History of Allen Banks and Staward Gorge

Trees at Allen Banks in summer

Step back in time on a visit to Allen Banks and discover the history and stories of those who once lived here

Taking a step back in time

The northern end of the Allen Banks estate was largely created by Victorian wonder woman Susan Davidson over 30 years as a ‘wilderness garden’. The southern, wilder end of the site at Staward Gorge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is where you will find the ancient Staward Pele Tower.


  • The largest area of ancient semi-natural woodland in Northumberland
  • Ancient monuments
  • The Summer house
  • The River Allen
  • Towering crags that help create an experience of wilderness and escape from urban living
  • Beautiful wildlife
  • Wonderful woodland

Where it all began...

The Ridley Family

By 1567 the Ridley family of Willimoteswick Castle owned the original Hall, the manor house of the district. After a fire in the hall in the middle of the 18th-century it was rebuilt and passed into the possession of the Lowes family of Allensgreen nearby.

The Lowes family

In 1812 three members of the Lowes family died, leaving Ridley Hall to daughter, Mary Ann Lowes. In 1818 she sold the estate to Thomas Bates of Halton Castle for £12,000. He greatly improved it and sold it for £16,300 to the Revered N.J. Hollingsworth, who lived at the hall until 1830.

John and Susan Davidson

Not long after, Mr John Davidson of Otterburn, bought the estate for his wife, Susan Hussey Elizabeth Jessup, granddaughter of the 9th Earl of Strathmore – beginning a connection with the famous Bowes-Lyon family. Susan was the first Lady of Ridley known to take an interest in the gardens.

Wonder woman Susan

Susan laid out 65 flower beds in the formal gardens and organised the system of paths, rustic bridges and summerhouses, not to mention the work in the woods by the River Allen, managing and developing the estate for the next 35 years.
Susan Davidson died childless and left the property to her cousin John Bowes, the illegitimate son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore.

Francis Bowes Lyon

In 1891 the house was rebuilt to its present form and in 1942 Francis Bowes Lyon gave the estate to the National Trust. Now, the team do their best to help maintain all the hard work Susan did to allow visitors to enjoy every little part of Allen Banks and Staward Gorge.