The strange story of the Bamburgh Castle Chapel

In researching the history of the Castle over recent years, especially the treasure trove of stories revealed in the Lord Crewe Charity papers, held at Woodhorn County archive, some wonderful stories and characters from 18C Bamburgh emerge. The papers are still owned by the Lord Crewe Trustees, but on deposit at and accessible by the public, at Woodhorn. The stories really do bring to life previous centuries of life at the Castle, where I am a volunteer Guide-and village. This story relates to work on the “Chaple” during Dr Sharp’s time; these frequent accounts and references in correspondence throw up a real mystery, which is not yet 100% resolved….

Everyone who knows Bamburgh Castle, will be aware of the ruins of St Peters Chapel, where it is said that long ago, the relics of St Oswald were held. St Oswald was the Christian King of Northumbria who died in 642 in battle against the pagan king Penda; it is said that his arm was revered at St Peters Chapel, Bamburgh, although later stolen. Recently, archaeological excavations have confirmed the existence of Saxon foundations beneath the Norman ruins, the apse area confirmed as Norman although there are later restorations to the walls. The British library owns a remarkable etching of the ruined Chapel by Samuel Grimm, who produced many etchings of the Castle, before any restoration work was undertaken by Dr Sharp, showing it not unlike it appears today.

Hence, when studying the voluminous correspondence in the Archive, and especially the letters written to Dr Sharp whenever he was absent, by his Foreman and Constable at the Castle, George Hall, frequent references to work at the “Chaple” seem really puzzling, indicating a substantial restoration.

March 17 1787

There is now 2 masons building the chimney in the Vestry as you ordered it to be done

Dec 27 1788

Robson and son will continue dressing stones for the Chaple

Jan 31 1789

This week Robson and son have been dressing stones for the Chaple at the Castle (DN-confirms St Peters Chapel-NOT St Aiden’s)

Feb 21

This week Robson and son have been dressing stones for the Chaple-they have a great many stones drest for the Chaple. I think Robsons should begin to sett them

Feb 28

I will set the Robsons to work on the Chaple on Monday

March 7

This week Robsons have got 2 courses stones set in the sinclor (circular!) part of the Chaple

March 21

Robsons are going on with the third course upon the Chaple..

On firing the guns at Alnwick Castle for the Kings Recovery one of them unfortunately busted and took a poor mans thye from his body

March 28

Robson have been casing the inside wall of the chancel which were much the lowest part of that work but are now higher than the alter part

April 2

This week we have had very unfavourable weather for our masons work going forward not one day without great falls of snow.

Robsons has been dressing a part of the outside of the Chancel wall-

April 11

The Robsons are going on with the alter part of the Chaple…

May 9

Received yours of the 6th was sorry Robson had left off the alter part of the Chaple before and are going on with the South Wall of it and have laid one more window sole {sill].

May 30

Robsons have got the collard of the Chaple to the same height of the other [?]next to this which joins the door. We are raising the jamb of the door a little at the same time work and are now going with the other collard

Jan 8 1790

On Sat last the two Robsons began dressing stones for the Chaple

Jan 16

The two Robsons are dressing stones for the Chaple, old Wilson is winning stones for them, the other 3 masons are winning stones at Sunderland Quarry

Jan 23

The Robsons are yet dressing stones for the Chaple and old Wilson winning stones for them. The bottom of the Quarry turns out as fine stones as ever (DN the quarry, now the Grove, is near exhaustion; trials are being made to seek a new source of stone elsewhere in the village)

Jan 30/Feb 6/13,20

The Robsons are yet dressing stones for the Chaple and old Wilson winning stones for them, and other Masons are working on flagging

March 6

The Robsons now have a great many stones dressed for the Chaple and the weather are now very promising for walling if you think it convenient for them to begin to sett

March 13

I rec’d yours of 8th inst on Thursday and set the Robsons to wall of the Chaple on Friday morning they have since got the window soles level-what height from the Chaple floor should the fireplace for the Organ loft be placed?

