Lumley castle was possibly founded as an unfortified structure, possibly in the mid fourteenth century by the Lumley family.  Marmaduke Lumley (d.1365) is often credited with this act.  On 19 August 1388, the probably 26 year old Ralph Lumley (d.1400) was captured by the Scots at the battle of Otterburn.  He soon obtained his freedom and on 10 November 1389 was granted permission to crenellate Lumley castle by Bishop Skirlaw of Durham.  The bishop had been appointed the previous year as a supporter of the appellants, opposed to King Richard II (1377-99).  Possibly the licence to crenellate was due to the disturbed state of the realm with the ongoing dispute between the king and some of his barons.  In any case, when King Richard achieved his majority on 3 May 1391, Lumley may have thought it prudent to get the permission ratified by royal authority.  However, a licence was only given ‘for Ralph Lumley, knight, to build a castle at Lumley and crenellate it' by King Richard II (1377-99) on 24 October 1392.  This may suggest that this second permission was merely Lumley gaining a royal favour.  Ralph was certainly a royalist and swore at the Westminster parliament of 1397 to support King Richard.  After Richard's overthrow he appeared at Henry IV's first parliament and then joined the plot of the earl of Huntingdon to restore King Richard.  Lumley was apparently killed in battle at Cirencester on 5 January 1400, his estates being declared forfeit in March, even though they had already been given to Earl John of Somerset on 22 January 1400.

Ralph's son, John Lumley (1383-1421), was restored to the castle in November 1411, only to be killed at the battle of Bauge in France, leaving the castle to his younger brother, Marmaduke.  Marmaduke, who was also chancellor and bishop of Carlisle and briefly
Lincoln, died in 1450 when his nephew, Thomas Lumley (d.1485), succeeded to the Lumley estates.  In the early stages of the Wars of the Roses he was a Yorkist at the siege of Bamburgh castle.  After this the Lumleys continued to prosper, despite their continuing Catholicism.  In March 1537 Roger Lumley, after his failure to seize Scarborough castle for the Catholic rebels on 16 January, was captured and executed on Tower Hill.  His attainder was reversed under King Edward VI (1547-53).  Roger's son, John Lumley (d.1609), was responsible for the unique family effigies in Chester-le-Street church which failed to impress King James I (1601-25).  Possibly John was the man who altered Lumley castle during the Elizabethan era, before the castle passed to a cousin on his childless death.  Certainly Edward Barras, who sketched the castle in the 1790s, saw a plaque on one of the tower turrets which had the inscription I L 1550.  I L was undoubtedly John Lumley.  Later, Richard Lumley (d.1721) employed John Vanbrugh to upgrade the castle.  After this the family, increasing in wealth, moved further south, leaving the renewed fortress increasingly neglected.  Earl Richard Lumley of Scarborough (1757-1832) sold much of the castle contents, although some refurbishment took place in the early twentieth century.  In the mid 1970s the castle became a hotel.

Lumley castle is claimed as a centre for paranormal activity.  Recently Indian cricket captain, Sourav Ganguly, and other members of his team, claimed to have been affected in the early 2000s.  The most popular ghost story about the castle concerns Lily, the wife of Ralph Lumley (d.1400).  Sadly he was married to Eleanor Neville (d.1441+) so the story lacks historical credibility.

Lumley castle is about 180' east to west by 160' deep.  Each corner contains a large rectangular tower - the western ones being 65' by 35' and the 2 eastern ones being 50' by 35'.  Between them are 4 ranges set along the curtain walls leaving an open central court about 70' square.  Entrance was via a twin turreted gatehouse to the east.  To the north is another rectangular court of more recent origins, the whole fortress being built of a fine golden sandstone, with modern roofs and stone chimneys.  The hall lies in the west range and has 3 doorways behind the screens and what is probably an Elizabethan fireplace.  The  2 storey kitchen with 3 fireplaces is in the large northwest tower.  Otherwise the towers are of 4 storeys.  The chapel authorised in 1432 was sited in the other large northeast tower.  Most of the windows have been enlarged and replaced, probably in the period between 1500 and 1900, although possibly fourteenth century windows remain in the southeast tower.  Further, the battlements have been expanded and curious little garrets built at most angles.  Despite these modifications it has been claimed that there are traces of the manor house that preceded the 1380s Lumley castle within the east range.  There is also alleged to be some Roman masonry in the structure that might suggest it began life as a Roman signal station.  Certainly some of the masonry of the west wall of the hall bears some comparison with other small, square ashlar work.

The shape of the current hotel is similar to that of Bolton castle, which was certainly commenced by the ubiquitous late fourteenth century mason John Lewyn (d.1398?).  As there is some similarity with parts of Brancepeth and Raby castles, it has led to the claim that all these northern castles and several more were designed by him.  Just like with the case of Master James St George, the evidence does not support such claims.  Various northern castles, like Brancepeth, Lumley, Raby, Sheriff Hutton and Wrestle, have been associated with Lewyn by modern historians and archaeologists.  All that is certain is that he was responsible for work at Durham priory from 1353 and in that May he worked on the expansion of the houses of Bamburgh castle.  In 1378 he was employed by the Crown in work on Roxburgh castle and Carlisle castle outer gate as well as later by John of Gaunt (d.1399) at Dunstanburgh castle.  Because of this, it is widely assumed without any direct evidence, that he was also involved in the building of Durham castle keep, Warkworth keep and even the gatehouse to Tynemouth priory.  Hermitage castle is also occasionally credited as his workmanship on the similar grounds of he must have had a hand in it as it is similar to other castles in the North.  What is known of the mason is related above, while in reality Lewyn is thought to have died in or soon after 1398.  His story is told in detail in Hislop, M, John Lewyn of Durham: A Medieval Mason in Practice [2007].

Why not join me here and at other Northern English castles this year?  Please see the information on this and similar tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


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