A violent and blood-soaked history?
Eerie dungeons and gruesome torture chambers?
Ghostly tales and paranormal activities?
No wonder Chillingham Castle is widely regarded as one of the most haunted castles in Britain.
In fact, there’s a famous verse by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (one of the most well known American poets of the 19th century) that would be an apt description of this place:
‘All houses in which men have lived and died are haunted houses,
Through the open doors the harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sounds upon the floors.’
However, when you first lay eyes on Chillingham Castle, you’d never think it conceals a dark and horrific history within its thick stately walls. For it looks just like any other old castle in the UK.
A majestic medieval fortress, it’s set in the glorious countryside of Northumberland, its beauty enhanced by lush green lawns and formal gardens including a beautiful topiary garden. The woodland surrounding it is an absolutely picturesque sight during Spring and early Summer, making the walk leading up to the large lake a delightful experience.
Today, it’s a popular Northumberland tourist attraction as part of the castle as well as the coach house have been converted into lovely holiday apartments, offering the public an opportunity to experience an interesting vacation here.
Chillingham Castle History
‘It’s packed with troubled souls. Far, far too many to deal with. On no account buy this castle.’
These were the troubling words of a psychic to Sir Humphrey Wakefield, who still went ahead and purchased the castle (which was his wife’s ancestral seat) in 1982. Initially a monastery, the castle is located on the border between England and Scotland and belonged to the Grey family for around 800 years, before being abandoned in 1932.
In its early days, Chillingham Castle served as the main base for several kings and played a significant role in the bloody conflict between the two nations.
By 1982, it was a shadow of its former self, its reputation forever tainted.
But thanks to Sir Humphry Wakefield, the place was given a new lease of life. He worked tirelessly for more than ten years in an attempt to restore it to its former glory.
Now, it has become one of the best places to visit in Northumberland, especially for visitors curious to learn more about its morbid past.
With that said, let’s talk about…
The Greys of Chillingham
They were descendants of the Croys, who were related to William the Conqueror. It was the Greys that transformed the manor into a formidable fortress and built its infamous torture chamber, dungeons and battlements.
During the rule of the ruthless King Edward 1 (Edward Longshanks), Chillingham was actually considered the first line of defence, preventing the Scots from breaching the border and invading England.
Its dungeons were used to imprison the enemy – Scottish spies, soldiers and men were all thrown in and spent days, weeks and months languishing inside before being killed off in the most cruel manner possible.
The women and children weren’t spared either and suffered similar fates.
According to legend, there was one man in particular that was mainly responsible for the torturing and murdering of Scottish prisoners.
His name was John Sage.
But before we delve into his story, we’re going to take a look at the grisly reminders of Chillingham Castle’s bloody past…
Chillingham Castle Dungeon
A very small and constricted room, the dungeon still bears the markings prisoners scratched into the mortar to keep count of the number of days they had left to live.
And they met their end in a horrible fashion, with many having their arms and legs broken before being tossed down a 20 ft hole and left to die a slow and painful death – either from starvation or their injuries.
In a futile attempt to live another day, some would force themselves to eat the flesh off their own bodies and if they were really desperate, even off the bodies of their fellow prisoners who were dying. According to historical reports, the last person to be killed in the dungeon was a young girl.
Many people that visit the dungeon today say it has a spooky, depressing feel to it; others have spotted orbs and claim to have experienced varying emotions while being in the room.
Chillingham Castle Torture Chamber
Whoever conjured up this room and had it constructed must have had a truly sick and deranged mind.
There was a wide range of tools that was specifically created to torment people and many Scots met a brutal death here at the hands of the chief torturer, John Sage.
For example, there were barrels containing sharp spikes and nails.
Often times, prisoners would be tossed inside with their hands and legs tied up and the barrels would then be rolled around until the flesh was ripped off their bodies and they had breathed their last.
Another horrifying method of torture was to attach a cage to a person’s stomach.
A starved rat was then placed inside the cage and the opening sealed. The creature had no way of getting out except by eating its way through the stomach of the prisoner.
Yet another device was the infamous roller rack.
The victim’s hands were tied and the rope then attached securely to one end of the rack. Next, their ankles were bound and the rope fastened to a roller, which was placed at the end of the rack.
As they were being interrogated, the roller was gradually rotated to increase the tension. And as the tension intensified, so did the pain, for the prisoner’s ligaments started tearing, their joints started cracking and their bones started breaking apart.
Spiked chairs were also used to inflict excruciating pain on the victims.
After being escorted to the chamber, they were ordered to be seated.
Since the chamber was so dark, you could barely see anything, so the unsuspecting prisoners would promptly sit on the chair, only to scream out in horror immediately afterwards when they realized it was covered in spikes. To prolong their suffering, they were swiftly tied to the chair by two guards and forced to maintain a seated position for hours.
