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Warkworth Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Warcorthe; Werkeurda; Wercwrth; Werkewrda

In the civil parish of Warkworth.
In the historic county of Northumberland.
Modern Authority of Northumberland.
1974 county of Northumberland.
Medieval County of Northumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NU24710575
Latitude 55.34527° Longitude -1.61180°

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

There are major building remains.

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


Warkworth Castle is a well-documented example of a 12th century tower keep castle which developed from an earlier motte and bailey castle and remained in use till the end of the 16th century. It was one of the strongest castles in the north of England and part of its importance lies in its association with the Percys, historically one of the most important medieval families in Britain. Not only are its standing remains in a good state of preservation, but a wide range of ancillary features survive within its walled bailey and include an unfinished collegiate church. In addition, the buried remains of structures associated with the motte and bailey castle will survive in the bailey area outside the east curtain wall which has remained undeveloped since it went out of use in the mid-12th century. The 15th century keep of the present castle illustrates well the trend in the later Middle Ages to move away from buildings of purely military character to ones with greater thought for domestic comfort.
The monument lies at the neck of a loop of the River Coquet and includes the early 12th century motte and bailey castle, the mid-12th to 16th century tower keep castle, and the 14th century collegiate church. To the north of the castle, occupying the loop of the river, is the town of Warkworth which developed with the castle as one of the planned boroughs of the Middle Ages. Further remains, preserving the relationship between the castle and borough, will survive in this area. However, aside from Warkworth bridge and gatehouse, which lie c.400m to the north and are covered by a separate scheduling, these have not been included in this scheduling as their extent and state of preservation are not sufficiently understood. The motte or castle mound stands at the south end of the main street through Warkworth, at the highest point of a steep incline. The bailey occupies a levelled and scarped area to the south and is roughly triangular in plan with a diameter of c.100m or a hundred paces. It is separated from the motte by a ditch which also encircles it to the east and south. The river flanks the castle to the west at the bottom of a steep bank. The origins of the earliest castle are obscure but it would have included a timber keep on the motte and a palisade round the bailey. The bailey enclosure would have contained a wide range of timber-built ancillary features such as accommodation for the lord's family and men-at-arms, workshops, stables, service buildings and corrals for stock and horses. At some point in the mid-12th century, the castle was strengthened by the addition of a stone curtain wall which reduced the maximum width of the bailey to c.80m. The unused portion of the earlier bailey lies to the east of the latter. At about the same time, the lord's accommodation was replaced by a stone hall and solar, built against the inside of the west curtain. The south and west walls of the hall survive and, together with a section of the east curtain, are the only upstanding remains of the earliest stone castle. In the late 12th or early 13th century, the timber keep was replaced by the first masonry tower keep. Only the foundations of this structure survive, the upstanding remains being those of its early 15th century replacement. The walls and structures of Warkworth Castle show evidence of many phases of reconstruction and modification. Aside from the sections of mid-12th century masonry already noted, the earliest surviving standing remains are found along the south curtain and the south-west corner of the monument. These include the gatehouse, at the centre of the south curtain wall, built in c.1200, which consists of a vaulted gate-passage flanked by guardrooms with projecting semi-octagonal bays at the front. The recess for a drawbridge survives around the gate arch below a machicolation, or projecting parapet, added in the later 13th century when both the gatehouse and the walls were heightened. In the gatehouse walls, near to the machicolation, are square holes which formerly carried the timber brackets for hoards: covered wooden galleries from which the castle could be defended by archers and crossbowmen. The gate passage was also protected by a portcullis and an inner iron gate, both covered by arrow slits in the