The West Ward’s mystery building

A collection of cut and dressed masonry lies around the central turret of the cross wall between the East and West Wards, on the West Ward side. This little collection has intrigued us since we first saw it, but rather receded in interest as excavation in our trenches got under way. Carol’s theory, based on her archive work and discussed in the ‘The strange story of Bamburgh Castle Chapel‘ below. That a building shown on 19th century photographs was a late 18th century church, brings them back into focus, as it is very likely, that at least some of this material represents the remains of this structure.

The building itself is depicted on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (c. 1870) and appears to be present on the 2nd Edition (c. 1897), but had been demolished by the 3rd edition (c. 1920). The tithe award map of 1846 does appear to show structures against the cross wall, between the two wards, but its far from clear what it is depicting. Cartographic evidence would then date its construction no later than the mid 19th century, but it could of course be much earlier, and date back to the 18th. The structure was not large, being in the order of 20m long, compared to the 30m of the Inner Ward chapel, and seems to have a single pitch roof and be built as a pent against the cross wall.


Bamburgh castle, circa 1870

Bamburgh castle, circa 1870


Could this be a formerly overlooked chapel? On the positive side of the argument it does have rather Gothic windows along one side, but some other characteristics count against this interpretation, such as the orientation, being north-east to south-west. This factor should not be seen as definitive though, as many late-modern churches display all manner of orientations, so this is not a clearly diagnostic factor for the era. The best evidence for its function comes from the 25 inch to the mile, 1st Edition OS, where it is labelled as a laundry. This is good evidence for its role towards the the end of the 19th century, but of course without knowing when the structure was built we cannot rule out that it had a previous life. And if this leaves some of the early records as a little enigmatic, then is a little mystery really such a bad thing?

Bamburgh Village: Part 3

A little while back Project Director, Graeme Young, began a blog thread about Bamburgh Village. In this post we pick up where he left off. To see the earlier posts click here and here.

Today Graeme brings us into the post-conquest period exploring the remnants of the medieval village including the leper hospital and the Dominican Friary.

Bamburgh  Village and the Church in the late medieval.

In the last blog entry I was looking at the evidence we have from the Anglo-Saxon period. This amounts, pretty much exclusively, to evidence for the foundation and early history of St Aidan’s church, as we have so little information regarding the secular settlement that must have surrounded the church. Sadly, at the moment, the best we can add archaeologically is apparent evidence of absence in the form of the geophysical surveys undertaken around the village (To see the report for this click here). These have revealed a series of enclosures and features in the fields to the south, west and to some extent also immediately west of the church. None of these anomalies are reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon settlements seen elsewhere in the region, such as at Yeavering (Aerial photography, excavation and geophysics) Milfield and Sprouston (both known from Aerial photography). This suggests that we are looking at activity of a different period, in the main I suspect prehistoric and some later medieval activity being represented. It is dangerous to read too much into an absence of evidence but in this instance, and given the close proximity the Anglo-Saxon settlement is likely to have had to the village, it is very likely that the Anglo-Saxon settlement lies hidden beneath the present village.

Bamburgh Village

At the end of the last article on the village we had reached the slightly better documented Norman era and found St Aidan’s Church in the hands of an ‘Algar’ the priest. Aelred of Rievaulx, our source for Algar also noted that there was a tradition of a monastic community at Bamburgh from the late Northumbrian period. When we look at the early maps of the village there is a clear, and rather large, sub-rectangular enclosure attached to and extending from the south and west sides of the church yard marked out in field boundaries and walls. It is quite big enough to contain West House, Radcliffe House and perhaps tellingly the Glebe. A glebe is an area of land within a manor allocated to the support of a priest. So could we be looking at the lands owned by Algar, perhaps even the preserved outline of an early monastic enclosure?

We are on less speculative ground with records that note the granting of ownership of the church properties at Bamburgh to Nostell Priory in 1121. The grant included the church within the castle, but it took them some tome to take possession as they could not occupy the site until the death of Algar, who lived till 1171. Although Nostell lay in Yorkshire, some considerable distance from Bamburgh, the priory was associated with St Oswald and seems to have acquired the grant through their connections at the royal court.

