See also Alnwick Castle Gardens
Alnwick Castle, home to the dukes of Northumberland, was originally a border fortress dating back to the 11th century. It was first associated with the de Vesci family who were lords of the barony of Alnwick. The castle was completed by the son-in-law in 1147 and was built with a circular shell keep, towers, and an outer wall. There were two baileys with bastions.
The castle came into the possession of the Percys, a Norman family, in 1309 when it was sold to Henry, 1st lord Percy of Alnwick, who made the castle more secure. In 1310 the barbican and gatehouse were added. They were, at one time, connected by a moat crossed by a drawbridge.
The Auditor’s tower dates from the 14th century. The clock tower is from 1760 while the Falconer tower is a mid 1800s restoration. The Constable’s tower in the east bailey survives in its almost original 14th century state as does the Postern tower where a museum of Roman and early British antiquities is found.
The large central keep has changed over the centuries. It is entered through the twin octagon towers dating from 1350. The gateway’s wooden doors date from the 17th century. The courtyard area saw much rebuilding in the 1850s by the 4th Duke. He created the Italian Renaissance style interior, a surprise after viewing the medieval exterior. However, the well in the courtyard does date from the 14th century.
The 4th duke was not the only Percy to undertake restoration. During the 1760-80 period restoration took place by Robert Adam in the gothic style, which proved to not be popular; therefore, the re-doing by Salvin under the direction of the 4th Duke. Salvin added the Prudhoe tower to provide views over the landscape.
The Italian Renaissance style was chosen by the 4th Duke as appropriate to show off his collection of Italian paintings that include ones by Canaletto. He hired an Italian, Canina, to help design the interior. The chimney-pieces were re-done at this time.
Visitors, on reaching the entrance hall, are treated to a collection of arms and armour, dating from the time of the 2nd Duke. After this they come to a grand staircase lined with marble. At the top of the staircase are the state rooms preceded by a guard chamber complete with Venetian mosaics on the floor and a gilded compartmented ceiling.
In the state rooms are further paintings, furniture by Adam, and carved and gilded ceilings. A library, in the Prudhoe tower, houses 16,000 books. Its ceiling has carved trophies. There is a gallery with a brass railing for the upper stacks, Regency chairs and marble busts. The music room, the former saloon, is noted for its ceiling and chandeliers as well as Boule cabinets and paintings by Van Dyck.
In the dining room is another carved ceiling. There are pieces of Meissen dinner services, a white marble fireplace with the arms of the 4th Duke, family portraits, and shields of arms on the ceiling. The red drawing room is the most magnificent of the rooms. Its walls are hung with red and gold damask. Here are two French cabinets made for Louis XIV in 1683 and more priceless paintings.
Other treats are a medieval dungeon and an early 19th century state coach used by the 3rd Duke at the coronation of Charles X of France. The regimental museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers is located in the Abbot’s Tower of the castle.
The landscaped grounds were designed by ‘Capability’ Brown during the time of the 1st Duke.
Alnwick, Northumberland, in the town centre
Tel. 0 1665 510 777 for castle; 0 1665 511 133 for garden
Open: castle, April-end Oct, daily 10am-5.30pm, state rooms till 4.30m; garden, April-end Oct, daily, 10am-6pm, Nov-first week Jan, 11am-5pm; shop; restaurant—check website for details
Historic Houses Association member
Web: Alnwick Castle
Web: Alnwick Garden
Photos © by Barbara Ballard except interior photos courtesy Alnwick Castle
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