walls of the guardrooms. Further arrow slits overlook the ditch along the south side of the castle. Also dating to the early 13th century is a building range of uncertain purpose along the eastern half of the south curtain. Of similar date, and situated at the junction of the south and west curtain walls, is Carrickfergus Tower: a semi-octagonal projecting tower of three storeys, with arrow slits at ground floor level overlooking the ditch. To the north of this is the hall and solar. The solar, or private chamber of the lords of Warkworth, lay above an undercroft or cellar and shows evidence of reconstruction in both the 13th and 14th centuries. The same is true of the hall or public chamber which was rebuilt in the 13th century when the north or 'low' end was subdivided to create a buttery and pantry. In the late 14th or early 15th centuries, towers were built at the south-east and north-east corners of the hall; the latter creating a porch at the entrance and known later as the Lion Tower because of the lion, an emblem of the Percy family, carved on the central boss of its vault. To the south-east of the hall, adjacent to the solar block, is the early 14th century chapel while, to the north, lay the kitchen, separated from the buttery and pantry by a larder fronted by a small courtyard and rebuilt in the 15th century. To the north of this lies the 13th century west postern tower and, to the north-east of this, in the ditch separating the motte and bailey, is a 14th century building interpreted as either a brewhouse or a laundry. Along the east curtain wall are a series of buildings dating to c.1300 which include a stable-block with a first floor granary and the projecting semi-octagonal Grey Mare's Tail Tower which, in the 16th century, was used as a prison and contains wall carvings that may have been executed by prisoners. South of the stables is the east postern which, in its present form, is 16th century. Also of 16th century date is the square Amble or Montagu Tower, located at the junction of the east and south curtain walls. To the west of the stables are the remains of the castle well-house. The well itself has been cleared to a depth of 18m without reaching the bottom. Water would have been raised either by a treadmill or by a horse or donkey wheel. The early 15th century keep is unroofed but largely complete. Its well- preserved external appearance is due to its continued upkeep during the 15th and 16th centuries, and the restoration of the south bay and south-west corner, which were reroofed and made habitable by the fourth Duke of Northumberland between 1853 and 1858. The plan of the keep is of a square tower with mitred corners, with projecting pentagonal bays at the centre of each face. It has three storeys, the ground floor being taken up by service rooms, a guardroom with an oubliette or pit-dungeon, and a chamber identified in records as the pages' room. These are arranged round a central light well which is open to the sky. A wide flight of stairs leads up to the first floor which is completely domestic in character, its rooms comprising a hall, chamber, chapel, kitchen, buttery and pantry, and its walls containing closets, ventilation shafts and cupboards. The second floor too is non- military, consisting of the upper levels of the hall, kitchen and chapel and two private rooms, including a solar. Rising high above the second floor, at the centre of the keep, is the Lookout Turret which houses a further three apartments, one above the other. To the south of the keep, on the opposite side of the ditch between the motte and bailey, are the foundations of an early 15th century church. This church, which extends the full width of the bailey, was intended as part of a college of secular canons endowed by the first Percy earl of Northumberland. It appears, however, that the plan was never realised and that the upper part of the church was never built. Vaulted cellars under the east arm and north transept of the church remained in use as stores and survive together with the ground-plan of the church and a passage built to connect the bailey to the south with the area to the north. The first stone castle at Warkworth is believed to have been built by Henry, son of King David I of Scotland, who was created Earl of Northumberland in 1139. It is not known who was responsible for the construction of the earlier motte and bailey castle. In 1157, Northumberland was taken by King Henry II of England who, in 1158, granted the castle and manor of Warkworth to Roger fitzRichard. Despite being besieged and sacked in 1174 by William the Lion of Scotland, formerly Earl of Northumberland and lord of Warkworth, the castle remained with Roger until his death in 1177. At that time, Roger's son, Robert, was still a minor and was not confirmed in his Northumberland estates until 1199. By 