THE hidden history of a Wearside landmark is to go on show. Archaeologists have spent the past week digging test pits and opening up basement vaults at Hylton Castle, as part of plans to breathe new life into the iconic building.
Now the results of the investigations are to be revealed on Friday, between 10am and noon, during an Open Morning – when history experts will be on hand to answer questions.
“Opening the vaults is an exciting development, as they have been sealed since 1983. There is huge interest in this,” said Hylton Castle project manager Cheryl Knight.
“We basically need to know if there is usable space inside the basements as we press ahead with the redevelopment, but this will also add to our historical understanding too.
“We’re not really sure at this stage ‘what lies beneath’, but it will be fascinating to see how the reality compares with people’s memories – as we’ve heard lots of accounts.”
Plans to turn the monument into a community asset were drawn up by landowners Sunderland City Council, castle guardians English Heritage and the Friends of Hylton Castle last year.
A £151,000 development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund helped kick-start the work, and a further bid for £2.2million towards the £3.5million cost is now planned.
“Hylton Castle is a fantastic building but, although impressive, it doesn’t really offer anything to the wider community at the moment. It is just a landmark,” said Cheryl.
“We’d like to develop it into a fully functioning building, bring it back into everyday use and get it off the At Risk register. It is, and will be, hard work – but worth it.”
Built as a tower house by landowner Sir William Hilton in the 1390s, Hylton Castle was originally part of a larger complex which included a hall, chapel, stables and bakehouse.
The existence of medieval foundations have been confirmed by excavations, and late 15th or early 16th century floor tiles have also been unearthed within the grounds.
“We are moving along well with the project, but have found it necessary to undertake extra archaeology work before the architect can draw up his first designs,” said Cheryl.
“This has led to the excavation of trial pits around the site this week, to see where services for the castle could be routed, as well as the temporary opening of the vaults.
“The work is significant in that it’s the first archaeological excavation at the castle for years. We hope to check its structural integrity – and find out a lot more history too.”
A ground-penetrating radar survey was carried out within the castle grounds in July, to help prepare for this week’s dig – the first since Time Team’s survey in the 1990s.
The outlines of old paths and garden layouts were detected during the investigation, together with the remains of back-filled basements and a bay-windowed structure.
“There were originally two entrances into the vaults – one inside and one outside the castle – but these were sealed in 1983 to tackle vandalism at the site,” said Cheryl.
“Unfortunately, we have yet to find records featuring the structure of the basement, so opening up the area will lead to a much greater understanding of the castle’s heritage.
“This is a very exciting project, as technology has moved on so much since the Time Team TV show visited here – which is why we wanted to share our findings during Friday’s event.”
The Open Morning is the latest in a string of community activity days hosted by the historic building, with future events to include a Castle at War Day on September 27.
A consultation project is also on-going – seeking people’s ideas for the future – as well as an appeal for old photographs, documents and memories relating to the castle.
“This type of project has never been done before – taking a castle, renovating it and then returning it to community use. We are very exited about it,” said Cheryl.
“There are people who have grown up within sight of the castle, but never been able to go inside. We want to change that, and make it accessible to everyone in the city.
“It’s our aim to make people to feel welcome at Hylton Castle and turn it into a place everyone can be proud of – that’s why we want as many people as possible to get involved now.”
•The Open Morning will be held between 10am and noon tomorrow. Admission free. Anyone with old photos/information on the castle can email Cheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hylton Castle at War
WEARSIDERS will be able to step back in time to World War One during a hands-on history day at Hylton Castle later this month.
The Hylton Castle at War event will be held on September 27, from 11am to 4pm, to mark the site’s role as a Great War army training camp in 1914.
“This will be a free, fun family event, giving people the chance to experience life in a wartime camp – complete with army drills and authentic army food,” said Cheryl.
“Come along and have a go at activities including army exercises, wound dressing and weapons training – or experience camp cooking in our real army field kitchen.”
•Admission is free and parking is available at Castle View Enterprise Academy. Further information is available from www.sunderland.gov.uk/hyltoncastletheproject
Your views on the castle’s future
WEARSIDERS are being urged to step forward and air their views on the future of Hylton Castle.
A questionnaire asking for creative ideas and comments has been drawn up by project organisers, to find out what city residents would like to see happen to the landmark.
“Sunderland City Council and English Heritage have been busy scoping out the range of options for a rejuvenated and accessible Hylton Castle,” said Cheryl.
“The project will bring the heritage of Hylton Castle to life through youth activities, workshop days, public events, interactive displays and an educational programme.
“But creative ideas and feedback are critical to the success of the project, which is why we want to consult as many people as possible from across Sunderland.”
•A copy of the survey can be requested on 01353 720000 or it can be viewed at www.tricolorassociates.co.uk/hyltoncastlesurvey. Consultation ends on October 31.