Bamburgh “Ghosts”-Tales from the Eighteenth Century- Things Spiritual in Bamburgh-

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 mid and late 18C in Bamburgh, and in the Castle; I would like to share some of the stories I have found with you.

In the Bundle of letters preserved at Woodhorn Archive, dated for the year 1782 (NRO452/C//3/2/12) is a lengthy undated document in Dr John Sharp’s own hand. Dr Sharp was the most important in the many generations of Trustees established under the Will of Lord Crewe, who died in 1721, to oversight the restoration of Bamburgh Castle (still mainly in ruins following the siege of 1464 in the Wars of the Roses), and the establishment of charitable work there. He succeeded his father as Trustee in 1758 and devoted many months each year to residing at the Castle, directing and overseeing the work. However, Dr Sharp was also Archdeacon of Durham Diocese and Vicar at Hartburn so his time was divided between Bamburgh, Durham and Hartburn. In the document, Dr Sharp lists questions and his answers to a series of queries that almost certainly would have preceded a Bishop’s Visitation, and in leaving this record, sheds an illuminating light on the state of the church, the population, and his own responsibilities and movements, at that time-

St Aidan's Church

St Aidan’s Church

Answers to Queries Bamb.-

To the Minister at Bamburgh-

1.What number of families have you in your Parish? Of these how many are Protestant Dissenters; and of what sort of Denomination? Have they any Meeting Houses in your Parish, and are they duely licensed?

A The number of Families exclusive of the 2 chapelries is about 400,[ as appears by the Easter Book-deleted through), of Protestant Dissenters about 140 families, all Presbyterians. There is one Meeting House of Presbyterians at Warenford in this Parish, but not licensed

2.Are there any of the People called Methodists and do they assemble in any licensed place?

A There are some Methodists in the Village of Sunderland in this Parish who occasionally assemble in a Barn

3. Are there any reputed Papists, and how many? Has their number increased of late?

A There are abt 17 in the year 1780 reputed Papists. Their number decreased of late years. I know of none at present

4. Have you any and what Chapels in your Parish? How are they endowed? By whom and at what times are they served?

A There are 2 Chapels in my Parish, Beadnell and Lucker both of them augmented and severed from the Mother Church. Beadnell is endowed with tow Lots and one augmentation by Benefaction (for which a purchase has been made) and also with the Herbage of the Chapel Yard and surplice Fees. Lucker is endowed with one Lot, two Benefactions and the Chapel Yard and Surplice Fees. It is served with Prayers and Sermon on a general way on every Sunday in the afternoon except thrice a year on Sacrament Days on which there is a service in the morning by Samuel Hall Curate. The Chapel of Belford formerly belonged to this Parish.

5. Do you reside constantly in your cure, and in the House belonging to it? If not, where, and at what distance? What is the cause of your non- residence? Do you serve any Church beside your own, and how often? What is the name of the church, and at what distance?

A I reside about six months of the year upon my cure(except when occasionally absent) and in apartments at Bamburgh Castle that were fitted up at the joint expense of Lord Crewe’s Trustees and my late brother Thomas Sharp for the use of the Minister at Bamburgh- his successors, there being no House belonging to the Living. I reside abt. 3 months in my vicarage House at Hartburn which is distant from Bamburgh abt. 37 measured miles+ take care to preach or expound in my Parish of Hartburn at least 14 times in every year one with another. I reside in my Prependal House at Durham about 3 months in every year more or less, which is distant from Bamburgh abt. 64 miles. I have been absent from one or other of my Preferments (excepting Visitations) not 9 days in a year, at an average for the last 3 years. But on average for the last 7 years rather less.

6. Have you a resident Curate? If not where, and at what Distance does he live? Is he duely licensed? What is his name? Does he serve any other, and what church, and how often? What salary do you allow him?

A I have a curate whom I found here when I entered apon this Living who resides in a House on a freehold Estate belonging to the Parish. Distance about one mile + half from the Church. He is duly licenced; his name is Henry Elliott. He is half the Perpetual Curacy of the Augmented chapel of Beadnell in this Parish, which he serves in a general way on every Sunday in the afternoon, except twice a year on sacrament Days, on which there is service in the morning. I allow him a salary of £30 per annum besides what I pay him for collecting Easter Reckonings. He employs a Resident Subcurate who lives in the Castle. He is not licenced + only in deacons Orders. His name is Michael Maugham, he assists in reading Prayers on Holy Days, in visiting the sick+ other occasional duty. He is of great use to the neighbouring Clergy in supplying their churches when they are sick or occasionally absent, and would be still more useful if in full orders. He has a certain salary of above £34 a year as Headmaster and Librarian at the Castle, besides other advantages, of private scholars, and £6 per year from Mr Elliott for Parochial Duty+ about £1 more in Fees.

I have also another Curate, who lives constantly in my Family; he was ordained as an Assistant Curate to this Living, but not licenced to it; his name is Andrew Boult. He is perpetual Curate of the Augmented Chapels of Tweedmouth + Ancroft which he serves alternately on Sundays about 6 months in the year. I allow him a salary of £25 a year + his board.

7. How often and at what Hours is Divine Service performed, Prayers read, sermons preached and the Sacrament of the Lords supper administered?

