Featherstone Castle (Featherstone)
The west range of Featherstone Castle incorporates a 13th century doorway and three buttresses, which together with some of the lower courses of the west wall and the south west tower (c.1330) are the remains of a 'hall house' or castle. The remainder of the house is 19th century. (2)
There is now no trace of (5) the ditch which reputedly surrounded it. (4)
See Illustration Card and GP A056/300/6-8.
Correctly described. Condition unchanged. (6)
Featherstone Castle, Grade I. Country House. Possibly an early 13th century hall-house (now incorporated in west range) with early 14th century south-west tower; early 17th century alterations; remainder c.1812-30. Castellated style. Mainly 19th century fenestration and embattled parapets.
West front: possible early 13th century re-set pointed doorway; two c.1330 cross windows; early 14th century L-plan south west tower; 13th century angle buttress. South front: early 14th century tower at west.
Interior: greatly altered in 19th century. South west tower, two barrel-vaulted basements and fragments of a spiral stone stair on the second floor. (7)
Featherstone Castle. Remains of castle in part of a house built around a courtyard; oldest in west range. Apart from this part the rest is make-believe, but may be over genuine work. (8)
Featherstone Castle is a complex and extensive house, largely in an early 19th century 'castellated Gothic' style, with extensive garden walls with turrets, gateway and a ruined mausoleum.
Throughout the medieval period the manor was held by the Featherstonehaugh family; the earliest record is Helias de Featherstonehaugh, resident here in 1212. The castle is not mentioned in the 1415 list, but the 1541 survey refers to it as 'Featherstonehaugh a tower of the inheritance of Alexander Featherstonehaugh of the same in good repair'; at some time in the later 17th century it was sold to the Earls of Carlisle, to be regained by the Featherstonehaughs (apparently a different branch of the family) in 1711.
A drawing of 1776 shows the castle from the north east; the present south west tower stands at the south west corner of a square or rectangular enclosure; there are ranges of building, probably two storeyed, on the south and west of the enclosure, and occupying the south half of the east side and the west half of the north side. The range of buildings on the west of the enclosure: the southern part has a large lateral stack on the east wall, and the northern a continuous outshut. The remainder of the enclosure is bounded by a wall, with an arched gateway in the section facing east, and apparently a second opening facing north.
A pair of late 18th century plans of the castle do not show the whole layout of the establishment, but depict a tower with an adjacent porch or stair wing on the west and an attached block on the north, adjoined on north and west by structures labelled farmhouse'.
In 1789 Matthew Featherstonehaugh sold the castle to James Wallace, the Attorney General; between 1812 and 1820 his son Thomas greatly remodelled and extended the castle; after his death in 1844 the castle passed by marriage to the Hon James Hope, who further improved the castle and grounds; the family took the name Hope-Wallace, and remained in possession until 1950 when Featherstone was sold to become a school; the present owners purchased it in 1961, and it remains both a residence and a conference centre.
The castle now has something of the appearance of a quadrangular palace fortress, with a small central courtyard and a tower at each corner. The tallest tower, at the south west corner, is the principal medieval survival, although other parts of the building, notably the west range and north west tower incorporate pre 19th century work.
THE SOUTH WEST TOWER: This is basically an L-plan tower; the principal block runs east-west, with two parallel north-south vaulted chambers in its basement, with a large turret, containing a third vaulted chamber, projecting south from its east end. In addition there are smaller square turrets projecting north and south from the west end of the principal block (the former containing the newel stair), and another set diagonally at the north east corner; the two northern turrets rise above the remainder of the tower. The tower is built of coursed rubble, with cut dressings; there are two chamfered set-backs on the south side of the south east turret.
