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The Township of Chipchase is in the parish of Chollerton, some ten miles south-west of Hexham, in south-west Northumberland. It lies on the east bank of the North Tyne and had an area of 1,603 acres. It is a mile or two downstream from Wark and some five miles upstream from Wall, where the Roman wall crosses the river. There are, or were castles of greater or less degree every few miles along the Tyne-Newcastle, Prudhoe, Bywell, Corbridge, Haughton and Simonburn. However, few of them are in such a good state of preservation as Chipchase Castle, which is an excellent example of the most advanced kind of Pele-tower in medieval and Tudor times.

The area surrounding Chipchase was occupied as early as the Bronze Age, and was perhaps quite densely populated in the Iron Age and Roman times. However, no evidence has been found of Anglo-Saxon occupation and Chipchase is never mentioned until the thirteenth century when it was bought by the Insulas.

Early in that century there was already a chapel, a park and a mill at Chipchase. On 18 July 1261 Peter de Insula, the owner of Chipchase, obtained a license from Alexander III, King of Scots, to strengthen his mill dam on the North Tyne. This was necessary because the right bank of the river was in the lordship of Tyndale, held by the King of Scots.

There are many different derivations of the name Chipchase but none are very convincing. The earliest forms of the name are Chipches, Chippeches and Chipchesse.

The Subsidy Roll of 1296 shows that the village was well populated and wealthy. There were twelve tax payers, including Robert de Insula who was head of the list, his goods came to a total worth of £9 9s 8d (equivalent today £5,909.94).

The Owners

Before Chipchase was purchased it was in the extensive barony of Prudhoe granted by Henry I to Robert de Umframvill. Later we discover that there is some evidence that Umframvills and Insulas (the first owners) were connected by marriage.

As mentioned above the first owner of Chipchase, on record, is Sir Peter de Insula, who lived around the mid thirteenth century; he was a younger son of Robert de Insula, Lord of East Woodburn. On 9 September 1348 Sir Peter’s great grandson, Sir Robert de Insula, conveyed to Sir William Heron, Lord of Ford, the custody and marriage of his grand-daughter Cecily. He had already entailed the manor of Chipchase on Cecily and she was to marry William, John or Walter, the sons of Sir Williams Heron. Once of age Cecily married Walter Heron and their descendants retained possession of Chipchase for over 350 years.

Chipchase, being the strongest castle in the valley of the North Tyne, normally held a garrison of fifty horsemen in times of war with Scotland, and the Herons became almost hereditary Keepers of Tyndale.

The Keepers of Tyndale and the bailiffs of the adjoining valley of Redesdale were two of the officers of the Warden of Middle Marches. The English border against Scotland was normally divided into three commands: the East Marches based on Berwick, the Middle Marches based on Harbottle, and the West Marches based on Carlisle. North Tyndale, Redesdale and Upper Coquetdale were all in the Middle Marches.

When in 1490 John Heron was appointed Bailiff of Rededale he bound himself before the king in Chancery under a penalty of £500 to execute the duties of his office, to capture felons and evil-doers and bring them to justice. Lastly, he was to allow no conventicles or privy meetings between English and Scots on the Marches or elsewhere in the liberty.

In a survey of the state of the Borders made in 1522 the commissioners reported that Chipchase was “the most convenient house for the said Keeper of Tynedale…the which house of Chipchase is in measurable good state”. The Herons were a hot-tempered race and were regularly in trouble with the authorities.

In 1536 the Catholic rising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace collapsed. This was an attempt to prevent the Royal Commissioners from dissolving the monasteries including Hexham Priory. John Heron of Chipchase, called “Little John Heron” tried to have the men of Tyndale “to break”. The Council of the North wished to arrest Heron but others recommended that he should remain at liberty. Therefore he was bound with sufficient sureties in the sum of 2,000 marks to appear before the King on 13 February 1536. The mark valued at 13s. 4d. (equivalent today £214.73) which was a regular unit of currency at this time.