A leper hospital lay on the edge of the civil settlement, located in an enclosure to the south of the triangular village green. The 3rd Edition Ordnance Survey map depicts the hospital enclosure and also marks the site of the leper’s well. A grass grown hollow-way can be seen extending from the wooded ridge, south of the castle, back towards the hospital site, its western line marked by a series of boundary plots. This hollow-way almost certainly represents one of the borough of Bamburgh’s principle  medieval streets, Spitalgate, named after the hospital site. The hospital was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and was in existence by the year 1256. It contained a hall, pantry, kitchen and other chambers enclosed within its bounds, according to an inquiry of 1376. Part of its lands seem to have derived from the extensive holding of the Nostell community in the village.

The third ecclesiastical centre was a Dominican Friary, founded in 1265. The friary lay on the western edge of the borough, and gives us our best evidence for the extent of the urban spread of Bamburgh in the 13th century. The Dominicans liked to mix with the world and were attracted to major towns and settlement. They had centres in both Berwick and Newcastle, so their presence at Bamburgh is an indicator of the importance of the borough prior to the Scottish Wars. A few fragments of the friary buildings still survive, mixed in to the the housing estate on the south side of Radcliffe Road, just before Friars Farm. Dr Hope-Taylor undertook some limited excavation on the site in the 1960s, recovering three skeletons.

Relationships between the various ecclesiastical establishments in the borough were not always harmonious and on one occasion a quarrel led to a tragic results. The borough had a number of wells, but most had a tendency to dry up during a hot summer. One, said to be located within the boundariy of the hospital, called Maudeleys Well (Magdalene’s Well), was a secure source of water all year around and was as a result widely used by the community. At least until ‘certain friars preachers of Bamburgh, in a fit of passionate spite, killed a cur called Jolyff and threw it secretly into the well with stones around its neck’. A woman of the borough was sufficiently poisoned, to give birth to a dead child. The complaint reached the king, but does not seem to have been resolved quickly as the friars later blocked up the spring, which fed the kings mill, much to the frustration of the wider community.

Investigations at Bamburgh Village

Project Director, Graeme Young, gives us an insight into the little discussed investigation conducted around Bamburgh Village.

Bamburgh Village

It is perhaps no surprise that our blog concentrates on our recent or current excavation projects within the castle, Bowl Hole and Kaims, but we have also undertaken work to investigate Bamburgh Village too.

Our report on the geophysical survey undertaken in 2004, mostly on the south and west sides of the village, is available to download on our website, but we have also undertaken some research using maps, documentary records and shovel pitting within the village itself. Click to take a look at the report

Bamburgh Village

The village interests us because it has been occupied for a long time and has provided services to the fortress, as well as being a settlement and trading emporia important in its own right. The earliest records we have of the village tells us of the presence of a church used by St Aidan, almost certainly the predecessor of today’s St Aidan’s Church. It also tells of a civil settlement demolished by a Midlands king, Penda, who stripped it of timber to build a giant pile of firewood in an effort to burn the timber fortress, which surmounted the castle rock in the 7th century.

St Aidan's Church

We have very little evidence of this Anglo-Saxon village, which must surely lie somewhere beneath the modern village awaiting discovery, but by the later middle ages we find increasing records of the borough of Bamburgh. These give us a number of street names and the names of many of the townspeople too. The modern village street plan almost certainly preserves some of the medieval streets, but its quite likely that not all will be ancient. One thing is clear, we have more names of medieval streets than we have streets in the modern village, meaning that we have lost some! So, the question is, can we make sense of the medieval records and rebuild a plan of the medieval borough?

I will cover our current state of knowledge over the next few weeks, including Bamburgh’s ecclesiastical sites, which includes the search for the elusive hospital. Just now we will start with a photo that seems to offer us a possible candidate for a lost medieval street.

The photo shows the east end of the hollow-way from the castle. Its the broad linear depression that passes through the gap in the stone wall and off towards the village. You can make out ridge and furrow in the field too. You can also try tracing it on Google Earth as it is quite visible, particularly at its east end.

Extending broadly east to west and lying between the modern car park and the southern side of the village, lies what appears to be a hollow-way, an old and overgrown road. It can be traced on aerial photographs over two fields before being lost in the garden plots of the village. Though its line continues to be respected by garden walls, which suggests that they are respecting quite an ancient boundary. As we will see in future instalments it is just possible we can put a name to this lost street.