Typical of 20th century decline. A once great mansion that fell on hard times. The fall and rise of a country house
It’s taking a surprisingly long time to shift The Castle at Castle Eden. Offers are wanted in the region of £2.5 million, a reduction of nearly £500,000 since being advertised in 2017. This Grade II listed mansion was built about 1765 by William Newton for Rowland Burdon III, a merchant banker. It was embellished with gothic detail by architect Sir John Soane about 1780 and there were later additions, including a prefabricated concrete palm-house on the west front, by F.R. Hicks in 1863.
The Burdon family go back a long way. They lived at Stockton-on-Tees from the reign of Edward IV, and one of them, Robert Burdon, was Mayor of Stockton in 1495, and the first Rowland Burdon was Mayor of Stockton-on-Tees nine times. It was in 1758 that his great-grandson Roland Burdon III bought the dilapidated Castle Eden estate from William Throckmorton Bromley and became the family seat for nearly 200 years. According to Historic England the estate was in poor condition and unenclosed, the chapel was in ruins and the house had gone. He set about enclosing the land, in 1764 re-erected the church and a year later built the house we know today. It has three storeys and a seven-bay entrance front. The central three bays are canted and the whole property carries a castellated parapet.
No expense was spared constructing the country house. Burdon bought nearby Horden Hall, simply to cannibalise it for its staircase and its Jacobean fireplace, while its parkland was carefully planned to hide distant views of the flourishing Shotton Colliery. Within this hidden idyll the family remained until the 20th century despite almost losing it through some poor financial investments along the way.
It might have been paradise for the Burdons, but J.B. Priestley wasn’t enamoured when he visited the area in 1933: “I stared at the monster [the Shotton tip], my head tilted back, and thought of all the fine things that had been conjured out of it in its time, the country houses and townhouses, the drawing-rooms and dining rooms, the carriages and pairs, the trips to Paris, the silks and the jewels, the peaches and iced puddings, the cigars and old brandies; I thought I saw them all tumbling and streaming out, hurrying away from Shotton – oh, a long way from Shotton – as fast as they could go.”
When Colonel Rowland Burdon died in 1944 the family’s fortunes, like the surrounding area, had diminished and were to be found living in more modest houses in Yorkshire and New Zealand. In 1947, arrangements were made for the National Coal Board to move into The Castle, as headquarters No 3 for the area, and remained for twenty years. “It is a charmed spot concealed from the scarred industrial landscape which surrounds it”.
As might have been expected the occupants didn’t care too much for their new surroundings. One commentator described the house as being ‘savagely raped and institutionalised – the staircase was torn out and consigned to a nearby museum while six-inch holes were hammered through the cornicing to fit central heating pipes’.
When the NCB moved out in 1967, The Castle was left to stand derelict and probably fortunate to survive the demolition men. It was sold in 1979 to a private owner, who carried out some work to halt the decay, but remained unoccupied. By 1983, it was on the market again and proved to be a stubborn property to sell. Described as being ‘a poisoned chalice’ for each local estate agency chosen, in turn, to sell it, it wasn’t until 1999 that the mansion found a buyer.
Sue Gillman came to visit her father’s grave in the adjoining churchyard: “The first I knew about it was when we approached the churchyard and saw a big sign saying, ‘Castle for sale’.” Having persuaded a security guard to show him round, her husband Tony discovered a scene of despair. “The house was full of dogs’ poo,” he says. “It was a warm summer’s day outside, but inside it was cold. The building was boarded up and had been heavily institutionalised and the gardens were completely overgrown. The unusual, pyramidal cupola above the central atrium turned out on closer inspection to be an aluminium greenhouse hastily erected in a vain attempt to keep out the rain. In fact, water had been pouring through the roof, down three storeys on to the floor of the hall. The asking price was £500,000, around which, hardly surprisingly, some negotiation was permitted.”
Within two years a large part of the house had been restored although the older part still required restoration and remained empty. However, the value of The Castle had already soared to £1.3 million.
The past few years have been kind to The Castle. Refurbishment continues although the size of the property is deemed too big for its owners. Once again it is a showcase on the property market. According to estate agents Urban Base, The Castle comprises; Orangery, Grand Reception Hall, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Sitting Room, Games Room, Breakfast Kitchen, Cloakroom. Nine superior bedrooms comfortably accommodating up to eighteen at any one time, luxury bathroom suites. Externally there is approximately 14 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens and mature woodland, along with ample parking for up to eight vehicles. A golf course occupies the former parkland.