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Hylton Castle

The Grade I listed ruin of Hylton Castle, seat of the Hylton (previously Hilton) family was built by Sir William Hylton (1376–1435) shortly after 1390. This small four storey gatehouse styled castle, replaced the earlier wooden fortification of Henry de Hilton, which had been built on this site around 1072. Now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Hylton Castle had a reputation of being haunted and was associated with the ghost of Roger (or Robert) Skelton, known locally as the 'Cauld Lad' of Hylton. The following account of this haunting appeared in 'The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain' by John Ingram (1897).

Formerly the homes of nearly every Scottish, and of many English, families of importance were haunted by domestic spirits known as "Brownies." Hilton Castle, once one of the most magnificent dwellings in the north of England, but now hastening to decay, among other weird inhabitants was a long while, perchance still is, frequented by a Brownie, popularly known as the “Cauld Lad of Hilton." As a rule, these domestic spectres appear to have taken up their abode in any suitable dwelling, without the usual precedent of a crime, as is the case with a ghost or apparition of the ordinary type, and to have generally employed themselves for the benefit of the household. The antiquary Surtees, in his History of Durham, assumes the being that haunted Hilton Castle to have been one of these somewhat commonplace spirits, and although there are other more eerie stories of the Cold Lad, it will be as well to give the historian's account first.

The Cauld Lad, he says, was seldom seen, but was heard nightly by the servants, who slept in the great hall. If the kitchen were left in perfect order, they heard him amusing himself by breaking plates and dishes, hurling the pewter in all directions, and throwing everything into confusion. If, on the contrary, the apartment had been left in disarray, a practice which the servants found it most prudent to adopt, the indefatigable goblin arranged everything with the greatest precision. This poor spirit, whose pranks were never of a dangerous or hurtful character, was at length banished from his haunts by the usual and universally known expedient of presenting him with a suit of clothes. A green cloak and hood were laid before the kitchen fire, and the domestics sat up watching at a prudent distance. At twelve o'clock the sprite glided gently in, stood by the glowing embers, and surveyed the garments provided for him very attentively, tried them on, and seemed delighted with his appearance in them, frisking about for some time and cutting several somersaults, till, on hearing the first cock-crow, he twitched his mantle about him and disappeared with the malediction usually adopted on such occasions:

"Here's a cloak, and here 's a hood, The Cauld Lad o' Hilton will do no more good."

Although this spirit was thus summarily disposed of by the historian, the inhabitants of Hilton and its vicinity for many generations continued to believe in its frequent reappearance, and over the glowing embers told wonderful tales of its deeds. So strange were its doings at times, and so frequent its apparition, that it was difficult to retain the domestics in the castle. Among other stories told of the terror with which it contrived to imbue the minds of the servants, is one of a dairymaid who was too fond of helping herself to the richest cream the pantry afforded. One day, as this not over scrupulous young woman was taking her usual sips from the various pans, the Cauld Lad suddenly addressed her from some invisible vantage-ground, "Ye taste, and ye taste, and ye taste, but ye never gie the Cauld Lad a taste!" On hearing this appalling accusation, the affrighted maid dropped the spoon on the ground, rushed out of the place, and could never be induced to enter it again.

The local tradition of the "Cold Lad," more closely assimilates his nature to that of any ordinary ghost or apparition, and in no way to the Brownie of our fore-fathers. The popular idea is that a lad, a domestic of the house, was cruelly ill-treated and kept confined in a cupboard, and the cupboard is, or was quite recently, pointed out by the guide who shows visitors over the house, as "the place where they used to put the Cold Lad.” He is supposed to have received the suggestively awesome name of the "Cold Lad," from his stiff and stark form having been discovered in the cupboard.