Heron had many enemies and in April 1537 he was accused, by Jerrye Charlton, of the murder of Roger Fenwick. It is certain that Heron and Fenwick were not on good terms. This was due to the fact that Fenwick had been appointed Keeper of Tyndale, a position which Heron believed belonged to him The Duke of Norfolk, who had been appointed to settle the unrest in Northumberland, wrote to the Privy Council on 27 August 1537 claiming that “I shall do my best to put order for Tyndale, with using all the policies I can to apprehend Edward and Cuthbert of Charlton and John Heron’s son”. He wished that John Heron’s son “be secretly conveyed hither… with a hood on his head so secretly kept by the way that no man should know him unto his deliverance”. It is evident that John Heron the father was already in custody, and the Duke of Norfolk hoped to also take his son. The Warden of the Marches reported that on 6 November 1538 at a March meeting, John Heron, one of the murderers of Roger Fenwick was “in the utter part of the Scotes men.” The Privy Council decided that as there seemed to be a good deal of malice and family feud in the quarrel, John Heron was not to be impeached of Roger Fenwick’s death. Subsequently John Heron the father and his sons John and George received a royal pardon.

In 1540 Heron was appointed Keeper of both Tyndale and Redesdale. In a raid into Scotland with the Tynedale and Redesdale men on 24 August 1542, Heron was taken prisoner by the Laird of Edmonston’s servant. However he was not imprisoned for long and upon his release he again found himself in disfavour with the authorities.

While his father was a prisoner in Scotland, George Heron acted as deputy Keeper of Tyndale. Like his father and brother, he also was averse to discipline and there were many complaints made about him taking matters into his own hands and executing raids in Scotland. Sir William Heron of Ford died in 1535 with no direct male heirs. This left the Herons of Chipchase to lay claim to his considerable estates. The only condition was that the young heiress, Sir William Heron’s and daughter, Margaret remained unmarried. The Herons took no special action to establish the claim, as there was always a chance that the heiress might marry one of the Herons of Chipchase.

When she married Thomas Carr of Etal, the dispute developed into a typical family feud, and bloodshed ensued. On 1 April 1557 George Heron took a band of two hundred men, in forcible and warlike array of armour and weapons, to the house at Morpeth to establish his claim as rightful owner. A few days earlier, under the instruction of the Herons, one of the constables of Berwick, accompanied by fourteen garrison men, forcibly took possessions from Ford Castle. Eventually the Carrs retained possession of the Ford Esate while the Herons of Chipchase obtained the manor of Simonburn.

At a wardens meeting at the Red Swire on 7 July 1575 an affray broke out with the Scots in which Sir George Heron “a man much esteemed in both realms”, was killed together with twenty four other Englishman. The “esteem” was surely a posthumous development. The Red Swire or Redeswire is the neck of land from which the water falls one way into the valley of the Rede, and the other into Scotland; the modern highway from Newcastle to Jedburgh now runs over it at the Carter Bar.

The inventory of Sir George’s goods taken after his death has survived; like most country gentlemen of this time a good deal of his wealth was in farming stock. He had 80 kine at 16s. apiece; 66 oxen at 20s., apiece; 40 young “noate” (young cattle) at 10s., apiece; 34 score of “Yowes” at 2s. 6d., apiece; 24 score of dinmonts and gimmers at 2s., apiece: 24 score of hogs at 16d., apiece; 20 score withers at 3s. 4d., apiece; 30 goats at 20d., apiece; 20 swine at 3s., apiece. The furniture in his hose was meagre, for he only had two “joined” beds, 3 standing beds, a great presser in the Broad Chamber, and eight chairs. His more personal goods included two garnish of pewter vessels, six brass pots, six pans, two cauldrons, two mortars and a pestle, three silver tankards, three silver bowls, a dozen silver spoons, a silver salt, a basin and a ewer of tin, six pewter candlesticks and six chamber Potts of pewter. The mourning clothes for gowns and other charges bestowed on his funeral amounted to £65 11s. 5d., (equivalent today £21,120.37). It is evident that the furniture recorded in this inventory was that in the castle of Harbottle and so gives us no information about the contents of Chipchase castle.

Sir George Heron’s son and heir John followed in his father’s footsteps, in so far as he also flouted the authorities. He was appointed Keeper of Tyndale on 31 August 1587. In a Scots foray to Haydon Bridge it was reported that Heron lay in wait for the raiders. Once near he relieved them of their spoils, killed six of them, and took two prisoners and sixteen horses. Shortly after the encounter the word spread that Heron had deliberately allowed the raid to take its course so that he might collect some plunder.

The Warden reported to the Queen on 8 December 1587 that he believed John Heron was “not fit for the place, for beside his negligence in that service at the burning of Haydon Bridge…he is greatly suspected to be acquainted with that journey”. The Warden went on to claim that John Heron’s son, one of his bailiffs and a young man call Ridley were “directly charged with the bringing in of Scots to Haydon Bridge.”

John Heron died in June 1591, follow by his wife Margery in 1613. She gave all her goods to her younger son Reynold, except £100 which she gave to Reynolds son Anthony. Reynold was certainly the black sheep of the family but due to him being his mother’s favourite she made him her heir. In 1603 Reynold Heron, with others, were put before the assizes for burning and taking the spoil of a house in the Bishop Bank at Durham; some of his accomplices were taken and hung and a warrant was sent out for his arrest.

John Heron’s eldest son and heir, George, only survived his father by less than year and died unmarried on 10 September 1591. The heir was George’s nephew Cuthbert Heron a child of six years old. At this time the Heron estate comprised of the manors of Chipchase, Simonburn, Chirdon, Shitlington, West Whelpington, Ray and Pigdon, the village of Nunwick with burgages and tenements in Corbidge, Morpeth, Warkworth and Kirkharle. When Cuthbert Heron died in June 1655 these estates were almost intact, but within the next fifty years all had been dissipated.

Cuthbert Heron had remained aloof during the Civil Wars and both his two elder sons died in his lifetime, John in 1636 and George in 1647. George can probably be identified with a Colonel George Heron who commanded a regiment of horse for the King during the Civil War and was killed fighting on the King’s side at the battle of Marston Moor.

George Heron had only one son George, who had died in infancy. Thus the entailed estates passed to his younger brother Cuthbert. After the Restoration, Cuthbert was created a Baronet on 20 November 1662, and shortly after this the mortgage on the estates started to pile up.

Before the end of the century the combination of mortgages, provision for widows and the portions for daughters had encumbered the estates inextricably. The first Baronet died in 1688. His eldest son Cuthbert had died in 1684 leaving a widow and two daughters, and the Baronetcy and estates passed to Sir John Heron, the second son. He died in 1693 leaving a widow and an only daughter, and his younger brother Charles then succeeded.

When Sir Charles Heron succeeded he found that being a tenant for life, he was unable to sell any of the estates and could not raise the portions of £2500 (equivalent today £208,850) which was each due to his nieces.

Accordingly he applied for an Act of Parliament to be passed to enable him to sell off parts of the estates. The act was passed in 1695 and the estates, with the exception of Chipchase, were vested in trustees for sale.

The purchaser was Robert Allgood of Newcastle, who had agreed to pay off all the charges and mortgages. However by 1713 the conveyance had not been completed, due to the discovery of further debts which had not been disclosed to Allgood. Jane, the only daughter and heiress of Robert Allgood, married her cousin Lancelot (afterward Sir Lancelot) Allgood, and the estates of Nunwick, Simonburn and Shitlington, purchased from the Herons, are now the property of their descendants, Mr. Guy Hunter Allgood and Mr. Lancelot Guy Allgood.

