Lumley Castle and Great Lumley

The Lumleys of Lumley

Situated in the valley of the Lumley Park Burn to the east of the River Wear above Chester-le-Street, Lumley Castle, now a hotel has a fascinating history linked to the Lumley family, who lived in the region for centuries.

Lumley Castle
Lumley Castle © David Simpson

The family take their name from Lumley the place which in medieval times consisted of Great Lumley and Little Lumley. Great Lumley is a village just to the south and Little Lumley is now the location of Lumley Castle.

One member of the family, a John, Lord Lumley had a passion for his family’s history and installed the numerous family effigies in Chester-le-Street parish church. He also commissioned 17 ancestral portraits to adorn the walls of Lumley Castle.

Lumley Castle © David Simpson

When King James I visited in the early 1600s, a Bishop of Durham William James, who was a Lumley relative, enthused about the paintings at length. The unimpressed Scot interrupted, remarking sarcastically: “Oh mon, gan nae further, I must digest the knowledge I hae gained this day, for I didna ken Adam’s ither name was Lumley.”

In fact, the first supposed member of the illustrious family is thought to be Liulf, a Saxon noble descended from King Athelred. Liulf (or Liulph) was murdered by the retainers of a Bishop of Durham, William Walcher. The murder resulted in the subsequent murder of the bishop himself at Gateshead in 1080.

Lumley warrior: One of the Lumley effigies from Chester-le-Street church
Lumley warrior: One of the Lumley effigies from Chester-le-Street church

The assassinated noble Liulf did not use the Lumley surname and nor did his son Uhtred but a grandson of Liulf called William assumed the Lumley name from the local place-name. William was made a baron of Durham by Bishop Pudsey.

The manor house of the Lumleys was situated at Little Lumley and named it seems from ‘Lums’ or deep pools in the River Wear. A separate branch of the family owned Great Lumley and descended from William’s younger brother, Matthew. Descendants of Matthew included Waleran Lumley, a thirteenth century mayor of Newcastle, but the Great Lumley branch eventually died out.

Lumley Castle © David Simpson
Lumley Castle © David Simpson

The Little Lumley branch continued to hold land there and in 1385 a Ralph Lumley became the first Lord Lumley who began the construction of Lumley Castle around 1389. The west range of the present castle may still incorporate part of the old manor house.

Sir Ralph’s castle was an impressive fortress of great strength that reflected the constant threat from Scottish raids. The quadrangle plan of the castle with its four corner towers is still essentially the building developed by Sir Ralph, although the architect Sir John Vanbrugh undertook improvements on the south range in the 1720s.

Lumley Castle in the 1700s
Lumley Castle in the 1700s

Ralph supported Richard II against Henry Bollingbroke and found himself imprisoned and murdered as a result. His extensive lands including Chevington in Northumberland and places along the Cleveland coast like Brotton, Kilton, Hinderwell and Marske were confiscated. His widow Eleanor, a daughter of Lord Neville of Raby Castle was left with very little.

According to legend Eleanor was not Ralph’s first wife. It is said he was previously married to ‘Lily of Lumley’ now the castle’s resident ghost though her true name and identity is unknown.

Lumley Castle
Lumley Castle © David Simpson

She was supposedly murdered by monks from Finchale Priory who lured her into a bedchamber, then tortured and murdered her before throwing her down a well within the castle. In truth there is no actual record of a Lily of Lumley and Eleanor was Ralph’s only known wife.

King Henry IV (Bollingbroke) let Ralph’s son, Sir John Lumley continue residing at Lumley and he found favour with the new monarch. Supporting Henry’s successor, Henry V, Lumley eventually lost his life in battle at Anjou in France in 1421. The family were certainly of high influence. Sir John’s younger brother, Marmaduke, who died in 1450 was successively Chancellor of Cambridge University; Bishop of Carlisle then Bishop of Lincoln. This John’s son, a Thomas Lumley succeeded to the Lumley estates and became governor of Scarborough Castle.

Lumley Castle
Lumley Castle © David Simpson

The lands at Lumley were officially restored to Thomas Lumley (circa 1416-1485) Governor of Scarborough Castle and second Lord Lumley, by the king. Lumley was present at the siege of Bamburgh Castle in 1464 and a Royal Commissioner at Newcastle in 1466, where he was employed to resolve grievances between the English and the Scots.

