Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Twizel: the Castle That Didn’t Quite Make it (NT883434)

© Copyright Lisa Jarvis and licensed for reuse 

Twizel Castle is a curious affair. It began life as a plain old mansion house/tower, almost became a sort of mock castle and ended up being a man-made ruin as its masonry was plundered by its owner for a new home. Essentially, it is one of our best examples of how much time and money the very rich can waste when they put their minds to it.

What is left of the building stands above a bend in the River Till, overlooking a notable medieval bridge which shares its name. Nearby can be found the scant remains of a deserted village. Originally, a tower house stood on the site, dating back to at least 1415 when a Sir John Heron ruled the roost. This structure was twice visited by the Scots: once, in 1496, to destroy it; and a few years later they passed by again on the way to their defeat at Flodden (1513). The Selbys soon afterwards took over the plot, though the tower remained a ruin, and despite substantial subsequent redevelopment a few of these original medieval remnants can still be made out.

In 1685, the Blakes bought the estate, though they spent much of their time at nearby Tillmouth Hall. From the 1770s, though, they finally decided to splash the cash, and Sir Francis Blake embarked on a ‘Gothic Revival’-type renovation job on the sad old pile of stones. The project went on and on and on – long beyond Sir Francis’ death – for nigh on half a century, until work fizzled out in the early Victorian era. In the 1880s, the family built a new mansion elsewhere on the estate, and Twizel Castle hung on as an empty, unfinished shell for ages. It appears that the structure was never even lived in.

Twizel Castle (and Bridge), probably around 1900.

If you’re thinking that the mighty-looking edifice has decayed rather speedily in a century or so, this can be explained by the fact that its owners (the Blakes) recycled stonework in their various building projects elsewhere – including their new mansion at Tillmouth Park – with bits and bobs finding their way into Norham Station, too, apparently. As a result, it went from a magnificent five storey affair to the two storey ruin we see today.


  1. the briggs family are shown in the census for the twisel area as living in the new build castle.william and agnes, he was a master mason and had awife called agnes and a family