Warkworth Castle hermitage


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1011648

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1981

Date of most recent amendment: 19-Oct-1993


Ordnance survey map of Warkworth Castle hermitage
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Warkworth

National Grid Reference: NU 24147 05956


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. By the 12th century, as a reaction against the corruption and excesses that characterised established orders, many reformed orders were emerging in France and establishing themselves in England, having adopted a revised Rule which included increased simplicity of life and seclusion from the outside world. In preference to living in settlements of religious communities, however, some men and women chose to live solitary lives of contemplation and simplified religious observance akin to those of the Christian Fathers and early British saints. These anchorites and hermits lived off alms or, in the case of hermits who, unlike anchorites, were allowed to leave their cells, were often supported by the patronage of the nobility who established hermitages on their estates and appointed hermits to pray for the souls and well-being of their families. Hermitages fell out of favour with the general dissolution of religious establishments in the first half of the 16th century. Warkworth hermitage, established by the Percys of Alnwick, one of the foremost noble families in British medieval history, is among the most elaborate and well preserved cave hermitages in the British Isles.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument comprises Warkworth Castle hermitage and is situated on the River Coquet in an area formerly part of the manor of Warkworth known as Sunderland Park. Originally, the hermitage consisted of three chambers carved out of a projecting part of the riverside cliff. No documentary evidence for the foundation of the hermitage has been found, but the architectural detail of the rock-cut features indicates an early 14th century date. The three chambers include the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, a sacristy to the north of this and, to the west, a small room interpreted as the early living quarters of the hermit. Access was via a porch leading through the cliff face into the south-west corner of the chapel. The walls and roof of the chapel were carved to imitate a structure of three vaulted bays, but the work was interrupted by the Scottish raid on Warkworth in 1341 and never completed. The chapel measures 6.2m x 2.3m and has a rock-cut altar at the east end with a recess for relics above. On the north side is the door into the sacristy, a squint which allowed the chapel altar to be seen from inside the sacristy, and an unglazed, traceried window which allowed light into the sacristy from outside. On the south side is a basin carved inside a bay lit by a quatrefoil opening, and a second recess containing a carved religious scene lit by two single- light windows. Carvings depicting the crucifixion and the instruments of Christ's Passion appear over the doorways into the chapel and sacristy, both accompanied by inscriptions taken from the Psalms. The sacristy measures 8.5m x 1.6m and was formerly partitioned at the west end to create an additional room. At the east end is an altar with a small recess for a lamp while two aumbries (cupboards for sacred vessels) are cut into the rock on the north side. Formerly, the interior of the three chambers included painted decoration throughout. At some point in the late 14th or early 15th century, the hermitage was extended by the construction of more spacious and comfortable living quarters comprising a hall, kitchen and solar or private room. The latter was built onto the west side of the original rock-cut living chamber whose outer wall must have already collapsed or been demolished for the purpose. The solar contained a garderobe or privy, a window overlooking the river and doors leading to the sacristy and to the rock-cut stairs leading up to the chapel. The hall and kitchen lay below the solar and chapel, set partly beneath an overhang in the cliff. A central doorway led into a small lobby which gave onto the hall on the left and kitchen on the right. The hall, or living area, measures 5.5m x 4.6m and includes a large window overlooking the river, a fireplace, a cupboard and, in the north-east corner, a doorway into a two- storey annexe which was added to the hermitage in the late 15th or 16th century. The kitchen is 4.6m square and contains the base of an oven. The doorway into the kitchen was blocked in the relatively recent past. To the east of the kitchen, near the steps leading up to the chapel, is another flight of stairs which rise through a tunnel to the site of the hermitage farm on the cliff-top above. The founder of the hermitage is believed to have been Henry, second Lord Percy of Alnwick, who was granted Warkworth Castle in 1332 and died in 1353. The hermitage is not mentioned in records, however, until 1487 when Thomas Barker was appointed for life by the fourth earl of Northumberland to be 'chaplain of the chantry in Sunderland Park'. Both hermitage and chapel had fallen out of use by 1567 when it is recorded that the buildings were in decay and that the fields belonging to the hermitage had reverted to the earls of Northumberland. The monument has been in State care since 1923 and is also a Grade I Listed Building. All English Heritage fixtures and fittings are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 23232

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Honeyman, H L, Hunter Blair, H, Warkworth Castle and Hermitage, (1954)

End of official listing