1203 he was Sheriff of Northumberland and, as a wealthy and powerful man, was responsible for the strengthening of the castle by the construction of the gatehouse and Carrickfergus Tower, and also the rebuilding of the earlier stone buildings, including the reconstructed hall and solar. It was probably also he who built the first stone keep. Throughout the 13th and early 14th centuries, Warkworth continued in the hands of Roger fitzRichard's descendants who, from 1310, took the surname de Clavering after their estates in Essex. In 1323, following the Scottish campaign of 1322, Edward II ordered John de Clavering to provision and maintain the castle against an expected attack from Scotland. The assault came in 1327 when, twice, the Scots besieged the castle and both times were defeated. After peace was signed in 1328, the castle continued to house a small royal force in addition to its own garrison, in order to help safeguard the border. John de Clavering died without male heir in 1332 and the castle was granted to Henry, second Lord Percy of Alnwick. Under him, the curtain walls and gatehouse were heightened and strengthened and Grey Mare's Tail Tower constructed. Improvements were also made to the domestic arrangements of the castle which became the chief residence of the lords of Alnwick. It also became the setting for a number of historically important events, including the conspiracy to depose Henry IV formed between the third Percy lord of Warkworth and his son, Harry Hotspur. Hotspur was defeated and killed at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 and, in 1405, his father joined a second conspiracy, led by Archbishop Scrope. This plot too failed and Percy escaped to Scotland. The king laid siege to Warkworth with cannon, forcing its rapid surrender. In the same year, he granted the forfeited Percy baronies of Alnwick, Prudhoe and Langley to his younger son John, Lord Warden of the East Marches. Warkworth became John's headquarters until, in 1416, Henry, son of Hotspur, did homage to Henry V and was restored to his lands and the earldom of Northumberland. No documentary evidence exists for the castle during the late 14th and early 15th centuries, though it was during this period that the present keep was built and the collegiate church begun. During the Wars of the Roses it was held for the Lancastrians but, in 1461, was lost to them due to the death of the third earl of Northumberland at the battle of Towton. In 1462, it was granted by the Yorkist King Edward IV to his brother, the Duke of Clarence. From it, the 'kingmaker' Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, directed the sieges of Bamburgh, Alnwick and Dunstanburgh castles. In 1464, John Neville was made Earl of Northumberland and Lord Warden of the Marches, and adopted Warkworth as his northern home. In 1471, Henry Percy, eldest son of the Lancastrian third earl, was appointed earl and Lord Warden of the East and Middle Marches following his release from the Tower of London and his oath of fealty to Edward IV. He too lived at Warkworth and records of numerous general repairs exist from the period leading up to his death in 1489. Further repairs and improvements were carried out during the lifetime of his son and grandson who held the castle until 1538, when the latter gave his estates to Henry VIII. The king's commissioners reported the castle in good repair and, between 1538 and 1557, it became the residence of two successive royal officials. In 1557, together with the earldom of Northumberland, it was restored to Thomas Percy by Queen Mary Tudor but, in 1569, after the earl joined the Rising of the North, it was taken for Elizabeth I by Sir John Forster and again became a residence for royal officials. The earl was executed in 1572 and was succeeded by his brother in 1574. By this time, however, the castle had been plundered for materials by Forster and was in a worsening state of repair. It ceased to be the earl's residence and was leased in c.1585, together with its estates, to Sir Ralph Grey, who allowed it to decay even further. In 1622 it was leased to Sir Francis Brandling and, between 1644 and 1645, was captured and occupied by the Scots. In 1648 it was occupied by soldiers of the Commonwealth and, after their withdrawal, was leased to Ralph Milbourne of Newcastle upon Tyne by Joscelin, the eleventh and last earl of the second house of Percy. In 1672, Earl Joscelin's widow allowed John Clarke to remove any remaining building materials for the construction of his house at Chirton. The castle remained untended until the mid-19th century when the fourth Duke of Northumberland restored part of the keep and carried out repairs to the rest of the castle to prevent its further decay. The castle has been in State care since 1922 and is also a Grade I Listed Building. (Scheduling Report)

