In September 1868, a ‘middle-class and respectable’ woman left her home in Blaydon and started camping in the ruins of Dilston Castle about four miles from Hexham. Amid the high stone walls and broken rubble she set down her box of treasured possessions. She hung her pictures on the walls as best she could. The woman claimed to be Amelia Matilda Mary Tudor Radcliffe – the ‘Countess of Derwentwater’. Dilston Castle, she said, was her home.
By early October the actual owners of Dilston Castle – the Trustees of Greenwich Hospital – heard about the ‘Countess’ and sent their representative, Mr. Grey, to investigate. He found Amelia sitting in a ‘military type chair’ under a tent. She was ‘obviously sane’ and claimed to be the great-great-granddaughter of John Radcliffe, the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater. Despite her mild manners, she said that she would “rather die” than move from her ancestral home.
Dilston Castle (Wikipedia, Creative Commons license).
Did she own the estate? Once upon a time Dilston did belong to the Earls of Derwentwater. But tragedy struck the family in 1716 when the 3rd Earl, James Radcliffe, was attainted – i.e., his lands and hereditary titles were confiscated by the Crown. James Radcliffe lost his lands because he marched southward with 70 troops to depose the Protestant monarchs William and Mary (during the 1715 Jacobite Uprising). For this he was beheaded for treason on Tower Hill. From the mid-1730s all the Radcliffe heirs were left homeless and stripped of their claim to lands and income.
The Illustrated Police News reports on Amelia’s kerfuffle with Mr. Grey’s men, 1868
Dilston Castle was gifted to Greenwich Hospital by the Crown following Radcliffe’s defiance. When the ‘Countess of Derwentwater’ arrived in 1868 – she was, by law, a trespasser. Mr. Grey and the bailiffs forcibly removed her, but she didn’t go quietly. She drew her ‘great-grandfathers’ sword and threatened Grey’s men (not for the last time). Her tent was pulled down and her possessions deposited in the road (now the A695 between Hexham and Corbridge). This photograph was taken shortly after her eviction:
Amelia and her two ‘henchmen’ in the road, c. 1868.
This silver-plated clock was one of the items removed from Dilston Castle by Grey’s men. It was used by Amelia to firm up her claim to the estate. She probably had the words ‘Hall Clock’, ‘from Dilston Caste 1716’, inscribed on the item herself.
Detail showing inscriptions
The clock is inscribed with the place of manufacture, Eichstatt in Bavaria. On the reverse is a painted signature, ‘1714 – iof Schorer’. In 1870 Amelia sold this clock to the Lockharts, a family of solicitors who at that time used the Old Gaol in Hexham as their offices. It has been there ever since.
This isn’t the end of the story. Amelia was for some a figure of fun, but she was also a local folk hero, especially among the local coal and lead miners. In our next post you can read about what happened to her – there’ll be more objects from our collections as well as cattle-rustling, sword fights and forgeries!