The Derwentwater Estates and Greenwich Hospital
When John Radcliffe, Titular 4th Earl of Derwentwater, died in 1731, at the age of nineteen, the Derwentwater Estates were confiscated by the Government and, in 1735, bestowed upon Greenwich Hospital – a charitable institution for seafaring men. In 1833 John Grey, a Northumbrian landowner and progressive agriculturalist, was appointed as Receiver and Agent for the Northern Estates of Greenwich Hospital, and a new house was built for him at Dilston (This house is now Dilston College). John Grey occupied his post with great distinction, becoming known as ‘a leading name in English agriculture.’ During the forty years that John Grey and his family spent at Dilston, ‘not only visitors but the public generally were allowed to roam at pleasure over the charming grounds’, which had been beautifully laid out with new walks, lawns and shrubs.
In 1865 the Greenwich Hospital Estates were transferred to the Lords of the Admiralty, who, some years later, started selling them off to private owners. On 12 October 1874, the Dilston property was purchased by Mr W. B. Beaumont (afterwards 1st Lord Allendale). At the time of the sale, a number of coffins were removed from Dilston Chapel. The coffin bearing the remains of James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, was taken to Thorndon Hall in Essex and re-interred in the Mortuary Chapel of Lord Petre – a direct descendant of the Earl through his daughter Anne. The other Radcliffe Family coffins, including those of the 1st and 2nd Earls of Derwentwater, were re-interred at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Hexham. Dilston Chapel subsequently ceased to be used for worship and fell into disrepair. It was restored and rededicated for worship in 1949, when the house belonging to the Allendale Family was in use as a Maternity Home. The Dilston property was taken over by MENCAP, the present owners, in 1970.
“The Rose of Dilston” was how George Butler described his beautiful bride Josephine Butler (1828-1906)
Josephine Butler, who is celebrated as one of the passionate social reformers of the Victorian era, grew up at Dilston in the new house built for her father John Grey. In her biography John Grey of Dilston she describes her father’s work as Agent for the Derwentwater Estates and recalls numerous happy childhood memories of life at Dilston. The house, which overlooked the castle, was always full of family, friends and many foreign visitors interested in the agricultural reforms of John Grey. “It was,” wrote Josephine, “a house the door of which stood wide open, as if to welcome all comers, throughout the livelong summer day”. Josephine especially loved “the wild informal beauty round its doors”. It was a place where “one could glide out of a lower window and be hidden for a moment, plunging straight among wild wood paths and beds of ferns, or find oneself quickly in some cool concealment, beneath slender birch trees or by the bed of a mountain stream”.