In addition to all of this, there were numerous other inhumane torture devices including a bed of nails, branding irons, a hanging cage, thumb screws, an iron maiden, gadgets for gouging out the eyes of the prisoners as well as a large boiling pot where people were tossed inside to burn to death.
And the final insult was the design of the floor.
It was not level but sloped.
This was done deliberately so the blood that flowed from the bodies of the victims would drain away more easily.
For thousands of Scots, this was probably the last place they saw in their life and needless to say, the pain and suffering they would’ve experienced here is unimaginable.
Edward Room (Aka The Killing Room)
The Edward Room can be found on the top floor of the castle.
It’s also known as the Killing Room and there’s a chilling reason behind this.
As the war with the Scots was finally reaching an end, the chief torturer John Sage, wanted to get rid of the Scottish prisoners being held captive in Chillingham Castle.
So he ordered a massive bonfire be erected in the main courtyard. Then he had all of the men, women and youth lined up and tossed into the raging flames one by one. The younger children were rounded up and kept in the Edward Room and made to watch as their parents and siblings were burned alive.
What happened next was even more heartbreaking.
Sage quickly realized that releasing the kids could prove to be dangerous as they could return once they grew older and take their revenge on him for murdering their loved ones. So he decided to kill them off as well.
It’s said that he grabbed a small axe and heartlessly started hacking to death all of the innocent and defenceless young children (including toddlers) that were gathered there.
Today, the axe is displayed on the stairwell and serves as a stark reminder of the horrors that once took place in this room.
This monster’s cruelty knew no bounds.
But little did he know that he was going to meet with an agonizingly painful death himself…
John Sage Chillingham Castle – The Life Of A Brutal Torturer
As mentioned earlier on, Sage was appointed by King Edward 1 as the castle’s chief torturer.
He was a shockingly evil man and it’s reported that he went on to punish nearly 7500 people (and up to 50 prisoners a week) in just 3 years, with the vast majority of them being Scottish.
But before he was given this position, he was an excellent fighter in the battlefield and worked his way up to the rank of Lieutenant. His fighting days however, were soon cut short due to a severe leg injury he picked up in battle.
John didn’t like the thought of being sidelined though and was desperate to be involved in some capacity in the war against the Scots.
So he pleaded with Edward to grant him some sort of official role, whereupon he was given the task of tormenting prisoners – something he absolutely reveled in, especially since he hated Scotland. So much so, that he even started devising his own methods of torture.
Ultimately though, he himself endured a gruesome death at the hands of an angry mob. And ironically enough, he was given up by the same person who appointed him in his role as chief torturer.
It all started after Sage accidentally killed his lover Elizabeth Charlton.
One night, the two were engaged in a sex game on the roller rack in the torture chamber of Chillingham Castle. Things got intense and he started to strangle her in order to increase her sexual pleasure. Unfortunately, he took things one step too far and ended up accidentally killing Elizabeth.
This had fatal consequences for him.
For Elizabeth’s father was a prominent figure attached to the Border Reivers – a powerful fighting unit that counted fierce outlaws and battle-hardened tribal leaders amongst its members. They were not to be messed with or taken lightly.
And according to various sources, they were determined to seek revenge for the death of Elizabeth. After news of her unfortunate death reached their ears, they swiftly arranged a meeting with King Edward and asked that he hand over John Sage to them immediately.
If he failed to comply, they threatened to join forces with the Scots and launch an attack on Chillingham Castle.
By this time, the war had rendered Edward almost penniless. He was also worried that the enemy would win if they had the backing of the Border Reivers. And since that’s the last thing he wanted happening, the King reluctantly agreed to hang one of his most trusted men.
John Sage was quickly captured, dragged in front of a baying crowd and hung on the grounds of the castle.
And just as he never showed mercy to the thousands of prisoners that he tortured to death, the people too showed no mercy to him. Ecstatic that his evil deeds would finally stop, they started slicing off his testicles, fingers, toes and nose while he was still breathing.
In other words, they gave him a taste of his own medicine.
And then the crowd dispersed, leaving his mutilated body hanging like a piece of meat swaying in the wind.
It was a terrible end for a terrible man.
The Ghosts At Chillingham Castle
Many folks claim to have spotted ghostly figures in various rooms of the castle. Here are some of the most famous ghost sightings:
- The Blue Boy Ghost Chillingham Castle
His is a tragic story.
According to reports, this little boy stumbled across some documents that were to be handed over to the Spanish to help them defeat the English during the Spanish Armada. The letters were from the aristocrat that resided at Chillingham Castle at the time and who was betraying his own country to aid the opponents.
Guilty at having being caught out, the aristocrat decided to punish the child and ordered that he be walled up alive with the documents.
