Northumbrian Seats

Homes occupied by the early Northumbrian Fetherstonhaughs

Our earliest documented male ancestor Sir Ralph (Ranulf) Grammaticus was Butler/Steward to Ilbert de Lacy who travelled from Normandy to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. Following the Battle of Hastings Ralph was granted the fee from a number of manors including that of Featherstone in Yorkshire, a few miles south of Pontefract. There is no record of a manor house that Ralph or his immediate descendants may have occupied, until Ralph’s great grandson William (born abt 1135) married Hadawise (or Avice) de Tyndale, daughter of Robert of Tindale (Tynedale, Tyndale), the first Baron of Langley. With this marriage came what was to become the manor of Fetherstonhalg in Northumbria, along with its Hall House that then became Featherstone Castle. Our ancestors lived at Featherstone Castle until c1300 when William (born abt 1275) married into the de Stanhope family and he and his descendants then lived at Stanhope Hall and Stanhope Castle.

Featherstone Castle

Featherstone Castle began life as a stone Hall House that served the manor of Fetherstonhalg in the latter part of the 12th century. It was built, using Scots builders and designers, by Adam de Tyndale Baron of Langley, brother to Hadawise de Tyndale, wife of William de Fetherstonhalg (born abt 1135)1. An English medieval manor was the district over which a lord had domain and could exercise certain rights and privileges. Within the manor would be a manor House, that formed the manor’s administrative centre. Originally, as a 13th century Hall House, Featherstone Castle would have begun as a one-room building, with a single hearth in the middle of the floor for cooking and warmth. Later, residential wings would have been added1.

Fortification of the area against the Scots began to take place following William Wallace’s occupation of Hexham and associated nearby raids. Initial fortification of Featherstone Castle was undertaken c1330 by Thomas de Fetherstonhalg and consisted of building a thick walled stone ‘Pele’ tower over the south west wing, which was accompanied by a defensible enclosure where stock could be protected1. Following the building of the Pele tower Featherstone Castle played an important defensive role in the following centuries of border wars with the Scots2.

Many reworkings of the castle took place over the centuries, and Wilson1 describes those done in the early 17th century may have been the work of Sir Timothy Fetherstonhaugh, a royalist who was executed on Oliver Cromwell’s orders in 1651.

Images left: Courtesy of Mandy (Fetherstonhaugh) Sheilds

This Featherstone symbol (far left) was found cut into a stone in the castle when repairs were being made in the 1800s and Hodgson (1840)3 describes how the symbol has since been adopted on various parts of the building, enameled on china, engraved on the plate and emblazoned on supporters of the Lords arms, and as seen above on the ceiling decorations.

The manor was held by the Fetherstonhaugh family in unbroken succession for 12 generations after which it disappeared from the lineage with Abigail, the last surviving daughter in that line. In latter times it was sold to the Earl of Carlisle and then came into the hands of Matthew Fetherstonhaugh of Newcastle in 1711 and then to James Wallace (1789), at which time it was remodelled3.

Images above and left: Courtesy of Mandy (Fetherstonhaugh) Sheilds

Then during WWII, a large hutted camp was built in the grounds with a sports field. It was originally opened in 1944 to accommodate American soldiers arriving for the Normandy invasions. Subsequently it was used for Italian POWs and then for rehabilitating Nazi officers and was then closed in the summer of 1948. A memorial plaque on the gate acknowledges the reconciliation work done by the camp’s interpreter.

The castle became a boy’s preparatory school called Hibrow from 1950 – 1961 and was also heritage listed as a Grade 1 building in 1951. Now the castle lives on under the ownership of John Clark, who has enabled the castle to be used as a residential conference, activity and event centre. There is also a 10km walking trail along the castle and the Lambley Viaduct.

A very detailed description, and drawings of different stages of the Castle’s life, have been undertaken by Richard Wilson1, along with work by John Hodgson (1840) describing the castle rooms and their contents as at c1700, which included famous paintings by artists such as Rubens. Both sources are well worth a look at.

There is also a lovely panoramic video of the Castle in its natural setting and a photo gallery here

Stanhope Hall and Castle

Our ancestors branched from the Featherstone Castle Line when Thomas and Mariotta’s grandson Robert married Isabel de Stanhope (c1345), and he was thereafter known as Robert Fetherstonhaugh de Stanhope. Documents record Robert’s descendants occupied Stanhope Old Hall, a fortified manor house, for 300 years until Cuthbert fled to Ireland in 1653 after the Battle of Worcester. Stanhope means “fortified hill” and Stanhope Hall is a 55 min drive from Featherstone Castle.

Stanhope Old Hall’s origins go back to William de Monte c1139, who was ancestor to Isabel de Stanhope, Robert Fetherstonhaugh’s wife.

Image left : Stanhope Old Hall (Andrew Curtis 2009 CC BY 2.0)

Stanhope Hall is listed as a Grade II heritage building, and legend tells of it being haunted. Reports by one resident of sudden temperature drops, sightings of an old grey lady moving furniture, ghostly orbs captured on film and visions of red-robed monks in the boiler room (where monks hid in the basement at the time of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries), led to a report to the paranormal society. They investigated the report following the emergence of a local legend, which tells that during the middle ages a young engaged couple entered the house, only to disappear and their skeletons be found under the floorboards holding hands.

Stanhope Old Hall is now a bed and breakfast, whose website has a comprehensive photo gallery.

Stanhope Castle

Stanhope Castle is situated very close to Stanhope Old Hall (approx 0.5km) and was also occupied by the Fetherstonhaugh family. It was the centre of both military and agricultural activities throughout the 14th century and is referred to in records as “Castlehogh”, “Castlehaugh” and “Castledykes”. It is thought the original castle was destroyed by the Scots in the 1600s. But a short history of its rebuilding from 1798 is provided on the Stanhope Castle website.

Image below: Stanhope Castle (Philip Barker, 2008, CC BY 2.0)


  1. Wilson, R. (1999). Featherstone Castle Northumberland. The Featherstone Society’s newsletter Vol 1(11), p14-18.
  2. De Araugo, T. (2000). Dear Fethers: An historical saga Pre 1066 – 1992. Rose Publishing House. Vic Aust.
  3. Hodgson, J., Rev. (1840). A History of Northumberland” Pt 2 Vol 3 pp 353-6.

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