In the County of Northumberland in the eighteenth century, there came to prominence an extraordinary family of eccentrics and entrepreneurs: The Delaval’s of Delaval Hall. The family’s history began with William The Conqueror and ended just shy of the Battle of Waterloo when the last remaining Delaval died in 1814.
Amongst their number was an accidental hero, industrial entrepreneurs and of course a bevvy of pranksters, gamblers, theatrical types – the famous or infamous Gay Delaval’s of local lore.
Deep in the heart of Holywell Dene, not far from Delaval Hall, and situated on the hillside north of Seaton Burn, lies the remnant of what must be one of the eighteenth century’s most ambitious wagers: Starlight Castle which was built in 1750.
Legend has it that Sir Francis Delaval (1727 -1771) was planning to entertain a lady friend from out of the county. Samuel Foote laid a wager: that he could not build a house for her to live in just a day. It would have been unthinkable for any eighteenth century gentleman to turn down such a wager so Sir Francis set about planning the project and obtaining a team of builders. Under the cover of starlight the builders began, finishing not just a house but a castle the following day. Naturally Sir Francis won the bet – and perhaps he won the lady too…
The castle was lived in well into the nineteenth century, but now its lonely ruins remain hidden amongst overgrown woods and a tangle of brambles and briars.
Green, Martin: “The Delavals A Family History”; Powdene 2010
Domesday Reloaded: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/domesday/dblock/GB-432000-576000/page/20
Postcard of Starlight Castle: http://www.seatondelavalhall.seatondelaval.org.uk/outside/assetts/info/starlight-castle-info.html