The secret castle you can visit just 30 minutes away from Hull

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Take a train to York and you may glance the ruins of a medieval building with its sandstone glowing brilliantly in the sunlight.

The mysterious former castle will leave many passengers arching their necks to look further and trying to figure out exactly what it is.

History buffs and locals will probably know it is Wressle Castle but, being privately owned, it is not featured on tourism brochures and billboards.

Despite its ruined state, this hidden gem near Howden hides an incredible history.

Henry VIII stayed at Wressle Castle for three nights and it was the main seat of the once very powerful Percy family.

Aerial view of Wressle Castle near Howden
Aerial view of Wressle Castle near Howden

And this weekend, you will be given a rare chance to look round this haunting building when a re-enactment of the English Civil War take place.

Robert Falkingham grew up in the shadow of the castle, near Howden, which is the only medieval castle in East Yorkshire.

The Falkinghams have farmed at Wressle for four generations and Robert’s great grandfather bought the farmland on which the castle sits in 1956.

“It was difficult watching the castle decay so I looked for sources of funding to consolidate the ruins,” Mr Falkingham said.

Wressle Castle was built towards in 1390 for Sir Thomas Percy who came from a Yorkshire family of great status and their descendants still own Alnwick Castle in Northumbria.

But Sir Thomas rose against Henry IV during a rebellion which ended with the Battle of Shrewsbury and the King victorious and Sir Thomas was beheaded.

View of Wressle Castle near Howden
View of Wressle Castle near Howden

The castle was eventually handed back to the Percy family and Henry Percy embarked on a huge refurbishment. As the castle flies by while you stare out of the train window, it is worth noting the stories of that unassuming ruin.

“Henry Percy was known as Henry the Magnificent and he was one of the richest men in England at the time,” Mr Falkingham.

“He fell in love with a certain Anne Boleyn but his parents did not approve as she was beneath him.

“Of course, she went on to marry Henry VIII and Henry was forced to be on the jury who condemned her to death.”

After the Percy family once more backed a failed rebellion, the Crown gained control and Henry VIII stayed there for three nights in 1541.

The building that now stands is just on quarter of what was Wressle Castle and the building’s demise began during the English Civil War when it was garrisoned by Parliamentarians.

“The castle was damaged during the war and the king ordered it all be demolished except for the south wing which we see today which was used as a manor house,” Mr Falkingham said.

The remaining Wressle Castle was not used much by the Percy family thereafter and was occupied by tenant farmers.

View inside Wressle Castle near Howden

The final death knell for the castle came in 1796 when one such tenant farmer decided to try and burn the soot from the chimney but ended up setting fire to the whole building. Wressle Castle has remained a ruin ever since.

The ruins gradually became overgrown and fell into an increasingly desperate state of disrepair – until a few years ago.

Historic England – formerly English Heritage – considered the castle to be a ‘building at risk’, but thanks to a two-year restoration project spearheaded by Mr Falkingham, it has been removed from the list.

“I’d been seeking funding to help restore and preserve it for a number of years, but not had much success,” he said. “Wressle Castle was overgrown and the stonework was crumbling so badly I feared that some sections were going to break away.”

He turned to Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship scheme and, together with grants from Historic England and The Country Houses Foundation, made it possible for him to hire the services of Historic Property Restoration, a specialist building restoration firm based in North Shields.

View inside Wressle Castle near Howden
View inside Wressle Castle near Howden

The castle originally comprised of four ranges set around a central courtyard, with a tower at each corner and a gatehouse tower in the eastern wall, facing Wressle village. It was surrounded by a moat, gardens and a deer park to the north.

Work was completed in 2016 when the grounds were cleared, along with what remains of the moat.

Information boards have been put in place to explain the castle’s history and show visitors how it would have looked when the entire structure was still standing and occupied by the Percy family.

“This building is something we feel responsible for and watching it decay was not nice,” he said.

“We have been able to pin the unstable parts of the building and now it will happily stand for another 100 years,” he said. “This is something we are very proud of.

“The building has a wonderful history and I found out even more when we started the restoration project.

“I would love to go back to the 15th century to see how the castle looked in its heyday; it must have been magnificent.”

Entrance to Wressle Castle near Howden
Entrance to Wressle Castle near Howden

As part of the deal with Historic England, there are four public open days each year with the final two for 2018 take place this weekend (Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 15).

“The first open day attracted around 1,300 over the weekend,” Mr Falkingham said, “but it has quietened down since and the last one in June had about 400 visitors.

“This time we have an English Civil War re-enactment group which should be fantastic.

“While the building is really a shell, there is a spiral staircase and massive fireplaces. The toilets are also interesting and were the most modern of their kind at the time.”

The open days will take place from 11am to 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday while the re-enactment displays will take place between noon to 3pm. There is no charge but there will be the chance to donate to the skin charity DEBRA and the MS Society.

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