March 20

The Robsons are now going with the third course above the window soles each course being one foot high. I mentioned in my last what height the fireplace for the organ loft should be placed from the Chaple floor-which should be determined as the work are going on in that part of the Chaple

April 17

Since you left us Robsons has repaired both the large jambs in the Chaple and are now going on with the North Front

April 24

We have now got a scaffold raised to that part of the Chaple which are now going forward-also a scaffold on that part of the old hall both of which are going on very well. I think a base should be taken of the pillars in the old hall in the going on of that building

May 1

The Robsons is now leveling the North Wall of the Chaple to the height of the fachea

May 8

Robsons has got the fachea course put in the Chaple which looks very well

May 15

There is now one course stones put in the Chaple work above the fachea

(Letters for 1791 cease)

There is a further handwritten Account Book containing sadly, little information-

Chapel Accounts 1787 (NRO 00452/D/5/12/2-)

(in Dr Sharp’s hand)

BC Chapel begun to be repaired March 27 1787

(Individual payments of wages detailed; no info re work or site)

Work at Chapel paid for by Contingencies

1787 June 7 To George Wilson-Cottagers Bondage rent- £2-12-9

1788 July 23 Dr Poyn’s present laid out upon the chapel-paid to Guy the Mason-£1-11-6

1789 A Present to the Chapel-anon-£20-0-0

When the Castle management, and BRP Graeme Young were given these references, they could not accept that so much restoration work was undertaken on St Peter’s Chapel, without any trace remaining, or sketches of the restored Chapel.

Months later, a thought occurred-for years, there had been a building in the West Ward, abutting the Castle Wall, the entrance through the Smith’s Gate(now Neville Gate). Could this be the Chaple?

Bamburgh Castle in the 19th century

Bamburgh Castle in the 19th century

The windows appear to be gothic in structure, however the entrance door cannot be seen, and all trace of the building has disappeared with Lord Armstrong’s subsequent work in that area, after he purchased the Castle in 1894. Graeme Young believes that the orientation of the building is not correct for a church-and there is a further fly in the ointment. In 1835, Mrs Catharine Sharp, niece of Dr John, and widow of Rev Andrew Sharp(Bowlt) wrote of work carried out during her late husband’s Curacy at St Aiden’s Bamburgh. This included-

1817 Between this year and the year of his death 1835 the following works were carried out in the church by Rev Andrew Sharp-

– A Gallery was built for the Castle Schools and an Organ erected by Subscription. The Gallery was erected at the expense of the Lord Crewe Trustees

NRO 00452/J/29

Why would a Gallery (since disappeared) be erected for the Castle Schools if indeed this building was a Chapel used by Castle residents and Schools?

The mystery remains to be conclusively settled, but meanwhile, I continue to believe this is indeed Dr Sharps lost “Chaple”!

With thanks to Woodhorn Archive

Carol Griffiths

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


Public Lecture this week

Graeme Young will be presenting a public lecture this Thursday 13th June at the Belford Middle School with the 1st Belford Scout troop and Cadets. Interested members of the public are invited to attend and get a better picture of the work we are carrying out in 2013.

Entry is free, but donations to the project are always welcome. We will have copies of Graeme’s book Bamburgh Castle; The Archaeology of the Fortress of Bamburgh AD500 to AD1500 available for purchase at £3.50

If you can’t make the session, but would like to be kept up to date, make sure you subscribe to this blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @brparchaeologyImage

Bamburgh “Ghosts”-Tales from the Eighteenth Century- The Fear of Invasion

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



During the time of Dr Sharp being the foremost Trustee at Bamburgh Castle during the mid to late 1700s-till his death in 1791-life on our North Northumberland coast was dominated by fear of invasion, or harassing by enemy privateers. A committee was established for the Safety of the Coast (the Coast Committee), and a series of signals was agreed that were passed from stations at Berwick, to Holy Island, to Bamburgh, to Dunstanburgh and down to Hauxley, using guns and flags. I have wondered how flags at that distance could be recognized without perfect eyesight, until I realized from contemporary etchings and drawings that the flagpoles on, say Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castles were huge! Who were the enemy? There are accounts of privateer ships (pirates but authorized by their respective governments) from France and Holland…