Surtees endeavours to explain the origin of this ancient legend by reference to a murder of Roger Skelton, apparently a servant, by his master, Robert Hilton, of Hilton, on the 3rd July 1609. Hilton was found guilty of having killed Skelton, but received a pardon some few months after his conviction. According to the old tale, the lord of Hilton one day, in a fit of wrath or intemperance, enraged at the delay in bringing his horse after he had ordered it, rushed to the stable, and finding the boy, whose duty it was to have brought the horse, loitering about, he seized a hay-fork, and struck him with it. Intentionally or not, he had given the lad a mortal blow. The tale proceeds to tell how the murderer covered his victim with straw until night-time, when he took the body and flung it into the pond, where, indeed, the skeleton was discovered in the last Lord of Hilton's time.

With such ghastly and such ghostly traditions connected with it, it is no wonder that Hilton Castle is a haunted place.

The killing of Skelton is usually attributed to Sir Robert Hylton (de jure 13th Baron Hylton) (Died 1641), brother of the 'Mad Baron', Henry Hylton, de jure* 12th Baron Hylton (1586 – 30 March 1641). Sir Robert inherited the title as a minor, aged 13 and was made a Royal Ward. He was placed in the care of Henry Robinson (Born1553 – Died 1616), Bishop of Carlisle, and the estate of Hylton was managed by Sir Richard Wortley, who's daughter, Mary Wortley became Henry's wife (though probably not by choice as they did not live together or consumate the marriage). Henry instead went to Billingshurst in Sussex to live with his cousin Nathaniel Hylton. Later he lived with Lady Shelley (who was named as his excutrix in his will) in Michaelgrove. I am not sure where Robert, his brother was brought up. Presumably though he must have been at Hylton in 1609 to committ the murder.

In 1641 the estate of Hylton was occupied by Scots as part of the Bishops Wars, which, coupled with th efact he had no children, may have been one of th ereasons he left the majority of his estate to the Corporation of London for charitable use, on a ninety nine year lease. The title passed to Robert and the estate was eventually reclaimed by John Hylton, de jure 15th Baron Hylton (1628–1670), Henry's nephew.

The Hylton Castle known by Roger Skelton and Robert Hylton was changed significantly in the 18th century when it was gutted and remodelled by John Hylton (Died 1712), son of Henry Hylton, de jure 16th Baron Hylton (Born 1637 – Died 1712). Further additions were made by John Hylton, de jure 18th Baron Hylton (Baptised 27 April 1699 – Died 25 September 1746), Member of Parliament for Carlisle.

Hylton Castle passed to Sir Richard Musgrave following the death of John Hylton in 1746 and was sold in 1749 to Lady Bowes of Streatlam. (The mother of the 'Mad Baron' Henry Hylton, de jure 12th Baron Hylton had been Anne Hylton née Bowes, daughter of Sir George Bowes of Streatlam Castle).

In 1812 it was leased by Simon Temple after a long period of disuse and deteriation. By 1819 it was lived in by Mr Thomas Wade. Between 1834 and 1840 it was unoccupied and for a short time in 1841 housed the Hylton Castle Boarding School of Rev John Wood, but it was empty and partly boarded up by 1842. Whilst being lived in by Mr. Maclaren, a farmer, Hylton castle set on fire and in 1862 it was sold to William Briggs a ship builder who again set about a series of major renovations. It passed down the Briggs family until 1908 when it was sold to Wearmouth Coal Company and eventually becoming the property of the National Coal Board. Following vandalism and exetensive decay Hylton Castle was taken by the Ministry of Works in 1950 and has now been owned by English Heritage since 1984.

*The Hyltons were not technically peers as no Barons Hylton had been called to Parliament since Alexander Hylton, 2nd Baron Hylton (Died 1360).

