Origins of Lambton Castle.
The idea of building a grand home for his family was conceived by Major General John Lambton (1710-1794) who was an MP for Durham during the 1760’s, 1770’s and 1780’s. It was decided that this new home would be built on the site of Harraton Hall, a property acquired from the Hedworth family in 1688 and on the north side of the River Wear.
The idea was passed to John Lambton’s son William Lambton (1764-1797) who engaged the Italian architect Joseph Bonomi (1739-1808) to build a new house in neo-classical style which was named Lambton Hall. The original Lambton Hall on the south side of the river was demolished. However, William did not live to see completion as he died of consumption aged only 33.
The Building of Lambton Castle
The property now passed to John George Lambton, who would become the 1st Earl of Durham and known as “Radical Jack” and who inherited when he was just 5 years of age. The work on Lambton Hall now also passed to Joseph Bonomis son Ignatius (1787-1870) who would become to be regarded as the most influential and foremost architect of County Durham. They wanted to give the house a grander look and set about turning Lambton Hall into a castle. Inspiration came from Ravensworth, a magnificent Gothic castle belonging to Sir Thomas Riddell, the architect being John Nash, and Brancepeth Castle near Durham.
Finance for the new hall had been allocated at £22,000 over 5 years and a high proportion due to the substructure required for the immense terrace now supporting the south front. The expense for the further Ignatius additions can be best described by an unkind description of John George Lambton as “King Jog” jogging along on £40,000 a year. Further additions were financed by the estate and colliery improvements.
Romancing the Castle
Ignatius set about romanticising his father’s work. A new entrance lodge and outbuildings, new private apartments, a new exterior and at the east end a wing with flying buttresses which terminated with an octagonal tower based on Guy’s Tower at Warwick castle. A block of public rooms were added to the west end. Lots of ornate Gothic features like turrets, battlements, finials and pinnacles were incorporated, a vast grand hall, seven stone arches constituted the entrance and so Lambton Castle was created. Much of the Lambton wealth was derived from coal mining in County Durham and this would also prove to be part of the undoing of the castle. Substantial parts of Ignatius Bonomi’s work was demolished in the 1860’s due to mining subsidence.
John Dobson carried out rebuilding work by adding a half octagonal bay to the east gallery and a new service wing to the North. These additions meant that the castle was practically doubled in size. Dobson’s son-in-law, Sydney Smirke continued Dobsons work except for the hall which he based on the chapel at Hampton Court. The client found this too much like a church. Subsidence and the cost of running such a huge property proved inhibitive and the castle today is a smaller version of its former self. Complete restoration of the external aspects of the castle in 2008/09 have restored the solid beauty of the biscuit coloured stone. Nobody can fault the superb location of this magical building towering above the River Wear.