The boy’s body was only discovered in the 1920s along with scraps of blue cloth, presumed to be remnants of the clothes he was wearing at the time of his death. It’s said that the bones of his fingers were worn away after he made several vain, desperate attempts to make an escape.
Several visitors have reported hearing his cries of agony and seeing his ghost in the castle.
The screams always seem to emanate from the Pink Room, which is not open to the public as it’s part of the private quarters of the current owners. After the wails fade away, it’s said that a figure of a young boy dressed in blue clothing slowly emerges, a bright halo of light surrounding him.
Due to this reason, he’s also known as the ‘Radiant Boy.’
- The Inner/White Pantry Ghost
The Tankerville’s silver used to be stored in an inner pantry at Chillingham Castle. And as it was extremely valuable, a footman was appointed to guard the silver at all times.
One evening, just before the guard retired to bed, he was approached by a very pale woman in white who begged him for a glass of water. Assuming she was one of the guests that were staying at the castle, he hastened to fulfil her request.
That’s when he realized that the inner pantry was completely locked from the inside, so there was no way someone could’ve entered!
When he turned to face the lady again, she’d vanished into thin air.
This same frail ghostly figure is thought to still appear today from time to time. And her longing for water suggests that she was once a healthy young woman who was probably imprisoned in the castle and poisoned to death.
- Lady Mary Berkeley’s Ghost
Yet another famous Chillingham ghost is the apparition of Lady Mary Berkeley, who was the wife of Lord Grey of Wark and Chillingham.
She has been spotted roaming the corridors of the castle, seeking out her unfaithful husband who dumped her and ran off with her sister. Betrayed and heartbroken, with only her little girl as a companion, Lady Mary sank into depression before eventually committing suicide.
Several years later, a large portrait of her was hung above the fireplace in the nursery.
One night, as their nurse was helping them get ready for bed, some of the Greys children claimed to have seen the apparition of Lady Berkeley stepping out of her portrait and following them around with a sad look on her ghostly face.
Even today, visitors have stated they’ve heard the rustle of a gown or felt a sudden chill as they passed through the corridors, as if she had just walked by.
- The Library Ghosts
The whispering voices of two men are often heard in the library at Chillingham Castle.
They aren’t very clear though, so it’s hard to know what they’re actually talking about. Also, if you stop whatever you’re doing to try and listen closely to their discussion, the voices immediately stop.
- The Girl In The Chapel
Even the chapel at Chillingham Castle isn’t safe from paranormal activity. It was in this room that two skeletons were discovered buried deep underground in a thick vault.
A third skeleton, that of a young girl, was also found a short distance away from the first two. Many believe she was hiding, but exactly why she was doing so, nobody knows.
Her ghost is said to frequently haunt the chapel, where she tries to get the attention of female visitors by gently tugging on their hair and attempting to communicate with them.
- The Hanging Trees
Quite a few ghostly sightings have also been made at the grounds of Chillingham Castle.
Visitors to the surrounding woodlands can view the three infamous Hanging Trees – just one remains upright, the other two lie fallen on the side.
Legend has it that many prisoners were executed by having them hung upside down for hours, their hands and feet bound by rope which was then tightly fastened to the branches of these trees. Even after death, they were denied a proper burial and their bodies were left to rot and fall to the earth below.
One particularly sorrowful tale goes as follows:
When a group of compassionate monks in the area headed out to collect water, they happened to pass by these trees and to their horror, saw a number of victims hanging helplessly from the branches. They immediately set about trying to rescue them from a painful and certain death.
Sadly, some guards caught the monks helping the prisoners.
They were swiftly rounded up and hung in the same cruel manner as the people they were just trying to save.
Many now claim to spot ghostly monks traveling about in this part of the woods. Voices, disembodied footsteps and various light anomalies have also been recorded.
- Devil’s Walk
Even the driveway leading to the castle has had blood spilled on it.
Similar to the area where the hanging trees are located, this section too is littered with human remains, due to countless executions being carried out here. People were left to die a slow death and their bodies eventually decayed and sunk into the earth.
What’s more, this has been identified as yet another paranormal hotspot with footsteps and weird light patterns commonly heard and seen at night when the place is deserted.
- The Lake
The lake at Chillingham Castle is very peaceful and scenic and during the summer, you can see plenty of fish and otters splashing about in the water.
But beneath the serene surface is a graveyard filled with the remains of thousands of Scots killed during battle with the English. One by one, their bodies would be piled onto a cart and then dumped into the lake.
Some say that the lake is cursed and that if you dare put your hands in the water, the souls of the departed will grab hold of you and pull you under.
Chillingham Castle Curse Of The Spanish Gypsy
According to reports, Sir Humphry once encountered a Spanish gypsy who said to him:
‘You live in a haunted home. I’m placing a curse on the people that steal from you.’
He was fully aware that visitors and ghost hunting enthusiasts that flocked to the castle sometimes took off with various items as souvenirs.
