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History of the Hazlewood Castle

History of the castle dates back to the times of Norman conquests, when William I made significant changes in both political and social life of England in the late 1060s, forcibly replacing Anglo-Saxon landowners with his own countrymen. The area, on which Hazlewood Castle is located, was put in possession of Moshe le Vavasour who was a Norman vassal of baron William de Percy and accompanied William I the Conqueror during his expeditions. One of the king’s requirements for distribution of lands was construction of watchtowers, especially in the northern regions, from Lincoln to Lancashire.

Moshe le Vavasour built a watchtower on a high limestone ridge, from which people were able to give signals using torches, thus indicating the danger. The tower has survived to this day and is the oldest building of Hazlewood Castle, which offers stunning views of Yorkshire. The first written records are to be found in 1086 in the “Domesday Book”, in which a general landed estates census of England was drawn up on the order of William I.

The heirs of Moshe le Vavasour led a peaceful and prosperous life in Hazlewood, occupying high state positions. In the times of Henry II, William Vavasour was a prominent judge and his son Robert held the position of High Sheriff in York. In 1220 Robert Vavasour made the stones mined in his querry located near Hazlewood available in order to strengthen York Minster. At a later date, the statue of Robert was placed on the Great Western door (main entrance) of the Cathedral, and the stones extracted in Hazlewood were used for construction of Eton College and the Royal Chapel at the University of Cambridge.

In the days of the civil war, called the Second Barons’ War in 1264, the castle was attacked by a rival branch of the Vavasour family and was largely destroyed as a result of the fires. It was rebuilt in 1283, and in 1290 its walls were crowned with battlements. In March 1461, just two kilometres away from Hazlewood, one of the greatest battles that has ever taken place on English soil was fought. During the Battle of Towton about 30 thousand soldiers have been killed in just one day, but faith has saved the castle and the Vavasour family which has always been characterized by its loyalty to the reigning monarchs. According to the legend, the Vavasour family took refuge in its own chapel, spending some time in confinement, while the winner of the battle – young king Edward IV – was celebrating success in their castle.

In January 1569, Queen Mary Stuart stayed for the night in the Hazlewood Castle, when travelling from the Bolton Castle to the Tutbury Castle. Several representatives of the Vavasour family suffered because of their religious beliefs in times of persecutions of Catholic nonconformists, but nevertheless Thomas Vavasour received the hereditary title of baronet in 1628. The second baronet, Walter Vavasour, during the Civil War fought on the side of the royalists, but after their defeat he was forced to hide in France and returned to his castle only after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

At the end of the 17th century the Vavasour family achieved the boom. Its members very often invested their wealth in modernization of ancestral property, restoration of the castle and construction of the new facilities. A stable was built in 1750. It was later rebuilt as the Guest House. Over the period 1760-70 many changes were brought to the architecture of both Hazlewood fortress and castle chapel. They were made under the direction of renowned architect John Carr. In 1826 the 7th baronet Vavasour, unmarried and childless, died. In the absence of direct heirs the castle passed into the hands of a further relative Edward Stourton, who took name Vavasour in the course of time.

At the end of the 19th century William Vavasour, the host of the castle, encountered financial difficulties, because of which he was forced to sell his property to Edward Simpson – a wealthy lawyer from Yorkshire – in 1908. The Simpsons reigned in the Hazlewood Castle for about 40 years, building the front terrace and a new entrance to the Great Chamber. During World War II and afterwards until 1953, a part of the castle served as a maternity hospital, being the birthplace for about 600-800 children per year.

In 1953 the castle was purchased by the Fawcett family, but after four years it was sold to Donald Hart. In 1972 the fortress was sold to the Order of Carmelites and the castle was reigned by them until 1997. Finally it was converted into the hotel, restaurant and banquet centre.