Ford Castle's Chequered History

Ford Castle Image

Ford Castle is not one of the most famous castles in England but it does none the less play an important part in English history as many castles of the time did. Let's take a look at the history of Ford Castle and how it evolved over the centuries.

The Castle's Early Origins

Ford Castle is a majestic fortress that was owned by the Heron family and is located in Northumberland in the North of England. Ford Castle was involved in border politics for centuries being a second line defence against incursions from the Scots. There was naturally always some kind of defence structure in this area dating back probably to the eleventh century but Ford Castle is not mentioned in history text until around the year 1287 when the original stone fortress was built. This first building was not however the castle we see today but probably some sort of structure similar to a strengthened manor house.

By 1338 permission was granted by Edward III to build battlements and extend the building. The first of the Heron family to fortify the castle was William. The newly built rectangle yard was designed with four square corner turrets, while Parsons Tower was probably added at this time too. The largest of the towers was the King James tower that stands five storeys high. This added strength led to Ford Castle being included in the group of second line of defence structures along with Etal, Bamburgh and Chillingham Castle. The first line of defence involved Berwick, Wark-on-Tweed and Norham Castles.

The Herons who owned Ford Castle would regularly become embroiled in skirmishes over the border to Scotland. This resulted in 1385 with the castle being attacked. William Heron was absent from the castle when he was imprisoned by the Earl of Northumberland Henry Percy for becoming involved in these raids over the Scottish border. The earl was livid with William especially as there had been an established truce agreed with the Scots.

The Attack of 1513

In 1513 Ford Castle came under attack again this time by the huge force that was the army of King James IV of Scotland. The King sited the murder of Robert Kerr a warden of the Scottish East March by a member of the Heron family. King James actually stayed in the castle the night before he died in 1513 at the Battle of Flodden. The king made Ford Castle his headquarters and it is said that Elizabeth Heron who was the only female in the castle at the time tended to his every need! The castle suffered terrible damage and was further devastated as when the Scottish army withdrew their forces they set the castle on fire along with the adjacent Pele. It would take years before the castle would be sufficiently repaired once it was returned to the protection of the Heron family once again.

The Carr Family

Ford Castle passed into the hands of the Carr family in 1549 due to the marriage of Elizabeth Heron into the Carr family. This however led to yet another violent feud with another branch of the Heron family in 1557. The Carr family managed to keep possession of the castle but they paid a heavy toll as Thomas Carr was murdered in a revenge attack in January 1558.

Late Sixteenth Century Onwards

By the time we reach the late sixteenth century we find Ford Castle in a state of dilapidation with many Scottish incursions that involved the castle taking their toll on the building. By the late seventeenth century work had begun to restore the castle but it was never to be the fortification it once was again but instead was transformed into a stately home. In 1718 the Deleval family took over the castle with Sir John Hussey Deleval transforming the building in the Gothic style some years later. Sir John commissioned the architect George Ruffield to come up with the redesigned alterations.

By the time we reach the Victorian era the castle has reached the state that it appears in today, while David Bryce remodelled the house in 1861. Amazing gardens were established around the castle that included a woodland valley and a wild garden. The garden was crossed by a number of bridges, while a fountain designed by the Marchioness of Waterford was also added.