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Alnwick Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Alnewic; Aunewik'

In the civil parish of Alnwick.
In the historic county of Northumberland.
Modern Authority of Northumberland.
1974 county of Northumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NU18711357
Latitude 55.41576° Longitude -1.70605°

Alnwick Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are major building remains.

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Alnwick Castle was first built in the Norman period (1066 to 1154). The earliest castle was probably a simple motte and bailey castle. More fortifications were added in the 12th century, including a shell keep, a stone enclosure surrounding the top of the motte. In 1297 the castle was given to the Bishop of Durham, and then sold to Henry de Percy, father of the first Earl of Northumberland. In this period many more towers were added to the castle, as well as a great hall. The fortified gatehouse is one of the best in the country. The castle also had a large moat excavated around the outside. The castle was then little touched until the 18th century. A survey of 1567 shows that it was badly decayed. In the 1750s the castle was restored by the first Duke of Northumberland, and then heavily restored in the 19th century. It is the most impressive building in Alnwick, and one of the most important castles in the North of England. (Keys to the Past)

The seat of the Percy family since Norman times. During the first half of the 12th century a stone keep was erected on the motte, and stone curtain walls round the baileys replaced the original timber structures. In the 14th century the Keep was strengthened by the addition of semi -circular towers. The castle remained unchanged for 400 years. In the 18th century the keep of the decaying castle was turned into a comfortable pseudo-Gothic mansion by Robert Adams and others. In the second half of the 19th century the 4th Duke of Northumberland began another major reconstruction, when, under Anthony Salvin , the present palatial apartments were created (Furtado 1988).
Alnwick Castle has work of every period on the line of the original motte and bailey plan. By 1138 a strong stone built border castle with a shell keep in place of the motte, formed the nucleus of the present castle with 2 baileys enclosing about 7 acres. The curtain walls and their square towers rest on early foundations and the inner gatehouse has round-headed arches with heavy chevron decoration. The Castle was greatly fortified after its purchase by Henry de Percy 1309 - the Barbican and Gatehouse, the semi-circular towers of the shell keep, the octagonal towers of the inner gateway and the strong towers of the curtain wall date from the early to mid C14. Ruinous by the C18, the 1st Duke had it rehabilitated and extended by James Prince and Robert Adam, the latter being mainly concerned with the interior decoration, very little of which remains except for fireplaces in the Housekeeper's and the Steward's Rooms and for inside the present Estates Office range. Capability Brown landscaped the grounds, filling in the former moat (formed by Bow Burn).
The 4th Duke employed Anthony Salvin 1854-65 at the cost of £1/4 million to remove Adam's fanciful Gothic decoration, to restore a serious Gothic air to the exterior and to redesign the state rooms in an imposing grand Italian manner. The Castle is approached from Bailliff gate through the crenellated Barbican and Gatehouse (early C14): lion rampant (replica) over archway, projecting square side towers with corbelled upper parts, fortified passage over dry moat to vaulted gateway flanked by polygonal towers. Stone figures on crenellations here, on Aveners Tower, on Record Tower and on Inner Gateway were carved circa 1750-70 by Johnson of Stamfordham and probably reflect an earlier similar arrangement.
In the Outer Bailey to the, north are the West Garrett (partly Norman), the Abbott's Tower (circa 1350) with a rib vaulted basement, and the Falconer's Tower (1856). To the south are the Aveners Tower (C18), the Clock Tower leading into the Stable Yard, the C18 office block, the Auditor's Tower (early Clk) and the Middle Gateway (circa 1309-15) leading to the Middle Bailey. The most prominent feature of the Castle on the west side is the very large Prudhoe Tower by Salvin and the polygonal apse of the chapel near to it.
In the Middle Bailey, to the south are the Warders Tower (1856) with the lion gateway leading by a bridge to the grand stairs into the walled garden, the East Garrett and the Record Tower (C14, rebuilt 1885). In the curtain wall to the north are 2 blocked windows probably from an early C17 building now destroyed and the 'Bloody Gap', a piece of later walling possibly replacing a lost truer; next a small C14 watch tower (Hotspur's Seat); next the Constable's Tower, early C14 and unaltered with a gabled staircase turret; close by is the Postern Tower, early C14, also unaltered.'To the north-west of the Postern Tower is a large terrace made in the C18, rebuilt 1864-65, with some old cannon on it.
