From William the Conqueror to Time Team, the history of Sunderland's secret castle
The £4.2m Hylton Castle renovation is nearing completion and will soon be open to the public, here’s a rundown of the history of Wearside’s little-known castle.
The Grade I listed castle is a North East forgotten treasure but hopefully this is about to change.
The 600-years-old castle has an extremely rich and fascinating history, which not many people in Sunderland are aware of.
William the Conqueror
Hylton Castle’s story goes back to the Norman Conquest and William the Conqueror. William had nicknames other than the Conqueror, one of which we are unable to print in a family newspaper, even a thousand years later.
As such he had no compunction about handing out lands he would never see to his schmoozing friends, with no thought for the people who lived there. One such tract was given to the son of Lancelot de Hylton, after Lancelot was killed while fighting for William.
The son, Henry de Hylton, built a wooden castle at the current site a few years later. But some time around 1400 a stone version was built by Sir William Hylton.
More than a “gatehouse”.
The castle was first mentioned in an 1448 household inventory as "a gatehouse constructed of stone", which sounds somewhat disrespectful. It’s clearly more than a mere gatehouse.
Henry Hylton, the 12th Baron Hylton de jure (meaning in name only and that he wasn’t really the gaffer) left the castle to the City of London Corporation upon his death in 1641, to be used for charitable purposes on a 99-year lease.
This was possibly to suck up to Oliver Cromwell and didn’t go down well with the other Hyltons. The castle was returned to the family after the Restoration in 1660, to Henry's nephew John Hylton, the de jure 15th Baron Hylton.
The Hyltons would be de juring until 1746 when the 18th Baron Hylton died. They started again in 1800. The fifth Baron Hylton, Raymond Hervey Jolliffe, was born in 1932 and today sits in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.
Whooooo! A headless ghost
Various parts were added and removed throughout the 18th century. Battlements were added to make people think the Hyltons were tough, but it was never a castle of battles or sieges. It was a show home.
From then it was at various times occupied, then unoccupied, and was briefly a boarding school in the 1840s. Eventually it was owned by the Coal Board and today by English Heritage.
Being a castle, it is of course reputedly haunted. Supposedly by Robert Skelton, aka the “Cauld Lad of Hylton”, who was apparently beheaded in the late 16th century for falling asleep and failing to get Sir Robert Hylton's horse ready on time. Harsh but fair.
Hylton Castle received national recognition in 1995 when Channel 4 broadcast an episode of Time Team, filmed there with Tony Robinson.