architecture, country house, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, landscape garden, Northumberland

Twizel Castle, Duddo, Northumberland.

In the furthest reaches of Northumberland, close to the Scottish border, stands the romantic ruin of an ancient family seat. This is not a particularly unusual sight in this region of skirmishes and sackings, so why has this particular building become known as a folly? It is of course an elegant eye-catcher, seen over the single span of the ancient bridge over the river Till, but there is more to the story, and as Barbara Jones wrote, Twizel Castle falls into the ‘foolishness-type folly’ category – a picturesque but purposeless palace.

A 1775 view of the castle as featured in Francis Grose’s ‘The Antiquities of England and Wales’.

In 1761 Francis Blake (1709-1780), later Sir Francis Blake when he was given a baronetcy in 1774, commissioned the local mason James Nisbet (?-1781)  to repair and enlarge the ‘old house’. Nisbet was tasked with ‘preserving the Gothic form and taste’ and the new house must have been largely complete by 1769 when Armstrong’s map of Northumberland shows a house with circular corner towers. A more detailed view was presented in this engraving dated 1775 (above). A year later Twizel Castle (sometimes Twisel) was described as a comfortable seat with ‘the circular corners affording a great command of prospect’.

George Heriot’s 1806 North View of Twizel Castle, Northumberland. Library and Archives Canada, Acc. no. 1989-471-16. Public Domain.

A visiting clergyman had hinted in 1761 that the planned new house was perhaps not quite palatial enough for its fine lofty situation, and it seems that the next generation of the family agreed. Blake’s son, also Francis (c.1737-1818), succeeded as the 2nd baronet in 1780, and began a huge project to surround his father’s house with a vast castellated carapace which grew and grew.

A kitchen garden was created and the whole was surrounded by a Brownian landscape (exact date unknown) embellished with clumps and specimen trees, perimeter belts of planting and a circuit ride which took in views of the rivers Till and Tweed.

The landscape at Twizel in the late 1850s. © The National Archives, MR 1/1976/3.

After the death of the 3rd baronet in 1860 the baronetcy became extinct and the estate was inherited by Captain Francis Blake (1832-1861). After his early death his wife, Eleanor, controlled the estate until the coming of age of their eldest son, Francis Douglas Blake (1856-1940, created a baronet in 1907). After coming of age Blake took the decision to settle on his adjoining Tillmouth estate. Charles Barry junior was called in for advice, and the decision was taken not only to pull down Twizel Castle (which Barry thought ‘ugly’), but also to demolish the mansion at Tillmouth and build a new house.

Twizel Castle c.1870s from ‘Scottish views specially reduced from the original photographs of G.W. Wilson & Co. by Blades, East & Blades, London’. 1887. RCIN 2620144. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2022

The local community was alarmed to hear that Twizel Castle would cease to exist and asked Blake to think again. Eventually he agreed to leave standing ‘the remains of the ancient castle that still stood within the walls of the modern building’. In 1882 the Berwickshire News & General Advertiser reported that ‘the two residences are now being taken down’ and continued that whilst Twizel Castle ‘was never of any practical use to its owners, and was never even completely finished […] its removal will be witnessed with great regret’.

Undated 20th century postcard, courtesy of a private collection.

Blake kept his word, and the ancient walls, complete with the 3rd baronet’s 18th century gothic adornments, were left standing as a prominent feature in the landscape. Nature soon took control and by the time Barbara Jones found it when researching for the 2nd edition of Follies & Grottoes (1974) everything was ‘drowned in encroaching, clambering and piled-up green’ and she could only conclude ‘I think it has round towers’.

Today the vegetation is kept at bay and a rather enticing public footpath allows access up to the ruin…

All photo’s taken in November 2022.

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8 thoughts on “Twizel Castle, Duddo, Northumberland.”

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Ed and apologies for the slow response – I am just back from a week away. Eastnor is indeed a wonderful building, but as you say it doesn’t qualify as a folly as it has remained a family home whereas Twizel grew and grew without every becoming the family’s principal seat, and was then abandoned. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  1. David Freeman says:

    Twizzel Castle is indeed a romantic and magical place, the woodland along the River Till is a delight, especially in Spring. The medieval bridge still survives, though now overshadowed by something more concrete (literally). There is some parking east of the bridge.
    Nearby, the Neolithic stone circle at Duddo is a delight of another kind. It was where I took my partner Nicola on our first date, back in the day. Unfazed by the excursion, she later introduced me to another pile of stones on top of a hill, called Monteath Mausoleum. The rest, as they say, is history.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello David. Yes, it’s a shame that the modern road bridge rather ruins the composition, but it is still a delightful spot. I would like to be there now as the wildflowers appear. Duddo stone circle is wonderful too, although you have even greater reason to find it romantic. And very well done Nicola for introducing you to the Monteath Mausoleum and setting in motion all the fabulous results you and the team have achieved there.

  2. john Sanders says:

    Thank you for this. I have not understood Twizel for many years. It is very good to understand it through your post.

    1. Editor says:

      Good afternoon John. It is a complicated history, so I am pleased I have helped you appreciate the various stages in Twizel’s development. I hope you are able to revisit it before too long.

  3. John Mercer says:

    Do you have any info on the viaduct crossing the river close to its confluence with the Tweed, and the enigmatic To The Station on one of the gateposts? I see one map shows a “proposed railway.” Thanks for the IG post. We visited yesterday afternoon. A real delight. In another week or so the bluebells will be all through the woods.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello John. I’m very envious of your walk. I don’t know much about the railway, but I don’t think it actually followed the route as shown on the map I featured. It is long since closed, but I seem to remember there were some good websites detailing the history. I didn’t see the sign on the gatepost so will look for that when I return. There’s also a later boathouse on the river. Altogether a must fascinating place to explore and I can’t wait to revisit!

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