Lumley Castle
Lumley Castle

He was succeeded by his son, Sir George, third Lord Lumley, a Sheriff and MP for Northumberland and commander under Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in the taking of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1482.

Sir George served under Edward IV, Richard III and the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII, who he escorted on an investigative tour of northern England in 1487. George would also escort the king’s daughter, Margaret Tudor, on her journey from Darlington to Berwick in 1503. She was heading to Edinburgh to marry King James IV of Scotland, and was a mere pawn in King Henry’s attempts to improve Anglo-Scottish relations.

Sir George Lumley was married to Elizabeth Thornton, heiress of Roger Thornton, a wealthy former mayor of Newcastle known as Newcastle’s Dick Whittington. Among the properties inherited through this marriage was Ludworth Tower near Thornley in County Durham, but Elizabeth’s illegitimate brother, Giles, disputed Lumley’s inheritance of Thornton’s wealth. The dispute proved fatal for Giles. Lumley killed him in a duel held in a ditch at Windsor Castle.

Lumley Castle
Lumley Castle © David Simpson

Thomas died in about 1507 and was succeeded by his son, another Sir Thomas, who married Elizabeth Plantagenet, the illegitimate daughter of Edward IV and his mistress Elizabeth Wayte. The Lumleys certainly had friends in high places.

The next Lumley heir was Richard, the fourth lord, born at Ludworth Tower, but about whom little can be said. His son, John, the fifth Lord, fought against the Scots at Flodden in 1513 but in 1537, was involved in the Catholic plot against Henry VIII. He was fortunate to escape with a pardon, but his son, Roger, who was more closely involved, was beheaded at Tower Hill London in June 1537.

Lumley Castle grounds
Lumley Castle grounds © David Simpson

The Lumley inheritance then passed to John’s grandson, John, the sixth Lord Lumley. By this time, the Lumley lands included the lordships of Hart, Stranton and Seaton Carew, all near Hartlepool, as well as Lumley, Bradbury, Butterby, Ludworth and lands in Northumberland and Yorkshire. Other properties included Linthorpe, now a part of Middlesbrough, the manor house of Broad Chare, in Newcastle, and estates in Surrey, Nottinghamshire, Kent and Sussex.

John, the Sixth Lord Lumley
John, the Sixth Lord Lumley

John, the sixth lord was the Lumley who commissioned the family effigies and the portraits that failed to impress King James I. It was ironic that a man so obsessed with lineage should die without an heir. His three children, Charles, Thomas and Mary, died in infancy and when the sixth lord died in 1609, the Lumley inheritance passed to his cousin, Richard Lumley. Richard was a descendant of Anthony Lumley, the brother of John Lumley, who had fought at Flodden in 1513.

In 1616, King James I knighted Richard Lumley and in 1628 he became the first Lord Viscount Lumley of Waterford in Ireland. During the Civil War this Richard garrisoned Lumley Castle for King Charles.

Lumley Castle
Lumley Castle © David Simpson

Richard outlived his son, John, and the title of viscount passed to his grandson, another Richard. King Charles II then gave this Richard the title “Baron of Lumley Castle”. Richard became a close supporter of a later king, William of Orange, and secured the support of Newcastle for him. In fact Richard was one of the men known to history as the “Immortal Seven”, being one of seven notable Englishmen who sent out the letter known as the “Invitation to William”.

This letter addressed to William Prince of Orange in the Netherlands was sent on June 20th 1688 requesting that William depose his father-in-law, King James II as King of England in favour of William’s wife Mary. The other six signatories of the invitation were the Earl of Danby, Earl of Shrewsbury, Earl of Devonshire, Bishop of London (Henry Compton), Edward Russell and Henry Syndey.

Lumley Castle grounds
Lumley Castle grounds © David Simpson

It was a dangerous and treasonable request to make, but James was widely distrusted and disliked for his Roman Catholic views. William of Orange accepted the invitation and invaded England with a large army of some 14,352 men. These were Dutch mercenary troops that included Scots, Scandinavians, Germans and Swiss amongst their numbers as well as some English and Scottish volunteers. The army landed at Brixham near Torbay and by December 1688, James II was forced to flee and never returned to England again.

