Tyne & Wear, UK
(formerly County Durham)
Ravensworth Castle is a Grade II listed historical building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. in the county of Tyne & Wear, formerly in the Palatine of Durham.
The location is one with an ancient history, known in an earlier era as Ravens-helm, Ravens-holm and Ravens-werth, when it was a fortress before a time of written records. There is great debate between historians and archaeologists regarding the earlier location names, which could derive either from the Saxons or the Danes.
The names of the original owners of the land are lost in time, but early records do make some mention of this location. There is an old legend that states it was at Ravens-helm that Eardulf rose from the dead to warn William Walcher, Bishop of Durham against going to Gateshead to meet with the Northumbrians, who were threatening rebellion after one of their leaders was murdered. Walcher ignored the warning. On 14 May 1080 he and his retinue were attacked by the Northumbrians. When they sought refuge in a nearby church the Northumbrians set it afire, and as Walcher and his men ran out they were cut down and killed. So, who was Eardulf? The best guess, considering that he appeared to a Bishop, is that he was Eardulf, Bishop of Lindisfarne from 854 until his death in 899.
In about the year 1100 Ranulf Flambard, Keeper of the Seal for King William I (the Conqueror), Chief Minister of King William II Rufus and finally Bishop of Durham, granted Ravensworth to his nephew, Richard, Lord of Horden…
“Ralph Flambard, Bishop of Durham, after the accession of Henry I, granted to a nephew, named Richard, the Vills of Ravensworth, Blakiston and Hetton. By charter, without date, Robert, filius Ricardi de Ravenswich, released to his brothers son, Galfrid the son of Galfrid, all his claims in the vills of Lamesley, Horden, Blakiston, Hetton, Silkeswich (Silksworth) and Hamildon, with whatever right belonged to Galfrid son of Richard; and in return for this concession, Galfrid quitted all claim in Ravensworth. “
Galfrid had a son named Marmeduke, and from this son the family name became known as Fitz-Marmaduke. So, Marmeduke’s son John was known as John Fitz-Marmaduke, and he married Isabel Brus, aunt of Robert the Brus (Bruce). There is a good chance that Robert the Brus himself paid a visit to Ravensworth. Although the first manor and castle were later built onto in the Georgian period, two medieval 13th century towers do still remain from the original castle. They are considered to be the earliest known examples of the Early English period, about the year 1200.
The last male heir of this Fitz-Marmeduke line was Richard, who was murdered on the old Durham bridge by his cousin, Robert Nevil, leaving the property to pass to his sister Eleanor, who was married to a younger branch of the Lumley family. From this branch of the Lumley/Fitz-Marmeduke alliance the castle next passed to the family line of Boynton when Sir Henry Boynton married Isabel Lumley in 1489. It didn’t stay with the Boynton family for long, as the only heir was a daughter, Isabel, who married Sir Henry Gascoigne. In 1627 their grandson, Sir William Gascoigne, alienated the castle, as well as other properties, to Newcastle merchant Thomas Liddell. At the time the property was still known as Ravensholme.
Ravensworth Castle holds a special interest for fans of the author Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) and his Alice in Wonderland series of stories. The character of Alice was based and modeled upon a real girl named Alice Liddell, who was the great-granddaughter of Sir Henry Liddell, 5th Baronet of Ravensworth. Alice, as well as Lewis Carroll, visited Ravensworth Castle many times. Alice later married and was known as Alice Hargreaves.
Gerald Wellesley Liddell, 6th Baron Ravensworth (b. 1869 – d. 1932) permanently left Ravensworth and took up residence at the family’s Eslington Park estate. Sometime in the 1920’s the castle was used as a School for Young Ladies, but didn’t last long. At this point the stately old castle was left to fall into ruin and decay. Robert Arthur Liddell, 7th Baron Ravensworth, planned to demolish the castle and build a model village from the stone and timbers. Local outcry was strong against this, putting an end to that idea. The foundations and walls began to shift and crack, and the building was sinking due to the work that had been done to remove coal from the coal fields under the castle. The castle was no longer safe to inhabit and was left to crumble.