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Warkworth Castle hermitage

A Scheduled Monument in Warkworth, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.347 / 55°20'49"N

Longitude: -1.6208 / 1°37'14"W

OS Eastings: 424147.195344

OS Northings: 605955.589001

OS Grid: NU241059

Mapcode National: GBR K63M.X1

Mapcode Global: WHC1T.2VHR

Entry Name: Warkworth Castle hermitage

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 19 October 1993

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011648

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23232

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Warkworth

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Warkworth St Lawrence

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument comprises Warkworth Castle hermitage and is situated on the River
Coquet in an area formerly part of the manor of Warkworth known as Sunderland
Park. Originally, the hermitage consisted of three chambers carved out of a
projecting part of the riverside cliff. No documentary evidence for the
foundation of the hermitage has been found, but the architectural detail of
the rock-cut features indicates an early 14th century date. The three
chambers include the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, a sacristy to the north of
this and, to the west, a small room interpreted as the early living quarters
of the hermit. Access was via a porch leading through the cliff face into the
south-west corner of the chapel. The walls and roof of the chapel were carved
to imitate a structure of three vaulted bays, but the work was interrupted by
the Scottish raid on Warkworth in 1341 and never completed. The chapel
measures 6.2m x 2.3m and has a rock-cut altar at the east end with a recess
for relics above. On the north side is the door into the sacristy, a squint
which allowed the chapel altar to be seen from inside the sacristy, and an
unglazed, traceried window which allowed light into the sacristy from outside.
On the south side is a basin carved inside a bay lit by a quatrefoil opening,
and a second recess containing a carved religious scene lit by two single-
light windows. Carvings depicting the crucifixion and the instruments of
Christ's Passion appear over the doorways into the chapel and sacristy, both
accompanied by inscriptions taken from the Psalms. The sacristy measures 8.5m
x 1.6m and was formerly partitioned at the west end to create an additional
room. At the east end is an altar with a small recess for a lamp while two
aumbries (cupboards for sacred vessels) are cut into the rock on the north
side. Formerly, the interior of the three chambers included painted decoration
At some point in the late 14th or early 15th century, the hermitage was
extended by the construction of more spacious and comfortable living quarters
comprising a hall, kitchen and solar or private room. The latter was built
onto the west side of the original rock-cut living chamber whose outer wall
must have already collapsed or been demolished for the purpose. The solar
contained a garderobe or privy, a window overlooking the river and doors
leading to the sacristy and to the rock-cut stairs leading up to the chapel.
The hall and kitchen lay below the solar and chapel, set partly beneath an
overhang in the cliff. A central doorway led into a small lobby which gave
onto the hall on the left and kitchen on the right. The hall, or living area,
measures 5.5m x 4.6m and includes a large window overlooking the river, a
fireplace, a cupboard and, in the north-east corner, a doorway into a two-
storey annexe which was added to the hermitage in the late 15th or 16th
century. The kitchen is 4.6m square and contains the base of an oven. The
doorway into the kitchen was blocked in the relatively recent past. To the
east of the kitchen, near the steps leading up to the chapel, is another
flight of stairs which rise through a tunnel to the site of the hermitage farm
on the cliff-top above.
The founder of the hermitage is believed to have been Henry, second Lord Percy
of Alnwick, who was granted Warkworth Castle in 1332 and died in 1353. The
hermitage is not mentioned in records, however, until 1487 when Thomas Barker
was appointed for life by the fourth earl of Northumberland to be 'chaplain of
the chantry in Sunderland Park'. Both hermitage and chapel had fallen out of
use by 1567 when it is recorded that the buildings were in decay and that the
fields belonging to the hermitage had reverted to the earls of Northumberland.
The monument has been in State care since 1923 and is also a Grade I Listed
Building. All English Heritage fixtures and fittings are excluded from the
scheduling but the ground beneath them is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD
597, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life
in the British Isles. By the 12th century, as a reaction against the
corruption and excesses that characterised established orders, many reformed
orders were emerging in France and establishing themselves in England, having
adopted a revised Rule which included increased simplicity of life and
seclusion from the outside world. In preference to living in settlements of
religious communities, however, some men and women chose to live solitary
lives of contemplation and simplified religious observance akin to those of
the Christian Fathers and early British saints. These anchorites and hermits
lived off alms or, in the case of hermits who, unlike anchorites, were allowed
to leave their cells, were often supported by the patronage of the nobility
who established hermitages on their estates and appointed hermits to pray for
the souls and well-being of their families. Hermitages fell out of favour with
the general dissolution of religious establishments in the first half of the
16th century. Warkworth hermitage, established by the Percys of Alnwick, one
of the foremost noble families in British medieval history, is among the most
elaborate and well preserved cave hermitages in the British Isles.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Honeyman, H L, Hunter Blair, H, Warkworth Castle and Hermitage, (1954)

Source: Historic England

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