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Sunderland City Council


Sunderland City Council
Civic Centre
Burdon Road

Tel. (0191) 520 5555
Minicom: (0191) 5250075




MONUMENT:   Hylton Castle: a medieval fortified house, chapel, 17th and 18th century

                           country houses and associated gardens






Description of the Monument

The monument includes the site and remains of a medieval fortified house modified throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, alongside the remains of its 17th century and later gardens and medieval ridge and furrow cultivation.  The only upstanding remains of the house are the gatehouse tower, a large towerhouse of c.1400 built over the west gateway and the house.  The gatehouse was built by Sir William Hylton, whose family had held the manor since at least 1157.  The gatetower remained the family�s principal residence throughout the 15th and 16th centuries.  It is a substantial rectangular building of well covered ashlar and was originally four-storeyed.  The gate is flanked by two square turrets and surmounted by a rich display of heraldic devices which provide important evidence for the tower�s date.  The gatehouse was blocked by a stone decorative screen to the exterior of a central east turret on the east internal wall.

Around all but the north wall of the tower, the parapets around the roof and turrets project forward from the walls on supporting corbels.  The ground floor included a central gate-passage flanked by vaulted chambers.  Those on the north side were used as storerooms while those on the south side functioned as the guardroom and a private chamber.

The first floor was occupied by the baron�s hall and solar, and also a kitchen with an attached buttery and pantry.  The latter lay at the south or �low� end of the hall, farthest from the baron�s table at the north end of the hall.  The hall was lit by three main windows.  The central window was located above the gate, and below it in the floor was a slot through which the portcullis  could be raised, worked via a winding mechanism located in a mural chamber in the southern of the central turret.  Access to the hall was via a newel stair in the projecting central east turret.  Also, in the projecting east turret, and adjacent to the entrance to the hall, was the oratory or private chapel.  To the north of the hall was the solar, a private chamber, equipped with a garderobe and at least one window seat.  There would have been a fireplace in the south wall which divided the chamber from the hall, but this was demolished during 18th century alterations.  Three similar private chambers existed on the second floor; one lay above the solar and would have been for the baron�s family and the other was above the oratory and was the chaplain�s lodgings.  Both of these were accessed from the hall via a stair at the northern end of the central east turret.  The third private chamber on the second floor was over the kitchens and was accessed via the main stair at the southern end of the central east turret.  A further two private chambers existed above the chaplain�s lodgings in the central east tower accessed via the main stair.  The gatetower formed the west side of a courtyard arrangement of buildings which has been identified by geophysical survey and excavation in 1994 and 1995.  Externally, these buildings measure about 50m long by 30m wide.  A hall, mentioned in a survey of 1435 and slightly revealed by excavation in 1993, would have formed the east range of the courtyard with service rooms and kitchen at its �low� or southern end.  The south range of the courtyard was a barn and the north range contained chambers to provide additional accommodation.  The evidence from the excavations indicate that these buildings had not been in use after the medieval period.  A 17th century country house identified from geophysical survey as 50m long and 20m wide is located about 70m east of the gatetower.

In 1640 the manor was bequeathed by Henry Hylton to the Corporation of London.  After a lengthy legal battle, the estate was returned to Henry'� nephew, John Hylton, at high financial cost as he had to discharge the conditions of the will and settle the claims of rival contestants.  By 1700 the gatetower became the basis for a large house, which was built in two phases between 1700 and the death of the last Baron Hylton in 1746, along with a number of alterations to the interior of the gatetower.  A north wing was added between 1700 and 1712, and a matching south wing was constructed between 1712 and 1746.  The north wing no longer survives as a standing feature and the south wing has three courses of ashlar sandstone blocks upstanding.   The wings were demolished in the 1860s by the then owner, William Briggs who also �medievalised� the entrances and windows and gave the gatetower its present appearance.  His internal alterations were removed when the gatetower was taken into the Secretary of State�s care in 1950.  The general appearance of the 18th century house is known, however, from a number of contemporary illustrations, most notably an engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, dated 1728, and a painting by an unknown artist, dated about 1800.  The ground plans of the demolished wings also survive as buried features.

A separate chapel, dedicated to St Catherine, is known to have existed at Hylton since 1157.  No standing remains of this early structure survive but buried remains of this chapel and those of subsequent medieval chapels, will survive beneath the present ruined chapel.  This was built in  the early 15th century and altered by the insertion of an east window in the late 15th or early  16th century and the addition of two-storey transepts in the late 16th century, after the Reformation.  The first chapel was founded by Romanus of Hylton and, in the 13th century, permission was given for members of the family and household to be buried there.  This led, in  the 14th century, to the founding of chantries (endowments for the singing of masses for the souls of the dead).  In 1322 there was one chantry, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and, in 1370, there were three chantry priests.  The last chaplain was appointed in 1536.  After that, the chapel may have continued in use as a burial place, but it had clearly gone out of use by 1728 as the Buck engraving shows it as roofless.  The last Baron Hylton, who died in 1746, carried out some repairs and temporarily restored it to use, as did the early 19th century owner, Simon Temple.  During the 19th and 20th centuries, however, it fell into disrepair and was saved from demolition at the same time as the tower.

The landscape around the surviving upstanding remains of Hylton Castle and chapel is of at least two phases, a 17th century garden, and a 19th century landscaped park.  The remains of the  17th century gardens including three terraces (a lower terrace to the east of the gatetower, an upper terrace to the east of the chapel, and a terrace to the west of the gatetower), and a canal water feature.  The lower terrace is 218m long and 45m wide and overlies a stretch of 10m wide ridge and furrow cultivation, which is visible to the east of this terrace.  The upper terrace, to the east of the chapel, is 100m long and tapers from 28m wide near the chapel to 18m.  Access  from the lower to the upper terrace is by two earth ramps cut into its slope.  These are 2m wide by 30m long.  A map of the Sunderland area by Burleigh and Thompson, published in 1737, uses as a vignette, an elevation of Hylton Castle and shows a knot garden on the upper terrace with a wall at its east end.  Information on this garden layout will be preserved beneath the present ground surface.  The terrace to the west of the gatetower is about 90m long by 100m wide and was the main access to Hylton Castle.  These terraces would have been laid out to gardens and incorporated recreational facilities such as a bowling green recorded in the estate sale of 1750.  The canal water feature is situated about 190m south of the gatetower and measures 70m long  by 14m wide.  In the 19th century the area around Hylton Castle was turned into a landscaped park.  A vista from the gatetower to the west was created by an avenue between wooded areas and a walled garden was established to the north of this avenue, about 250m north west of the gatetower.  Other earthworks associated with the 17th century gardens and 19th century landscaped park survive within the vicinity of Hylton Castle but remain undated and further remains will be preserved beneath the present ground surface, which will provide important information on the development of the surrounding landscape.  Excavation 140m south of the gatetower has confirmed that features associated with the gardens survive, uncovering a 19th century track which overlay an earlier, undated kerbed track. 

The gatehouse and chapel are Grade I Listed Buildings and are in the care of the Secretary of State.

The wooden post and rail fence, the iron railings, football goal, playground apparatus and surfaces, and the surfaces of metalled paths are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.  



last updated 27/07/05