A Trollopian Mystery

by Peter Blacklock

Unless you go back centuries upon centuries, not everyone named Trollope can be a relative of Anthony Trollope. But, while researching my own family history, I was re-introduced to Robert Trollope, an architect mainly in Northumberland and Durham in the 17th century, whose work included castles, civic buildings and country houses.

His name is well known among architectural admirers in the North but you have to be a real fan to have heard of him, even there.

He was a member of a family of stonemasons, born in York, a city close enough to Lincolnshire, seat of our author’s family, to make a family connection at least possible. He died in 1686 and was buried at St Mary’s Church, Gateshead, Co Durham, in a mausoleum he designed himself, bearing  this jaunty inscription:

Here lies Robert Trollop
Who made yon stones roll up
When death took his soul up
His body filled this hole up

There are two lessons for Trollopians in the inscription – first, the lack of a final”e” in his name and, second, the apparent difference between our modern pronounciation of the word “Trollope”and the 17th century pronounciation rhyming with the folklore troll (“an  ugly cave-dwelling being depicted as either a giant or a dwarf” – Concise Oxford Dictionary)

But the plot thickens. Callaly Castle, nine miles from Alnwick, Northumberland, was the home of the Clavering family and The Claverings is the title of one of our author’s substantial novels. Where did he find the name for his novel of 1866-7, concerning a wealthy landed family like the real life Claverings?

The real Clavering family built their house on a site incorporating a 14th or 15th century pele tower  (the Northumbrian name for a fortified house so useful in the endless border wars). They began in 1619 and called in Trollope in 1676 to make the first major additions. These were more or less concealed by further alterations in 1707.

In these rolling acres, Catholic recusancy flourished and Callaly Castle was no doubt a rallying place for Catholics living nearby to worship in the castle’s own chapel. But that ended when the  last male Clavering died in 1877. His daughter, Lady Augusta Bedingfield, sold the castle the following year and much of the chapel’s content went to a new chapel in nearby Whittingham.

The new castle owners, the Browne family, had the chapel deconstructed and ordered major restoration work in the 1890s. Only 33 years ago, the castle was divided into residential wings.

Robert Trollope’s work includes Eshott Hall, Capheaton Hall, Newcastle Exchange and Guildhall (later remodelled), Christ Church, North Shields, completing Robert Morley’s work, and St Hilda’s Church. South Shields (restoration).