Who was the Cauld Lad of Hylton Castle?

An old photograph of Hylton Castle.
An old photograph of Hylton Castle.
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It’s a tale of death, of intrigue and mystery.

And thanks to the excellent Sunderland Antiquarian Society, we can share the tale of The Cauld Lad of Hylton, which can date back more than 400 years.

Visitors in the 1920s  but did they see the Cauld Lad?

Visitors in the 1920s  but did they see the Cauld Lad?

Most Wearsiders living close to Hylton Castle will have no doubt heard of The Cauld Lad of Hylton.

Until recently, there was a public house on the nearby estate which carried his name.

But I wonder whether the castle’s neighbours ever cast anxious glances out of their windows on chill, moonless nights?

Because that is when the Cauld Lad is said to keep up his centuries-old tryst.

There are still those who, when they pass the castle late at night, glance neither left nor right and quicken their pace.

During the Second World War, when hundreds of men were stationed at the nearby RAF Station at Usworth, the Cauld Lad achieved fame by being adopted as the mascot of one squadron.

Of late, however, little has been heard of his movements.

So just who is or was The Cauld Lad?

Legend has it that he is the ghost of Roger Skelton, a boy who worked in Hylton Castle in the early 17th century and was killed by the local baron.

Having ordered his horse and, impatient at the delay, the baron went to the stable and, finding the boy loitering, seized a hayfork and struck the lad a mortal blow.

Then he covered the body with straw until nightfall and threw it in a pond.

Several months later, the body was recovered.

The baron was eventually tried for Skelton’s murder, but had an alibi. An old farm worker stated that the baron had ordered the boy to remove a tool from the top shelf in the barn, and the boy had fallen, seriously wounding himself in the process.

The baron had tended to the wounds, but the boy had died.

This story probably had its foundation in the fact that at the inquest held on the body of Roger Skelton in 1609, Robert Hilton, gentleman, was found to have killed him with a scythe, but received a free pardon.

However, shortly after the death of Skelton, strange events began to occur in the castle.

Surtees, the Durham historian, states that the Cauld Lad haunted the great hall of Hylton Castle. When the kitchen had been left in perfect order then the servants would hear him at night amusing himself by breaking dishes.

But he was just as adept at making his presence felt when the building looked unkempt. If it was left in disorder, people would awaken to find everything in its proper place.

After a while, a cook stayed up until midnight to see who was causing the mischief.

He claimed to have seen the ghost of a naked boy, and heard him crying “I’m cauld!”

The cook and his wife left a warm cloak for the ghost, and the next night they heard: “Here’s a cloak and here’s a hood, the Cauld Lad of Hylton will do no more good.”

The ghost disappeared and the strange occurrences ceased, though even now people claim to have heard the ghostly cries of the Cauld Lad.

The legend of the Cauld Lad still persists.

A few years ago, a watchman on a building site near the castle claimed that The Cauld Lad put out his fire and turned off his red lights.

Whether the wind was responsible is open to question. But there are those who say that The Cauld Lad still inhabits Hylton Castle, head tucked underneath his arm, after the clock strikes midnight.

Can you enlighten us further on a great tale in Wearside’s history?

Or do you have your own tale to tell of hauntings and mysterious goings on in Sunderland?

If so, get in touch and let us know more.

Contact Chris Cordner by calling (0191) 5017473 or emailing chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk