One branch of my family are Featherstones of England. There are numerous stories about the family, their fortunes and occasional failures. Many years ago, I found the following report about the Featherstone castle while doing research on the family.
By Frank Graham
Probably in the reign of James I the sough and east faces of the tower of the Featherstone Castle were constructed again as well as the range of thirteenth century buildings to the north, in the Jacobean style. The west doorway with its flat ogee and square hood moldings is from this period. The last period of building was carried out by the Hon. Thomas Wallace (circa 1828) who added three more towers, an office wing and a long garden wall. The dining room, known as the Blue Room, was reconstructed. It has a fine timbered roof with heraldry and some beautiful fifteenth century woodwork taken from the choir of Carlisle Cathedral. The new buildings were carefully blended with the old in an harmonious combination.
There is a famous poem associated wit Featherstone. The ballad, by R. S. Surtees, commemorates the death of Sir Albany Featherstonehaugh in a border feud in 1530. Here are the words:
“Hoot awa’, lad, hoot awa’,
Ha’ ye heard how the Ridleys, the Thirlwalls, and a’
Ha’ set upon Albany Featherstonhaugh,
And taken his life at the Deadmanshaw?
There was Willemoteswick,
And Hardriding Dick,
And Hughie of Hawden, and Will of the Wa’,
I canno’ tell a’, I canno’ tell a’,
And mony a mair that the de’il may knaw.
The auld men went down, but Nicol his son
Ran away afore the fight was begun;
And he run, and he run,
And afore they were done,
There was many a Featherston gat sic a stun,
As never was seen since the world begun.
I canna’ tell a’, I canna tell a’,
Some gat a skelp, and som gat a claw;
But they gar’d the Featherstons haud their jaw –
Nicol and Aleck and a’.
Some gat a hurt, and some gat nane,
Some had harness, and some gat staen,
Ane gat a twist o’ the craig;
Ane gat a bunch o’ the wame;
Symy Haw gat lamed of a leg;
And syne ran wallowing hame.
Hoot, hoot, the auld man’s slain outright!
Lay him now wi’ his face down: — he’s a sorrowful sight.
Janet, thoug donot,
I’ll lay my best bonnet,
Though gets a new gude-man afore it be night.
Hoot away, lads, hoot away,
Wi’s a’ be hanged if we stay;
Tak’ up the dead man, and lay him ahint the bigging;
Here’s the Bailey o’ Haltwhiste,
Wi’ his great bull’s pizzle,
That supp’d up the broo’ and syne – in the piggin”.
The ballad so deceived Sir Walter Scott that he inserted a stanza in his poem of “Marmion” adding a footnote “this old Northumbrian ballad was taken down from the recitation of a woman, eighty years of age, mother of one of the miners in Alson Moor, by an agent for the lead mines there, who communicates it to my friend and correspondent, R. Surtees Esq. Of Mainsforth. “She had not” she said, “heard it for many years; but when she was a girl it used to be sung at merry-makings till the roof rang again.”
Naturally the castle has its ghost, or rather a whole troop of them, a bridal party, who haunt the woods nearby. Many hundreds of years ago, the story runs, there lived a bold baron of Featherstonehaugh, who committed the parental indiscretion of choosing a husband for his only daughter, Abigail, the last of the famous line. The lady, however, loved Ridley of Hardriding, whose suit had been rejected by the baron on account of an ancient feud. Neither tears nor entreaties prevailed to alter the baron’s purpose, and in the small chapel adjoining the castle she was united to a distant relative, Timothy Featherstonhaugh. A hunting excursion took place in honor of the occasion, and as the party was returning home by the gloomy glen of Pynkinscleugh, it was met at a bridge, close to the road, by the rejected lover at the head of a well-appointed band of vassals, who attempted to carry away the lovely bride. A deadly combat ensued, in which the whole of the bridal party were cut down. The lady was accidentally killed while attempting to stop a desperate encounter between the bridegroom and her lover, and the latter, maddened with grief, put an end to his existence. His heart’s blood, says the fragment of a wild ballad which still floats in the district, ran into a hollow stone, and the black ravens drank it out, filling the forest with vile croaking’s over their infernal banquet. This relic, called the Raven’s – stone, is still shown in a wood near the castle.
Meanwhile the baron and his wife awaited the return of their guests; but it was not until the stroke of midnight that the door opened and the hunting party entered with faces of the pallor of death only relieved by streaks of blood and ghastly wounds. A shudder ran through the baron’s frame, he rose to his feet and crossed himself mechanically, and he did so a mighty rushing wind swept the ghostly party away. Every year on the anniversary of the fatal event the bridal party traverse the same road and enter the castle gateway at the midnight hour.
Three miles southwest of Haltwhistle, in a secluded vale near the confluence of the Hartley burn and the South Tyne, in a secluded vale near the confluence of the Hartley burn and the South Tyne, stands Featherstone Castle, a handsome castellated mansion, which has for its nucleus an old square pele tower. It has been described by C. J. Bates as ‘perhaps the loveliest tower in the country with its corner bartisans and carved corbels”.
The first recorded owner of the manor of Featherstone was Helias de Featherstonehaugh who was residing here before 1212. The manor was at that time part of the barony of Langley which was then under Scottish rule. We do not know when the original castle was built but the pointed doorway, (see photo), and dated not later than 1200, is clearly part of the original building. It is in the main building north of the tower. Nearby is a thirteenth century buttress. About 1330 Thomas de Featherstonehaugh, a man of great power, who was guardian of Hexham, Wark and the barony of Tindale, erected a strong tower at the southwest corner of the range of buildings already existing. The tower is “L” shaped and of three stages marked by sloping set-offs surmounted by a five battlement with four corbelled bartisans. The battlement is very high with an embrasure over each angle. The merlons on two sides are decorated with pierced quatrefoil. The basement is vaulted in two spans.
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