In the 13th century Chillingham Castle in Northumberland existed as little more than a tower, but just 100 years later it was granted a Royal Licence to crenellate. It was duly strengthened and transformed to provide the usual domestic accommodation, and a stone wall was erected for protection. This was the beginning of the fortress that has, quite remarkably, survived to become an inhabited family home today.
Subjected to several 16th century battles, Chillingham Castle was further strengthened and rebuilt in parts to make it less vulnerable to attack. By the end of the century, the entrance to Chillingham Castle was transferred to the north curtain wall, and the southern part of the courtyard was rebuilt with decorative pillars. Further alterations were carried out in the 18th century, providing a central stairway from the courtyard to the upper level of the castle, and the east range was completely remodelled. The last major works at Chillingham Castle were carried out around the middle of the 19th century when a new service wing was constructed, and the castle grounds were laid out, including the creation of the Italian garden.
After 1933 Chillingham Castle stood decaying and neglected until Sir Humphrey Wakefield and Lady Mary Grey took over the estate and began the enormous task of restoring it back to the ancestral home of the Grey family. Having first secured Chillingham Castle in 1246, the Greys are no doubt proud of the fact that they are once again connected with such a significant part of their ancestral history.
It is an absolute delight to go rummaging around in rooms filled with a cosy disorder of possessions, furniture and ancient documents, and to see bits of exposed walls and beams from earlier building work. There are no frills at Chillingham Castle - it is very much a place showing the onerous and costly work involved in restoring a property over 700 years old - but its charm is bewitching. There are, apparently, plenty of thrills though, and some of these can be uncovered in 'The Ghosts of Chillingham Castle' booklet.