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James Radcliffe, third Earl of Derwentwater (1689-1716) was born in London. He was sent  to the exiled court of James II in France in 1702 as a companion to the young Prince James who was a cousin of Radcliffe’s mother. In 1709, five years after the death of his father, James Radcliffe received a license to return to England and visited Dilston for the first time. He was introduced to the local Jacobite gentry and decided to settle permanently and improve the Castle to make a more suitable, modern residence.
On the 6th September 1715 the Earl of Mar rose in Scotland for the Jacobite cause. The government issued arrest warrants for Jacobite conspirators in Northumberland including Radcliffe. On the 6th October Radcliffe, sometimes referred to as the ‘Reluctant Rebel’, left the Hall at the head of between twenty and thirty mounted men and servants to join with the Jacobite army. The Jacobites engaged with the Government army at Preston where they were defeated and James Radcliffe was captured. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London as a Traitor and beheaded on the 24th February 1716. His head and body were interred at Dilston Chapel but his heart was removed and sent to France where it was lost.


There are many ghost stories associated with the castle, several of which are associated with the Radcliffe family.

There are reports over the last century of a man in antique clothing and a periwig staring malevolently out from the first floor windows of the Castle. This is thought to be Francis Radcliffe, James’ grandfather who so successfully restored the family’s fortunes following the Restoration that it was rumoured that he had been in league with the Devil.

Others claim to have encountered the Grey Lady of Dilston on the stairs in the Castle. This revenant is thought to be the ghost of James’ wife, Anna Maria, filled with remorse because she allegedly threw her fan at James’s feet and offered to take his sword and ride to the Jacobite cause in his place, when the ‘Reluctant Rebel’ initially hesitated to join the 1715 rebellion.

Dilston Hall was maintained for a while by Radcliffe’s servants following James’s execution. Several serving girls reported seeing an unnerving character which they called the ‘Raggedy Man’, haunting the woodland immediately surrounding the Hall. This ghost story has been interwoven with the conspiracy theory that the Earl paid an impoverished cousin to take his place on the scaffold.

To the north of the Castle runs the old carriageway to the deer park on the other side of Devil’s Water. Here the sound of horse’s hooves and bridles have been reported, as if a body of horsemen were riding out from the Castle grounds. These reports are nearly always associated with misty evenings.


Dilston Castle stands in the Tyne valley, in North East England, twenty miles west of Newcastle, a ruin hidden amongst trees. All that remains today is a fortified solar tower dating from 1417 and a small chapel which is still in occasional use. The Radcliffe family acquired the castle at the end of the fifteenth century. Over the next three hundred years the family modified and enlarged the castle and in 1616 built the post reformation recusant chapel with its own crypt to serve as a last resting place for the family. By 1715 James Radcliffe changed the Castle’s name to Dilston Hall and had completely enclosed it within the fabric of one of the largest Palladian Halls in the north of England. Radcliffe, however, became involved in the 1715 Jacobite uprising and was captured and his lands were seized by the Crown. By the mid eighteenth century the Hall was reported to be occupied by bandits and thieves who made a nuisance of themselves in the surrounding area. In 1765 it was ordered that ‘the house should be entirely taken down’. The Hall was demolished with dynamite, leaving the original Castle in ruins and the chapel intact.

Horror in the North

In this century, the Friends of Dilston have hosted several ‘ghost nights’ which were great fun and produced varying success. Contact was seemingly made with a jogger who died in 1980, but has been seen jogging across the Lord’s Bridge over Devil’s Water, and right through a locked gate on the other side. Search Google Images for photos of some of these ghost nights.

Dilston Castle is a truly haunted place, rich in history and romantic stories of the losing side.