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North East Warkworth, Northumberland - castle, hermitage and church...

Warkworth is an attractive small village of solidly built stone houses in a loop of the River Coquet. At one end of the High Street is the castle, with the church and medieval fortified bridge at the other end.


Warworth Castle

Built on higher ground above the village, the castle has superb views inland over fertile farmland and woodland to the Cheviot Hills and to the coast at Amble with Coquet Island.



The site has been fortified since the C8th and the Normans built a motte and bailey castle here in the C12th. The curtain wall was added in the C13th and the wooden castle replaced by stone in the C14th. It was the ancient seat of the Percy Family, the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland, before they moved to Alnwick Castle. The Duke’s Rooms at the top of the tower were given new floors and ceilings in the 1850s and continued to be used occasionally until 1987 when they passed into the ownership of English Heritage, about 80 years after the rest of the castle.

There is a massive two towered gatehouse to the south of the castle on the side away from the town. This has a dry moat in front of it which may be part of the C8th fortifications. At the base are the guard rooms and a spiral staircase leads to the upper floors.


Round the inside of the curtain wall are the foundations of the domestic buildings, including chapel, hall, solar, kitchens, buttery and pantry along the west wall. There are the gaunt remains of two towers.

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There are the gaunt remains of two towers. The Lion Tower has the remains of a carving of the Percy lion above the doorway.


There is another Percy lion on the outer side of the curtain wall overlooking the town. The stables were along the east wall along with the Grey Mare’s Tail tower.

The inner and outer wards were separated by the C15th church, thought to have been started by the 4th Earl but abandoned after his murder. Little remains of this apart from the foundations. In front of the keep are the foundations of brewhouse and laundry.

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The great keep is built on the motte of the Norman castle above the inner ward. Although it has lost its roof, the walls stand to their original height, dominated by the tall narrow lookout tower. It was built as a stately residence and statement of power and was not designed for defence. The portcullis slot dates from the 1850s restoration.


It is still an impressive building. The best way to describe it is as a cross superimposed on a square. The ground floor is a maze of interconnecting rooms with vaulted stone ceilings and pointed archways between them. Rooms were mainly used for storage and were lit by tall narrow windows with steps up to then. The keep was designed with a central light well. There are stone staircases to the rooms on the upper floors as well as interconnecting passageways in the walls and also garderobes.

The Great Hall on the floor above is reached by a long flight of stairs leading off the entrance hall. This was a large and impressive room with fire places and large windows which occupied two floors. It is now open to the sky.

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Smaller rooms off it include the kitchen with two huge fireplaces, one with a wall recess for salt and a slop drain.


Staircases lead to store rooms below. Off it are the pantry and buttery. Behind the Great Hall were the private quarters of the Percy family, Beyond were the sleeping quarters, all with fireplaces. The chapel had a gallery at the west end for the Earl and his family, again with a fireplace. There was no such luxury for the servants sitting below. Two steps lead up to the chancel, still with its tiled floor and three lancet windows. Only the stonework is left of three double trefoliate windows. There are small carved bosses on either side. There is a small piscina and sedilia set in an apse with a carved top.

Anotherl staircase leads to the Duke’s Rooms on the second floor. The fourth Duke of Northumberland and architect Anthony Salvin had plans to completely restore the keep. Working between 1853-8, only two rooms were completed. They were furnished with tapestries, leather wall coverings and replica Elizabethan furniture and used to entertain family and friends on excursions from Alnwick Castle. Originally the Earl’s of Northumberland had used these rooms as a private set of rooms with access to the castle kitchens when the Earl carried out the annual audit of household accounts, attended by his sons and important household officers.

Plans produced by Salvin label the two rooms as Study House and Clerk’s Chamber reflecting their medieval functions.

The Study House is over the main entrance to the keep and has a wood ceiling and four large windows. The walls have wooden slats nailed to them which have fabric tacked to them. This would have been covered with leather but this was remove in the 1970s. The room was used to show the guests the castle and ongoing work in the inner and outer wards and had plans pinned on the walls. The restored fireplace of smooth sandstone does look a bit out of place. The cast iron fireback has the Royal Coat of Arms of Henry VIII on it. In front are Victorian fire irons.


The room is furnished with a buffet and two large highly carved chests.


The Clerk’s Chamber is where the Duke entertained his guests. The oak door in a corner partially hidden by a wooden chest leads to the servant’s staircase down to the kitchens, pantry and buttery. The garderobe was converted into a flush toilet. The room originally had tapestries on the walls and is now furnished with a long wooden table with carved legs and sides with bench along the sides. The buffet was used in the 16/17thC to display silver and pewter tableware and the shelves would have been covered with a carpet.


