A further installment of 18th century history

With the excavation season behind us and the post-excavation work only just beginning perhaps now is a good time to dip back into Carol’s tales of 18th century life at Bamburgh.


Bamburgh “Ghosts”-Tales from the Eighteenth Century-


The Shocking Tale of Patience Burrow (and a Plague of Mad Dogs…)



Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of working as a volunteer at Woodhorn County Archive, on the Lord Crewe papers. These are a fabulous collection reflecting life in the 18C in Bamburgh, and in the Castle; I would like to share some of the stories I have found with you. The story I am about to recount is the most shocking I uncovered in all the many wonderful vivid tales/accounts/characters that emerge from the Lord Crewe papers describing 18C Bamburgh. There are many which disturb-many, sadly almost everyday accounts of drowned sailors washed ashore; a young brother and sister drowned in the Bowl Hole; the threat of famine due to soaring corn prices, Masters and Navy officers lost at sea. But this is in a class of its own….



Let me set the scene. Lord Crew of Steen, a Prince Bishop of Durham, had married Dorothy Forster of Bamburgh (a love match within the family to whom James 1 had given ruined Bamburgh Castle in 1610) himself died in 1721. In his Will, of which several copies remain in the Woodhorn Archive, he left the bulk of his fortune (he and Dorothy having no children, and she having pre-deceased him in 1714 of apoplexy on hearing of the capture of her nephew Tom Forster by Government troops after the 1714 Northern Rebellion) with clear direction for its use. Under the oversight of 5 Trustees drawn from 5 ecclesiastical institutions, his fortune was left to restore the ruined Castle at Bamburgh, (of which only the Keep survived as habitable following the massive siege of 1464 during the Wars of the Roses) and used for the establishment of good works/charities. The second generation of Trustees included Dr John Sharp, Vicar of Hartburn and an active member of Durham Diocese, who became the best known and inspired Trustee who worked to his death in 1791 to carry out Lord Crew’s Will. This included the establishment of an Infirmary and Dispensary at Bamburgh Castle, with established links to the Infirmary at Newcastle. The appointment of a Doctor/Surgeon who attended the Castle to treat local patients every Saturday was an important part of the charitable work, and Woodhorn Archive holds Account books detailing the equipment used and the numbers of patients treated. During the mid 1780’s the Doctor was one Mr. A Cockagne….



A note written in 1787 in Dr Sharp’s own hand gives the bald facts-


Patience Burrow aged 16 last month born in wedlock at Butlers Marston in Warwickshire her father a sailor lost at sea, both parents dead. 14 years old at the time after her mothers death; went to place at 13 years old at Henley Arden, staid one year went immediately to a second place at Harlsley staid there one year and half one day in going to market was met by a sailor, and finding she had lost her health left her place and went from one town to another, sold her clothes as long as she had any, was induced to come North as she had an Uncle a Farmer that lived near Edinburgh but she did not know whether he was dead or alive-Has an Uncle at Bedworth in Warwickshire who keeps one or two cows+ is a little Farmer; he has a son and daughter”




On January 13 1787- please note the date, and imagine the weather conditions- Dr Cockagne wrote in flowing elegant copperplate writing to Dr Sharp, who was clearly away from the Castle (at Hartburn or Durham presumably)-



I had not the pleasure to see you after the Commission you gave me Concerning that poor Object [DN-note choice of word] at Glororum- I saw her the morning you went away and removed her to the Castle the same Afternoon. She is a young creature about 16 and by her own Account an inhabitant of Warwickshire. She was travelling to Edinburgh to find an Uncle who lived thereabout but whether from disease or other Circumstance I will not Determine she had been six months upon the way had sold all her cloathes and if Mr. Watsons man had not Accidently found her would have perished in a very few hours from cold hunger and disease. I do not know if I have Exceeded the commission you was so good as to Entreat me with but I can assure you I have expended as little as was possible upon such an occasion. She was literally Naked and upon Examination the Venereal Disease in the Most Shocking Manner The Labia Pudenda in a state of Mortification- The Itch to a Great Degree- A Violent Cough- and in short such a Complication of Diseases that I waited Almost till this time till I could before I could Positively say she was in a way of Recovery- At present I think she will do well. The Cloathes that has been bought for her are as follows- 2 Shifts-A Flannel Bed Gown+ Petticoat-2 Prs stockings and one pair of shoes- I am hoping 3 or 4 weeks more will enable me to Discharge her cured- when if there is anything we have left undone that occurs to yourself you will be so obliging to direct me in your Next favour which [I] hope will be soon- as I am anxious to know how all your family at Durham preserve their health- and in what state your good Brother Wll.m Sharp is- Mrs. Cockagne joins me in wishing happy Returns of the Season to yourself and Family


I am very sorry to Inform you that poor W.m NewBiggin has been Bitt by a Mad Dog at Belford which also Bitt many People + Some Cattle it belonged to Mr. Greenwood the Excise man whose 2 children are among the number bitten- W.m NewBiggin has had 2 of the Ormskirk Medicine which with others has Run Quite out We have five left for Brutes and one for Human Species I did not know in what manner to procure them or should not have Troubled you who I know at this time have more on your mind than you Can well Execute-….