There are now three entries to the basement of the tower, one from the 'Gun Room' (in the west range) into the western of the two main vaulted chambers, one cut diagonally through the base of the north east turret into the now sub divided eastern chamber, and one into the same area through the centre of the east wall (from the south range); the latter seems to be a modification of an earlier loop, the splayed north jamb of which is visible. The western of the pair of chambers has a square headed loop, with old iron bars, on the south, and a strange two-light mullioned window on the west, with a quite elaborately moulded external surround and an interesting internal arrangement where the mullion is carried back as a thin leaf of stonework, which is then corbelled out to carry the internal. Externally, a chamfered plinth at the base of the wall (the only one visible on the tower) is interrupted south of the window, hinting that it may replace an earlier opening that continued to ground level. The third chamber in the base of the south east turret is lit by a square headed loop, again with old iron bars, on the west. There is also a blocked square headed loop in the short section of the north wall of the tower which projects beyond the line of the attached north range; this would presumably have lit the base of the newel stair, assuming that this did once extend down to basement level.
At first floor level there have been considerable alterations, and no medieval features are visible. There is a single large room in the main body of the tower with doorways into both west and south ranges, as well as one cut diagonally through the north end of the west wall (destroying the lower section of the newel stair) into the added early 19th century porch; the west end of the room is lit by a four-light mullioned-and-transomed window, with a moulded surround, that appears to be of 17th century date; it has a hoodmould typical of that period, with turned back ends. South of this a small chamfered loop lights a small chamber in the south west turret. The chamber in the south east turret has a two-light 19th century window on the west, and a blocked segmental headed light on the south. There was also a small chamber in the north east turret at this level, now sealed off, which was lit by a small chamfered loop (now blocked) visible from an adjacent passage.
At second floor level there is again a large room in the main body of the tower (although its east part is taken up by an internal stair) and a smaller room in the turret. The large room has an early 19th century three-light mullioned-and-transomed window on the west, with to the south of it a blocked chamfered loop which served a small chamber, now sealed off, in the south west turret. The room in the south east turret has a two-light 19th century window on the west, and shows the rough segmental rear arch of a blocked medieval loop on the east. The newel stair in the north west turret is now blocked off at second floor level, but remains intact above this; a later stair cuts through the diagonally-set north east turret at this level.
There are rather more medieval features visible at third floor level. There is a recent fireplace in the north wall here (the lower floors have fireplaces on the south, of no great age in themselves but probably utilising an original flue). The single large room in the main body of the tower has an original single-light window to the east, with a trefoiled ogee head, beneath a line of corbels which presumably carried the original roof. At the west end is an unusual window of two round headed lights, with moulded external surrounds; this is probably a 17th century piece, although its segmental rear arch looks more recent. Externally there is a moulded corbel directly above the window, which is difficult to relate to the present parapet. There is a small chamber, perhaps a garderobe, in the north east turret, and a room in the south east turret with chamfered square headed windows (with sockets for iron bars) in both south and east walls, each with segmental rear arches and stone window seats in the jambs.
The embattled parapets are carried on a moulded oversailing course, except on the south east turret, which has a more elaborate arrangement with variously carved corbels and circular bartizans at the external angles; the central merlons on south and east have ornamental piercing. The tower until recently had an east-west pitched roof, but this has been replaced by a flat roof.
THE PORCH: A two storey porch block projects from the northern half of the west wall of the tower. At first sight this looks entirely of 19th century date, but it is shown on the late 18th century plan; the present doorway is an approximate copy of the 13th century one in the west range, with above it a reset 14th century window of the same form as that on the west side of the Gun Room (although with its jamb stones cut 'short'). The angle quoins of the porch look to be of 19th century character, but the chamfered oversailing course at the base of the embattled parapet, and the corbelling at the base of its corner bartizans, look much more weathered, as if they might be either medieval or 17th century.
THE WEST RANGE: The west wall of this now forms the principal entrance front of the castle, although its upper third is simply an early 19th century embattled screen, rising high above the eaves of the range itself.
The range consists of two parts, the rather taller southern section (occupied at ground floor level by the Gun Room and entrance passage) and the northern section, which is of three bays articulated by large stepped buttresses on the west front. This apparently has three storeys, but the blocked second floor windows, each of two round headed lights, are blind with projecting stone spouts below them showing the actual eaves line.
