A little more of 18th Century Bamburgh

A further installment of Carol’s archive research, with thanks to the Woodhorn Archive:

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.

If you have read any of my previous Stories, you will know that they are all drawn from a unique collection of Letters written to Dr John Sharp, part of the Lord Crew papers held on deposit at Woodhorn Archive, but still owned by the current Lord Crew Trustees. Dr John Sharp was the most important of the “second generation” of Trustees established under the Will of Lord Crew, who died in 1721, to oversight the terms of his Will. Luckily for us, Dr Sharp appears never to have thrown away any correspondence he received as a Trustee-and his correspondents are remarkable for covering the entire strata of society from the Duke of Northumberland to the lowliest poverty struck supplicant. Included in this rich Archive are several accounts in Dr Sharp’s own writing of the Closes in Bamburgh. To our modern mind, a “Close” would imply a road, possibly a cul-de-sac of dwellings, but in the mid 1700s it is clear these were fields used mainly for grass or for growing barley, oats or pease. Just after Dr Sharp’s death in 1791, in December 1794, a set of Valuation Maps were prepared for the Trustees, covering not only Bamburgh, but Sunderland, Shorston, Beadnell, and Fleetham.


Dr Sharp

Dr Sharp


These give a fascinating glimpse of the layout of the estate of the Lords of the Manor of Bamburgh (the Trustees). I want to focus on that of Bamburgh (NRO 452/D/7/1/1) which provides not only a comprehensive map with all the Closes named, but in an adjacent column, the name of the Trustees’ Tenant leasing each Close, and the rental derived from it, together with the use to which the Close was put. From this list we learn that there were 2 most important tenants –Henry Grey leasing Townhead Farm and William Humble, Tenant of The Friars. In addition, Thomas Wood leased Eastside Farm, and Rev Andrew Bowlt, Curate at St Aiden’s, leased Town Crofts-which included houses and gardens. Other people employed by the Trustees benefited- Dr Cockagne, Surgeon at the Infirmary rented Helpits Closes; George Hall, Foreman and Constable at the Castle rented New Closes. Each Close in each Tenancy is listed; Greenhill rented by Mjr Robsons included Longcrofts, West Field, North Close, Calf Closes, Home Field, West links, Island and Bag[?] and Road Links. It would be interesting to know from Francis Watson-Armstrong if the fields are still known by these names! I am only sorry I cannot reproduce the entire map here-which also shows an image of the town quarry, sited in the middle of what we now know as The Grove, and from which Castle labourers toiled to “win” and “dress” stones for use in the restoration work carried out at the Castle under Dr Sharp’s direction.

However before the Valuation Maps produced after Dr Sharps death, in an undated list (NRO 452/C/3/2/6/27) found in the Bundle of Letters most of which are dated 1774, Dr Sharp lists the Closes from which the Trustees received (annual?) rental-
Stone Closes-£9:2:14 DoveCoat Close £3:3:27 Well Close £2:0:24
NewClose-£23:0:0 Horse Close- £23:0:15 Castle Green £12:0:36
Ewarts Close£0:2:19 Mariners Close£1:2:37 Pepper Close £1:3:16

Do you recognize any of the names? One or two still exist!

An additional sheet in a different hand, headed Bambro Rentall lists the same place names but with somewhat increased Rentals (suggesting a later date?), but includes-
Mr. Greys Farm (DN Townhead Farm) – £204:3:0 Mr. Moneypenny (DN a frequent correspondent of Dr Sharp’s possibly renting the Manor House?) £22:16:0
Mr. Robson £66:10:0 The Rocks £30:0:0 Rabbits £5:0:0

Where were these Closes? The Valuation Map of 1794 provides the answers-

Well Close, Stone Close and Dove Close were all behind the cottages in what is now Front Street (the Lord Crew Arms side); Dove Close included the medieval Dovecot we still see (and presumably the old pump adjacent to it). Behind these closes lay New Close; behind that Upper and Lower Horse Closes and behind these, DrawKiln Quarter. The boundaries of these Closes abut what would in future become the Links Road adjacent to what we now know as Armstrong Cottages
Rather confusingly to us, Dovecoat Close was a large area of land bordered by what are now Lucker and Ingram Roads. The delightfully named Washing Dike-part of the Friars Farm lay behind Kiln Close, site of the Kiln Well, most important Well in the Village, mentioned frequently in the first Court Book of the Courts of the Lords of the Manor of Bamburgh –

Several orders have been made at this Court for the cleaning and repair of the Kiln Well (situated in the Town of Balmbrough), by the respective inhabitants or Householders of the Town, which orders have not been carried out. Rules are laid down for a regular annual inspection and cleaning to be carried out by the time of the Feast of St. John the Baptist under a penalty of three shillings and four pence for any one who did not play their part.
NRO 00452/D/2/1/1 October 1699

We present Ralph Younghusband for allowing his sow to trespass in the Kiln Close, fined 3d.
Also Ruth Foster for the like offence with her swine twice, 6d.
We present Ruth Forster for [XXX] clothes after washed and otherwise abusing the Kilnwell in Balmbrough at the very mouth of the Well contrary to several former orders made at former Courts held for this charge, fined 3s-4d.
Apon the oath of Ruth Forster we present Nicholas Lowins for suffering his geese to wash in and corrupt the Kiln Well, fined 3s-4d
NRO 00452/D/2/1/4 October 1705
We must presume that there was a stream at Washing Dike just a little further from the Well where it was intended clothes and animals could be washed and watered.

Most of us knowing Bamburgh are familiar with Friars Farm (formerly Fryors or Fryers,) site of the medieval Dominican Friary, of which a sole fragment of masonry remains. But Friars Corner and Friars Close were sited on the other side of the Belford road; Friars Corner was leased by the Rev Michael Maughan, Vicar of St Aiden’s church, and the site where The Glebe would later be built as Rectory; Rev Maughan resided in an apartment in the Castle. The fields or Closes called Rabbithills, Mill Hill, + Calf Close need no interpretation.

However, I cannot resist sharing with you a place name that gives me shivers because it could be a distant echo from the very distant past. The first field that lay next to Washing Dike, and possibly where the present Friars Farm buildings lie, was called Potters Field, which might seem to have a fairly obvious derivation. But The History of Northumberland Edward Bateson 1893 Vol 1-Bamburgh pages 24+ 61 refer to an ancient fragment in the history of the Castle-
“From the time of the Norman Conquest the office of Porter of the Castle gate of Bamburgh was hereditary in the family of a certain Canute” p24
“The East and West Wards are divided by a cross wall…from the Clock Tower to the Gateway between the two Wards, which was probably that known as the Smith Gate…from the time of Henry 1 a family of smiths held half a carucate of land ..in Bamburgh..for making the iron work for the castle carts. The porter of Bamburgh was by his tenure obliged to provide a watchman on the Smith Gate every night both in peace and war p61”. Could, over the centuries, the name of Porters Field have been corrupted to Potters Field; could this land have been held by the smiths or porters of the Norman Castle, thus a shadowy echo back to the earliest days of the Norman Castle?

Carol Griffiths

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