Sir Charles Heron died in London before 4 August 1718 and his only son Harry succeeded as 4th Baronet.

However, the Heron’s ownership of Chipchase was coming to an end. All that remained of the vast estates of Harry Heron’s ancestors was the capital messuage, manor, chapel and demesne lands of Chipchase. And on 8 July 1725 he mortgaged these to George Allgood, brother of the earlier purchaser, for £4000 (equivalent today £339,000) and a further sum of £3976 9s. 6d (equivalent today £5,909.94), to provide for his wife and future children.

The £4000 did not last long and on 16 June 1727 Harry Heron finally parted with Chipchase. George Allgood went on to purchase Chipchase for £979 9s. 6d (equivalent today £83,010.51). and gave an annuity of £166 13s. 4d. (equivalent today £14,125) to Sir Harry Heron and Dame Elizabeth, his wife. However, even the annuity was not safe and on 26 September 1729 Heron mortgaged it for £200. Failure to pay the interest on the mortgage caused it to be increased and by 1730 it had reached £358 15s (equivalent today £30,845.33).

The last known episode in this story happened in 1732 when Sir Harry Heron, now living in the parish of St Mare le Bone, co. Middlesex, sold £100 a year of his annuity for £540 13s. 7d (equivalent today £46,487.59). He died without children in 1749.

George Allgood, the buyer of Chipchase, belonged to a family that had for some generations been high in the civic life of Hexham. He had been educated for the law and was a member of the Inner Temple, London. He was one of the trustees appointed in 1696 for the sale of Sir Charles Heron’s estates. Allgood was evidently not welcomed either by his tenants or by his neighbours. And on 12 January 1728 he complained to the Clerk of the Peace for the county that he could not get a dish of wild fowl for himself or friends by reason of so many gunners and poachers. Some of his neighbours’ hounds ran day and night into his ground “where they trample both the summer and winter corn miserably”. After George Allgood’s death in 1728, the Chipchase estate was sold in 1734 to John Reed of Bellingham.

John Reed belonged to a very junior line of family that had owned Troughen in Redesdale for at least 300 years. John Reed’s father, Archibald, had been a general dealing in Bellingham and had acquired a considerable fortune by advancing money on mortgage to many of the improvident yeomen in the valley.

John Reed died in London, 20 March 1754 and was buried in a chapel which he had built at Chipchase. He was succeeded by nephew Christopher Soulsby of Newcastle, son of his sister Martha and her husband Christopher Soulsby. Soulsby assumed the name of Reed and became High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1764. He died in 1770. In 1823, John Reed, son and heir of Christopher (Soulsby) Reed became involved in the failure of Blake, Reed and Co’s Bank. Because of this he was forced to convey his estates, including Chipchase to trustees to the use of his creditors.

The Reed trustees in 1826 conveyed Chipchase to the Greys of Backworth. Ralph William Grey lived at Chipchase for most of his life. During his life time he was M.P. for Tynemouth 1848-185, for Liskeard 1854-1859 and secretary to the Poor Law Board 1859-1869. In 1862 Mr R.W. Grey conveyed the estate to Mr Hugh Taylor and to this date Chipchase is still owned by his decedents.

After Mr Hugh Taylor passed away, his son Thomas Taylor took over the running of Chipchase, after him Hugh Taylor took over Chipchase from 1870 to 1900.

Lt Col Thomas George Taylor, who resided at Chipchase in 1945, was decorated with the award of Captain Distinguished Service Order DSO. He also owned and sold Henderside, Park Kelso with a stretch of the Tweed and 1,000 acres of land. Lt Col Richard Ian Griffiths Taylor died in 1984, the property then passed on to his daughter Penelope Torday nee Taylor and then onto her son Jonathan Elkington who currently owns and runs Chipchase.

