Chillingham Castle is a medieval castle in the village of the same name in Northumberland, England. From the fifteenth century until the eighties it was the home of the Gray and Bennet families, until Sir Humphry Wakefield bought the property, also marrying a member of the Gray family. Around the castle there is the “Chillingham Cattle”, a very rare herd of cattle with about 90 animals. The history of the castle is very long and has its roots in the low medieval period.
In 1298 King Edward I passed by the country and stationed there with his army during the march to face the legendary William Wallace, in Scotland. To commemorate the event, a special stained glass window was created for the King, a very rare event in the Middle Ages in the still small England.
The King’s passage on the way to the war with the Scots was not accidental: the manor was in a strategically fundamental position for the time, on the border between two fighting nations. The building was used several times as a staging point for British armies, but many times it was attacked and besieged by the Scots for raids to the south. Being a transit point, and perpetually at war, Chillingham Castle was designed as a fortress with 3.7 meters thick walls and a deep moat.
Over the centuries, the palace was the object of substantial improvements, but retained the original structure for the most part. In 1344 Edward III allowed the construction of the battlements, which made the former convent a real military garrison. In 1617 James I, the first King of England and Scotland united under the same crown, visited Chillingham on a voyage between the two kingdoms. Since the relations between the two nations of Great Britain had become peaceful, but above all united by a single sovereign, a military stronghold in the area had become useless. The moat was filled, the battlements were transformed, a banquet hall and a library were built.
Many centuries later, during the Second World War, the castle was used as a barracks. During that dramatic period, much of the decorative wood on the outside was split and burned by the soldiers to warm up. After the war the castle fell into ruin. Lead had been removed from the roof, with extensive damage in large parts of the building. In 1982 the Castle was bought by Sir Humphry Wakefield, whose wife Catherine was descended from the Gray of Chillingham, who carried out a careful restoration of the castle. Today, large parts of the building are open to the public, and the tourist activity also includes an overnight stay inside.
The torture chamber is one of the most horrible and intriguing places in the castle. Inside are many of the tools used in medieval times, and most of them are still in perfect condition. The instruments were used during a 3-centuries conflict between England and Scotland to torture and kill about 7,500 Scots, including men, women and children of all ages.
The current owners advertise the Castle as the most haunted in Britain, and here have been filmed several documentaries and inspections. Some of these ghosts have historical origins, like Lady Mary Berkeley (pictured below), while others are more recent and fancy, like John Sage. Also known as John Dragfoot, he is purported to be a sadistic ex-soldier turned torturer from the days of King Edward I. The story of John Sage is very detailed and very bloody, with lot of devious and cruel tortures, kinky sex and eventual retribution. This cruel and sadistic torturer, who died about 1200 (without sure historic references), has often been seen wandering around the castle. He used to take great pleasure in his work, even devising new and improved methods of inflicting pain on his victims. During the three years he held the job, he is said to have tortured to death over 7,500 people (and killed several hundred others in different ways). It seems that at the end of the war with the Scots, wanting to rid the castle of the prisoners, he rounded up the Scottish adults and older children being held and burnt them to death in the court-yard. He then took an axe, which can still be seen, and killed the smaller children in the Edward room, where still today the chandelier sometimes swings by itself and people report a foul smell and strange atmosphere. John Sage’s end was when he accidentally strangling his girlfriend as they made love on the ‘torture rack’ in the castle dungeon. Unfortunately for John Sage, his girlfriend’s father was a Border Reiver who said that he would gather a great army and attack the castle if Sage was not put to death. John Sage was publicly hanged from a tree in the castle grounds in front of a very large and enthusiastic crowd. And as he slowly died, people cut off pieces of him as “souvenirs”. It would be interesting to find out if there is any mention of this person in the historical record or local lore, but this is a mistery. The castle does have a wonderfully well stocked dungeon, and the addition of a demoniacal evil torturer certainly creates a more creepy atmosphere.
Instead, the tragic Lady Mary Berkeley (died 1719) was the wife of Lord Grey of Wark and Chillingham (1655-1701). She was abandoned by her faithless husband who ran off with her sister, Henrietta, causing a real scandal. The heart-broken Lady Mary was left with her baby, wandering the halls of the castle, longing for the return of her errant husband. He never returned and she, apparently never left. Even today visitors to the castle have reported the rustle of silk accompanied by an unearthly chill. She is said to be buried just beyond the castle in the little medieval church of St Peter’s in the village of Chillingham.
The most famous ghost of the Castle is the “Blue (or radiant) Boy”, which according to the owners torments visitors to the Pink Room. The guests who in the past sensed their presence claimed to see flashes of blue or a “halo” of blue light over their beds, after hearing a terrifying lament. The glowing figure was then supposed to manifest itself as a little boy dressed in blue. Although the “Blue Boy” is the most famous ghost, apparitions are believed to have ended as a result of renovations, when the bones of a man and a boy were discovered within a 3 meter thick wall. Remnants of mouldering blue fabric were discovered along with the skeleton.
It seems that a thirsty ghost once importuned a footman guarding the family silver, in the white pantry. The unfortunate man was accosted by a wispy lady in white, begging for a drink of water. As he turned to obey her wishes, he suddenly recalled that the pantry was locked (to protect the silver) and that it should have been impossible for anyone to gain entry! On turning back to her, he found she had vanished. Probably that the lady have been the victim of poisoning, hence her search for water.