and PARSON'S TOWER
Ford Castle was part of the second line of defences which protected Northumberland from Scottish incursion. Owned by the Heron family, it was embroiled in border politics and attacked on numerous occasions. A more serious assault came in 1513 when the army of James IV captured and burnt it along with the adjacent Pele known as Parson’s Tower. Ford was later converted into a mansion.
The manor of Ford was held by the Heron family no later than the end of the thirteenth century. There is no record of a castle on the site in either the eleventh or twelfth centuries but it is possible some form of fortified manor existed given its proximity to the English-Scottish border. However, the first recorded reference to a castle on the site is from 1287 which notes the presence of a stone built fortification. The extent of this structure is unknown - it might have been little more than a fortified manor house - but in 1338 a licence to crenellate was granted by Edward III. The castle was rebuilt into substantial fortification at this time.
The fourteenth century Ford Castle took the form of a quadrangular fortification and was possibly inspired by Naworth Castle, some 50 miles away in Cumbria, which was licenced in 1335. It was configured around a rectangular courtyard which was enclosed by a substantial curtain wall with a tower on each corner. The largest of these was the North West tower which stood five storeys tall and was clearly intended to serve as the strongest part of the fortification. The three storey North East tower served as the high status accommodation. The South-East and South-West towers were smaller and primarily served a defensive purpose. The entrance was a simple opening in the western curtain wall. Parson's Tower (see below) may have been built around this time.
The rebuilding of Ford Castle into a substantial fortification led to its inclusion in the plan for the defence of Northumberland. This was a national strategy that adopted a policy of defence in depth with two fortified lines of castles intended to prevent a Scottish incursion into England. The most northerly fortifications were the fortress-castles of Berwick, Norham and Wark-on-Tweed. The second line of defences consisted of the major fortress at Bamburgh - which held the coastal road south - along with the lesser castles at Chillingham, Etal and Ford.
Notwithstanding its role in national defence, the castle was also embroiled in the lawlessness and local raiding that characterised the border region. Like most border families, the Herons were involved in local disputes that often extended across the border. In 1385 William Heron was imprisoned by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland for raiding into Scotland in defiance of a truce and, during his captivity, his enemies attacked Ford Castle. The Herons also feuded with the Manners family of Etal Castle during the 1420s culminating in the murder of William Heron, son and heir of the Lord of Ford, in 1428.
A more substantial attack came in 1513 when Ford Castle was assaulted by the army of James IV of Scotland. The King himself stayed at the castle on 8 September 1513 before his death at the Battle of Flodden the following day. The defeated Scots retreated north towards the border abandoning Ford Castle but not before they set it alight. The gutted shell was returned to the Heron family but they were slow to make repairs as a survey of 1541 noted there was still considerable damage extant from the Scottish attack.
Ford passed through marriage to the Carr family in 1549. This was seemingly not without incident as it resulted in an armed dispute with another branch of the Herons (from Chipchase) who seized the castle in 1557. The Carr family recovered the castle shortly after but paid a heavy price as Thomas Carr was murdered in revenge. Nevertheless the family built a new Northern Range in 1589 which forms the basis of the current structure.
Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603, coupled with Royal efforts to reduce the lawlessness of the border region, the defensive requirement for Ford Castle reduced. Although plundered by Royalist supporters in 1648, subsequent upgrades to the castle focused on improving habitability and comfort rather than defence. Substantial modifications were made in 1694 which effectively converted the fortification into a stately home. In 1718 it passed to the Deleval family and, between 1761 and 1800, Sir John Hussey Deleval had the structure completely remodelled in a Gothic theme. By the mid-nineteenth century such styling had gone out of fashion and between 1861 and 1865 architect David Bryce was commissioned to restore it to a more conventional appearance. This has led to the structure having the diverse mix of architectural styles seen today.
Directly adjacent to Ford Castle are the remains of a medieval pele - a popular form of fortified tower found extensively in Northumberland as a result of the regular border warfare and general lawlessness. Used by the resident parson at the castle, the tower was roughly square occupying a footprint of approximately 10 metres squared with walls over 2 metres thick. Within was a single chamber and the structure would originally have been two or three storeys high. The Pele was burnt along with Ford Castle in the Scottish attack of 1513 but was rebuilt by the then vicar, Sir Cuthbert Ogle. The upper storeys of the tower were demolished in the mid-nineteenth century to enhance the view from the castle.
Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.
Emery, A (1996). Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, Vol. I. 1300-1500. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Historic England (2016). Ford Castle, List Entry 1689722. Historic England, London.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Nelson, I.S (1998). Etal Castle. English Heritage, London.
Slatar, M (2002). Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland. Folly Publications, Malvern.
Vickers, K.H (1922). A History of Northumberland.
Ford Castle is a fourteenth century fortification which was substantially modified during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The site is currently used as a children’s activity centre and therefore access is limited. However, there is public access to the church which affords a limited view of the exterior.
Ford Castle. The castle was built circa-1338 and is the earliest quadrangular castle in Northumberland. In the mid-eighteenth century the architect George Ruffield was commissioned to 're-imagine' the castle in Gothic style. Later, during the Victorian era, attempts were made to restore the structure back into a more conventional style.
Parson's Tower. The remains of a Pele Tower can be seen adjacent to Ford Castle. It was partially demolished in the mid-nineteenth century as it was obscuring the view from the castle.