serving as a location where conscientious objectors were held during the First World War.

The castle had served as a regimental headquarters since the Victorian era and by the First World War it had been selected as a depot for the non-combatant corps, those who refused to bear arms but were willing to take on military support work.

Men who declined to take part in any military activity were imprisoned, however, and 16 were held in a military cell block, which had been built for the castle’s garrison.

The messages they wrote on cell walls, including poetry, remarkably survived without being removed by the authorities and provide a vivid snapshot of their lives, attitudes and circumstances.

Simon Bean at the top of Richmond Castle

Volunteer researchers have used them as a starting point to piece together the histories of those who were held there, including work to trace their descendants, which has helped create a deeper understanding of a more recent chapter in the castle’s history.

Regular public access to the cells is not allowed in order to preserve the writings, but a virtual tour has been created as part of an exhibition at the castle’s museum.

Today, the castle is in the stewardship of English Heritage, a charity responsible for many of the country’s historic sites, and it is working constantly to preserve and improve them.

At Richmond Castle that has meant work to improve the Cock Pit gardens, an area known to date from the 14th century and to have served multiple functions through the centuries, including as a location for cock fighting, as its name suggests.

Inside Richmond Castle

The work is a continuation of restorations that began around the turn of the century and have been possible only through the efforts of a team of volunteer gardeners, who have supported the professional staff working on the site.

It is being replanted with a new scheme in the early part of October and should be open to the public from the middle of the month.

The site is also able to surprise, with one young volunteer discovering a rare William the Conqueror coin during a community archaeological excavation.

Those links help ensure the castle remains an integral part of the community, with school visits encouraged and events staged to engage those who live in the area.

English Heritage’s head of historic properties in Yorkshire, Simon Bean, said: “We are working more closely with Richmond Town Council, they have hired re-enactors and we have provided free access for people living in Richmond and Catterick to the events they have staged.

“We have found that has really helped cement the castle as a local feature for people. Where an access charge might inhibit some from visiting, it removes that barrier entirely.”

The castle also features as part of a town pass, which has been created to give visitors access to multiple attractions for one payment, underlining the importance of the tourist economy to the town.