A Divine Service is performed on every Sunday in the year + on Christmas Day, Good Friday. The service begins at about a quarter after ten. Prayers are read on every Holy Day, Ash Wednesday and every day in Passion Week, + begin at abt, half past eleven. The Sacrament of Lords Supper is administered on the Three Great Festivals Good Friday and also on the First Sunday in every month throughout the year

8. How often, and at what Times are the children of your Parish Catechized?

A The Children of my Parish are either catechized or instructed by expositions on the Catechism generally on every Sunday in the afternoon during the six months that I reside in my Cure; in the Boys School at the Castle, where Divine Service is regularly performed and begins at abt. 4 o’clock. Several of the Inhabitants of the Town and neighbourhood attend; when the Castle Chapel which is now building shall be finished, it is intended that Divine service shall be performed there on Sundays in the afternoon and early prayers on the week days and also that it shall be so endowed so far as to be made [?] for an augmentation

9. Is there any subscription or other Charity School in your Parish? Is there any Sunday School;, and if there be how many children of both sexes attend it?

A There is no Subscription School or Sunday School in my parish. There are two Charity Schools in the Castle, one for Boys the other for Girls, carried on at the expense of the Lord Crewe Trustees. 60 Boys and 60 Girls are taught at the charity. There are about 14 more at present who are paid for by their parents. The children are enjoined to attend church on Sundays and the Holidays.

10. What is the nearest Post Town to this your Benefice

A Belford which is distant between 5+6 miles

11. Is there any other matter relating to your Parish which it may be proper to give me information and what is it?

A I do not recollect any other matter relating to my Parish with which I need trouble your Lordship at present

Earlier stories in this series related the break in at the church of St Aiden’s, when Rev Elliott wrote in great distress “the church had been Broke into last night, and both the surplices, and three bottles of wine taken out of the Vestry”(NRO452/C/3/2/6/10), and also the radical advanced offer of free (smallpox) inoculation to the poor “ …to Inoculate those who have Chuse to Accept of Your Kind Offer..I took the Liberty of the Offer of Innoculation Gratis to all the poor of Bambro and the Neighbourhood made publick at the Church Door on Sunday last…”(NRO452/C/3/2/15/77)

Two other letters give a fascinating insight into parishes immediately outside Bamburgh.

On November 18 1786, the Mayor of Berwick wrote to Dr Sharp-

“…we are induced to solicit your Countenance to a scheme for erecting a spire to our church by subscription. The very great Oddity of a church without a steeple has been so long felt by the inhabitants of this place that a genteel sum was immediately subscribed to remove the singularity. But the building will require a much greater sum to compleat…and are under the necessity of making our needs known to the Dean and Chapter of Durham…”


In response, Dr Samuel Dickens, one of the Lord Crewe Trustees, wrote to Dr Sharp on Dec 7th to confirm-

The Dean and Chapter will give £20 towards erecting a Spire upon the Church in Berwick”

As we know, the Spire was never erected; Berwick Parish Church is still famously Spire-less, thanks to the edict of Oliver Cromwell. What happened to the “Spire Subscription Fund,” one wonders….?!

Finally-another fascinating glimpse. Most of us living in the Bamburgh area, will know of the ruined church of Tuggal, erected after Monks, fleeing Viking raids on Durham, carried St Cuthbert’s body back to Lindisfarne (where it was re-interred for a brief period, before being taken back to Durham for its final resting place). Today, there is one small fragment only remaining of the church; you have to know where to look to find it. Even when the famous 18C artist Samuel Grimm was sketching Northumbrian Castle and Churches in the late 1700s, Tuggal Church (which he sketched) was much more intact, but still ruined (see Grimm’s sketches of Northumberland, including Bamburgh Castle before and during restoration, on the British Library site-bl/uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/grimms/index- Grimm’s Northumberland Sketchbooks)

However, on Jan 31 1784 Mr John Robinson, of Tuggal wrote to Dr Sharp-

On behalf of my brethren the Church Wardens , we return you our most sincere thanks for your attention and goodness at all times towards us and particularly at present for your generous and genteel present of a Beedell’s Staff which we think not only handsome but elligant _ and for which we are indebted to Dr sharp’s generosity. We have got Peter’s gown and the Beedell’s coat and when we have the happiness to see Dr Sharp here we hope it will give him pleasure to see the improvement

I am Reverend Sir for my brethren here your obedient servant…

So perhaps at least part of Tuggal Chapel was still in use at this time….?

With thanks to Woodhorn Archive

Carol Griffiths


2 thoughts on “Bamburgh “Ghosts”-Tales from the Eighteenth Century- Things Spiritual in Bamburgh-

  1. I am fascinated to have found this informative blog of Carols. I am a descendant of the Watsons from Bamburgh ( Watson and Son of Warren Mill c1780s). William Henry Watson who was Lord Armstrongs brother-in-law was a grandson of Wm Watson snr, and portraits of Wm Watson jnr and his wife Dorothy Yelloly hang at Cragside- my 5th ggrandparents. The Watsons would have been one of the Presbyterian families noted, and the Yellolys would have been one of the Papists. Perhaps numbering just 17 it seems they may have been THE Papists, and yes, all but gone by the end of the century.
    Thank you for making 18c Bamburgh available across the seas.

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