'Richmond Sixteen' graffiti saved after lottery funding

Credit: English Heritage

One hundred years after 16 men who refused to participate in the First World War were imprisoned in Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire, the graffiti they drew, etched and scratched on their cell walls will be saved from crumbling into oblivion by English Heritage, thanks to a major £365,400 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

In May 1916, 16 conscientious objectors – mainly from the North – were incarcerated in the 19th-century cell block at Richmond Castle before they were shipped off to France to face court martial and a possible firing squad. The prisoners, known as the Richmond Sixteen, included a Sunderland FC footballer, a clerk at the Rowntree’s chocolate factory in York, and a bookseller from Ely. Among the group were Quakers, Methodists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and socialists.

They and other conscientious objectors covered the walls of their cells with hundreds of pencil drawings and inscriptions, including political slogans, religious hymns, poetry and portraits of loved ones.

Credit: English Heritage

Hidden behind the door of one of the eight cells is an inscription written by Percy Fawcett Goldsbrough, a West Yorkshire socialist, who was imprisoned for disobeying orders or as he put it, for “refusing to be a soldier”.

Their graffiti are a record of the conscientious objector movement during the First World War. However the cell block was not constructed for the long term, rain water has penetrated through cracks in the roof and the walls, and because of the high levels of moisture and damp, the layers of lime wash and plaster on the walls are flaking off, taking the graffiti with it.

English Heritage’s Voices of Rebellion project will ensure the graffiti are preserved for future generations and will enable the public to view the cells for the first time in more than 30 years.

Supported by a grant from the HLF, the roof and walls of the cell block will be repaired and conservation specialists will treat the graffiti most at risk of loss.

Credit: English Heritage