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Walter Brooks, Keeper of the Castle

Knaresborough Castle

My Great Great Uncle Walter Brooks was born 28th Dec 1886 the son of George Brooks & Rachel Rathmell Robinson.

I have in my possession an article from an unknown booklet named Keepers of the Castle by Anthony Lamb i have dated the article circa 1951. pages 557 & 558.

People who visit Knaresborough often make a bee-line for the castle grounds where the 700-year old ruin is now surrounded by lawns and gardens, putting greens and bowling greens. The old keep is usually closed, and on the door hangs a notice indicating that visitors are taken round every twenty minutes and that a party is now inside. Eventually, there is a rattle of keys and the door swings open to permit a dozen people to leave. Another party has learned the secrets of Knaresborough Castle.

Mr Brooks and Mr Stalker, the guides, are two of the best known people in this little old-fashioned town on the Nidd. Mr Brooks, the senior, has been at the castle for twelve years. People who call at Knaresborough year by year to introduce the old keep and its treasures to their friends, have come to look upon him as a friend.

“Where’s the man in black?” they will ask, if he happens to be missing, for that is a nickname by which he has come to be known.

Only recently when a Knaresborough schoolmaster asked his boys to write an essay on the castle one boy wrote, “The castle belongs to Mr. Brooks!

”Almost as well-known is Mr. Stalker who has been a guide for seven years. Both he and Mr. Brooks have been in the employ of the Knaresborough Urban District Council for well over twenty years and today, as well as serving as castle guides, they help to garden in the grounds. They are not unlike each other. Both are small and stocky; both have the history of the castle at their fingers’ ends and answer with good-humoured patience the questions visitors put to them. Both remember the days when visitors used to arrive in their-horse-drawn waggonettes, when it was a long drive from Leeds to Knaresborough. Nowadays, people come from far and near, in motor car, bus and motor coach, thousands every year.

On the ground floor of the keep is the guardroom with walls taht are still solid, despite their great age, and with a ceiling that is vaulted, just as it was when Hugh de Morville and his three criminal friends hid in the castle for a year after they had murdered Thomas a’ Becket. The guard-room now serves as a museum and among the historical treasures there is an old chest made of elm, bound with leather and iron.

“This chest belonged to Queen Philippa,” Mr Brooks will say. “She was the wife of Edward III.

”“What did she keep in it?” a visitor once asked, jokingly.

Mr. Brooks was equal to the occasion. Quick as lightening he replied, “Why her ration book and identity card, of course,” and the laugh was against the questioner.

The chest appears to be in a good state of preservation. “But actually, it hasn’t a bottom,” he confided in me.

Mr. Stalker, too, has strange questions to answer. Taking a party from the guard-room, up the narrow staircase with its handrail of solid stone, he shows them a small room with a tiny window from which there is a splendid view of the Nidd and the country beyond. Visitors like to peer out of it, and one day, a woman said as she looked out, “But i can’t see any sign of the sea!” She like many others , thought Knaresborough was on the coast.

“She’d want long distance X-ray eyes to see it,” laughed Mr. Stalker. “There’s a good few miles between Knaresborough and the North sea, not to mention houses!

”Both Mr. Brooks and Mr. Stalker bring imagination to bear on their job, breathing life into the old stones with stories of events that happened in the days when the castle was a strong fortress.

Having shown their parties articles which include sixteen pound cannon balls from Marston Moor, the viameter which belonged to Blind Jack the Roadmaker, a man-trap that owners of the castle used to set in the Forest of Knaresborough, the eighty year old red coat of the Knaresborough Militia which once belonged to Major Gill, the torture cell where nobles were incarcerated for non-payment of taxes to the king, they then point out from the floor of the banqueting chamber above the guardroom the site of the subterranean passage unearthed during excavations.

“Wide enough for two men on horse-back,” they will tell you, and, “They used to take prisoners away through it so that no-one even saw them go. Probably Richard II was taken from Knaresborough Castle that way to Pontefract where he was murdered.” And his listeners suppress a shudder!

But it is in the dungeon that imagination reaches it’s peak. There, in the wall, traces of six staples remain by means of which prisoners were chained to the wall. The light filters into the dungeon through a slit-like window in a wall fifteen feet thick. One single shaft of day-light falls on a spot in the centre of the rough floor.

At this point the guide turns out the electric light with which the dungeon is now lit. He continues his tale.

“When a seventh man was brought into the dungeon,” he says, “all the prisoners moved up a place. One man now being without a place beside the wall, moved to the centre of the dungeon where the shaft of light fell.” He pauses while visitors follow the thin shaft of light with their eyes, to come eventually, to the guides boots, the only part of him that is visible in the darkness. And then he continues, “Just where i am standing was – the executioners block!

”I have never heard a scream at this point, but i have certainly heard many furtive “Ohs!” of horror.

Soon however, both Mr. Brooks and Mr. Stalker will be done with historic relics and dungeons for they both retire within a few weeks of each other.

“There’s only six weeks’ difference in our ages,” they told me. Mr. Brooks left the castle in December and Mr. Stalker in February. Their successor is young Mr. Lowe. I do not doubt that with a little practice he will be able to curdle his listeners’ blood as effectively as his predecessors.

If you are a descendant of Walter Brooks i would be delighted to hear from you. This year my research has led me to the Herrington families of Knaresborough and my BROOKS relations, link into the Herrington’s more than once. From the early 1800’s and again in the 1900’s research ongoing.

Nigel Brooks
January 2010


Owner/SourceNigel Brooks
DateJan 2010
Latitude54.009476
Longitude-1.468945
File name
File Size
ID131
Linked toWalter BROOKS

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