The Chapel

In the thirteenth century, a chapel already resided at Chipchase. The Insulas had been granted by the Priory and Convent of Hexham, the privilege of a perpetual chantry in the chapel of Chipchase on every other day of the week. The Chaplain was to be provided for at the expense of the mother church of Chollerton but everything else was to be found by the Insulas and their heirs. It seems unlikely that there was a graveyard attached to this chapel for most of the Herons in the seventeenth century were buried in the chancel of Simonburn church.

In about 1723 Archdeacon Shard recorded that at Chipchase there “is a little chapel in which the sacraments have been formerly administered, and where at present there is a service performed four times in the year. It hath neither books, vessels or vestments belonging to it. There is a bell lying in the chapel, but it hath never been fitted and hung up. The chapel hath never been either plastered or floored.”

John Reed (1734-1754) built a new chapel in which he was buried on 4 April 1754. This is the chapel still in use, standing just within the park gates. In the chapel there are several tablets and monumental inscriptions in reference to members of the Reed family, many of whom lie in a vault beneath.

Arnold Robinson designed a single-light window in memory of Captain Hugh Taylor. The window depicts the Angel of the Lord appearing to Mary Magdalene outside the sepulchre after the resurrection. The central diamond of the window contains the badge of the Scots Guards. The window is inscribed “In Memoriam/Captain Hugh Taylor/Scots Guards/Born Christmas Eve 1880/Killed in action Dec.18th 1914.” Captain Taylor is buried in Le Trou Aid Post Cemetery in Fleurbaix. He was the son of Thomas and Mona Taylor of Chipchase Castle, Wark-on-Tyne and husband of Mary Taylor.

The House Today

The whole of the middle of the east front, between the wings, is occupied by the long, low entrance hall. To the left of the hall is the drawing room and to the right the dining room, with the offices beyond it in the low Georgian wing that completes the quadrangle. Above the hall, and rising two storeys, is the music room, occupying the space of what would have been the great chamber of Cuthbert Heron's Jacobean House.

The staircase follows a pattern occasionally found in Elizabethan and Jacobean buildings, in which the open well is replaced by a solid column – about seven feet square – round which the stairs rise in a series of short, easy flights.

On the west wall of the music-room, facing the bay is the remarkable oak chimney-piece, which is believed to have been brought to Chipchase from Newcastle by one of the Reeds. It dates from the early years of the 17th century, and gives the impression of having been carved by a Flemish craftsman, possibly working in this country. The over mantel, which is exceptionally well executed in deep relief, is rich in symbolism. Tall figures representing four of the five senses – taste and feeling on the left, sight and sound on the right – flank the central panel, which depicts Father Time driving a chariot that carries the four elements.

On the front of the chariot is a pole supporting a globe, which has the signs of the zodiac on its upper half and classical gods and goddesses on the lower half. The projecting cornice is composed of seven shields, coupled at the corners, which demarcate four panels. The shields depict the virtues, with charity in the middle flanked by faith and hope, while the panels contain emblems evidently denoting the four continents.

The base of the over mantel is carved with Biblical scenes, which are original, but some of the shields flanking them have been added later: the central one depicts the Reeds' coat-of-arms. The pierced columns are original, but the frieze below the shelf is a Georgian introduction and the marble surround to the fireplace opening must date from the early 19th century.

The original Jacobean decoration has disappeared, but the treatment of the panelling and some of the doors appear to date from rather earlier than John Reed's purchase in 1734, and it is possible that the Allgoods were responsible for it soon after they leased Chipchase in 1701. At the foot of the staircase, however, is a handsome Palladian doorway, which is typical of much of the decoration at Chipchase and was evidently due to John Reed the elder after 1734. Several of the rooms at Chipchase, notably the drawing room, have pretty plaster ceilings of this period, in which the geometrical Palladian forms are softened by a hint of the Rococo.

The most important room that can be attributed to the elder John Reed is the two-storey music-room above the hall. The walls are surmounted by a deep entablature with a profusely decorated frieze and cornice.