The Dilston Heritage Project
For centuries Dilston has been a source of fascination and inspiration for those who visit. The tranquil beauty of the site and the story of the ill-fated Earl, which ranks as one of the most moving episodes in Northumbrian history, has led over the years to a string of poems, novels, biographies and other creative works. Yet despite its historic importance, the Radcliffe heritage, hidden away in private grounds, was gradually becoming neglected and almost forgotten.
The romance of the Derwentwater Legend, which had lived on in Hexhamshire long after the demise of the family and the demolition of Dilston Hall, was by the late twentieth century beginning to fade. Concern for the crumbling remains of Dilston Castle and the associated Radcliffe heritage finally instigated the start of a conservation programme for the site.
In 1993, the Dilston Heritage Project was launched in order to conserve the remaining Radcliffe heritage and bring attention to this important historic site, which is situated on a gently sloping hillside to the south-west of Corbridge, a village in the Tyne Valley. On the western outskirts of Corbridge, the remains of the Roman station of Corstopitum can be seen, and from here the site of a bridge can be located that once carried the Roman road, Dere Street, across the Tyne. Dere Street ran across the haugh land on the south side of the river, passing not far from Dilston. A Roman gravestone and other ancient stones are built into the walls of Dilston Chapel.
the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage awarded grants for the
conservation and restoration of Dilston Castle and Chapel, and work on the two
scheduled ancient monuments was completed by July 2003. The restoration of
Dilston Castle and Chapel was a joint enterprise undertaken by the Historic
Dilston Group, the North Pennines Heritage Trust (the building trust that
carried out the work), and Dilston College, MENCAP (who, at the time, owned the
two buildings, which stand in the grounds). The project was
supported by The Fifteen (The
Northumbrian Jacobite Society). Further grant aid was subsequently
obtained to carry out repairs to the Lord’s Bridge and conserve various
historical features around the site.
The North Pennines Heritage Trust went into administration in Sept. 2011, and so their lease on the Castle and Chapel returned to Dilston College and the activities of the Historic Dilston Group there ceased. The precious buildings on the heritage site remained inaccessible to the public until The Cambian Group, the new owners of the College, signed a tenancy agreement in October 2015 with John Nicholls MBE, then Chairman and now Hon. Life President of The Fifteen (The Northumbrian Jacobite Society), so that the Castle, Chapel and site could be maintained and improved and some access by like-minded groups and interested members of the general public be made possible; this has to be by prior arrangement, under supervision and at times approved in advance by Cambian Dilston College, which has a duty of care towards its students and whose grounds are normally closed to the general public. For enquiries about visits, the Tenant, John Nicholls, should be contacted (Tel.01573 470746; E-mail: email@example.com).
Visitors to the site (by
prior appointment only - see above) are able to follow the story of the
Radcliffes of Dilston and the Jacobite Cause on graphic displays inside the
Castle and Chapel. They can climb the restored staircase inside the Castle and
learn how the 15th-century tower house (which still survives) was incorporated
into Dilston Hall, the palatial Queen Anne mansion built by James Radcliffe,
3rd Earl of Derwentwater, but demolished some years after his attainder and
execution. A particular point of
interest is the Chapel, which has been restored to its original state, as built
by Sir Francis Radcliffe, c.1616-21. This includes a new oak gallery, which was
installed to replace the one that was removed in 1733, when the chapel was
refurbished to suit the Church of England. There remains the original longer-term
aim to restore the riverside gardens of the Derwentwater mansion, shown in a
1766 engraving of Dilston Hall.
The Fifteen (The Northumbrian Jacobite Society) was founded in 2000 to promote interest in the Northumbrian Jacobites, principally (but not exclusively) those participating in the 1715 Jacobite Rising (The ’Fifteen). Its leaders included James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, and his brother Hon. Charles Radcliffe, who lived at Dilston. Whilst the Society has always cared greatly about Dilston (where, in the Chapel, it usually holds its talks), it has long recognised that all periods of Jacobite history are related and so has constantly endeavoured to broaden its areas of interest and appeal, within the parameters of its basic historical and social brief.
Numbered among The Fifteen’s Patrons are: Lord Petre, direct descendant of James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, by his daughter, Anna Maria; the Rt Revd Geoffrey Scott, Abbot of Douai, a renowned academic, originally from Newcastle; His Most Eminent Highness Fra’ Matthew Festing, a Northumbrian, who is 79th Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta in Rome; Count Peter Pininski, author and direct descendant of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ by his daughter, Charlotte of Albany; and Professor Edward Corp, world expert on the Stuart Court in exile and Jacobite portraiture.