HERE is the first comprehensive book about Chillingham and the family associated with the unique wild cattle, historic castle and the Church of St Peter.
In a foreword, Prince Charles writes: “The Chillingham cattle are an ancient and pure breed which have remained wild and have never been intermixed with other breeds, making them both scientifically important and of considerable fascination to all who are interested in our natural history and wildlife in general.
“That Chillingham cattle continue to exist in their wild state within the magnificent countryside of Chillingham Park, and yet are available to be seen by visitors, is due primarily to the dedication of their custodians over the years.
“As patron of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust I do hope that readers will enjoy learning more about this wonderful rare breed and continue to support the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association in all of its important work.”
The survival of the wild herd – which lives in parkland first enclosed in the 13th century to provide hunting and recreation for the lord of the manor – intrigued Charles Darwin; and the cattle have been described by historian Simon Schama as “perhaps the greatest icon of British natural history”.
The Grey family acquired the Chillingham estate in 13th century and the castle was built in the mid-14th century. Successive generations of Greys have over the centuries included generals and prime ministers, 18 Knights of the Garter, and eight ‘black sheep’ who were publicly executed.
In 1419 Sir John Grey was created Earl of Tankerville and the castle remained in Tankerville hands until 1982, when it passed to Sir Humphry Wakefield, who had married into the Grey family. Restoration work began in 1986 on what was by then little more than a neglected roofless ruin, and today the medieval core of the castle and its 17th century three-storey grand entrance have been saved for posterity.
The Church of St Peter was founded in the 12th century and contains the surprisingly elaborate 15th century alabaster tomb of Sir Ralph Grey (1406-1443) and his wife Lady Elizabeth Fitzhugh (1410-1445), which is considered to be one of the finest such monuments in the country outside a cathedral.
Further chapters in the book reveal facts about the many ghost sightings at the castle and the visits to Chillingham of two of the greatest portrayers of animals, painter Edwin Landseer and engraver Thomas Bewick.