Warkworth Castle And Hermitage

THREE miles south of Alnmouth, within a short distance of the sea, stands Warkworth. Its Hermitage is far famed and equally so its Castle. We enter it from the north by the well-known fourteenth-century bridge over the river which almost encircles the little town. At the southern extremity are the remains of a tower where gates had guarded the bridge. Passing over, on the left is the church, and we come to the ancient village cross, round which in the Middle Ages great markets were held. Facing us is the wide main street with its high irregular pavements climbing up to the proud ruins of the castle which crown the height. The village is thus hidden, and only the intimidating tower of the castle surveys the immediate surrounding country.

We first hear of Warkworth in 737, when Ceolwulf, King of Northumberland, granted his manor of Wercerwode to Lindisfarne, to which he himself retreated, tired of wars and of defending his country. A hundred years later it was seized from the monks by King Osbert. The next notice is about 1145, when Henry II granted it to Roger, son of Richard, the Constable of Chester. This Roger is supposed to have been the first builder of the castle, but there is considerable uncertainty on the point, as in 1174 William the Lion did not deign to stop there, for ” weak was the Castle, the wall, and the trench and Roger, the son of Richard, a valiant knight had it in ward but could not guard it.” But Earl Duncan, with a division of the Scots, burned the church and did much damage. So that it is probable the castle is of a later date, as one would judge by the present strength of the ruins. The manor continued in the same family until the reign of Edward II. It is to be noted that at this time surnames appeared, and John Fitz Richard took the name of John de Clavering, Clavering being the name of a property acquired earlier by the family. He, it seems, was no believer in blood being thicker than water, for to the discomfiture of his relatives, being childless, for a life estate of 400 pounds per annum he made over to Edward III the reversion of Warkworth. Thus it was that the Percies became owners of Warkworth from 1329. The King granted the barony to Henry de Percy in lieu of the hereditary custody of Berwick and an annuity of 500 marks from the port customs. It was thought that the strong castles of the north would protect the royal interests there and be a wall against the Scots. But when the Percy influence grew strong, Alnwick and Warkworth, instead of sustaining the peace in the north, grew to be centres of ambition and intrigue. In 1403 Hotspur fell at the Battle of Shrewsbury, and Warkworth, with other castles, was ordered by Henry IV to be placed ” in safeguard and good governance.” Warkworth and Hotspur’s father refused to be reduced to submission, and Sir Henry dared to imprison a royal messenger. After further fruitless orders the King came north, and Warkworth capitulated after a brief siege. The unfortunate Sir Henry was killed at Bramham Moor in 1408. In 1415, after having been in the possession of both Sir Robert Umfraville and John, Henry IV’s son, it was restored to Henry Percy, the son of Hotspur. He fell at the Battle of St. Albans, on the side of the Red Rose. His dust rests there in the noble abbey that rises on the height above the sluggish Ver, far from the lovely banks of Coquet.

The next owner died on the field of Towton. None of the later possessors seems to have died in bed. I do not know if fate was kinder to the fifth earl, surnamed the Magnificent, who was so remarked upon by the chronicler of the marriage of Princess Margaret, Henry VIII’s sister, to James of Scotland.

In 1670, on the death of Josceline, the eleventh earl, without male issue, Warkworth, with the other estates, devolved to Algernon, eldest son of the Duke of Somerset through his marriage with the heiress, with remainder to his son-in-law, Sir Hugh Smithson, who in due course succeeded and whose descendants are the present family. The castle appears to have fallen into decay about the middle of the sixteenth century. The lead was removed from the towers, and permission was obtained by a man called Clarke to take the materials from the keep to build himself a mansion at Cherton. Clarke actually employed 272″ waynes,” and the forced labour of the tenants at Warkworth and elsewhere, to carry out his wanton spoliation. It is only by the loving labour of later possessors that the ruins still retain part of their magnificent original effect.

The outside walls and towers are for the most part considered to be the earliest work, probably begun by Roger Fitz Richard. We now enter the quadrangle by the postern gate, but the principal entrance was by the gatehouse, from which the courtyard was seen as an irregular triangle terminating in the keep. ” A marvellous proper donjon ” of which Grose says, in his antiquities, ” nothing could be more magnificent and picturesque.” In the foreground are the remains of a mysterious unfinished church, or college, of unknown date. Masons’ marks may be traced on every stone and are worth observing. On the right hand, on the east of the curtain wall, the most distant tower is called the Grey Mare’s Tail. A brewhouse and bakery on the eastern gable are connected with it. At the south-east corner is the Montagu Tower. On the south-west is the Lion Tower, with mutilated blazonings of Percy, Lucy, and Herbert, and the fragment of the grim lion which has given the name to the tower. To the west of the gatehouse are the remains of a chapel which adjoins the Crakefergus Tower. It had been part of the defensive system of the first builder, but in later times was used as a place of residence. From the chapel a stairway leads to what is known as the Great Chamber, and thence by a passage to Crakefergus and to the adjoining pantries and kitchen. This range of buildings lies between the little postern gate and the gatehouse. But the chief object of interest is the remarkable keep, which is regarded as a perfect model of architectural skill, particularly in its domestic convenience. It is situated on rising ground considerably above the level of the other buildings. Freeman finds it “a good study of the progress by which the purely military castle gradually passed into the house fortified for any occasional emergency.” Its value is in its unaltered contour and the internal domestic arrangements so interesting to the mind that would construct the past and the figures that peopled it. The interior is a most wonderful example of medieval domestic architecture. On the ground floor is the dungeon, and cellars with stone tanks for collecting water, which was led from the roof by conductors fixed in the impluvium, which an ancient survey calls ” a lantern which both receyveth and hath conveyance from the same, and also giveth light to certain lodgings in some parts.” From this the staircase then leads to the great chamber and the chapel and banqueting hall, forty-one feet long. and rising to the top of the keep. At the west end, doorways lead to the kitchens and pantries. A central slender turret or look-out rises thirty-two feet above the roof, consisting of three floors, and is a noticeable feature in distant views. From other sources, particularly the minute description of Mr. Bates in the ” History of Northumberland,” the visitor can reconstruct the interior of this marvellous “donjon.” It was probably built by the first Earl of Northumberland when Warkworth became the favourite residence of the Percies. Several scenes in ” Henry IV ” are laid at Warkworth Castle, which Shakespeare calls “this worm-eaten hold of ragged stone” – probably a true description of it in his day, but inapplicable to the castle as Hotspur must have known it.