The Following document NRO452/c/3/2/11/67 is a formal Memorandum drawn up at the house of Mr. Adams, the Trustees’ hard working Solicitor, based at Alnwick on 11 September 1779 between Holy Island and Bamburgh Castles-



“At a meeting of the Coast Committee held in Alnwick on…


Resolved as Major Cathcart the commanding officer of the Garrison of Berwick upon Tweed has fixed certain signals at Holy Island Castle-that the Signal Men at Bam rough Castle Station shall be bound to attend to the same and regulate themselves accordingly and that a copy of the Signals at Bambrough Castle shall be sent to the said Commanding Officer for the Signal man at holy Island Castle-


Resolved the following Signals shall be observed at the said several stations-



Large Red Ensign


  1. An Enemies Fleet on the Coast, the flag to be kept flying at all stations-+ 3 guns fired

  2. Preparing for A Landing from any number of vessels under that of a Fleet-+ 1 gun fired

  3. Landing made good-+2 guns fired

  4. Preparing for Landing from an Enemy Fleet-+4 guns fired

  5. Landing made good-Minute Guns[?]


Large St George Jack


  1. A Fleet in sight-signal man to keep sharp lookout and when made that of an enemy this Signal hauled down and No 1 [above] hoisted-+I gun fired

  2. a Vessel taken by the enemy-+ 2 guns fired

  3. Two or more taken by the Enemy-+3 guns fired

  4. one or more Vessels run ashore by the enemy-+ 4 guns fired


Red Broad Pendant


1. An Enemy Vessel in Sight-+1 gun fired


NB 5 or more square rigged Vessels a Fleet”


The Memorandum goes on to instruct use of Messengers by the Signal man to acquaint his “director” of the situation, warnings to be given to [local] ships seemingly ignorant of the rules, + instructions to be followed if invasion is by land


It concludes-perhaps confusingly!-


“NB The Union Flag and small Jacks are hoisted at Balmbrough Castle on Various Occasions [such as His Majesty’s Birth Night] and therefore not to be regarded as Alarm signals”



Many letters were written to Dr Sharp when he was away from the Castle at his Parish of Hartburn, or attending Diocesan business in Durham, by George Hall his Foreman at the Castle, referring to the threat from enemy privateers. But the following written on Sept 24 1779, author unknown but clearly a resident at the Castle-possibly Rev Elliott? – clearly illustrates the panic that such a sighting could cause





“What I now suffer that you and [George] Hall sh’d be from Home together


A Fleet is now passing what they are God knows they came from the southwards Bowlt [Curate at Bamburgh Church] tells me the Great Flag sh’d be hoisted and one Gun fired-


Which is done. I tremble to think whether to have done right or wrong- I was very unwilling to give my consent afraid of alarming the Country, but he Assured me it was the order upon the Castle Doors. The Fleet are now in the Open. We hope they are Scotch, but are far from being certain they are 15 in number+ two of them are very Large Ships. Mr Moneypenny [local Trustee tenant and maybe JP?] was sent to + it was with his Approbation that the Great Flag was hoisted the Day happens to be very windy and the Flag is Fore. I sat upon the Hill till the Gun fired, the Flag looked very Grand. Bowlt, Todd+ Richard conducted it very properly. My fear was it should have took fire from the Gun-but all was safe from that respect


The Fleet went North + Sir Harry Herron joined them as did another Large Ship which came from the South about 3 O’clock


George Hall return’d, approves of all we have done, He saw the Flag from Hefferly Tower (letter incomplete)”



What a vivid account of the panic an unidentified Fleet could cause, especially when both Dr Sharp and his Foreman absent from the Castle. It is a poignant thought that we know the very point on the old A1 road passing Heiferlaw Tower-still there today-when George Hall must have recognized the Flag hoisted at the Castle, and galloped back, heart in mouth, wondering what he would find…But seemingly, to doubtless great relief, this seems to have been a false alarm



Carol Griffiths



Tales from the Eighteenth Century- Glimpses of Holy Island

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 mid and late 8C in Bamburgh, and in the Castle; I would like to share some of the stories I have found with you.