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Re: Hylton Castle

The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham: volume 2: Chester ward (1820) by Robert Surtees

In 1332 and 1335, Alexander de Hilton had summons to parliament, which was never repeated in any of his descendants. After a series of twenty descents, stretching through five centuries, the family was nearly ruined, by the improvident posthumous generosity of Henry Hilton Esq, who appears to have been so much under the influence both of vanity and melancholy, as might, in these days of equity, have occasioned serious doubts as to the sanity of his disposing mind. This gentleman had several years before, on some disgust, deserted the seat of his ancestors, and lived in obscure retirement, first at the house of a remote kinsman at Billinghurst in Sussex, and afterwards at Mitchel-grove, where he died. By will dated 26 February, 1640–1, he devised the whole of his paternal estate for ninety-nine years, to the Lord Mayor and four senior Aldermen of the City of London, on trust to pay during the same term, 24l. yearly to each of thirty-eight several Parishes or townships in Durham, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex, and Newcastle on Tyne; 28l. per annum to the Mayor of Durham, and 50l. per annum to the Vicar of Monk-Wearmouth : he then leaves an annuity of 100l. to his next brother Robert Hilton, and to his heirs; and 50l. per annum to his brother John Hilton, which last sum is to cease, if he succeed to the larger annuity as heir of Robert: all the residue and increase of his rents he gives to the City of London, charging them to bind out yearly five children of his own kindred to some honest trade; and further he desires them to raise 4000l. out of the rents, to remain in the City Chamber during ninety-nine years, and the interest to be applied in binding out orphan children born on the manors of Ford, Biddick, and Barmston. After the expiration of that term, he devises the whole of his estates, with the encreased rents and also the same 4000l. to his heir at law, provided he be not such an one as shall claim to be the issue of the testator's own body. He then gives several legacies to his servants, and to the family of Shelley of Michell-grove; declares that he has 3000l. on good bonds in London; appoints the Lady Jane Shelley to be his Executrix, and desires burial in St. Paul's Cathedral, “under a fair tumbe like in fashion to the tumbe of Dr. Dunne,” for which purpose he leaves 1000l. to his Executrix, who never complied with the injunction.

Henry Hilton left a window (not named in his will,) who re-married Sir Thomas Smith, said to have been an active and intriguing man, of considerable influence during the Usurpation. Robert Hilton, the next brother to Henry, survived him only a few months, and he also left a widow, whose second husband Sir Thomas Hallyman, obtained in compensation of her dower a life-estate in the manor of Ford. The Will itself produced, as was most likely, litigations and chancery in suits in abundance; and under all these circumstances, the estate, or rather the shadow of the estate, vested in John Hilton, the seventh and sole surviving brother of Henry. The civil wars burst out in the same year 1641, and John Hilton periled the reliques of his inheritance in the royal cause. Himself and his son bore the commissions of Colonel and of Captain in the Marquis of Newcastle's army. The estate of Hilton, placed exactly between the royal army and the Scots under Lesley, was plundered and wasted by both parties; and, on the final ruin of the royal cause, the Hiltons, included in the list of malignants, were totally disabled from struggling at law or equity, either with the rebel City of London, or with the two Knights who had espoused the worse, then the better cause. The wonder is, that from such a state of things the family ever emerged at all; but the younger John Hilton (who succeeded to the claims of his father in 1658) seems to have possessed a share of prudence and quiet perseverance very unusual in a ruined Cavalier. The very litigations of Sir Thomas Smith with the City Chamber, though they tore the estate in pieces, whilst the heir starved, had eventually a favourable effect. The Citizens of London, who derived very little direct advantage from the will of their singular benefactor, were wearied out with the contest; and after the Restoration an amicable decree was pronounced, by which the possession of the estates was restored to the heir, on condition that he should discharge all the particulars of the trust created by the will of Henry Hilton, should make regular payment of the several parochial charities, and satisfy the claims of the two dowagers Under these sore incumbrances Mr. Hilton took the management of his own property; but the rents, wasted as the estate had been for twenty years, were totally inadequate to the charges; and it was found necessary to reduce the whole of the payments one third, in proportion to the actual state of the rent-roll, leaving still a very sufficient burthen to exercise the prudence and patience of the family, both which useful qualities they seem to have possessed in a very exemplary degree.