The Keep is entered from the Octagon Towers (circa 1350) which have 13 heraldic shields below the parapet, besides the agotrop3ic figures, and a vaulted passage expanded from the Norman gateway (fragments of chevron on former outer arch are visible inside). The present arrangement of the inner ward is largely Salvin's work with a covered entrance with a projecting storey and lamp-bracket at the rearof the Prudhoe Tower and a corbelled corridor at 1st floor level on the east. Mediaeval draw well on the east wall, next to the original doorway to the keep, now a recess The keep, like the curtain walls, is largely mediaeval except for some C18 work on the interior on the west and for the Prudhoe Tower and the Chapel. The interior contrasts with the rugged mediaeval exterior with its sumptuous Renaissance decoration, largely by Italians - Montiroli, Nucci, Strazza, Mantavani and inspired from Italian sources. The chapel with its family gallery at the east end has 4 short rib vaulted bays and a shallow 3-light apse; side walls have mosaics, covered now with tapestry. The grand staircase With its groin vaulted ceiling leads to the Guard Chamber from which an ante-room leads west into the Library (in the Prudhoe Tower) and east into the Music Room (fireplace with Dacian captives by Nucci). Further on are the Red Drawing Room (caryatid fireplace by Nucci) and the Dining Room (ceiling design copied from St Lorenzo f.l.m. in Rome and fireplace with bacchante by Strazza and faun by Nucci).
South of the Middle Gateway are Salvin's impressive Kitchen quarters where the oven was designed to burn a ton of coal per day. West of the Stable Courtyard, with C19 Guest Hall at the south end, is the C19 covered riding school, with stable to north of it, and with its west wall forming the east side of Narrowgate. The corner with Bailliffgate has an obtuse angled tower of 2 storeys, with a depressed ogee headed doorway from the street, and merlons (Listed Building Report). (PastScape)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
  • Websites (Gatehouse is not responsible for the content of external websites.)
  • Books
    • Goodall, John, 2013, 'The Early Development of Alnwick Castle, c.1100-1400' in Jeremy Ashbee and Julian Luxford (eds), Newcastle and Northumberland Roman and Medieval Architecture and Art (Leeds: British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 36) p. 232-247
      Brears, Peter, 2011, 'The Administrative Role of Gatehouses in Fourteenth-Century North-Country Castles' in Airs, M. and Barnwell, P.S. (eds), The Medieval Great House (Donington: Shaun Tyas) p. 200-213
      Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) passim
      Beckensall, Stan, 2010, Coastal Castles of Northumberland (Amberley) p. 14-15, 135-156
      Geldard, Ed, 2009, Northumberland Strongholds (London: Frances Lincoln) p. 49
      Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 115-9
      Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 12-15
      Emery, Anthony, 1996, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 1 Northern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 36-9
      Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 170-2
      Pevsner, N. (revised by John Grundy et al), 1992, Buildings of England: Northumberland (London, Penguin) p. 135-9
      Jackson, M.J.,1992, Castles of Northumbria (Carlisle) p. 11-4 (plan)
      Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 36-37
      Furtado, Peter et al (eds), 1988, Ordnance Survey guide to castles in Britain (London) p. 181
      Rowland, T.H., 1987 (reprint1994), Medieval Castles, Towers, Peles and Bastles of Northumberland (Sandhill Press) p. 6-9, 39, 52, 53, 55
      King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 325
      Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 177-8
      Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 13-27
      Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 89
      Long, B., 1967, Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 54
      Sanders, I.J., 1960, English Baronies. A study of their origin and descent 1086-1327 p. 103
      Churchill, R., 1954, Fifteen Famous English Homes p. 23-9
      Hugill, R.,1939, Borderland Castles and Peles (1970 Reprint by Frank Graham) p. 12-24
      Evans, Herbert A., 1912, Castles of England and Wales (London) p. 173-85
      Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
      Hodgson, J.C. (ed), 1910, Six North Country Diaries. Vol. I (Surtees Society 118) p. 13, 86 online copy
      Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 358-62 online copy
      Tomlinson, W.W., 1897, Comprehensive Guide to Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 376-386
      Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 175-85 (plan) online copy
      Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 3 (London) p. 371-81 online copy
      Tate, George., 1866-69, The History of the Borough, Castle, and Barony of Alnwick (Alnwick) Vol. 1 p. 372-88
      White, W., 1859, Northumberland and the Border p. 168-81 online copy
      Hartshorne, C.H., 1858, Feudal and Military Antiquities of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders (London) p. 103-27, 167-85, cxl-cxlvi online copy
      Hodgson, J., 1828, History of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Part 3 Vol. 2 p. 211 online copy
      Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 4 p. 36-49
      Hutchinson, Wm, 1776, A View of Northumberland (Newcastle) Vol. 2 p. 193-243 online copy
      Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities (London) Vol. 1 p. 213
  • Periodical Articles
    • Guy, Neil, 2013-14, Book Review- Alnwick Castle' The Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 27 p. 312-18 (a detailed critical review of Goodall 2013 above )
      Goodall, J., 2009 March, 'The lion in the north: Alnwick Castle, Northumberland' Country Life Vol. 203.9 p. 44-53 online copy
      King, Andy, 2007, 'Fortress and fashion statements: gentry castles in fourteenth-century Northumberland' Journal of Medieval History Vol. 33 p. 382 (brief comment about barbican)
      Taylor-Wilson, Robin, 2001-2002, 'Alnwick Castle Gardens' Castle Studies Group Newsletter No. 15 p. 43-45 online copy
      Worsely, G., 1989 Dec 8, 'Alnwick Castle, Northumberland II' Country Life Vol. 182.48 p. 74-78
      Worsely, G., 1989 Dec 1, 'Alnwick Castle, Northumberland I' Country Life Vol. 182.47 p. 174-8
      Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 311
      Allibone, J. 1977, 'Alnwick Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 133 p. 148-54 (plans)
      Brown, R, Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
      Batho, G.R., 1958, 'The state of Alnwick Castle 1557-1632' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 36 p. 129-146
      Batho, G.R., 1957, 'The Percies and Alnwick Castle. 1557-1632' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 35 p. 48-63
      St Joseph, J.K., 1950, 'Castles of Northumberland from the air' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 28 p. 7-17 esp 14-15
      Hunter Blair, C.H., 1944, 'The Early Castles of Northumberland' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 22 p. 116-70 esp 143-6 (plan)
      Hussey, 1930, Country Life Vol. 66 p. 16-22, 52-60
      Hussey, 1929, Country Life Vol. 65 p. 890-8, 952-9
      Knowles, W.H., 1909, 'The Gatehouse and Barbican of Alnwick Castle, with an account of the recent discoveries' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser3) Vol. 5 p. 286-303
      Skelly, 1899-1900, 'Alnwick Castle' History of the Berwickshire Naturalist Club Vol. 17 p. 202-8, 295-6 online copy
      1890, The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend p. 303-11 online copy
      Bruce, 1887-8, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (ser2) Vol. 3 p. 80-4
      Clark, G.T., 1883-4, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (ser2) Vol. 1 p. 208-51
      W.D., 1873, The Antiquary Vol. 3 p. 285-7
      Clark, G.T., 1869, The Builder Vol. 27 p. 782-4 (reprinted in MMA)
      Wilson, F.R., 1860-62, 'Alnwick Castle' Transactions of the Tyneside Naturalist Field Club Vol. 5 p. 172-7 online copy
      Dickson, 1856-62, History of the Berwickshire Naturalist Club Vol. 4 p. 8-10 (plans) online copy
      Donaldson, 1857, The Builder Vol. 15 p. 5-6
      Donaldson et al, 1856-7, Transactions of the Royal Institute of British Architects p. 7-26
  • Guidebooks
    • Shrimpton, Colin, 1999 (5th rev. edn.), Alnwick Castle (Derby: Heritage House Group)
      Anon, 1980, Alnwick Castle, Home of the Duke of Northumberland (English Life Publications)
      Graham, F. 1973, Alnwick, A Short History and Guide (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 3-16
      Duke of Northumberland, 1931, Guidebook (Edinburgh)
      Hartshorne, Charles H., 1865, A Guide to Alnwick Castle (Alnwick)
      Anon, 1851, A Description of Alnwick Castle (Alnwick)
      Anon, n.d., Guide-Book to Alnwick Castle (H.C.Coates &Son; Alnwick)
  • Primary (Medieval documents or transcriptions of such documents - This section is far from complete and the secondary sources should be consulted for full references.)
  • Antiquarian (Histories and accounts from late medieval and early modern writers)
    • Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
      Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England (Sutton Publishing) p. 338, 343
      Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1910, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 5 p. 49, 64 online copy
      Clarkson's Survey of Alnwick Castle, Begun in 1567 in Hartshorne, C.H., 1858, Feudal and Military Antiquities of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders (London) appendix 13 p. cxl-cxlvi online copy
  • Other sources: Theses; 'grey' literature; in-house reports; unpublished works; etc.
    • Northumberland County Council, 2009, 'Alnwick' Northumberland Extensive Urban Survey doi:10.5284/1000177 download copy
      Cornell, David, 2006, English castle garrisons in the Anglo-Scottish wars of the fourteenth century (Doctoral thesis, Durham University) online copy
      Constable, Christopher, 2003, Aspects of the archaeology of the castle in the north of England C 1066-1216 (Doctoral thesis, Durham University) p. 103 Available at Durham E-Theses Online
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This record last updated on Saturday, November 15, 2014

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