Dr John Sharp was the foremost Trustee appointed under the Will of Lord Crewe, to oversight the restoration of Bamburgh Castle. This was followed under the terms of the Will by the establishment of charitable good works from the Castle, rather than being the seat of landed gentry. Dr Sharp accumulated a huge correspondence, and fortunately for us, never threw a letter he received away. From his many correspondents and supplicants-the power of patronage held sway and he was entreated and beseeched in the most subservient terms-we get enticing glimpses of the area surrounding Bamburgh. The following two letters give a glimpse of 18C Holy Island…

Rev Mr Dampier writes from Eton on March 12 1780 with a rather precious enquiry- (NRO452/C/3/2/10/10)

“Dear Sir- I hope you will excuse the Liberty I have taken in troubling you with this letter, containing a literary Enquiry concerning your island of Lindisfarne. Mention being made in the old Poems which were published three years ago, of a grove of majestic Oaks which stood near the Abbey there. I am desired by a learned Friend to inquire whether there are now any oaks or trees of any sort on the Island, or any traces that a wood has ever flourished there and also are there now any considerable number of Trees in one place near the Sea Shore between Bambrough Castle and Wearmouth”


Lindisfarne looking south towards Bambugh Castle

Much more basic and threadbare is the following letter written to Dr Sharp on May 1 1782, from Mark Reveley, schoolmaster on Holy Island (NRO452/C/3/2/12/3)

“Indeed the School turns out very badly, owing to the poverty of the generality of the Inhabitants; for they get few fish therefore are not in ability tom put there children to the school- I was at Durham and thought to have seen you or Dr Dickens for to have got a Terrier for my fear of the Clerks Office, but I was disappointed but Mr Wood told me that shourly there was a considerable fee belonging to the church on Holy Island which all have got it will not amount above 50 shillings a Year, which it and the School will not come to Seven pounds.

I had my victuals from house to house by them that had children at the school but they have all declined of giving any more Victuals any longer which Sir I have taken this opportunity to Aquaint you as Mr Roberts (Curate on Holy Island?) is so poorly that he cannot get out of bed, nor to give his advise to anybody-for he is quite insensible at times, and as to the publick duty in the church we have none done…Sir I hope you will mention ..our unhappy situation. We are in for want of one to do our duty in the established church for I dare say Mr Roberts is not able to ingage me.

Sir I am sorry that I should have the occasion to trouble you with this. please excuse my freedom and take it into consideration with my friends + well-wishers to settle something on me to help my family- for everything becomes very high in this place

Your very humble and much obliged servant..”

This vivid account of the poverty of the Holy Islanders-and their children’s’ Schoolmaster, takes us back only a hundred years or so, to an even more desperate age- In 1643 Father Gilbert Blakhal, (a priest of the Scots mission in France, in the Low Countries and Scotland) was storm driven into Lindisfane Harbour and witnessed “an unseemly brawl” as villagers and local priest fought over a box of hats decorated with gold braid washed up from an unfortunate wreck, and recounted “ how the Common people ther do pray for shippes which they sie in danger. They al sit downe upon their knees, and hold up their handes, and say very devotedly, lord Send hir to us. …they pray not God to sauve you, or send you to the port, but to send you to them by shipwreck, that they may gette the spoile of her. And to show their meaning,.. if the shippe come well to porte..they gette up in anger, crying the Devil Stick her, she is away from us”

(Linisfarne, the Cradle Island-Magnus Magnusson)

What a contrast with the Holy Island of today, so dependent on the seasonal Tourist influx, in a much more civilized but perhaps less colourful age

Carol Griffiths

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Bamburgh “Ghosts”-Tales from the Eighteenth Century- Tragedy at the Bowl Hole

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.

