Dilston Castle

Has been described as a Certain Tower House

There are major building remains

NameDilston Castle
Alternative NamesDyvelston; Divelston; Devilstone; Devilswater
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishCorbridge

Towerhouse, probably built by Sir William Claxton in early C15, enlarged later C15, and C16 by Radcliffes (later Earls of Derwentwater); remodelled c.1620 as part of Dilston Hall, altered when Hall was rebuilt 1710-15. Squared stone with dressings; roofless. L-plan.

East elevation in 3 parts. Centre 3 storeys, 1 wide bay. 2 small round-headed lights on ground floor, each with circular gunloop beneath. 1st floor has large C18 window with raised stone surround , part of a trompe l'oeil window in similar surround to left and earlier chamfered loop to right; 2nd floor, now ruinous, shows part of another C18 window. Set back to left, later C15 4-storey south turret has original chamfered loops on ground and 2nd floors and later doorways to 1st and 2nd floors (latter blocked). At right, projecting 5-storey 2-bay end of C16 wing shows boarded door under flattened triangular head with tiny loop to right; upper floors have 2-light windows (some mullions missing); moulded cornice, remains of crenellated parapet. In angle of centre and wing, taller corbelled-out turret with chamfered loop.

North wall of wing shows various openings to former C16 hall block, including remains of Great Chamber fireplace at 1st floor level. South end of south turret shows ground-floor slit with gunloop, and 2-light C15 and C16 windows to upper floors. West elevation shows similar loops, and several 2- and 3-light windows with transoms and hoodmoulds to upper floors; corbelled-out stack to 2nd floor. To right, south turret has chamfered loops, and 2-light window to 1st floor.

Interior: segmental barrel vaults on ground floor. C16/C17 moulded fireplaces to 1st and 2nd floors. C15 1st floor fireplace in south turret has corbelled- out lintel. Stone winder stair (partly collapsed at time of survey) in C16 wing.

Historical notes. Foundations removed 1881 may have been of earlier medieval castle of Divelstons

Best known for its connections with the popular 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, executed 1716 for his part in the Jacobite rebellion; after the death of his son in 1731 the Derwentwater estates were seized by the Government and passed to the Greenwich Hospital Trustees, who in 1765 demolished the Hall except for the original towerhouse. (Listed Building Report)

Dilston Castle is set on an escarpment above the Devil's Water and faces north-east. The manor is reputed to have been owned by the Divelston family from the 13th century. However, there is no surviving visible evidence of any building dating to this period.

Sir William Claxton acquired the manor in 1417. The surviving evidence indicates that the Claxton family built a three storeyed tower-house of coursed sandstone construction in the early to mid 15th century. The accommodation comprised two unheated barrel vaulted ground floor rooms. The larger of the two retains two keyhole gun-loops. Both the first and second floors were originally heated. However, it is unclear if either of the two upper floors comprised a single chamber or were originally sub-divided as subsequent alterations have obscured the original layout. It is likely that there was a wall-walk above at parapet level. The surviving evidence suggests that the tower was originally free-standing and possibly was situated within a defended enclosure - of which there is visible surviving evidence. The tower probably provided the principal accommodation for the Claxtons.

Later in the 15th century a small three storeyed turret was built on to the east gable of the original tower. The ground floor of this comprised a barrel vaulted room provided with a key-hole gun-loop of a refined design. It appears likely that this room could also have functioned as a prison. An intermural flight of stairs, on the east side of this room, provides access to the first floor. A single heated chamber occupied each of the two upper floors.

During the late 15th century ownership of the estate passed to the Radcliffe family. In the mid to late 16th century the tower was remodelled and most of the present fireplaces on the first and second floors were inserted. At this time a two storeyed range of domestic rooms was built on to the west side of the tower - most of which has been subsequently demolished.

In the first quarter of the 17th century the late medieval fabric was remodelled and joined to a three storeyed domestic range (now demolished) that was built on to the north-west of the original tower. This comprised the new principal domestic accommodation and presumably the original tower was relegated to secondary accommodation. The only surviving features relating to this period are the closed well stair tower at the west end of the north wall of the tower. This stair tower has a corbelled out turret at parapet level built in the north-east angle between the new staircase and the north wall of the original tower. The nearby chapel and gateway (dated 1616) were part of the 17th century building work.

In the early 18th century a new house was planned around the tower by the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater. It is unclear how much of the planned work was carried out before his involvement in the 1715 Jacobite rebellion and subsequent execution. After the death of the 3rd Earl's son in 1731 the estates of the Derwentwaters were seized by the Crown and Dilston was granted to the Greenwich Hospital Trustees. They were responsible for the demolition of most of the buildings on the site. At the time of survey the building was ruinous. (Northumberland HER ref. RCHME 1994)

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNY975632
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