William of Orange became joint ruler of our nation with his wife Mary in an event that came to be known as the Glorious Revolution (because it was a relatively bloodless revolution in England -though not in Scotland or Ireland). It was nevertheless one of the most important events in the history of our nation and a Lumley had played a significant part.

Lumley Castle grounds
Lumley Castle grounds © David Simpson

We may remember that the first Stuart monarch of England, James I, had mocked the family portraits and lineage of the Lumleys on his visit to Lumley Castle back in the early 1600s. Now the Lumley’s had played their part in ousting James’ grandson from the throne and the irony was perhaps not lost on the Lumleys.

Richard Lumley was present, along with William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne, in Ireland in 1690, and it was in this year that Lumley became Viscount Lumley, the first Earl of Scarborough. Richard was also a Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland and Durham and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Lumley Castle © David Simpson
Lumley Castle © David Simpson

During his occupancy of Lumley Castle, Richard employed Sir John Vanbrugh to undertake improvements, mostly on the castle’s south range. The viscount died in 1721 and was buried in Chester-le-Street parish church.

This first Earl of Scarborough was the last of the Lumleys to have any strong links with the North-East of England and, although the earls continued to own Lumley Castle, the family’s involvement in our region was only slight.

Later, Lumley interests were focused upon the south of England and then in Yorkshire. Richard, the second earl of Scarborough, was MP for East Grinstead and later for Arundel.

In a more recent age, the family became closely associated with Sandbeck Park, near Rotherham in South Yorkshire, where the present 13th Earl of Scarborough, Richard Osbert Lumley, succeeded his father, Richard Aldred Lumley, who died in 2004.

Lumley Castle clock
Lumley Castle clock © David Simpson

It is notable that the family use Anglo-Saxon names like Osbert and Aldred in honour of their noble Saxon blood. The Earls of Scarborough continued to make occasional visits to Lumley Castle, but over the years the family had acquired many properties, so that Lumley became just one of many interests.

During the time of Richard, the sixth earl, (1757-1832) the castle was stripped of furniture and many objets d’art were sold off. There was some refurbishment by the tenth earl at the beginning of the twentieth century but for long periods the castle stood empty.

Just after the Second World War, the castle became an annexe for Durham University students, and the university remained tenants of Roger Lawrence Lumley, the 11th Earl of Scarborough, until they vacated the premises in 1971.

During this period, the castle had also served as a training centre for television producers, writers and technicians. Then in the mid-1970s the castle lease was acquired from the 12th earl by a hotel group. They saw the castle’s potential as a hotel and introduced the popular Elizabethan banquets for which Lumley Castle Hotel is still renowned today.

Lumley Castle grounds with floodlights of the Riverside cricket ground in the distance © David Simpson
Lumley Castle grounds with floodlights of the Riverside cricket ground in the distance © David Simpson

Great Lumley

In medieval times Great Lumley (historically Lumley Magna) was named to distinguish it from Little Lumley (Lumley Parva) where Lumley Castle was later built. Lumley means clearing of the pools, and ‘lum’ seems to have been an old name for a deep pool in a river bend. The Lumley family took their name from the place though the surviving branch of the family hailed from Little Lumley.

It is thought to have been the site of a Saxon noble’s manor house and its proximity to Conecaster (Chester-le-Street) may have been significant. Little Lumley stayed in the hands of the Lumleys for many centuries but Great Lumley owners included the Latons, Tylliols, Moresbys, Colvylles, Knivitts and Musgraves.

Framed viewpoint, Great Lumley
Framed viewpoint, Great Lumley © David Simpson

In 1686 Great Lumley became the home of Duck’s Hospital built by John Duck of West Rainton, a mayor of Durham City, known as Durham’s Dick Whittington. The hospital was a kind of almshouse built for the relief of the poor. Duck’s Great Lumley estate passed to his wife, Dame Anne Duck, and included fisheries and mills. From Dame Duck it passed to Wharton, then James Nicholson, of Rainton, who died in 1727.

The Nicholson’s estate passed to three daughters including Jane, who married an Earl of Strathmore, and Anne, who married Patrick Lyon. They were distant ancestors of the present Royal family and through them the land passed to John, Lord Glamis, who became the 9th Earl of Strathmore.

Sadly the hospital was demolished in the 1950s and 60s. Nearby Lumley Thicks refers to a thicket and to the north is the wooded valley of the Lumley Park Burn, beyond which lies Bournmoor and the extensive grounds of Lambton Park.

