Etal Castle is a mid 14th century castle sited in a defensive position by a ford of the River Till. It was first a manor house on the manorial holding called Wooler that reached from the North Sea to the Cheviot Hills. The holding was granted to Robert Muschamp by the King. It is surmised that Robert Manners was one of the knights who served Muschamp and was granted the manor of Etal, part of the Wooler barony.
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The first property on the site would have been a timber hall with a palisade for protection. By the time the fourth generation of Manners rolled around Edward III was king and fighting the Scottish. This Manners family asked for a license to fortify Etal which meant adding corner towers, a gatehouse and curtain walls. Thus it became a ‘castle’. In spite of the fortifications the Scots captured it in 1513 when James IV made his unsuccessful try at invading England. Etal came back into English hands when the Scots were defeated shortly thereafter at the Battle of Flodden.
By 1541 the castle was in a state of decay and the castle and its lands were given to the Crown. However, it remained mostly uninhabitable over the ensuing years. Because England and Scotland were united in 1603 the castle was no longer needed to protect the border, and it passed through a number of families until it became vacant in the 1700s. The Fitzclarence family who inherited it in the 1800s made part of it liveable. In 1908 the Joicey family bought it and did some restoration work. Today only the tower house, gatehouse, and a bit of curtain wall remain.
The rectangular tower house had four stories; the fourth was probably added at a later date. On the ground floor were the entrance and the spiral staircase to the upper floors. A portcullis was used to protect the entrance. There was a basement reached from this floor. Its roof was stone vaulted. The space was used for storage and to house livestock in dangerous times.
The first floor housed the hall complete with fireplace, three vaulted chambers and a latrine. Remains of window seats are found on three walls. A removable external wooden staircase to this floor was added at a later date. On the second floor was the solar or private suite of rooms of the family. It served during the day as a place for the women to gather and at night as a bed chamber. There were window seats, a possible private oratory, a strong room, and a latrine on this floor. The remaining floor, lit by mullioned windows, also had a latrine. It may have been used as a barracks or dormitory.
The gatehouse on the other side of the courtyard was built after the tower house and was made of two storeys with flanking towers of three storeys. At one time there was a roofed, timber fighting gallery between the towers. The ground floor had a guardroom and latrine on one side of the entrance passage. On the other side was a guardroom/porter’s lodge and fireplace. The first floor housed an apartment, a chapel, a fireplace, and a latrine. A spiral staircase led to the roof.
A small tower existed on the south-west corner and one was possibly in the north-east corner but that is guesswork. The curtain wall between the gatehouse and south-west tower is the only part that remains to any height. All of the courtyard buildings are gone. The kitchens, bake-house, brewery, laundry, smithy, stables, and residences would have been located here.
At the site is an exhibition the Battle of Flodden and border warfare and the castle itself.
Near Etal village by Cornhill-on-Tweed
Northumberland, North-east Counties
Tel. 0 1890 820 332
Open: see English Heritage website for updated times: English Heritage
English Heritage property; shop; parking
Photos © by Barbara Ballard except courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows: Castle by Chris Gunns; Tower house by Christine Matthews; Castle view by Barbara Carr