From this period the ancient Barons of Hilton, no longer distinguished by extended possessions or extraordinary influence, retreated, without degradation of blood or of honour, into the quiet ranks of private gentry. Three successive chiefs of Hilton were not more respected for their ancient and undoubted descent, than for the prudent and unostentatious simplicity with which they supported the fallen fortunes of their house, without meanness, and without vain regret or misplaced pride. Their names do not even occur in the list of Parliamentary Representation, and they received rather than claimed from the general courtesy of the country acknowledged rank of the first untitled gentry of the North, of noblesse without the peerage. The last Baron, a man of mild and generous disposition, though of reserved habits, is still remembered with a mingles sentiment of personal respect and of that popular feeling, which even ill conduct can scarcely extinguish, towards the last representative of a long and honourable line, unstained by gross vice, and unsullied by dishonour.
John Hilton, Esq. (great-grandson of John in 1658,) died 25th Sept. 1746. By will dated 6 Nov. 1739, he devised all his estates to his nephew, Sir Richard Musgrave, of Hayton Castle, Bart. on condition of assuming the name of Hilton only. Within a few years afterwards the whole of the estates were sold under an act of Parliament.

The Castle and Manor of Hilton were contracted for by — Wogan, Esq. for 30,000l. but the sale was never perfected, and they were soon after sold to Mrs. Bowes, widow of George Bowes, Esq. of Streatlam and Gibside, whose grandson, John Earl of Strathmore, is the present proprietor.

The family estate of Hilton included, at its highest point of elevation, the manors of Hilton, Barmston, Grindon, Ford, Clowcroft, North Biddick, Great Usworth, and Follonsby, in the county of Durham; Carnaby and Wharram-Percy in the county of York; Elryngton and Woodhall in Northumberland; and Aldstone Moor in Northumberland and Cumberland; with the advowsons of Kyrkhaulgh and Monk-Wearmouth.

Hilton, Ford, Great Usworth, and Follonsby, the impropriate Rectory of Monk-Wearmouth, and a leasehold estate there, were sold at the final dispersion of the property, after the death of the last Baron. Grindon, North Biddick, and Barmston, had been alienated sometime earlier, and the extensive domain of Alston Moor, fell and moss and mine, which came by the line of Vipont and Stapylton, was sold by Hendry Hilton, the melancholy Baron, in 1618.

I am unable to trace the fate of the Yorkshire and Northumbrian property, as well as that of an estate in Wiltshire, mentioned in the will of Henry Hilton, 1640.

The Bank-head, or Bank-farm, part of Hilton estate, was purchased by the family of Pemberton at the general sale, and is now, by subsequent conveyance, the property of Robert Ready, Esq. who has built a neat mansion-house, called Hilton Place.

Hilton Castle was a few years ago (after standing long untenanted) the residence of the friendly and hospitable Simon Temple, Esq. The Castle is now occupied by Thomas Wade, Esq.

Every castle, tower, or manor-house, has its visionary inhabitants. “The cauld lad of Hilton” belongs to a very common and numerous class, the Brownie , or domestic spirit; and seems to have possessed no very distinctive attributes. He was seldom seen, but was heart nightly by the servants who slept in the great hall. If the kitchen had been left in perfect order, they heard him amusing himself by breaking plates and dishes, hurling the pewter in all directions, and throwing every thing into confusion. If, on the contrary, the apartment had been left in disarray (a practice which the servants found it most prudent to adopt), the indefatigable goblin arranged every thing with the greatest precision. This poor esprit folet, whose pranks were at all times perfectly harmless, was at length banished from his haunts by the usual expedient of presenting him with a suit of cloaths. A green cloak and hood were laid before the kitchen fire, and the domestics sat up watching at a prudent distance. At twelve o'clock the sprite glided gently in, stood by the glowing embers, and surveyed the garments provided for him very attentively, tried them on and seemed delighted with his appearance, frisking about for some time, and cutting several summersets and gambados, till, on hearing the first cook he twitched his mantle tight about him, and disappeared with the usual valediction:

Here's a cloke, and here's a hood,
The cauld lad o' Hilton will do no more good.

