WEARSIDERS are being called to arms – to help solve an ancient puzzle.
Local historian Bill Hawkins is hoping Echo readers will be able to shed new light on the coats of arms which adorn Hylton Castle - after unearthing old photos of them.
“I came across more than a dozen pictures of the heraldic devices and shields of arms in the archives of Sunderland Antiquarian Society. They are fascinating,” he said.
“It is probable the photos were taken by one of our Antiquarians back in the 1950s, during restoration work, and I’d very much like to find out more about the shields.”
The first Hylton Castle was built from wood by Henry de Hilton in about 1072, but it was rebuilt by his descendent Sir William Hylton in the 1390s - this time in stone. Many of the heraldic devices adorning the west facade depict costs of arms from the late 14th to the early 15th centuries - mainly belonging to local gentry and peers.
“These provide an approximate date of the castle’s reconstruction from wood to stone, and are believed to also show the political alliances of the early Hyltons,” said Bill.
“For example, the King Henry IV banner has a commanding position, as do the arms of knights and nobles from Northumberland and the County Palatine of Durham.
“But, although the background of many are well known, there are others - such as a Lion rampant - whose origins are not entirely clear. I’d love to know more about them all.”
The castle underwent major changes during the 18th century, when John Hylton added a north wing, and it remained the principal seat of his family for decades.
Indeed, a 1728 drawing shows that the grand old house was surrounded by plantations, and it probably once had a formal garden laid out in regimental style too.
However, following the death of the last Hylton baron in 1746 the estate was sold to the Bowes family - ancestors of the Queen Mother. Sadly, it later fell into disrepair.
Eventually, in the 1840s, it was used as a boarding school, but caught fire in 1856.
The next owner, timber merchant William Briggs, demolished the wings in the 1860s.
“Briggs wanted to make the castle look more authentically medieval and, during the revamp, he moved the stone-carved Hylton banner to the front left tower,” said Bill.
“Luckily, it was saved for the future - as were more than 20 other heraldic devices. Indeed, they even survived the use of the castle as an army camp in World War One.”
The castle passed into the ownership of Wearmouth Coal Company in 1908 and, following persistent vandal attacks, all internal partitions were removed in 1950.
Today Hylton Castle and neighbouring St Catherine’s Chapel are cared for by English Heritage - and at the centre of a £3.5million plan to turn them into community assets.
“The castle is an important part of Sunderland’s rich heritage, and it is very lucky that so much of it has survived the centuries. I’d love to know more about it,” said Bill.
l Anyone with information on the heraldi devices and coats of arms of Hylton Castle can contact Bill on email@example.com