The Delavals came to England from Lower Maine, following the Norman Conquest. Their history began with William The Conqueror and ended just before the Battle of Waterloo, as the last Delaval died in 1814.
The name Delaval was corrupted from the actual family name spelled as ‘De La Val’. In local folklore, the family came to prominence as an extraordinary group of entrepreneurs and were renowned as a bevy of pranksters, gamblers and theatrical types.
Although they became famous soon after Seaton Delaval Hall was built, the Delaval family were also infamous because of their wild, reckless and eccentric way of life. Amongst their number were two accidental heroes, Sir Francis Blake Delaval and his brother, Lord Delaval and there are many separate tales to be told about each of them with their numerous escapades.
One of the most interesting stories involves Sir Francis Blake Delaval, and relates to the legend of Starlight Castle, the ruins of which sit on a grassy bank above the Seaton Burn next to Holywell Dene. These ruins are now simply a remnant of what must have been one of the eighteenth century’s most ambitious wagers.
Legend has it that Sir Francis had a number of mistresses living on his estate, and in the year 1750, he was soon to expect a lady visitor from London. As he had nowhere to lodge her, the idea struck him to build a castle for her. His actor friend, Samuel Foote laughed at his enthusiasm and reminded him that the residence was required now, and that castles could not be built in a day.
“Oh yes,” said Sir Francis, “I’ll wager you a hundred guineas that I build one in a day before the month is out.”
As it was unthinkable for any eighteenth century gentleman to turn down such a bet, Foote accepted. Sir Francis then gave orders for a castle to be built according to plans he had produced. All the materials had been prepared and made ready in advance, and at midnight on the appointed day, under the cover of starlight, a huge team of builders and workmen began construction. Within 24 hours, not just a house but a castle had been built, thus allowing Sir Francis to win the wager!
Subsequently known as Starlight Castle, it 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.
In 1971, the BBC produced a film entitled ‘Those Delavals’ which told the story of the mad escapades, mischievous pranks, and eccentric behaviour of the two men who were eventually set to ruin the Delaval Estates. The producer, Roger Burgess, subsequently wrote a book based on the film.
by Charlie Steel © 2016
Further reading for many of Charlie’s articles can be found in his books: ‘Monkseaton Village’ (Vol. 1 & 2), ‘North Shields Public Houses, Inns & Taverns’ (Part 1 & 2), ‘Tynemouth Remembered’ and ’Whitley Bay Remembered’ (Part 1) , all published by Summerhill Books.