The following letter is self explanatory. It was written by George Hall, foreman and Constable at Bamburgh Castle, during the time of Dr John Sharp, foremost and most important of the trustees nominated under the Will of Nathaniel Lord Crew of 1721. However by the date of this letter, 29 January 1794, Dr Sharp was dead, but George Hall stayed on sat the Castle, answerable to the five Trustees, till his own death in 1801. He lies buried in Bamburgh churchyard. George was writing to George Wood, Accountant , to the Trustees based at Durham –


The Bowl Hole in the 21st Century

“I am very sorry to inform you of a most Mallingecholy accident which happened with us yesterday about Eleven O clock as a boy and a girl was coming to our corn Markitt Brother and Sister in company with Several others they unfortunately wint on the ice in that part Called the Boul Hole which went down with them and they were both drowned in sight of several spectators. Mr Middleton to whom Great praise is due jumt in at the Risk of his Life and with Great Difficulty Brought the Girl ashore he made several attempts to find the boy but could not find him the Girl was immediately taken to the Castle and every means used by Mr Cockagne (Doctor at the Castle Infirmary) to bring her to life but without effect- we grappled a long time for the Boy but could not find him I then had the cork boat Brought to the place after which the poor boy was soon found which was also taken to the Castle- in the evening the poor distressed father came his name is Wilson in Sunderland he is a very poor Man with a large family- I told him that the Trustees I hop’d would bear the expense of the funerals if agreeable to him he very humbly thanked Me and very Readely excepted the offer I therefore ordered our joiners Emmediately to make Coffins for them so they may be interred this evening we have one shipwracked sailor at the Castle whose vessel was drove out of holy island harbour with two other vessels but providently no life was Last this poor man was much affected by the cold- we are informed hear that a Brig belonging to Alnmouth are ashore near Craster only two of hir Hands saved the Master whose name is Lewens belongs to Holy Island and all his other Hands are Lost

I am….


Such was the day to day life in the late 1780s at Bamburgh Castle…

Carol Griffiths


Bamburgh “Ghosts”-Tales from the Eighteenth Century- How to deliver Bad News with Compassion…

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

For the last two 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.

Rev Henry Elliott was the Curate at Bamburgh Church, lodging at Fowberry (prior to the Glebe being built) writing to Dr John Sharp on Feb 24 1783. Picture, if you will, a Bamburgh cottage scene-the Curate probably in his black robes, an elderly lady wrapped in her shawl, fire smoldering fitfully in the hearth….

“Immediately, as soon as I received your favour respecting poor Major Dodd’s death, I waited on old Mrs Dodds, and dwelling for about half an hour on the uncertainties of this life, on the losses and disappointments that we must expect to meet with, and asking her if she had heard anything of the Major lately, and being answered in the negative, was obliged to tell her that she must have patience, because it would be a little longer than she expected before she could see him, yet though it could not be a very long time at her time of life; for her son was no more; at which she cryed what my Jacky and wept aloud for a few minutes, but soon calmed, tho every now and again would break out again, but before I left her, which was about an hour after, began to reconcile and the last time I saw her was to a wonder; and at present she is at the windmill-hill

Mrs Sandwichs idiot boy grows big and in a short time will be hard to manage, perhaps it may be in your power to procure her something for him from the Governors of the Society who distribute their charity for that purpose

And poor Robert Air will certainly go down this season if ye Gentleman of the Trust do not support him a little;Tho he has corn at the Castle at reduced price..,yet corn this year from its bad quality goes but a little way towards the maintenance of family, and especially with him who has such a large one

I am dear Doctor, your most obedient servant…”

With thanks to Woodhorn Archive-ref NRO452/C/3/2/13/14



Bamburgh Infirmary in the 18th Century

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

Dr Cockagne was a Surgeon at the Infirmary established at Bamburgh Castle, by the Lord Crewe Trustees, led and inspired by the most famous of them all, Dr John Sharp. Dr Cockagne lived initially in Wooler, but due to the difficulties of travelling to Bamburgh during severe winters, was provided with accommodation at “Bambro Fryers”, from where he wrote in a beautiful copperplate hand on April 4 1786 to Dr Sharp-

“I have to acknowledge the Honour of receiving two letters which gave me great pleasure on more accounts than one they Reliev’d me from an Anxiety that I had offended you unknowingly, or that your silence might be occasioned by some Domestick Distress the [missing] of which I Pray may be at a Great Distance..

