Lumley Castle, in spite of later remodeling is one of the finest examples of a fully developed quadrangular castle with ranges of buildings on all sides. Bolton Castle is the best-known Northern example and Lumley resembles it quite closely. It has the same oblong corner towers, each one a tower house in its own right, and the same attention to defense within the courtyard as well as outside. But whereas Bolton is largely a ruin, Lumley has come down to us intact and is merely disfigured by some eighteenth-century alterations.
The castle stands a mile east of Chester-le-Street on high ground, which suddenly drops to the stream known as Lumley Beck. Ralph, Lord Lumley, obtained permission to crenellate his house here in 1389, the bishop’s permit being reinforced by a royal license three years later. Diagnol buttresses clasp the angles of the towers – a feature rarely found in military architecture, though common enough in other buildings of the period – and a dainty machicolated turret caps each buttress.
The original entrance to the castle is in the middle of the east front, overlooking the stream and with its back to the present approach. It is not a gatehouse exactly, rather a gate passage in the middle of the range. A broad machicolation overhangs the outer arch and the wall above is adorned with a display of six heraldic shields and helms. The shields depict prominent local families such as the Nevilles and Percys in addition to the Lumleys themselves, but pride of place is given to the arms of Richard II. Beneath one of the square turrets flanking the gateway is a tiny prison cell reached only by a trapdoor. In typical Northern fashion the ground floors of the towers and connecting ranges are divided into a series of barrel-vaulted store rooms.
Now a small village on the edge of Dartmoor, Lyndford was a burgh in late Saxon times. Its situation, on a promontory overlooking the River Lyd, has steep falls on all sides except one. A rampart defends the level approach
The first castle of Lyndford was the ring work at the west corner of the promontory, now known as the Norman Fort. It did not stay in use for long and the present Lyndford Castle stands nearby, the parish church occupying the space between them.
At first sight the castle seems to be a motte and bailey earthwork with a square keep on top of the mound. This is an illusion, however, because the keep was built first and earth was piled around its lower part as if to emulate a motte. It is also questionable as to whether we can regard this building as a keep in the normal sense of the word. In 1195 a strong house for prisoners was erected and the ‘keep’ has been identified with it.
There is further complication in that only the ground floor is original, the upper stories being added after a gap in building operations. There is absolutely no refinement in the stonework, resulting in a grim tower, which seems to add weight to the prison theory. By the time the building resumed, a square keep was rather antiquated in any case. Internally, there is nothing to suggest that this tower was not a normal keep, though later alterations have been numerous. Even the cross-wall is a rebuilding.
Notwithstanding the circumstances in which it was built, the castle subsequently did serve mainly as a courthouse and prison. This was inevitable because Lyndford was the administrative center of the Forest of Dartmoor and the local tin mines. These provided important revenue for the Crown.