Sunday, 20 April 2014

Mitford Castle

The site of the castle is a strong one guarded by the Wansbeck ravine on one side and steep slopes on the others.  The castle has the honour of having the only five-sided keep in England. However, it is believed Mitford fords provided a better river crossing for travellers than nearby Morpeth, which is why it became of greater importance. The village was granted a charter for a market and became a borough some 50 years before Morpeth.


Prior to the 1066 Norman Conquest, the castle was held by Sir John de Mitford, whose only daughter and heiress, Sybilla Mitford, was given in marriage by William the Conqueror to the Norman knight, Richard Bertram. In 1215, it was seized by John de Balliol, King of Scotland’s troops.

A garrison commanded by Philip de Ulecotes withstood a siege here by Alexander II of Scotland in 1216. In 1264, the castle was held by the third Roger Bertram, but in that year, it was seized from him and committed to the custody of William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke, King Henry’s   half-brother. It was held by Alexander de Balliol, the son of John de Balliol  and the elder brother of King John, in 1275. During the rebellion in Northumberland set in the 1310s, Sir Gilbert de Middleton seized Mitford Castle from the Valence family.

In 1315, it was the headquarters of a group of bandits responsible for kidnappings and the holding of prisoners to ransom led by Sir Gilbert de Middleton. The Castle was taken by a ruse by a band of men under the leadership of Sir William Felton and Sir Thomas Heton in December 1317 and the de Middleton brothers Gilbert and John were captured and later executed at London in Jan 1318. The Castle was then destroyed by 1327. There are conflicting accounts over the castle's destruction. One theory is of a fire during Middleton's rebellion. Another theory is that it was destroyed by the Scots in May 1318 during Middleton's imprisonment in the Tower of London.

It is said the ghosts of the Middleton’s still walk the ruins looking for their next kidnap victims and you can hear the howls of the porters who were slain by William De Felton whilst carrying ransom money at the gateway.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Dunstanburgh Castle

The building of Dunstanburgh Castle began in 1313 when Thomas, the Earl of Lancaster, nephew of King Edward II.   However Thomas never got to see the castle complete as he was executed in 1322 for his revolt, and defeat, at the battle of Boroughbridge.  The site of the castle provides excellent protection with its sheer cliff face on one side and the stormy North sea on the other. The site covered almost 11 acres and was, at that time, the largest castle in Northumberland.  An outstanding feature of the castle is its imposing Gatehouse of which the ruin still stands proud and tall.

In 1362, John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III, inherited the castle and had the gatehouse converted into a keep.  His son, Henry of Bolingbroke, inherited the castle in 1399 and subsequently usurped the throne as Henry IV.  Dunstanburgh became a royal castle and a Lancastrian stronghold during the War of the Roses.  Its Lancastrian commander was Sir Ralph Percy.
A castle as imposing as this has a history of hauntings.  One spirit that supposedly walks the grounds is that of Thomas, the first Earl.  It is said his beheading in Pontefract took 11 blows of the axe and his headless ghost wanders near to Lilburn Tower with the head tucked under its arm and a look of agony on its face.

Lilburn Tower is sometimes referred to as Queen Margaret’s Tower after Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI.  She supposedly haunts the tower weeping for her soldiers defeated at the battle of Hexham and calling the name ‘Henry’.  This may be her husband who died in the Tower Of London in 1471 or her trusted friend, Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who was captured at the battle of Hexham and executed in the town square.  Another ghost was a Danish prince who fell in love with the Lord of the Castle’s daughter.  She was forbidden to marry him and one stormy night when he was riding to the castle he was set upon by her brothers and killed.  She was so distraught she threw her self from the ramparts to her death in the sea.  If you are lucky, or unlucky, on a stormy night you may catch a glimpse of a rider on a black horse riding furiously to the castle looking for his love.  If you visit the Gatehouse, watch out underfoot for toads, as they do love the wet slime on the walls and floor.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Chibburn Preceptory and St Andrews Chuch Hartburn, Northumberland.

Chibburn Preceptory  are the ruins of a Medieval/Post-Medieval Hospitaller preceptory. It was first recorded as a preceptory in 1313, and it was abolished in 1553 with the dissolution of the monasteries when all its lands were passed to the Crown and later the Widdrington family. The location of the Preceptory is on the pilgrims’ route to Lindisfarne. Low Chibburn had several uses, ranging from a hospital to a dowager house before being razed by the French naval hero, Jean Bart, who in 1691 landed at Druridge Bay, pillaging Widdrington village, castle and burning Chibburn.

The Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John arose as a group of individuals who had founded a hospital in Jerusalem around 1023 to provide care for the poor, sick or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the Western Christian, conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the first crusade the organisation became a religious and military order and it was charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land. To finance their exploits in the Holy Land the Knights Hospitallers received many gifts of land and estates in England to be worked to generate revenue. It was one of several military orders of which The Knights Templar are another. This order was disbanded in 1312. On the suppression of the Templars in 1308, efforts were made by the Hospitallers to get themselves declared heirs to the Templar possessions, their claim being supported by the pope. Chibburn Preceptory was, it would appear, an original possession of the Hospitallers.

The Preceptory of the Knights of St John was defended by a moat enclosing an area circa 100 yards diameter. The buildings formed a parallelogram having a courtyard in the middle, a dwelling house on the west, a chapel occupying the entire south side and various offices on the north and east sides. In the chapel; human bones have been found and a grave slab forms the threshold of the door leading from courtyard into a stable. The upper portion of a stone coffin is in one of the windows. The walls of the chapel are of excellent workmanship, and represent the sole remains of the Preceptory of the Knights of St John. The chapel was used as a pillbox during the Second World War.
St Andrews Church, Hartburn

The church shelters near to the east end of the small village of Hartburn.  At one time, the church belonged to the Tynemouth Abbey, later transferring to St Albans and after the dissolution of the Monasteries; it passed to ‘lay rectors’.  One such rector was the Earl of Derwentwater until his execution after the 1715 Jacobite rebellion.

The tower is mainly late 12th / early 13th Century with traces of its Saxon heritage.  Into the east, side of its doorway there has been a Maltese cross and two daggers incised into the stonework giving rise to speculation that the Knights Hospitaller or Knights Templar passed this way.

 The chancel is 13th Century with decorative pillars.  The pillar nearest to the pulpit shows a fish.  The fish is an ancient Christian symbol, predating the cross as a sign used by early Christians.  It is believed it was a secret symbol adopted by the early Christians, which would not draw attention to them at a time when the church was suffering persecution.


As you enter the church, you are faced with a money chest that Oliver Cromwell is said to have used to transport his wealth.  There are two substantial 13th Century coffins and a 12th Century baptismal font.  There is a plaque in the memory of the Revd John Hodgson, a famous historian of Northumberland who was vicar of Hartburn from 1833 to 1845.