In the southern section, the external doorway to the passage has a flattened ogee head and a moulded surround, beneath a hoodmould with turned back ends; in the south jamb is a drawbar tunnel (complete with drawbar). This doorway is presumably of 17th century date and rather similar to one at a similar doorway at Bellister Castle (NY 76 SW 5), probably coeval with a '1667' datestone there. South of this the Gun Room is lit by a two-light mullioned window, again with a typical 17th century hoodmould, and then a larger two-light window with trefoiled ogee heads to the lights, sunk panels in the spandrels and a transom. This looks to be of 14th century date; Gibson sees it as a reset, but it has several 'long' stones in its jambs which would be unusual in a reset feature. An identical window is now set in the upper floor of the early 19th century porch which overlaps the junction of west range and south west tower.
The cross passage passes through a fairly thick internal wall, forming the east side of the Gun Room, and then opens to the courtyard through a fine 13th century doorway set in a thinner wall; this has a two centred arch of two orders, the inner simply chamfered and carried to the ground, the outer with quite an elaborate moulding of a roll flanked by deep hollows, carried on jamb shafts or colonettes; there is also a moulded hood.
To the north of the cross passage there are three bays of frontage, divided by large stepped buttresses which are probably of 19th century date. At ground floor level these bays have two-light mullioned windows set within older openings, with chamfered surrounds (17th century?), the southernmost appears to have originally been a doorway; the paired lancets above are early 19th century work in their present form, but those in the two northern bays again have earlier jambs.
THE NORTH WEST TOWER: This is one of the more puzzling parts of the building. It is of three storeys, with a projecting turret at the south west corner. At the north west corner is a stepped angle buttress, almost identical to several at Haltwhistle Church, where they appear contemporary with the early 13th century fabric. There are no other clearly medieval features, but the north wall shows the outline of the gabled end of a two storey range, with a small blocked first floor loop that has a roll moulded surround; on the west at this level an early 19th century window of four round-arched lights again appears to utilise earlier jambs, and has the cut back remains of a hoodmould of 17th century type. At the north west corner, above the buttress, a change in quoin type from irregular to better-squared blocks correlates with the visible gable line.
Cornforth queries the apparent age of this part of the building, on the grounds that it does not appear on the late 18th century plans; it would seem more likely that these deliberately omit this section of building (in separate ownership?).
At first sight it would appear that a two storeyed range was heightened into a tower by Thomas Featherstonehaugh in the early 19th century. However, there are several pieces of evidence that complicate such an analysis. The south west turret has three small loops - one chamfered and two with roll moulded surrounds - but these may simply be older features reset; more puzzling is the fact that the parapet of the tower rests on what looks like the bottom of a circular bartizan at the north west corner; this would be rather a strange feature to reset, and certainly looks older and more weathered than the obviously 19th century features of the tower. Another puzzling feature is seen in the south wall of the tower, above the roof of the west range. Here the present ridge of the roof of the range appears to run into an older blocked opening, with quite elongate jamb stones. This would appear to be above the line of the gable visible on the opposite side of the tower, and again looks of pre 19th century character.
THE NORTH RANGE: The north range is almost entirely of early 19th century date, except for the lower part of its north wall; towards its east end (just short of a through passage between range and north east tower) is a blocked doorway, and at the opposite end a blocked window, both with chamfered surrounds of 17th century (or earlier?) character.
THE EAST AND SOUTH RANGES: These too seem to incorporate some pre 19th century remains; there are some fabric changes visible on the external face of the east wall of the east range that may relate to earlier features. The centre section of the south range is shown on the late 18th century plans (with the added bay sketched in); Cornforth considers that this part of the building is simply a remodelling of an earlier farmhouse.
a) The early 13th century work. It is very difficult to say what is in situ and what is not. The cross passage doorway looks very much like a reset piece - the voussoirs do not fit together, and it is set in a quite thin wall of coursed roughly squared stone and river cobbles very like the fabric of the adjacent 19th century parts of the building. However, it was recently shown that the bases of the jamb shafts of the doorway remain in position 0.3m-0.45m below the present
level of the courtyard, which must either imply that the doorway, even if partly reconstructed, is in its original position, or that the courtyard level has changed fairly drastically over the last two centuries.
