The ruins of the castle at Cartington survive well and display several stages of building and re-building. In its original form it was intended to be a walled enclosure with four corner towers or turrets. The building of this early castle was interrupted and subsequently the north-east turret was replaced by the tower-house. This formed the heart of the castle throughout the medieval period, although additional buildings were appended to it in the 15th century.
The monument includes a medieval castle of complex form and associated remains situated on the northern end of a ridge orientated north-south. The ground on either side of the ridge shelves gently down to the Spout Burn on the east and to the Coquet valley on the south and west. The remains are visible as a 14th century walled courtyard measuring 25m east-west by 18m north-south within curtain walls 0.7m thick. At the south-east and north-east corners of the courtyard there are the remains of two turrets; the north-east one remained unfinished and survives only several courses high; the better preserved south- east turret has a garderobe attached to its south-west side. At the south-west corner of the courtyard a strong tower was constructed; this was destroyed in the Civil War siege of 1648 and only very slight traces of the foundations of its west wall remain. At the northern side of the courtyard there is a range of buildings in a ruinous condition. They comprise a second massive 14th century tower at the north-east corner and a hall and chambers; the tower was tunnel-vaulted and has a fine well preserved stair turret in its south-west corner. It measures 6m by 11m within walls 2.2m thick but does not survive above first floor level, except at the south-west corner. It is believed that this tower was originally intended to stand alone at one end of the courtyard, but soon after its construction a hall and chambers were added to its western side completing the range of buildings, although now only parts of the eastern end survive above first floor level. This block was not completed until the early 15th century. Licence to crenellate was granted in 1441. The tower house was altered in the early 17th century by, amongst other things, the addition of Tudor windows in the great tower and first floor of the hall block. In the late 17th century further alterations resulted in the courtyard being filled in up to first floor level. In 1887, when the tower house was in a state of dilapidation, it was excavated and restored by Lord Armstrong. During these excavations finds,including a small 15th century wooden cross, coins of Charles II and George I and some sandstone carvings of a religious nature, were recovered; the latter had almost certainly been in the castle chapel. Earlier, in 1824, other artefacts of a religious nature were discovered to the south of the complex by the then occupier, Mr Robson. The tower house was last occupied in the mid-19th century, since when its condition has deteriorated rapidly. Ten metres north of the tower house there are traces of a medieval wall and a large terrace, the remains of a garden feature associated with the tower house. To the east and south-east rectangular enclosures are visible, surviving as low earthworks, and a large terrace feature is very prominent; early documents testify to the existence of other houses and enclosures, orchards and gardens forming part of the castle complex. (Scheduling Report)
Fortified Manor House: Several C14 and early C15 builds; alterations and extensions in late C16 or early C17; partial demolition following 1648 siege, with part of hall range and north-east tower remodelled afterwards; fell into ruins early in C19; excavation, repairs and some restoration 1887 by C.C. Hodges for Lord Armstrong. Squared stone. Plan: Hall range with solar (north-east) tower at east end and rectangular courtyard on south, with C16/17 east range and medieval south-east turret; only traces survive of outer courtyard to north and post-medieval walled orchard to south.
Hall range: South elevation shows chamfered and moulded plinths, and projecting semi-octagonal stair turret with chamfered setbacks and loops; left moulded ground-floor doorway, partly restored; right inserted C16/17 1st-floor door. On far right remains of C16/17 stair projection. Scattered fenestration includes 3 large 2-light windows of 1887, re-using old materials but not all in correct positions. Other outer walls of range only stand to 1st floor level, with several chamfered doorways and loops; on north the lower part of a large flying buttress. Interior: tower basement has 3 barrel-vaulted chambers and well shaft; eastern of 3 rooms beneath hall retains part of its segmental vault. Wall between tower and hall stands to 3-storey height. Several original doorways, fireplaces and stairs including full-height newel stair in turret.