There is a splendid sideboard with three back panels carved with the Royal Coat of Arms and the Percy Arms.


Next to it is a dresser with Percy lions holding flags with family emblems on them.


Warkworth Castle is in the care of English Heritage. On summer weekends, the Hermitage is open and included in the entry ticket. This is reached by walking along the river where a rowing boat takes you across to the C14th chantry chapel carved out of the rock above the river.



The Hermitage

The Hermitage is a short walk along the river and reached by boat It is open during the summer months.

It dates from the early C14th and, rather than being a refuge for a hermit, was probably a chantry, or private chapel, where a priest performed services in return for a stipend. It was extended in the C15th with a lower floor with living quarters for the priest.

The Hermitage is on two levels carved directly out of the rock.

The vaulted chapel has a stone altar with a sacristy off. The inner chamber was probably a closet from which the earl and his retinue could view the service, as there are viewing slits and windows cut in the wall adjoining the chapel.

St Lawrence’s Church

St Lawrence’s Church is set in a churchyard surrounded by old yew trees and ancient graveyards. The church is built above the river on shallow sandy foundations and the north wall is heavily buttressed to stop movement. In 2009, two new buttresses had to be added as the wall was 19” out of line and in a dangerous condition.

It is a long, low building with massive tower at the west end topped by a small spire. The clock dates from 1875 and replaced an earlier clock which just had an hour hand.


There has been a church here since the C8th. This was a wooden church which was burnt down in Viking raids in the C9th. It was replaced by a small stone church. The foundations of his can be traced below the chancel arch and a small cross just in front of the chancel arch marks the position of the altar.

The present church was built between 1132-40 and consisted of a chancel with a stone roof and a long narrow nave. This is the longest nave in Northumberland and was intended as a place of refuge in the troubled times along the border as a well as the House of God. It had very thick walls and small slit windows set high in the walls. In 1174, the Scots attacked the town, set fire to it and killed 300 people sheltering in the church.

The base of the tower was built in 1200 and has the typical double Norman windows. The belfry and spire were added in the C14th. The south aisle was added in the C15th by the Percy family. The church needed to be a lot bigger as the parish also included Amble, Acklington, and Chevington.

The south porch was added at the same time. The room above was originally the curate’s lodging and later became the school until the C18th. The vestry is also C15th and may have been an anchorite’s cell with an oratory on the first floor. The lower room is now the boiler house.

The church underwent extensive restoration in 1860 when the church was reroofed, plaster removed from the walls and box pews taken out.

Entry is through a small porch on the south side, with an old sun dial above the door.

The pews have been removed from the very wide south aisle which is now the lady chapel with the font and altar which has a wooden reredos and blue curtains on either side. The top of the window contains the only bits of medieval glass to survive in the church. At the back is as C14th effigy of a knight with crossed legs resting on a lion. His hands are holding a heart.

The Norman nave has round topped windows set back in thick walls, with small round columns on either side. On the walls are brass and stone memorial tablets to the great and good.



The organ is at the back of the church and a small narrow round topped door gives access to the base of the tower. On the wall above are two rather nice carved heads.

The wooden pulpit has small colourful C20th panels showing St Lawrence blessing the poor.
There is St Cuthbert is setting out for Coquet Island and meeting St Hild and Caedmon.There are also panels of King Ceowulf, founder of the church, St Hilda of Whitby Abbey and
Benedict Bishop, the first Abbot of Monkwearmouth.


There is a beautiful Norman chancel arch with beading and a decorative border. The chancel is pure Norman work with round topped windows and dog toothed stone ribs on the vaulted ceiling.


On a window ledge are some bits of ancient stone crosses. The floor is black and red tiles and there are carved wooden choir stalls. The decorative metal altar rail dates from 1710. This was removed in the C19th restorations but was later found rusting in the base of the tower and has been re-instated.

The altar has a wooden reredos with barleycorn twist pillars, arches and floral decoration. Above are three lancet windows with C19th stained glass. On the north wall are two carved stone memorials, one to Mrs Ann, wife of Mr William Hunter. The second is to Mr John Clutterbuck with details of his wife and all his children. Between them is the brass memorial to the dead of World War One with thirty names. Below, a smaller brass plate has the ten names from World War Two.

The church is open during the day and is worth visiting.


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