Half a mile up the river, on the north side, is the famous Hermitage. It is a lovely walk. Crossing by the ferry, a flight of steps, roughly cut out of the sandstone, leads into the rock-hewn retreat, which is entered by a little porch with stone seats. Above the entrance is a weather-beaten sculpture of the Crucifixion. Just inside, looking up, is the worn inscription : ” Fuerunt mihi lacrymae meae panes nocte ac die ” – ” Tears have been my bread day and night.” Ineffably poignant these words always are, but doubly so when we picture the solitary grief immured there :

The long mechanic pacings to and fro. The set grey life and apathetic end.

The first decoration the eye rests upon is an altar with two crosses and an aperture in the wall above for the pyx, and on the wall is also the faint outline of a head surrounded with an aureole. In the recess is a three-quarter length figure of a man with upraised hand kneeling at the feet of a reclining female figure and separated from him by a rudely designed bull’s head. To the left of her is a cherub or child. Facing them is a traceried window of the fourteenth century which lights the inner apart-ment, to which we pass through a doorway over which, on a shield, are the emblems of the Passion, ” the cross, the crown, the spear,” and also nails and a sponge. The inner chapel is merely a tunnelled chamber with steps to an altar now demolished. It has a recess for a seat or bed. The chamber was probably a dormitory,but the use of the three rooms must be conjectural. The two altars may be accounted for by the supposition that one was used as a private oratory and one as a public chapel, and the traceried window may have been for purposes of confession.

Outside are a mill and an orchard, and in modern times fruit trees have been said to have grown in it. But the only early record about the Hermitage is in 1531, when the Earl of Northumberland made a grant to George Lancastre, a priest, of ” myn Armytage belded in a rock of stone within my Parke of Warkworth.” The story which has popular favour on its side is that told by Bishop Percy. Bertram of Bothal (who was a friend of Hotspur’s father) loved Isabel, daughter of Lord Widdrington.

The lady wished to test his devotion, and sent him a helmet which he had to prove “where sharpest blows are tried.” He of course rode out with Lord Percy to make a raid on their ancient enemies over the Border. Being wounded, cleft through the precious casque, he was taken to Wark to recover. Isabel, possibly reflecting that ” ’twas not love but vanity dealt Love a blow like this,” hastens to nurse him. Near the Cheviots she is taken captive by an enamoured Scottish chieftain and carried to his stronghold. Bertram, quickly recovering, starts with her brother to rescue her, they taking different directions. He finds the place, and, waiting for an opportunity to enter, he sees one night his love descend a rope ladder with a youth in Scottish garb. He shouts out and, rushing forward, confused with jealousy, attacks the youth. The lady calls out, recognising his voice ; but too late. Flinging herself forward to avert the blow, she also is fatally wounded, and he hears from her dying lips that she had been rescued by her own brother. So, filled with penitence and grief, he hews out the Hermitage to pass his remaining days.

Warkworth Church was founded by Ceolwulf. During excavations a Saxon cross was discovered, which is preserved in the chancel. The present building dates from the twelfth century and stands on the south bank of the Coquet. Later a tower was added which was finished by a stone spire, the only other medieval example in Northumberland of one being at Newbiggin. The porch also was an afterthought, and the room above was used until a century ago as the village school. The vestry is worth inspecting. It was probably once the habitat of an anchorite, as a window was opened out which may have been a confessional. In the smith aisle lies the figure of a knight with hands clasped, clad in armour of mail and plates, probably fourteenth-century. He is supposed to be Sir Hugh of Morwick, who gave the common to Warkworth.

In 1174 a division of William the Lion’s army burnt Warkworth and, with shocking barbarities,put to death three hundred men, women, and children who had taken refuge in the church. An excessively large number of human bones, thought to be those of the victims, were found inside the building during alterations. The chronicle of Fantôme records the intention of these northern Huns.

Let us allow our Scots to waste the sea-coast. Woe to them if they leave standing a house or a church.

Possibly this church was the old Saxon one, and after such desecration was rebuilt, as the beautiful chancel which formed the original church nave is supposed to date from a year or two later.

About two miles from Warkworth is Morwick Hall, formerly a property of the Greys of Howick. Going through a field to the east and descending to the Coquet by a steep bank midway between two ancient fords, the lower one still being called Paupersford, a perpendicular cliff of sandstone is seen. On it are engraved strange circles and spiral characters similar to others in the county, as at Old Bewick, Doddington, and Rowting Linn. These, however, occur on rocks on moors, but the Morwick drawings are just above sea level.- Over the ford is the road leading to the south, on which was stationed a camp to guard it. At a bend of the river stands Morwick Mill, which has been painted on many canvases.