However, after the woman’s curse, the souvenirs started getting sent back with the culprits confessing that they had ‘brought nothing but bad luck.’
Today, you can see a picture of the Spanish gypsy in the Still Room, which now contains all of the possessions people stole and then returned to the castle.
Chillingham Castle Prices – Day Visits + Accommodation
If you’re keen on exploring the castle, you can do so for a small fee.
A ticket costs £10.50 per Adult, while children aged 5-15 years are charged £6.50 each. A family ticket on the other hand is priced at £26, with kids under 5 getting free access.
Tickets can be purchased daily between noon and 5 pm.
It’s always a good idea to check the official website and verify the times and ticket prices before planning a trip.
Can you stay at Chillingham Castle?
If the stories of ghostly sightings don’t faze you, you can easily arrange to stay here for a few days or even a week.
My best friend Becky and I stayed a couple days in the Guard Room (sleeps 2, 1 double bedroom) and thankfully, we didn’t experience anything paranormal! There are lots of other accommodation options available as well, with some apartments sleeping up to 6 people.
For the bold and adventurous visitor, ghost tours and night vigils can also be arranged. Becky and I decided to skip these, but we did opt for the room-by-room guide which is produced by Sir Humphry Wakefield and which can be purchased for just £2.
The Chillingham Castle tea room does not require a fee for entry.
So even if you’re not visiting the castle, feel free to drop by the tea room and enjoy a delightful afternoon tea along with some other goodies including freshly baked pastries and hearty soups.
Finally, the castle also hosts weddings, functions and corporate events on a regular basis.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is Chillingham castle open to the public? When to visit Chillingham castle?
It’s open from April (Easter) to the end of October and you can visit the Castle state rooms, torture chamber, dungeons, gardens, lakes and parklands. The castle is closed to visitors during winter.
2. Can you stay at Chillingham castle?
The apartments are beautifully decorated (with many antiques and period features) and totally comfortable and the castle is surrounded by lush lawns, appealing gardens, a charming topiary garden and interesting clippety-clipped hedges.
You can stay here alone, as a couple, or in small or large groups.
3. Is parking available at Chillingham castle?
Free parking is available to visitors and guests.
4. Are dogs allowed at Chillingham Castle?
No. An exception is made for guide dogs though. If you plan on staying here,
5. Is Chillingham castle located near the city centre?
Yes, it’s situated 0.1 miles away from the centre of the city.
6. Which popular attractions are close to Chillingham castle? Are there any historical sites close to Chillingham castle?
There are plenty of fun things to do near Chillingham castle.
Here are just some of the attractions you can visit:
- Alnwick Castle
It’s the second largest inhabited castle in the United Kingdom and offers a wide range of events that the entire family can enjoy. Btw, Harry Potter fans will be thrilled to discover that this castle was featured in two HP movies – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
- Bamburgh Castle
Located on the gorgeous Northumberland coast, it’s a sprawling building that offers stunning views of Lindisfarne and The Farne Islands. It has also been featured in movies such as The BFG and Transformers 5.
- Bailiffgate Museum
A lovely, award-winning museum where captivating stories are told about the history of Alnwick and its surrounding areas. It’s especially fantastic if you’re keen on examining and exploring the social history of the 19th century. The museum is well curated with loads of interesting information and an excellent range of items on display. The staff are very welcoming and knowledgeable and there are tons of things that are sure to interest kids too.
- Church of the Holy Trinity
If you enjoy history, religion or politics, you’ll want to drop by here. Built in the 1650’s with stones that were brought from Berwick Castle, this is a lovely Cromwellian church with beautiful painted glass windows and a very quiet and peaceful atmosphere.
- St. Cuthberts Cave
A lovely natural historical attraction in Northumberland that’s very much off the beaten path. The caves are interesting to look at and explore and the landscape here is simply breathtaking. Well worth a visit.
There are many more places to visit near Chillingham castle. You can check them out by going here.
> Who owns Chillingham castle?
The current owner is Sir Humphry Wakefield. He purchased the castle in 1982 and then set about painstakingly restoring it.
> What are some restaurants close to Chillingham castle?
No.1 Hotel and Wine Lounge, Milan Restaurant and Doddington Dairy Milk Bar are some recommended eateries that are all conveniently located nearby.
Chillingham Castle – In Conclusion
It’s undeniable that castles, prisons, towers and dungeons continue to fascinate visitors, even if they conceal dark and bloody pasts behind their weary walls.
Just as horror movie fans enjoy watching gory scenes, folks that are keen on exploring haunted castles are equally interested in seeking out the chilling stories that are associated with these places.
Chillingham Castle in particular has it all.
A history of bloody violence.
And loads of paranormal activities.
No wonder it’s a favorite among haunted castle enthusiasts!