The Grade I listed Hornby Castle is a private residence and is not open to the public, though the castle gardens are opened up a few times a year for special events. I have found no recent accounts of experiences at Hornby Castle, though I came across the following article entitled ‘Haunted Castle For Sale in Lancashire’ which appeared in ‘The Mail’ (Adelaide, South Australia) dated 29 October 1938.
‘IT is Hornby Castle, an old building with a picturesque tradition, situated in Lune Valley. The ghost’s headquarters are a bed chamber wherein James I. slept. Nobody has yet decided whose ghost it is, but the purchaser of the castle can pick from previous owners. Firstly, there was Nicholas de Montbergen who left 8d to every priest praying for his soul. Then came Lord Morley. Thirdly, there was Col. Francis Charteris, who was reprieved after having been sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. A fourth possibility is that the ghost is the spirit of John Foster, a millionaire mill owner of Bradford, of the 1880’s. He bought the estate while dressed in working clothes, and paid a deposit from money hidden in his doth cap. Hornby Estate is at present owned by Foster’s descendants. It includes four villages. Most of the villagers are attending the sale, hoping that the property will be purchased as a whole by the new squire.’
I think the paper made an error, in that Montbergen should be Montbegon. Prior to the Norman invasion of 1066, the manor was held by Ulf. It was granted to the Roger de Montbegon by King William I after 1086 and the family became the Barons of Hornby. The castle is thought to have been built by Nicholas Montbegon in the 12th century. Hornby passed to Henry de Monewdon (Died May 1243) in 1226 and the barony died with him.
Lord Morley become linked with Hornby Castle in the late 16th century. William Stanley 3rd Baron Monteagle, died on 10 November 1581 and his estates including Hornby Castle were inherited by his daughter Elizabeth Stanley, who married Edward Parker, Lord Morley (Died 1618). They were succeeded by their son William Parker, 13th Baron Morley and 4th Baron Monteagle (Born 1575 – Died 1 July 1622), who famously on 26th October 1605 received a letter at Hoxton giving warning of the Gunpowder Plot. As mentioned above James I stayed at Hornby. This was on 11th August 1617 whilst travelling from Scotland to London and this was during the life time of William Parker.
Henry Parker, 14th Baron Morley and 5th Baron Monteagle inherited his father’s estate following his death in 1622. He was a Roman Catholic who supported King Charles I in the English Civil War, afterwhich his lands were seized following Parliaments victory.
Colonel Francis Charteris (Baptised 4 April 1675 – Died 24 February 1732), “The Rape-Master General”, bought Hornby Castle in 1713 from the grandson of Robert Earl of Cardigan. On 10 November 1729, Charteris raped Anne Bond who was one of his servants. He was convicted of the rape in 1730 though subsequently pardoned. He died of natural causes in 1732 and buried in Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard. Enroute to the kirkyard his coffin was attacked and dead cats thrown into his grave. His grandson, Francis Wemyss Charteris, 7th Earl of Wemyss (Born 21 October 1723 – Died 24 August 1808), the son of Janet Charteris and James Wemyss, 5th Earl of Wemyss (Born 30 August 1699 – Died 21 March 1756) inherited Hornby Castle. He sold it to John Marsden of Wennington Hall around 1789.
John Marsden, or “Silly” Marsden as he was known, was mentally handicapped and following his death in 1826 the dispute over his will attracted a lot of attention. John had lived with his brother Henry and Sarah Cookson, his aunt, at Wennington Hall. Sarah Cookson had an affair with George Wright, a much younger (by three decades) servant of Henry. Following the death of Henry, Sarah became John’s guardian and George Wright took over as head of the household. They were probably behind the purchase of Hornby Castle. ‘The new lord of the manor was childish or imbecile, and fell to a great extent under the control of his steward, George Wright. He never married, and after his death in 1826 his will—which left Wright in control for many years, when a distant cousin, the Rev. Anthony Lister, vicar of Gargrave, 1806–52, would succeed—was contested by Admiral Sandford Tatham, as next of kin. The first trial took place at York in 1830, and resulted in favour of the will. Another trial in 1833, at Lancaster, resulted in a verdict for Tatham, damages 1s. The validity of the will was again tried at Lancaster in 1834 and approved by the jury. At another trial, in 1836, the verdict was for Tatham, and a similar decision afterwards made in the Queen’s Bench was finally confirmed by the House of Lords in 1838. The mesne profits were in the following year awarded to Admiral Tatham, who died at Hornby in 1840, aged eighty-five.’ [‘A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 8’ (1914) by William Farrer & J. Brownbill (editors)]
John Foster (Born 1798 – Died 1879), a mill owner and winner of a gold medal for yarns at the 1851 Great Exhibition, bought Hornby Castle in the 1870’s and it became his home in retirement.
That covers those owners and ghostly suspects referred to in the 1938 article above but only gives a glimpse of the long and interesting history attached to Hornby Castle and its previous owners.
The following description of the castle appears in ‘A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 8’ (1914) by William Farrer & J. Brownbill (editors). ‘HORNBY CASTLE is finely situated on the top of a lofty and precipitous cliff on the right bank of the River Wenning, a mile above its confluence with the Lune. The site is a naturally defensive one, overlooking the village and commanding extensive and beautiful views along the valleys of both rivers. Of the original castle of the Nevills nothing remains, the only ancient part of the present building being the central tower, or keep, which was erected by Sir Edward Stanley first Lord Mounteagle, probably on an older foundation, at the beginning of the 16th century. In a survey taken in 1584 the castle is described as being ‘verie faire built, standing statelie upon the topp of a great hill,’ with several gates and wards outside its walls, the first gate being at the ‘lowest foot of the hill,’ adjoining the town.
Whitaker, writing about 1819, states that the foundations of two round towers, probably of early 14th-century date, had been removed in some ‘late alterations,’ and that in front of the present tower there appeared to have been, from the evidence of the foundations, a quadrangle ‘of which one side coincided with the present house and the opposite one to the brow of the hill,’ and that a base-court with other outbuildings formerly extended to the edge of the town. After the Civil War the castle was abandoned and allowed to fall to ruin, but was partly rebuilt in the first half of the 18th century by Colonel Charteris, who erected a long plain two-story building in front of the keep on the south side, with square sash windows and slightly projecting end, the roofs of which were hipped back. In Buck’s view of 1727, which is taken from the north-east, and in which, therefore, the new front is not seen, some of the ruins of an old west wing are shown still standing, but the ‘Eagle turret,’ or watch-tower, at the northwest corner of the keep, described by the poet Gray, when he visited the castle in 1765 and found the tower ‘only a shell,’ does not, if the drawing be correct, appear to have been then erected. The 18th-century front stood till 1847, when it was superseded by the present Gothic building, the south or principal front of which was erected in front of it. It is a very good example of the domestic Gothic work of the period, with central entrance tower and flanking embattled wings. The keep was shortly afterwards restored and the 18th-century watchtower rebuilt in harmony with the rest of the building with machicolations and an embattled parapet. There were further additions on the north side in 1881 and 1891.
Lord Mounteagle’s keep is irregular in plan with a circular staircase at the north-west corner. On the ground floor the internal dimensions are 22 ft. by 18 ft., and the thickness of the walls is about 6 ft., but except on the north side, where it faces the modern courtyard, little can be seen of the lower part of the old walling. The tower, which is about 90 ft. high, has undergone a good deal of restoration, and all the windows, with the exception of three small ones at the back, are new. There remain, however, also on the north side, two carved panels with hood moulds, one bearing the eagle’s claw and the other the motto ‘Glav et gant,’ and there is a stone in one of the upper rooms also carved with the eagle’s claw.