The History of Hylton Castle

Hylton Castle is a Grade I Listed Building, and together with the adjacent St Catherine's chapel forms a Scheduled Ancient Monument

A magnificent reminder of the past

A magnificent reminder of the past

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 into 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 into a fine stately home. 

In the mid-1800s the Castle entered a new phase with periods of abandonment interspersed with use as a carpenter's workshop, a farmhouse, and even a boarding school, attended by Joseph Swan who invented 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 by the Wearmouth Coal Company and afterwards by the National Coal Board. During World War One it was a training camp for soldiers. In 1950 it was taken into 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.

The Dene

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 school activities, for relaxing or for exercise, or to enjoy the play park and views of Hylton Castle. Part of the dene is a dedicated Local Nature Reserve and part of the site is an SSSI. 


Hylton Castle Historical Image

The Cauld Lad of Hylton

Hylton Castle is rumoured to have its own spirit or ghost known as The Cauld Lad. He was a stableboy called Roger Skelton, who is sadly said to have died in the Castle stables. One of the barons of Hylton had instructed his horse to be ready for hunting first thing in the morning. The baron arrived in the stables to find Roger asleep and his horse unsaddled. The baron struck the boy with a pitch-fork which killed the lad. Ashamed at what he had done the baron threw Roger’s body in a pond where it was found many years later.

It is said that the spirit of Roger then roamed the Castle complaining that he was cold and causing damage in the Castle’s kitchens. Taking pity on the poor spirit, kindly staff left him a warm cloak with a cowl or hood which pleased the young spirit and even now when he visits the Castle he does good deeds like cleaning and helping in the kitchens and hence became “The Cauld Lad” (The Cowled Lad) of Hylton.

This is just one version of the story of Roger Skelton and we are always keen to hear other versions whether these are old stories retold or your own fictional version of what might have happened to poor Roger. If you have any drawings of how you see the Cauld Lad in your version of his story we’d love to see them too! Here is a drawing by Micky Martin, a Hytlon Castle volunteer, of how we envisage The Cauld Lad.

He’s friendly most of the time but enjoys scaring us a little at Halloween! A similar story was related in the “History of Durham” by Mr. J. B. Taylor who says the story may have had its origin in a record of a coroner’s inquest having been held on July 3rd 1609 on the body of Roger Skelton, who was accidentally killed with the point of a scythe by Robert Hylton, of Hylton, for which that gentleman later obtained a free pardon.

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