Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Deserted Ruin Captured the Imagination

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Deserted Ruin Captured the Imagination

Article excerpt

The combination of the sense of great events at Dilston and its setting amid giant redwood trees can capture the visitor.

Just ask Frances Dickinson and Mary Rose Ridley.

Frances fell for Dilston in 1966 at the age of 22, when her family moved to Hexham.

"My father was a great walker and explorer of the countryside and he took me to visit Dilston," says Frances, who now lives in Jesmond in Newcastle.

The 19th Century hall at Dilston had closed as a maternity hospital and the place was boarded up.

Frances says: "It was one of those wonderful summer's evenings with long shadows. The site was deserted and the grass grew high against the castle, which was such a stunning ruin."

Around the same time Frances's mother gave her a novel, Devil Water by the American writer Anya Seton, which was based on the experiences of the Radcliffes and their fateful involvement in the Jacobite movement.

Frances says: "I became intrigued and absorbed by the whole story. I couldn't understand how this place, which had this wonderful history, was so neglected."

At that time she worked for Oriel Press in Newcastle and was an amateur photographer. She put pictures and words together to create a booklet called The Castle on Devil's Water.

Marriage and a family intervened. Then in 1992 she took a friend to see the Dilston site.

"I thought, `here I am after all these years and this tremendous ruin is still crumbling and nobody has done anything about it'." So she decided she would, and updated her booklet.

"I had this compelling feeling that this place had to be respected and restored, and take its place in Northumbrian history."

The charity Mencap, which supports people with learning disabilities, now operated its college from the 19th Century hall and joined Frances in staging a public exhibition at Dilston over two weekends. "We had an amazing response. Local people turned up with bits and pieces of Jacobite stories," says Frances, who formed an alliance with people like Mary Rose Ridley and retired chief planner John Lodge, from Corbridge.

A grant was won from English Heritage to stabilise the castle and restore the chapel. …

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