Alnwick Castle

Alnwick castle, Northumberland
Photo © Trish Steel, 31 May 2005

Alnwick castle, Northumberland
Photo © Trish Steel, 31 May 2005

Alnwick Castle (pronounced /ˈænɪk/) is a castle and stately home in Alnwick, Northumberland, England, UK and the residence of the Duke of Northumberland, built following the Norman conquest, and renovated and remodelled a number of times. It is a Grade I listed building.


Yves de Vescy, Baron of Alnwick, erected the first parts of the castle in 1096. It was built to defend England's northern border against the Scottish invasions and border reivers. It was besieged in 1172 and again in 1174 by William the Lion, King of Scotland and William was captured outside the walls during the Battle of Alnwick. In 1309 it was bought from Antony Bek the Bishop of Durham by Henry de Percy, 1st Baron Percy and it has been owned by the Percy family, the Earls and later Dukes of Northumberland since then. The first Percy lord of Alnwick restored the castle and the Abbot's Tower, the Middle Gateway and the Constable's Tower survive from this period. In 1404–5 the Percys rebelled against Henry IV, who besieged and then took the castle.

During the Wars of the Roses it was held against King Edward until its surrender in mid-September 1461 after the Battle of Towton. Re-captured by Sir William Tailboys during the winter he surrendered to Hastings, Sir John Howard and Sir Ralph Grey of Heton in late July 1462. Grey was appointed captain but surrendered after a sharp siege in the early autumn. King Edward responded with vigour and when the Earl of Warwick arrived in November Queen Margaret and her French advisor, Pierre de Breze were forced to sail to Scotland for help. They organised a mainly Scots relief force which under Angus and de Breze set out on 22 November. Warwick's army, commanded by the experienced Earl of Kent and the recently pardoned Lord Scales, prevented news getting through to the starving garrisons. As a result the nearby Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh castles soon agreed terms and surrendered. But Hungerford and Whittingham held Alnwick until Warwick was forced to withdraw when de Breze and Angus arrived on 5 January 1463.

The Lancastrians missed a great chance to bring Warwick to battle instead being content to retire, leaving behind only a token force which surrendered next day.

Alnwick Castle, chromolithograph by Alexander Lydon, 1870

By May 1463 Alnwick was in Lancastrian hands for the third time since Towton, betrayed by Grey of Heton who tricked the commander, Sir John Astley. Astley was imprisoned and Hungerford resumed command.

After Montagu's triumphs at Hedgeley Moor and Hexham in 1464 Warwick arrived before Alnwick on 23 June and received its surrender next day.

The 6th Earl of Northumberland carried out renovations in the 16th century. In the second half of the 18th century Robert Adam carried out many alterations. The interiors were largely in a Strawberry Hill gothic style not at all typical of his work, which was usually neoclassical. However in the 19th century Algernon, 4th Duke of Northumberland replaced much of this with less ostentatious architecture designed by Anthony Salvin. According to the official website a large amount of Adam's work survives, but little or none of it remains in the principal rooms shown to the public, which were redecorated in an opulent Italianate style in the Victorian era by Luigi Canina.

Current use

Since the Second World War, parts of the castle have been used by various educational establishments: Firstly, by the Newcastle Church High School for Girls then, from 1945 to 1975, as a teacher training college and, since 1981, by St. Cloud State University as a branch campus forming part of their International Study Programme.

Special exhibitions are housed in three of the castle's perimeter towers. The Postern Tower, as well as featuring an exhibition on the Dukes of Northumberland and their interest in archaeology, includes frescoes from Pompeii, relics from Ancient Egypt and Romano-British objects. Constable's Tower houses military displays like the Percy Tenantry Volunteers exhibition, local, volunteer soldiers raised to repel Napoleon's planned invasion in the period 1798–1814. The Abbot's Tower houses the Regimental Museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.

Alnwick castle - Photo
Ian Knox, 13 Sept 04

Alnwick castle, Northumberland
Photo © Stephen Betteridge, 10 February 2007

Castle Tower - photo
© Trish Steel, May 05

Other facilities open to the public including Knight's Quest (formerly Knight's School), Dragons Quest, the Gift Shop, the Courtyard Cafe and restaurant; The Sanctuary at the Castle.

The castle is used as a stand in for the exterior and interior of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films (though the wide angle images are computer generated). It has previously been a location used in Becket, Blackadder; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and many others (see below).

The castle is open to the public throughout the summer. After Windsor Castle, it is the second largest inhabited castle in England. The castle was rated 10th in the Historic Houses Association English Visitor Attractions Survey, with 195,504 visitors in 2006.


Alnwick Castle by Canaletto, circa 1750

The castle consists of two main rings of buildings. The inner ring is set around a small courtyard and contains the principal rooms. This structure is at the centre of a large bailey. As the central block was not large enough to contain all the accommodations required in later centuries, a large range of buildings was constructed along the south wall of the bailey. These two main areas of accommodation are connected by a link building. There are towers at regular intervals along the walls of the outer bailey. About a sixth of the bailey wall has been reduced almost to ground level on the bailey side to open up views into the park. Stable and service yards adjoin the castle outside the bailey; these would not have existed when the castle still had a military function.

Alnwick Castle has two parks. Immediately to the north of the castle is a relatively small park straddling the River Aln which was landscaped by Lancelot Brown ("Capability Brown") and Thomas Call in the 18th century; it is known locally as The Pastures. Nearby is the much larger Hulne Park, which contains the remains of Hulne Priory.

The castle is in good repair and used for many purposes. It provides a home for the present Duke and family and offices for Northumberland Estates, which manages the Duke's extensive farming and property holdings.

Alnwick Garden

Adjacent to the castle, the present Duchess of Northumberland, Jane, has established The Alnwick Garden, a formal garden set around a cascading fountain. It is the most ambitious new garden created in the United Kingdom since the Second World War, with a reported development cost for the whole of £42 million pounds (press release of 7 August 2003). The garden belongs to a charitable trust which is separate from the Northumberland Estates, but the Duke of Northumberland donated the 42-acre (17 ha) site and £9 million.

The first phase of development, opened in October 2001, involved the creation of the fountain and initial planting of the gardens. In 2004 a large 6,000 sq ft (560 m2) 'tree house' complex, including a cafe, was opened. It is deemed one of the largest tree houses in the world.

By that year it was the third most visited paid entry garden in the UK (after Kew Gardens and Wisley), with over half a million visitors. In February 2005, a poison garden, growing plants such as cannabis and opium poppy, was added. May 2006 saw the opening of a pavilion and visitor centre designed by Sir Michael Hopkins and Buro Happold which can hold up to 1,000 people. The pavilion and visitor's centre feature a barrel-vaulted gridshell roof with ETFE foil cushions. It is hoped that the remaining elements of the plan will all be built by 2008.

The purpose of the garden is to augment the facilities available on the Alnwick Castle site for tourists and educational visitors.

Location filming

Alnwick castle, Northumberland
Photo © Chris Gunns, 28 July 2008

Alnwick castle, Northumberland
Photo © Colin Park, 3 October 2005

The Barbican - Photo
© R.Dawson, July 2006

Alnwick Castle has been used as a setting in many films and television series.




  • Glen Lyndon Dodds, (Albion Press, 2002) Historic Sites of Northumberland & Newcastle upon Tyne pp 18–27
  • Fry, Plantagenet Somerset (1980). The David & Charles Book of Castles. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. pp. 177–178. ISBN 0-7153-7976-3. 
  • Johnson, Paul (1989). Castles of England, Scotland and Wales. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, ISBN 0-297-83162-3.

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