The doorway and the buttress, presumably do point to a stone hall house of this early period. The general layout of the west range, with the large Gun Room south of the cross-passage, is reminiscent of a medieval hall with a screens passage at its north end and a solar (replaced by the south west tower) on the south. Without a very detailed examination, and the preparation of accurate plans, it is difficult to say any more about the extent of the survival of early medieval fabric.
b) The tower. Its relationship to the putative medieval hall (the Gun Room), suggests that this is a tower solar, typical of most of the towers in southern Northumberland. Gibson's dating to c.1330 is made on the strength of the two windows he believed were reset from the first floor of the tower (and to a lesser extent the single-light window still in situ in the east wall at third floor level). Whilst the ogee arches of these windows would generally be ascribed to the 14th century in architectural textbooks, such a tight chronological bracketing may be unwise in such a remote area as this. The sunk panels of the window head are again seen in the surviving window of the manor house or monastic cell at Amble (NU 20 SE 7), and in the tower at Chipchase (NY 87 NE 31). In any case, Gibson seems to be incorrect in assuming that the windows came from the tower; the Gun Room example is probably an in situ feature of the hall range, and the second, now in the porch, might have come from the opposite (east) wall of the Gun Room/Hall. This would be feasible if the present passage results from an early 19th century widening of the range into the courtyard; the 13th century doorway could have been set in an entrance porch set forward of the range (remembering that the pre 19th century gateway was on the east side of the castle, so that this is the way the Hall would have been approached), and thus might be in its original position, the porch having been incorporated in the extended range.
Few if any Northumberland towers appear to pre date the mid 14th century; Belsay (NZ 07 NE 6) at c.1370 is one of the earliest. The projecting turrets at Featherstone seem to link it to the tradition of the upper floor hall house (compare Dally (NY 78 SE 9), Edlingham (NU 10 NW 4), Langley (NY 86 SW 4), etc) and it may be that it is a late example of this type, having become fully turriform. Even so, it is probably unwise to date it before the middle of the 14th century.
c) The 17th century remodelling. A number of architectural features survive from this phase, but little evidence of the actual layout of the house at this time, other than what can be gleaned from the 1776 print. The architectural features themselves are of considerable interest, showing hints at a revival of Gothic forms seen both in Scotland and in such areas as the West Riding of Yorkshire; similar mouldings occur at several local sites (Bellister (NY 76 SW 5), Blenkinsopp (NY 66 SE 1) and Willimoteswick (NY 76 SE 3)). The arrangement of the buildings around a walled courtyard is still a defensive one; it is not clear at Featherstone whether this was a medieval or 17th century arrangement. Cornforth suggests that the porch block is 17th century in origin; it may have been added as a stair wing and only became an entrance porch in the 19th century.
One problem remaining extant is the date of the north west tower; and the apparent evidences of this pre dating the early 19th century remodelling (despite its not being shown on the 1776 drawing). The anomalous features detailed above might result from a later 19th century remodelling, and/or the reuse of earlier features; a more detailed examination might reveal further evidence. (9)
Possible 16th century wooden window with painted chevrons. (10)
Originally built as a hall house by Helias de Featherstonehaugh in the latter 13th century. In the 1320's, his grandson Thomas became keeper of Tynedale and built the tower house adjacent to the hall house. (11a)
A possible carriageway leading up to the castle was seen as an earthwork on air photographs. This carriageway is depicted as a track on the Ordnance Survey map of 1865. Interestingly the earthwork bank appears to end slightly to the south of the formal entrance, whereas the depeiction on the 1865 map shows it leading directly to the entrance. There is no sign of the ditch reputed to have surrounded the castle. (11c)
THEMATIC SURVEY, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland 1995; P RYDER
PHOTOGRAPHIC SURVEY, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland 1995; P RYDER
AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION, English Heritage: Hadrian's Wall WHS Mapping Project, NMP 2008; English Heritage
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