..The Child of John Carr’s Died apon the Eleventh Day- I saw him every day-he had the true Confluent chryolalline Kind and I had no hope for him from the beginning-His youngest child is now ill of the Smallpox but likely to do well-of a very fine sort, and I expect to get some Good Matter to inoculate those who chuse to Accept of your kind offer I took the Liberty (which I hope will meet Your approbation) of having the offer of Inoculation Gratis to all the Poor of Bambro and the Neighbourhood made publick at the Church Door on Sunday last by the Clerk and I hope it will have a proper effect- The Country People have been much diseas’d this winter and Spring, We had 150 Patients at the Surgery the Saturday before last, which is the greatest number ever got on one day- Joseph Thew’s Child is inoculated George Hall’s little boy has got over it very well indeed- Mr Watson’s Child of Glowerorum is going to be inoculated and several peoples children at Glowerorum- I shall not neglect any Part of my Duty with regard to Attendance and willingly leave the consideration to the Trustees of whose kindness I have no reason to doubt-

Mrs Cockagne thank God continues a better state of Health than formerly and joins me in every good Wish for the Health and Happiness of Dr Sharp and family and am, Dear Sir, Your Respectful and obliged Humble Servant….”

With thanks to Woodhorn Archive-ref NRO452/C/3/2/15/77




The Danger of Explosives

With New Year and fireworks displays approaching it may be a good time to remind people of the risks of explosives with a further instalment of Carol’s investigations within the Woodhorn archive:

In 1784 a series of letters to Dr John Sharp piece together to provide details of a lucky escape at the Castle……

In NRO452/C/3/2/14/40 Mr George Wood-Accountant to the Lord Cewe Trustees based in Durham, writes-

I have heard nothing of your mishap but from yourself and therefore can only guess that it must have happened in Mr Boult’s [Curate at St Aiden’s Church in Bamburgh, and lodging at the Castle] Preparations of Fireworks for celebrating the King’s [ George 111]Birth Night. I am truly glad however that none has suffered any personal injury”

On June 24 a fellow Trustee-and clearly an affectionate friend as revealed in other correspondence, Dr John Rotheram wrote (NRO452/C/3//2/14/43)-

“I am glad to hear you have got all the damages repaired (except a part of the slated roof) to your satisfaction”

Bamburgh Castle from the sea
We are not sure which part of the castle survived the explosion, and no scorch marks have been reported!

Finally all is revealed in a further letter from Mr Rotheram-

I am extremely sorry to hear of your alarming accident. I am greatly obliged to you for your early communication of it; for had I heard it by any other means, I should not have known what bounds to put on my apprehensions. I sincerely join you in thankfulness to Providence that none of your family received any hurt and that the whole damage was confined to walls and ceilings which may easily be repaired. It is needless to ass any caution against admitting a large Quantity of Powder within the Walls of the Castle, as that lesson has been too strongly impressed by the Accident itself. It is happy that the explosion was in the upper parts of the Castle. I am glad to hear you have reason to be satisfied with your Fire Proof ceilings.

I beg my best respects to the Ladies and am dear Sir…

This amusing incident (let us hope there were no singed wigs or eyebrows!) alludes to another of Dr Sharp’s innovations-there is a great deal of correspondence referring to his work in fireproofing rooms in the Keep, another reason for which the castle became famous. Indeed, there is correspondence to him-for instance from the owner of Berwick Docks-asking for his blueprint. In view of the amount of powder and ammunition kept at the Castle-for use against enemy invasion, pirate sloops-an ever present danger-and the firing of the Fog Guns from the Castle to warn passing shipping, the Sharp family in residence escaped lightly!