Castle curtain walls with gateway, towers and attached buildings. C12 to C16 with some post-medieval patching. Earliest parts probably built by Earl William (later William the Lion of Scotland); much later medieval remodelling under the Percy family who held Warkworth from 1332 onwards; fell into ruin in later C16. Squared stone of various types.
Plan: built on earlier motte-and-bailey, an irregular triangle with the donjon (q.v.) on motte at the north apex. Great Gate Tower in centre of south curtain, Carrickfergus Tower at south-west corner, Amble or Montagu Tower at south-east corner. Near north of curtain walls are Grey Mare's Tail Tower on east and West Postern Tower. Interior: Collegiate Church divides Inner and Outer wards;Outer (south) Ward has principal apartments on west and chapel on south-west.
Exterior. Great Gate Tower of c.1200 has pointed arch in corbelled recess - under wall-head machicolation, flanked by semi-octagonal towers with tall polygonal buttresses at southern angles, battered bases and cruciform arrow loops low in wall. Curtain east of gatehouse, 2-3 metres high, is post- medieval rebuild on C13 foundations. Square late C15 four-storey Amble or Montagu Tower, projecting to east, has slits to lower floors and 2-light windows above. Taller C13 curtain west of gatehouse runs to polygonal C13 3-storey Carrickfergus Tower projecting to south; west part largely fallen. Tall arrow loops on ground floor.
East curtain: north of Amble and Montagu Tower is East Postern with mutilated pointed arch, and C13 projecting turret with 2 quatrefoil loops high in wall. Beyond this the curtain is C12, heightened in C13. Semi-octagonal C13 Grey Mare's Tail Tower is well preserved: battered base, tall arrow loops and embattled parapet. C13 wall running up motte has large semi-octagonal buttress.
West curtain: C13 southern part has round-arched recess, with carved panel above square-headed window, which probably held solar balcony. Windowless C12 centre part alongside hall; north lower post-medieval part and C14 section, with chamfered set-backs and 2 relieving arches at base, joining West Postern Tower which has slightly-pointed arch and square-headed windows on 2 floors above; embattled parapet with cruciform loop on left return. C13 wall running up motte has buttress as on east.
Beam sockets below parapets of curtains and tower held timber fighting gallery.
Interior: Great Gate Tower has passage with pointed barrel vault, with twin portcullis slots and arrow slits in side walls. Flanking guard chambers have similar vaults. Beyond guard chambers curving flights of stairs up to 1st floor chamber. Chapel to west has piscina on south but otherwise much ruined.
Apartments on east side of Outer Ward largely remodelled in C15. Lion Tower served as porch to north end of Hall (and to Collegiate Church) and has diagonal buttresses flanking moulded arch. Large recessed panel above on fan corbels with relief carvings of Percy lion and other emblems. Interior has groin vault. Hall is much ruined but has pier bases and south respond, with nailhead decoration, of C13 arcade; bases of 2 hearths; at south end broad stair in thickness of curtain wall led up to solar. Little Stair Tower formed second porch to south end of Hall, solar undercroft and Chapel: diagonal buttresses, 4-centred archways, and remains of groin vault on 1st floor. Newel stair in west wall rises to umbrella vault in taller turret capped by stone spire. Service rooms and kitchen to north of hall much ruined.
Cruciform Collegiate Church, never completed, had aisled 4-bay nave and 2-bay chancel: Lower courses and pier bases only, except for passage with Tudor- arched ashlar vault beneath east end (link between inner and outer wards) and 2 chambers with similar vaults beneath choir and north transept.
Brewhouse or Laundry in Inner Ward, range of buildings (including stables) along east curtain and range alongside east part of south curtain are mostly reduced to footings. Detached well house in outer ward similarly ruinous but has well cleared to depth of 18 metres. (Listed Building Report)

For those with free spirited children who want to run around and explore Warkworth Castle offers considerably more scope than touristy and mainly Victorian Alnwick Castle.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:08

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