Dilston is renowned for having been the ancestral seat of James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater – executed on Tower Hill for taking up arms in support of his cousin Prince James Francis Edward Stuart in the Jacobite Rising of 1715. Long after his death and the demolition of his grand mansion Dilston Hall, the romantic and melancholy story of James the ‘Bonny Lord’ lived on in local folklore, inspiring endless laments, biographies and historical novels – the most well known being Devil Water by Anya Seton (1962). Dilston Castle and Chapel together with Lord’s Bridge spanning the Devil’s Water are the remaining features of the Earl’s once magnificent estate.
Despite their significance and historical associations, by the end of the 20th century Dilston Castle and Chapel had fallen into disrepair, their deteriorating state resulting in these two scheduled ancient monuments being listed, in 2001, on English Heritage’s Register of Buildings at Risk. The situation was saved when, the following year, the North Pennines Heritage Trust acquired grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage to stabilise the castle and restore the chapel. A second grant award from the Heritage Lottery Fund, in 2007, backed by funding from other sources, enabled the Trust to carry out a further programme of work at Dilston and take into care the whole of this ancient site, situated on the Devil’s Water, near Corbridge, in Northumberland.
The second phase of work included an extensive archaeological excavation, the restoration of an old carriageway leading down to the river and major restoration work inside Dilston Castle. Following the completion of this work, HISTORIC DILSTON was officially opened by HRH The Princess Royal in 2009. No-one could have predicated that only three years later the site would close down with HISTORIC DILSTON returned to its neglected state.
Excavation of Dilston Hall, 2008-9
An excavation of the central block of the Jacobean manor house (Dilston Hall) revealed that much of the stone had been robbed out, though flagged floors and some retaining upstanding walls, with in situ plaster, survived in some areas… continued on Page 2