Keys to the Past

Etal Castle (Ford)

Etal Castle (Copyright © Don Brownlow)
Etal Castle (Copyright © Don Brownlow)

Etal Castle gatehouse, Ford. Photo by Northumberland County Council.
Etal Castle gatehouse, Ford. Photo by Northumberland County Council.

Etal Castle tower house, Ford. Photo by Northumberland County Council.
Etal Castle tower house, Ford. Photo by Northumberland County Council.

Etal Castle is a tower house which consists of a number of buildings including a tower and its outer enclosure, also known as a barmkin, a gatehouse, a corner tower and various ancillary buildings built within the outer enclosure and against the enclosing curtain wall.

The earliest of these buildings is the tower, built in the late 13th or early 14th century. This is a four storey rectangular building with walls 2m thick. The ground floor has a vaulted basement, which would have been used for storage and the occasional shelter of livestock. It has a single window and was reached via a short passage through a forebuilding which once stood on the east side. This building had a spiral staircase, which gave access to the upper floors.

The first floor served as a hall or day room with a large fireplace in the north wall and window seats. A latrine was housed in a small room built within the thick walls. A window in the north wall incorporated a 'murder hole', a narrow slanting shaft through which things could be thrown at intruders below. This suggests that there was once a doorway below this window through which intruders would try to break through, but now all signs of the doorway have gone. The second floor was also a comfortable room, used as a private chamber. Such rooms are often referred to as solars. This room also contained a fireplace and a latrine, also known as a garderobe, and large windows with window seats. The third floor is plainer with no fireplace, but it did have window seats and another garderobe. This floor gave access on to the roof and so may have been used by guards. The roof does not survive, but probably had roofs like many other Border towers with steeply pitched stone gables and crenellated parapets. The remains of a lookout turret survive above the head of the spiral stair.

The outer enclosure would originally have been enclosed by a timber palisade, but at around 1341 King Edward III granted the lord of Etal a licence to build crenellations in order to fortify his house against invasion. The tower was probably already crenellated but the fortifications could now be extended to include the gatehouse, corner tower and curtain wall. Documents suggest that this process took a minimum of 15 years, because by 1355, the castle was still not at full strength. The curtain wall only had walls one metre thick, so they were never especially strong.

But the gatehouse was a formidable building. It was two storeys high with a vaulted gate passage at ground level. This was flanked by two towers, which projected forward to protect the approach to the gate and above the main building. The entrance was defended by a portcullis and a pair of hinged gates. The portcullis housing can still be seen today, as can the hinge pins. There is also evidence that the gate was defended by a moat and drawbridge, as holes through which the cables ran can still be seen on either side of the window above the gate passage. Above the gate passage, the guard commander would have has his quarters and on either side of the gate passage below, were vaulted guard rooms, one with a fireplace and one with a garderobe. A sentry chamber was located in the south tower, while the north tower contained the spiral staircase that gave access to the fighting platform.

Earthworks indicate the position of walls around the rest of the outer enclosure. In addition to the tower house and defensive buildings there would have been various service buildings within the enclosure such as stables, kitchens, housing for servants and guardsmen, offices, a brewhouse, a bakehouse etc. None survive as standing ruins, but their foundations lie buried beneath the soil. Partial archaeological excavations carried out in the enclosure have located ovens in the north corner and cobbled surfaces.

In 1250 the manor of Etal was held by Robert Manners, a tenant of Robert Muschamp. In 1291, the Manners were sufficiently well respected for the Archbishop of York to have been their house guest. From the 14th century, for about a hundred years, Scottish raids and an ongoing and financially ruinous feud between the Manners and the Herons of Ford, resulted in the manor decreasing in value, so that by 1438 it was worth only a tenth of what it had been in 1250. It took a later Robert Manners, who became lord of Etal in 1438, to restore the family fortunes by being a successful Border skirmisher. In 1495 his grandson George Manners inherited the barony of Roos through his mother Eleanor and, from that time, Etal Castle ceased to be the main residence of the Manners family but was instead occupied by their tenants, the Collingwoods, throughout most of the 16th century. The Collingwoods were constables of the castle and during this time the castle played a significant role in the Border wars. In 1513 it was captured by the forces of James IV of Scotland and later that year was used to store Scottish artillery captured at the Battle of Flodden. In 1525, Thomas Manners became Earl of Rutland and, in 1547, gave the manor of Etal to the Crown in exchange for lands elsewhere. In this way, Etal became a royal castle and its connections with the Manners family ended. It was used to house a garrison from time to time, but repairs were never carried out and the castle fell into disrepair. Throughout the succeeding centuries the Etal Estate passed through various hands and the castle ceased to be a residence in the 18th century. In 1908, the Etal and Ford Estates were purchased by the first Lord Joicey and remain with the Joicey family to this day. The castle has been in state care since 1975. The castle is a Scheduled Monument and Grade I Listed Building protected by law.

Reference number:N1811
Historical period: Post Medieval (1540 to 1901)
Medieval (1066 to 1540)
Legal status:Listed Building
Scheduled Ancient Monument
Event(s):GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY, Etal Castle, Etal, Northumberland, report on geophysical survey 1988 1998; ENGLISH HERITAGE
WATCHING BRIEF, Etal Castle 2015; AD Archaeology Ltd

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See also:
Source of Reference
Local History of Ford

Disclaimer -

Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.