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Alnwick Castle

  • House & Family History: Alnwick is the second-largest inhabited castle in England, after Windsor Castle, and was originally constructed to defend England's border with Scotland. The earliest parts of the castle were put up by Yvo de Vescy, the 1st Baron of Alnwick. The Percy family, later earls and dukes of Northumberland, have owned Alnwick since 1309. The enormous state rooms were restored in the 1850s in the style of a 16th century Roman palace. In 1826, James Smithson (died 1829), an English scientist who conducted research in chemistry, mineralogy, and geology, drew up his last will and testament, naming his nephew as beneficiary. Smithson stipulated that, should the nephew die without heirs (as he would in 1835), the estate should go "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The Smithsonian is today the world's largest museum complex and research organization, composed of 19 museums, nine research centers, and the National Zoo. The motives behind Smithson's bequest of $508,318 (approximately $350 million in inflation-adjusted 2019 values) to the people of the United States remain mysterious. Smithson never traveled to the United States and seems to have had no correspondence with anyone in the country. It has been suggested that his bequest was motivated by revenge against British society, which had denied Smithson, who was an illegitimate son of the 1st Duke of Northumberland (the duke's wife, a formidable personage, was one of the very few women in the 18th century to travel in Europe by herself), the right to use his father's name. Others have suggested it reflected his interest in the Enlightenment ideals of democracy and universal education. Smithson was born in France in 1765 and named James Lewis Macie; he was the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson, who later became the 1st Duke of Northumberland, and Elizabeth Keate Hungerford Macie, a widow. Smithson and his half brother, Henry Louis Dickinson, inherited a considerable fortune from their mother's family. Many houses around the world have been modeled on Alnwick; among the most noted is the Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer's Grey Towers Castle, built in 1893 in Glenside, Pennsylvania, for sugar magnate William Welsh Harrison. Though its exterior was based on Alnwick, the interiors were French—ranging in styles from the Renaissance to Louis XV.

    Collections: The castle contains the finest collection of Italian paintings in the north of England and also houses one of the most important collections of Meissen in Britain. In 1853 the 4th Duke of Northumberland purchased Bellini and Titian's large 1514-29 painting, "The Feast of the Gods" (see "Images" section). The painting remained in the collection at Alnwick until 1916, when it was sold by the 7th Duke of Northumberland to Thomas Agnew & Sons, London; Agnews sold the canvas the same year to Peter A.B. Widener of Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. In 1943 Peter's son, Joseph Widener, bequeathed the Bellini to the National Gallery of Art, Washington. "Shield of Achilles," dated 1822-23, was sold at Sotheby's on May 3, 1984 for £484,000; a pair of silver-gilt sideboard dishes, created to the design of Thomas Stothard in 1813-14, was also sold at Sotheby's on same day, for £286,000. The circa 1250-60 Northumberland Bestiary was sold at Sotheby's on November 29, 1990, to an American buyer for £3,036,500. Raphael's "Madonna of the Pinks," circa 1507-08, on loan to The National Gallery, London since 1991, was to be sold to the Getty Museum for £35 million ($56 million); a campaign to raise the money to keep the painting in Britain was mounted throughout 2003 by The National Gallery; in February of 2004 the gallery announced that the Duke of Northumberland's estate had agreed to sell the painting to The National Gallery, London, for £22 million, the amount payable after tax was deducted from the gross figure of £35 million. The price included £11.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the largest grant ever given for a work of art. In January of 2003 the UK government placed a temporary export ban on the painting in an attempt to allow The National Gallery to raise the necessary funds needed to keep the painting in the UK. The committee said that every possible effort should be made to raise funds to retain the Raphael in the UK. The government said that the painting is the "freshest and most delightful small image of the Madonna and the Christ child from the Italian Renaissance." On July 9, 2014 £32 million was raised in three auctions in London by Sotheby's, who auctioned art from Alnwick Castle and Syon House. Alnwick is home to the Beverley Collection of Gems. Named after Algernon Percy, 1st Earl of Beverley (1749-1830), this important collection of ancient and modern intaglios and cameos was initially formed Lord Beverley and the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. The collection has been augmented over the centuries by subsequent dukes and today comprises 281 pieces.

    Comments: Alnwick is considered one of the finest castles in Britain.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: The formal Italian Gardens, created by the 4th Duke in the 19th century, were restored and expanded by the current duchess. The 12 acres of the walled garden were redesigned by the Belgian landscape firm of Wirtz International for the duchess. The first phase of the Alnwick Garden was completed in 2002, including the monumental cascade, which tumbles up to 7,260 gallons of water per minute. The cascade has 120 separate jets; these, together with the fountains, rills, and weirs, are computer-controlled and continually change pattern. The second phase introduced the poison garden and the giant tree house, which at 600 square meters, makes it one of the largest tree houses in the world. The Gothic revival style Brizlee Tower (sometimes spelled Brislee Tower) is a Grade I-listed folly (see "Images" section) that sits prominently on a hill in the Alnwick Estate. Possibly designed by Robert Adam, the 85-foot-high tower was erected in 1781 for the 1st Duke of Northumberland as a viewing platform. Before the tower was built the site was supposedly the location of a fire beacon that was used to warn of the approach of (probably Scottish) enemies.