Carol Griffiths, with thanks to Woodhorn Archive.

An (18 Century) Bamburgh Castle Scandal!

We are lucky to have some tales of Bamburgh in the post-medieval period made available to us from the research undertaken by Carol Griffiths (with grateful thanks to Woodhorn Archive). Here is the first of them in Carol’s words that I hope won’t be too scandalous for those of a sensitive disposition (GY):

I work and volunteer at Bamburgh Castle, and have become absolutely hooked on researching its history. Some 2 years ago, I was lucky enough to become accepted as a volunteer at Woodhorn County Archive, on the Working Lives Project; a Lottery funded work examining some of the grand Northumbrian Estates-including the Lord Crewe Estates of Bamburgh in the Eighteenth Century. This work for me has been an absolute privilege and joy-and thereby hangs many a tale, as I have discovered the lives of many colourful larger-than-life characters from Bamburgh (or Balmbrough as it then was) of the mid 1700s…

Occasionally today, if the Castle receives queries from people researching their family history, and are unable to help from Castle records, I will be asked if I have any knowledge of such-and-such a name from my research. So it was some 15 months ago, I was forwarded an email from someone in Australia, claiming that their ancestor called George Hall, had been a Constable at the Castle. I had already undertaken extensive research into the Constables of the Castle during the medieval and Tudor times; knew all the names and was certain it did not include George Hall. So I was about to write a brief negative response, but the following day was undertaking more research at Woodhorn. Because of my passion for all things Bamburgh Castle, I was indulged by being asked to transcribe some of the early Court Books (recording the proceedings of Manorial Courts from 1695 until the 1920s-I only managed the first 100 years!), and also to summarize the bundles of letters written to Dr John Sharp, the most famous of the Lord Crewe Trustees, who succeeded his father as Trustee and more than anyone else, directed the restoration of the Castle and the establishment of many good charitable deeds under the Will of Lord Crewe.


Dr John Sharp (1723-1792)

I picked up the bundle of fragile original 18C letters I was working on, and could not believe my eyes-there was the name of George Hall! He has since become a familiar name, and in brief, was appointed Dr Sharp’s foreman at the Castle and was indeed appointed Constable-but in the 18C sense. Each village and hamlet appointed a Constable (there were also Aletasters, Pounders and Bailiffs) whose duties I imagine were akin to a village bobby-certainly not the status or power of a medieval Constable of the Castle appointed by the King. Every time Dr Sharp left the Castle for his living at Hartburn or for the Diocese in Durham, George Hall wrote frequent letters to update him in his absence from Bamburgh-wonderful gossipy letters full of village and Castle news, all expressed in the deferential terms of the 18C when patronage reigned supreme. Thus began my love affair with George Hall, and the following is one of the most dramatic and moving stories uncovered…

The bundles of letters I was privileged to summarize were all letters addressed to Dr Sharp-but occasionally there are accounts in his own hands of various issues-often matters needing to be brought to the attention of his fellow Trustees, or to the next Manorial Court. However, one such account (NRO 00452/C/3/2/9/34 ) written on 21 September 1790-shortly before he died-was breathtaking in its drama, and also the very human terms which he used to describe events-

“ A female servant of George Hall’s left her place last Whitsuntide, visibly pregnant, but last night returned increased in size…She was examined recently by Mr. Marsh and said that Jonathan Hall was the father of the child but she was not sworn. She is a woman of bad character, and does seem to have confined her favour to one person only. She has gained a settlement in the Castle by service and the difficulty is how to get quit of her; this being a constabulary by itself. George Hall is Constable and Overseer… It would not be very agreeable to have her crying out while the Trustees are here”

One wonders at the inconsistency of accusing the woman of being a bad character, but admitting she confined her favours to one person only-Jonathan Hall. Dr Sharp continues-one almost feels sorry for him…

