English Stately Homes and Castles - North

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island - Part 1


Some background


The Holy Island of Lindisfarne with its priory was an important religious settlement until the C16th. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the priory and all its estates passed to the crown. With increasing unrest along the Scottish border, the island with its natural harbour, became an important military stronghold. The harbour was the most northerly in England and important for the protection of  Berwick on Tweed and the Scottish border.

Beblowe Crag, the outcrop of the whin sill and the highest point of the island, was fortified with an earthen work fort, to protect the harbour below. This was later replaced by a stone curtain wall and the lower battery.

A stone garrison with administrative buildings and an upper battery soon followed, using stone from the priory buildings. The fort was garrisoned by troops from Berwick on Tweed and was consistently under funded. With the Union of the Crowns and accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne, the fort lost its military significance, although a small garrison was maintained there. 

The fort was seized by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. By the start of the C18th there were only seven men stationed there. It was captured for just one day in 1715 by two Jacobites before being recaptured. It remained a military fort until the beginning of the C19th when it was used by the coastguards.

By the end of the C19th the fort was in a ruined condition. It was leased and then bought by Edward Hudson, owner of Country Life magazine. He commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to re-model the castle into a fashionable holiday home. Lutyen's design was based on a medieval castle with thick walls, vaulted ceilings. open fireplaces and lit by candles.

Lindisfarne Castle

He rebuilt the shallow ramp which gave access to the fort, with cobbles laid in a herringbone pattern. This gave access to the castle, through a small gateway.

Lindisfarne Castle

He created an L shaped house on the lower battery which linked the east and west buildings of the original fort.

Lindisfarne Castle

The castle was extended a few years later with the addition of the long gallery and extra bedrooms. When work was completed, the castle had four living room, nine bedrooms and a bathroom. Lutyens also designed some of the furniture for the castle, like the dresser in the kitchen. The rest was chosen by Hudson.

Lindisfarne Castle

The castle was used for house parties in the summer but with no running water, or electricity it was not popular with visitors.

Hudson never married and in 1921 sold the castle and contents to a London Stockbroker, who later sold it to a merchant banker who gave it to the National Trust in 1944. He continued to live there as a tenant until his death in 1965

The castle has recently reopened after a massive restoration programme.  Lutyens might have been an iconic C20th architect but several of his buildings developed major faults with deteriorating stonework, leaking roofs, damp and windows. Lindisfarne with its flat roofs and exposure to the elements, was one of these. The castle was completely cleared of all its furnishings. Walls were repointed and covered with ‘sneck harl’ (a lime and sand coating designed to act as extra protection). The inner walls have been covered with lime plaster to help them ‘breathe’. Drainage of the flat roof has been improved.  All the windows have been replaced.

Some furnishings have been returned but the majority of the rooms are still empty while the plaster still dries out. The advantage of this is that visitors now notice the architecture, with its austere but beautifully designed rooms linked by dramatic corridors, galleries and stairways, rather than the furnishings.

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