Former Methodist chapel associated with the mining village of Great Lumley. Dating from 1906, it is now a house
Former Methodist chapel associated at Great Lumley associated with the mining village. Dating from 1906, it is now a house © David Simpson

Coal mining had a long history in the Great Lumley area, dating from at least as early as 1776, when two pits were sunk at Lumley Park, but pits of significance seem to have already existed there by the 1600s. By 1791 there were five pits and this increased to nine by 1841. Many of the pits at Lumley Colliery were simply known by numbers, with the Lumley 2nd pit dating to the 1770s and the 5th pit to the 1790s with others following in the nineteenth century.

The owners of the Lumley pits in the 1850s were Stobart, Bell & Co but from the 1860s they were Lambton-owned pits (the Earl of Durham) and then subsequently became part of Lambton Collieries Ltd then Lambton and Hetton Collieries Ltd; Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Collieries and finally the National Coal Board from 1947. Lumley Colliery and its remaining pits closed in January 1966, though the colliery banner lives on and can make appearances at the annual ‘Big Meeting’ of the Durham Miners’ Gala in Durham City.

Lumley banner at the Durham Miners' Gala
Lumley banner at the Durham Miners’ Gala © David Simpson

Explosions were frequent during the early days of Lumley mining, and with them came tragedy. Thirty-one people died in a Lumley mine on April 11, 1797 and another 39 on October 11, 1799, then 13 died at the Lumley George Pit on October 9, 1819. Five years later, on October 25, 1824, the mines claimed a further 14 lives.

Annie Walker’s Ghost

Great Lumley has a great ghost story that seems to have more substance to it than the Lily of Lumley ghost at Lumley Castle. It relates to a rather unconventional form of criminal justice.

In 1632, a young girl called Annie Walker became pregnant, possibly by her uncle for whom she was acting as housekeeper. Later, Annie went missing and when villagers asked about her whereabouts, they were told she was away visiting relatives.

Chester-le-Street viewed from Great Lumley
View of Chester-le-Street viewed from Great Lumley © David Simpson

Some months later, a miller called James Graham was working alone late at night, grinding corn at his mill two miles from Lumley. He was confronted by the apparition of a wild-eyed young woman who said she was Annie Walker. The ghost said she had been murdered by a local miner, Mark Sharp, with the encouragement of her uncle.

Annie explained that her uncle had told her Sharp would transport her to the safety of a relative some distance away so she could give birth away from the prying eyes of local people. But according to Annie – or at least according to the miller’s story – Sharp took her instead to a nearby moor and smashed her skull five times with a colliery pick.

The miller said the ghost had five bloody wounds to her head, around which her bedraggled hair was hung in a fearsome manner. She appears to have been a very helpful ghost and gave the miller details of the precise spot at which the murder took place and the location of a pit shaft down which her body was thrown. Initially, the miller took no action, but the ghost was persistent and repeatedly returned to the mill.

Viewpoint, Great Lumley
Viewpoint, Great Lumley © David Simpson

Occasionally, she would bolt the doors behind her or tug the miller’s bed clothes as he slept, but always she pleaded with him to inform local magistrates about the incident.

Fearing for his life and sanity, he eventually gave in and reported his sighting to the authorities. These were superstitious times and the magistrates, far from being suspicious of Graham, took the report very seriously and investigated the moor and the pit he had described.

Sure enough, the girl’s body was found in the pit with evidence of five severe blows to the head. The murder weapon was also found following a further tip-off from the miller (based on information supplied by the ghost) and some bloodied clothes were discovered nearby.

Sharp, who originally came from Blackburn in Lancashire, was arrested, as was Annie’s uncle. Neither would confess, so they were tried in the assizes court on Durham City’s Palace Green. During the trial it was said the apparition appeared again, this time to the judge and to the foreman of the jury.

If this was not conclusive evidence, one witness also said she saw the likeness of a child appear upon the shoulders of Annie’s uncle. In the minds of the seventeenth century jury all the evidence pointed in one direction. Sharp and the girl’s uncle were found guilty of the crime and, upon the alleged evidence of a ghost, they were hanged.

Lumley Castle
Lumley Castle © David Simpson


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North East England History and Culture