The genuine Brownie, however, is supposed to be, ab origine, an unembodied spirit; but the boy of Hilton has, with an admixture of English superstition, been identified with the apparition of an unfortunate domestic, whom one of the old chiefs of Hilton slew at some very distant period, in a moment of wrath or intemperance. The Baron had, it seems, on an important occasion, ordered his horse, which was not brought out so soon as he expected; he went to the stable, found the boy loitering, and seizing a hayfork, struck him, thought not intentionally, a mortal blow. The story adds, that he covered his victim with straw till night, and then threw him in to the pond, where the skeleton of a boy was (in confirmation of the tale) discovered in the last Baron's time I am by no means clear that the story may not have its foundation in the fast recorded in the following inquest:

Coram Johanne King, Coron. Wardæ de Chestre, apud Hilton, 3 Jul. 7 Jac. 1609.

Inquisitio super visum corporis Rogeri Skelton, ibi jacentis mortui. Jurati presentant quod Robertus Hilton, de Hilton, Gen. die et anno supradictis inter horas 8 et 9 ante meridiem falcans gramen cum quadam falce Anglice a Syth ad valenc. xxd. quam ipse in manibus suis tenuit, eundem Rogerum stantem à tergo casu infortunii cum acie ejusd. falcis, Anglice the Syth point, percussit supra dextrum femur ejusd. Rogeri unam plagam mortalem longam unius pollicis et lat. duor. pollic. ex qua plaga idem Rogerus eadem hora mortuus ibidem obiit: et quod casu et non aliter, &c.

Nevertheless, I strongly suspect that the unhousel'd spirit of Roger Skelton, “whom in the hay-field the good Hilton ghosted,” took the liberty of playing a few of those pranks which are said by writers of grave authority to be the peculiar privilege of those spirits only who are shouldered untimely by violence from their mortal tenements:

Ling'ring in anguish o'er his mangled clay,
The melancholy shadow turn'd away,
And follow'd through the twilight grey,—his guide.

A free pardon for the above man-slaughter appears on the rolls of Bishop James, dated 6 Sept. 1609.

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Re: Hylton Castle

English Fairy and Other Folk Tales by Edwin Sidney Hartland [1890]

HILTON HALL, in the vale of the Wear, was in former times the resort of a Brownie or House-spirit, called The Cauld Lad. Every night the servants who slept in the great hail heard him at work in the kitchen, knocking the things about if they had been set in order, arranging them if otherwise, which was more frequently the case. They were resolved to banish him if they could, and the spirit, who seemed to have an inkling of their design, was often heard singing in a melancholy tone:

"Wae's me! wae's me!
The acorn is not yet
Fallen from the tree,
That's to grow the wood,
That's to make the cradle,
That's to rock the bairn,
That's to grow to a man,
That's to lay me."

The servants, however, resorted to the usual mode of banishing a Brownie: they left a green cloak and hood for him by the kitchen fire, and remained on the watch. They saw him come in, gaze at the new clothes, try them on, and, apparently in great delight, go jumping and frisking about the kitchen. But at the first crow of the cock he vanished, crying:

"Here's a cloak, and here's a hood!
The Cauld Lad of Hilton will do no more good;"
and he never again returned to the kitchen; yet it was said that he might still be heard at midnight singing those lines in a tone of melancholy.

There was a room in the castle long called the Cauld Lad's Room, which was never occupied unless the castle was full of company, and within the last century many persons of credit had heard of the midnight wailing of the Cauld Lad, who some maintained was the spirit of a servant whom one of the barons of Hilton had killed unintentionally in a fit of passion.
1) T . Keightley, The Fairy Mythology, p. 296, quoting M. A. Richardson The Local Historian's Table Book.



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