“I knew nothing of all this till this morning, for I am generally the last to hear things that I ought to have been made acquainted with till they are known the town over”

It gets worse-

“Since I wrote the above Peter Wilson has been with me in great distress he says that whilst he was ringing the Bell last night, the woman came to his house, his wife turned her out, and Pater on coming home found her sitting on his door and out of mere humanity to a woman in her condition her took her in…George Hall ought to take care of her, but I am told dare not for fear of his wife and that some mischief should happen”

The following day Dr Sharp records-

“I have heard today that George Hall some time ago had her sent to Alnham that she might bear the child there privately but having neglected to give his Bond in time to the Overseers of that Parish, they would not let her stay”

“I have been further informed that it was through George Hall that she was not allowed to take her oath before the Justice who said it was not necessary before the child was born. To be sure by law she is not compelled to do it sooner. I know the other delinquent concerned (Jonathan Hall?) and have proof of his having been concerned with the girl, but this makes me cautious of taking any step in the affair as her Oath must determine the father…”

It is clear that the law at that time allowed the mother to appear before a Justice to swear her oath as to the child’s paternity. And the next day the final entry-

“I have been informed that the girl yesterday was sent out of the Castle to a House at the Mizen Head [on the edge of the village, on the Glororum road]”

Poor Dr Sharp, confronted with a real moral dilemma, involving the son of his foreman! I could not let it rest there, and decided to do some more sleuth work. I used the IGI and discovered that George and his wife Ann had a son Jonathan born at Harburn, christened on 29 January 1766. (This could also give a clue as to George’s appointment to the Castle; he must have known Dr Sharp from his original Hartburn living).

I then delved further, hoping to discover the birth of the baby, and possibly, romantically, the marriage of Jonathan and the child’s mother.. In the Durham Bishops Transcripts I did indeed discover the birth of the baby and the identity of the baby’s mother-

The entry for a christening on December 29 1790 at St Aiden’s, Bamburgh reads-

“Matilda Brown, illegitimate daughter of Eleanor Brown of Sunderland, and Jonathan Hall of Bamburgh Castle, who were presented for fornication”

This was a horrendous discovery, because being “presented” means a formal accusation, with a humiliating sentence. Although there is no trace of the penitential statement both would have had to make publicly in church, during a Service, possibly dressed in white and standing on a raised area, another such statement of the same era reads-

“Whereas I Good Neighbours, forgetting and neglecting my Duty to Almighty God, and the care I ought to have had of my own soul, have committed the grievous and detestable sin of fornication, to the great danger of mine own Soul, and the evil and pernicious Example of all Sober Christians, offended thereby; I do here in a most penitential and sorrowful manner acknowledge and confess my Sin and am heartily sorry for the same, humbly desiring Almighty God to forgive me both this and all other mine Offences, and for to Assist me with the Grace of his Holy Spirit, that I may never commit the like hereafter, saying Our Father etc”

The written statement had then to be signed by the Minister-a Rev Henry Elliott, Curate, who lived in comfort in the Castle- and Church Wardens with the date that such public penance had been done. The records contain at least one other named Penitential statement I have seen; perhaps in an era when the public stocks were erected to be used, such inflicted humiliation seemed less offensive than to the modern mind…

I can-as yet-discover no further reference to Matilda or Eleanor Brown, or indeed of Jonathan, who presumably was disgraced. Certainly no happy ending and it would seem that both male and female paid the price for transgressing the moral code of Dr Sharp’s Bamburgh. However George did not lose his job, which continued even following Dr Sharp’s death, until his own in 1801.

The only ending I can offer is that of George. In Bamburgh St Aiden’s Churchyard-quite near the entrance door, I found a memorial stone-“Sacred to the memory of George Hall of Bamburgh Castle who died 11 may 1801 aged 65 years. Ann his wife died 18 December 1818 aged 77 years and Robert their son died 29 December 1820.”

Where Jonathan, Eleanor and their daughter Matilda lie we know not.

Carol Griffiths