Wooler and Glendale

Gateway to the Cheviot Hills

Visit Report April 5th - Visit to Barmoor Estate


Tour of Barmoor Estate and Castle on Saturday 5 April.

After a week of persistent fog thirty members of Glendale Local History Society were welcomed by sunshine when they met for a tour of Barmoor Estate and Castle on Saturday 5 April. Our guide was archaeologist John Nolan who had given a talk to the society some months earlier.

We began by walking around the estate, once substantially larger, now an attractive country park for caravans and lodges with magnificent views to the north. This allowed the castle to be considered in its physical context while John told something of its history. And there was plenty of that! A 14th century core tower house, supplemented by 16th century additions and remodelled in the 19th century, Barmoor may well have had an earlier Manor House and even a Saxon settlement.

Of the various families owning Barmoor, the Muschamps, Carrs and Sitwells are probably the most well-known names.

Our walk took in the old roads now converted into tracks and drives for caravan owners, the former village green and the site of Barmoor town which originally had its own school and chapel. Earthworks of tofts and crofts were visible as recently as 40 years ago. A map from 1772 has survived on which names of tenants appear. Barmoor Woods (where the English army camped before the Battle of Flodden in 1513) were once the source of coal-mining and quarrying which helped later owners develop industries on the estate. Accounts from the 17th century record timber use for fuel and weaving. Brick making also took place.

After John's vivid descriptions of township life in earlier times, it was not difficult to imagine a hive of industry as we peeped over the fence at the stub end of Barmoor Town at the surviving 18th century cottages and dry stone walls.
The Sitwells owned the estate from 1791 until the late 1970's. There were several colourful characters amongst them including one known as Frank the Gambler who became MP for Berwick and left huge debts for succeeding generations. They were known on the whole as good landlords who looked after their tenants. However, this did not prevent them from demolishing most of the township in 1825 in order to make the view from their remodelled castle "more agreeable"! Our circuit through the grounds completed and our appetite for further exploration definitely whetted, we were led inside the castle itself after health and safety warnings. In 1540 it was described as "in extreme decay and almost ruinous" and since then a number of improvements have been made. In 1801 the present building was designed by John Paterson, a pupil of the Adams brothers. It is best described as a castellated Gothic Revival mansion. The present owners made it a priority to ensure the building remains watertight though it is not yet habitable. We were shown different architectural features which have survived, some in surprisingly good condition, such as glass domes and plasterwork, other less so. Old bread –ovens and fireplaces remain as do the main staircase with ornamental metalwork and the servants' stairs. Hooks from the ceiling from which candelabra once hung are still in place in the Billiard Room. We admired the revolving fireplace which allowed a newly-laid fire to be instantly swung around for lighting at breakfast time following all-night gambling sessions.

The fortunes of the Sitwells began a downward slide mid-19th century and they were compelled to vacate the castle in order to lease it out while they moved into nearby Barmoor House built about 1780 from estate bricks. During the 20th century most of the estate including several farms had to be sold off. The last member of the Sitwell family continued to live in it until the 1960's and photographs from then show the interior to be quite habitable. Sadly that is no longer the case. It appears on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register and it is to be hoped that substantial grants will be available from national sources in order to conserve this unique and important building.

Our thanks go to the Lamb family who kindly allowed us to visit and to John Nolan who led the tour and shared with us his impressive knowledge of the castle's history. We would also like to thank Jenny Vaughan who provided an interesting display of archaeological finds from the estate including mediaeval pottery, buttons and buckles, and to Alistair Mackenzie, who showed us hundreds of coins, badges and other items he had found locally with the help of his metal-detector.

This was a very special outing for members and we came away feeling privileged to have such an in-depth tour.
Valerie Glass


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