Walls around courtyard: East wall stands to 1st floor level, with inserted C16/17 doorway and window; outer walls of east range ruined. South-east turret has barrel-vaulted chamber and projection with 1st-floor garderobe. 2-metre high south wall is post-medieval reconstruction except for traces of tower, perhaps original gatehouse, at west end. C17 west wall has central gateway with rusticated piers, the southern retaining part of its moulded cap. Inside courtyard, remains of detached C16/17 stair to let-floor hall range, and foundations of demolished range of similar date.
Historical notes: Built for the Cartington family (licence to crenellate 1441). In 1494 it passed by marriage to the Radcliffes and later to the Widdringtons, Sir Edward Widdrington holding it briefly for the King in the 1648 siege. (Listed Building Report)
The site of Cartington Castle was chosed partly for its abundant supply of fresh sub-soil water and partly for its command of the Debdon pass over the Rothbury Hills. No trace remains of any pre-14th century work. Building seems to have commenced at the SW corner, with the erection of a strong tower. In 1441 a licence to crenallate was obtained and a 1415 survey mentions de Turris, doubtless the SW tower. The description in the 1541 survey shows that the whole castle had been completed. Some time in the reign of Elizabeth I or James I numerous two-light square-headed windows were inserted into the great tower, which was also re-roofed. In the Civil War siege of 1648 the tower and other south range buildings were destroyed. In 1654 the NE tower was repaired by Edward Widdrington and the courtyard raised to first floor level with the debris from the destroyed wings. Additional building followed the Restoration, when the E third of the old hall block was repaired and made into a tall plain wing buttressing the NE tower. Dilapidation was rapid from the early 19th century after the loss of the roofs and the use of the site as a source of building material. Lord Armstrong bought the property in 1883 and instructed C C Hodges to preserve the ruins. The courtyard was cleared out, the stair turret made secure and the great hall window restored.
The castle proper consists of a courtyard separated from the base court by a 'palace' range having a great tower at its N end. There were formerly ranges of buildings on all sides of the court except perhaps the W. This side is a curtain wall 2' 2" thick, built after the Civil War at the new level then formed. On its inner side there is a steep bank down to the original yard level as re-excavated in 1888-89. The S curtain wall of somewhat earlier appearance is 2' 10" thick. The E curtain wall remains with turrets at either end, the W faces of which were joined by the E wall of a 16/17th century building. Thus a narrow court 11' by 31' was formed. The great tower measures 31' 4" E-W by 42' 5" N-S. The ground floor is divided into three parts covered with unribbed semi-circular barrel vaults. There is a boldly projecting stair turret at the SW corner and mural stairs at the NW and SE corners. The N and E walls of the tower are gone. The N wing has a stair turret at its NW corner and, in the middle of the N side, an enormous flying buttress, the upper part of which no doubt consisted of small chambers. The outer walls are over 6' thick at ground level. The upper part of the S wall has collapsed after the building had lost its roof, and was much repaired in 1888-89 (Dodds 1940).
During the 1888-9 excavations a small 15th century wooden cross, a 15th century finely carved stone bust and coins of Charles II and George I were recovered. The 15th century pieces, along with two sandstone carvings, one a pieta, the other representing the Trinity, had probably been in the castle chapel. A petition to Charles II in 1661 records that the castle, worth £8000, was pulled down by Parlimentarians after the battle of Marston Moor (Dixon 1903).
About 1824, Mr Robert Robson, the occupier, dug out of the ruins a stone with the date 1030 (sic) and other objects which suggested that the chapel originally stood near the front, or south, of the castle (Richardson 1843).
The remains of the castle are situated upon the end of a N-S ridge of pasture and arable land. The ridge dips slightly to the N of the site before rising gently to the highest point a quarter of a mile away. Gentle slopes fall to the E to the Spout Burn and to the S and W to the Coquet valley. The site commands extensive views, particularly to the NW.
The walls of the NE tower are fallen above first-floor level except at the SW corner, while those of the N wing are likewise demolished to first floor level except over the buttress and along the S side, where they still stand to third floor level at the E end. A well is exposed in the yard on the N side. Description and plan as given by Auth 6 are otherwise fully correct. The present location of the finds made in 1824 and 1888-89 has not been ascertained. There are no associated earthworks (F2 RE 22-SEP-71). (PastScape)