We are all thank God Enjoy Good Health the weather Particularly Mild and has been so some time. I beg my best Respects top Dr Dickens+ Lady and Dr Rotheram [DN Lord Crew Trustees] and am Dear Sir…..





On February 14th Mr. Cockagne wrote again to Dr Sharp-



Your favour of the 10th I had the honour to receive last Post and according to your Desire have wrote to Acquaint Dr Rotheram that Your Patients had been Accommodated since the 16th of last April- which is the number I find numbered in the Books here-the Girl mentioned in Yours is very near Perfectly Cure of all Diseases-A [DN-Pifling?]Remains of the Itch being the only One left. I talked to her yesterday about her departure-but she seems unfixed in what way she is to Act- her Uncle she supposed living near Edinburgh she has heard nothing of these 12 years- and whether alive or dead equally unknown to her- she wishes if possible to have got into Service hereabouts or be moving into Warwickshire- if the latter she may come by Durham + may if it meets with your Approbation thank the Trustees in person for the many Benefits she has received at their hands- to whom next to Almighty God she is indebted for everything-she seems to be a Poor Ignorant Foolish Girl-and I much fear that without some Provision falls out for her [Sistice?] will not long stand the Assaults of Poverty but she will return to her old Paths. I think she may stay here till I have the Honour of your Answer as her strength is not yet sufficiently Established for travelling.


The Neighbourhood has been unfortunate in having many People Bit by Mad Dogs- the Medicines you were so good as to send me by Moffett were not eh Osmekirk Medicine at least they had not the Superscription or Direction as usual- and wanted the Powder always enclosed in the former ones for applying to the wounded part- the People in this part of the country having been for a course of years used to the Medicines being put up in another form-have been a Little Dissatisfied with this-but I have not heard + hope will not of any person being Ill since taking them……


All the Mad Dog Medicines are nearly expended booth for the Human and Brute Creation- if you procure them soon and have them forwarded to Mr. Doughty he has a small order to forward and they may conveniently come with them- I hope Mr. Bowlt keeps clear of the Sore Throat as this weather is a little unfavourable- Mr. Wood is at Bath…I hear is perfectly recovered by the use of the Waters…- I have the pleasure to acquaint you Mrs. Cockagne has had a better Winter than Usual owing principally to the mildness. I fear the length of my letter is become troublesome and takes up a time always better employed but believe one when I add I am Sir, your Most Respectful Obliged Humble Servant….




I cannot be sure what happened to Patience Burrows. However, in May of the same year, in a letter written by George Hall to Dr Sharp in May, he mentions-



“I am sorry I had sent my letter of the 12th away before I recd yours- I am very much obliged to the trustees favouring me with that piece ground at Sunderland- I have this day set Robinson and Mather to set the fireplace in the school and to do what other jobs are neadfull. I hope the school will be ready for the scholars by the end of this week-Mr Maughan has fixed apon the middle chimney to his grate set up in- that girl at peters was hired at Wooler fair for 23 sh for a half year she gose to a plase near ford I gave Mr Maugham your letter- yesterday we had 27 guns firedall of the two pounder- all our work is going very well on


I am etc





Let us hope that it was Patience who was able to enjoy a peaceful existence in rural Ford after her shocking experiences. It is all too easy from a 21st Century perspective to feel appalled that a 14 year old girl, just orphaned, should be left so unsupported and friendless that she was reduced to attempt such a journey alone to try to reach Edinburgh. That she was seduced and molested en route, and reduced to absolute penury, is difficult to take in but one suspects not an isolated instance. The Lord Crew Trustees were enlightened and benevolent way in advance of their time, and deserve all credit for their compassion and support of Patience-even if their Surgeon at the Castle comments on the “Poor Foolish Girl”, expected to transgress to her fallen ways once she left the Castle


With grateful thanks to Woodhorn Archive



Carol Griffiths






3 thoughts on “A further installment of 18th century history

  1. Hi!
    Do you know anything of the Oliver Family at Bamburgh- Newsteads, to be exact. I am directly related to Alice Oliver who married William Dixon of Alnham and then I descend from their son, John born 1729.
    So, the Olivers must have been there in the late 1600s…
    Just wondering…!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s