Hylton Castle was built by Sir William Hylton as a fortified manor house in around 1400, and for generations it stood as a reminder to all of the power and connections of the Hylton family.
The imposing gatehouse, which is the only building that survives, is decorated with carved stone heraldry, including the arms of the Hyltons and other families, the white hart emblem of Richard II, the banner of Henry IV, and the stars and stripes of the Washington family. Archaeological investigations and surviving documents suggest that the castle originally had a number of other buildings to the east of the gatehouse, including a hall, chambers, barns and a kitchen.
The castle remained the home of the Hylton family for generations, providing comfortable accommodation for the family and their high status guests. Over time, the gatehouse was altered, with changes to the interior and new ranges built to the north and then the south. The last baron, Sir John Hylton, made major alterations in the 1700s, redesigning the interior and adding the distinctive large Italianate windows that were fashionable at the time.
Eventually, the building passed in to other hands, with new owners including Simon Temple and Lady Mary Bowes of Gibside making their own mark on the building and on the dene, landscaping the surrounding area and converting the gatehouse in to fine stately home.
The castle entered a new phase in the mid1800s, with periods of abandonment interspersed with use as a carpenter's workshop, a farmhouse, and even a boarding school, attended by Joseph Swan, inventor of the lightbulb. William Briggs, a local businessman and shipbuilder, bought the castle in 1862 and made major alterations, giving the gatehouse the gothic appearance it has today.
In 1908 the building was used as offices by the National Coal Board, and during World War One it was a training camp for soldiers. In 1950 it was taken in to the care of the State, and is now owned by English Heritage.
Hylton Castle is a Grade I Listed Building, and together with the adjacent St Catherine's chapel forms a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Hylton Castle is currently on the Heritage at Risk Register.
The dene is an often overlooked gem and an ideal location to get away from it all. Popular with local school and youth groups and dog-walkers alike, Hylton Dene is a great place for outdoor and forest schools activities, for relaxing or for exercise, or to enjoy the play park and views of the castle. Part of the dene is a dedicated Local Nature Reserve and part of the site is an SSSI.