  • Architect: James Paine Sr.

    Date: Circa 1754-68
    Designed: Alterations for 1st Duke, including remodeling, in Gothic style, of the Dining Room, state bedrooms, and the Great Staircase

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    Architect: Anthony Salvin

    Date: 1854-65
    Designed: Alterations for 4th Duke

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    Architect: Lancelot Brown

    Date: Mid-18th century
    Designed: Parkland

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    Architect: Thomas Call

    Date: Mid-18th century
    Designed: Landscaping

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    Architect: Adam Family

    Date: 1770-80
    Designed: Alnwick Bridge (1773), Saloon, Drawing Room, and Library (circa 1770-80) for 1st Duke

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    Architect: Luigi Canina

    Date: 1850s
    Designed: Drawing Room, Library, Ante Library, and Upper Guard Chamber in style of 16th century Roman palace for 4th Duke

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  • John Bernard (J.B.) Burke, published under the title of A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. I, p. 78, 1852.

    John Preston (J.P.) Neale, published under the title of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. III, 1820.

    Country Life: LXV, 890, 952 plan, 1929. LXVI, 16 plan, 52 plan, 1929. LXV, 617 [Furniture], 1929.

  • Title: Beverley Collection of Gems at Alnwick Castle, The
    Author: Scarisbrick, Diana; Wagner, Claudia; Boardman, John
    Year Published: 2017
    Reference: pgs. xv, xxxi
    Publisher: London: Frances Lincoln Limited
    ISBN: 9780711232372
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Great Houses of London, The
    Author: Pearce, David
    Year Published: 1986
    Reference: pg. 31
    Publisher: New York: The Vendome Press
    ISBN: 0865650632
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Alnwick Castle Guidebook
    Author: Shrimpton, Colin; Baxter, Clare E. (Editor)
    Year Published: 1999
    Publisher: Derby: English Life Publications Ltd.
    ISBN: 0851013341
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - HARDBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 2008
    Reference: pgs. 52, 770
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 9780300125085
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Disintegration of a Heritage: Country Houses and their Collections, 1979-1992, The
    Author: Sayer, Michael
    Year Published: 1993
    Publisher: Norfolk: Michael Russell (Publishing)
    ISBN: 0859551970
    Book Type: Hardback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade I

  • "Becket" (1964). "Mary Queen of Scots" (1971). "Count Dracula" (1977 - TV series). "The Spaceman and King Arthur" (1979). "Ivanhoe" (1982 - TV movie). "Blackadder 1" ["The Black Adder"] (1982-83 - TV series). "Robin of Sherwood" (1984-86 - TV series). "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991). "The Dwelling Place" (1994 - TV mini series). "The Glass Virgin" (1995 - TV mini series). "Elizabeth" (1998 - Princess Elizabeth is arrested here with her followers, and as the opening Burning of the Martyrs' execution scene). "Monk Dawson" (1998). "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001 - as a setting for Hogwarts). "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002). "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004). "The Virgin Queen" (2005 - TV mini series, as the scene of the executions). "So You Think You're Royal?" (2007 - TV documentary, episode 1.7, "Earl of Northumberland"). "The Hollow Crown" (2012 - TV series). "Downton Abbey" (2014-15 - TV series, as Lord Sinderby's rented Northumbrian Brancaster Castle in the 2014 Christmas special, and as the home of Bertie Pelham, the Marquess of Hexham, in the 2015 Christmas special). "Transformers: The Last Knight" (2017).
  • Current Seat / Home of: Ralph George Algernon Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland; Percy family here since 1309.

    Past Seat / Home of: Yvo de Vescy, 1st Baron of Alnwick, 11th century. Henry de Percy, 12th century; Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland and 1st Baron Percy, 16th century; Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland and 4th Baron Percy, 17th century; Hugh Percy (Smithson), 18th Earl of Northumberland, later 1st Duke of Northumberland, until 1786; Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland, 1786-1817; Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland, 1817-47; Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland, 1847-65; George Percy, 5th Duke of Northumberland, 1865-67; Algernon George Percy, 6th Duke of Northumberland, 1867-99; Henry George Percy, 7th Duke of Northumberland, 1899-1918; Alan Ian Percy, 8th Duke of Northumberland, 1918-30; Henry George Alan Percy, 9th Duke of Northumberland, 1930-40; Hugh Algernon Percy, 10th Duke of Northumberland, 1940-88; Henry Alan Walter Richard Percy, 11th Duke of Northumberland, 1988-95.

    Current Ownership Type: Individual / Family Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Private Home

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01665-510-777

    Fax: 01665-510-876

    Email: [email protected]

    Website: http://www.alnwickcastle.com

    Historic Houses Member: Yes


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