The Bamburgh Research Project needs you

The Bamburgh Research Project is currently undertaking a review of our organisation and aiming towards a relaunch in the next few weeks. After many years of successful research at Bamburgh Castle, the Bowl Hole burial ground and, more recently, the wetland site at the Bradford Kaims, we have reached a point where we feel that positive change is needed to enable us to properly fulfil our ambitions. We have a growing body of archaeological research, a film archive, and increasingly, a presence in social media. In the future we want to greatly increase our output of publication, education and dissemination of all types, from the academic to the popular.

In order to enable this we will need to substantially increase the scale of our post excavation work and just as importantly add new people with additional skills to our team. We have been supported in evaluating our project and planning for the future by the Northumberland County Council Enterprise Team and have already undertaken a strategy day, during which we identified a number of areas in which we need to expand our skill base. These areas include, management, publication, stakeholder engagement, finance and perhaps most importantly of all income generation.

As a result of the consultation we have begun the process of becoming a limited company and will be expanding the management structure of the BRP, including additional directors and adding a new advisory panel. The full list of responsibilities that the new management structure will be responsible for are:

Income Generation
People management
PR and marketing
Policy and procedure
Strategic planning
Stakeholder engagement

We have a wonderful core team of archaeologists and supporters, but we will need to find additional people willing to become involved with our work. We hope that this will prove an opportunity for people interested in archaeology, but who do not necessarily work in the profession, to join us bringing much needed skills and of course enthusiasm to what we hope will be an exciting future.

If you have been following our work, and would like to become more directly involved then we would love to hear from you. It would be terrific if you can bring a particular skill, or skills, with you that we can benefit from, but the most important thing we ask is that you are passionate about history and archaeology and have enough time to be able to be constructively involved.

The next stage will be a further strategy meeting to be held on Saturday 14th March at St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church Hall, Durham (DH1 4NH). It has between booked between 1:00pm and 5:00pm, but there is no need to stay for the full time. It has parking nearby and is within walking distance of the railway station.

If you are interested at all and would like to attend then we would love to hear from you. Just send us an email to: with a few details about yourself, in order to secure a place at the event. We would also like to hear from you if you are interested in working with the BRP and cannot attend the event itself.

Pre-season Excavation at Bamburgh Castle

This Wednesday (14th May) a small band of Bamburgh Research staff (Graeme Young, Jo Kirton and Joe Tong) will be heading up to Bamburgh Castle to prepare for the arrival of a group of post-grad students from the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington. The students along with their professors will be partaking in a pre-season excavation. From Saturday (17th of May) we will be working in the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period layers in Trench 3, in the castles West Ward.


Cleaning back in Trench 3

Cleaning back in Trench 3

The students are a mixture of post graduates studying History, Medieval & Byzantine Studies, English, and Anthropology. A real mix! Their team leader is Dr Lilla Kopár, Associate Professor at the university with a particular focus on art-history, Old English and archaeology.

Dr Kopár explains why she decided to bring her students across the Atlantic to work with the BRP and Bamburgh Castle.

Dr Lilla Kopar

Dr Lilla Kopar

“It all started about a year ago with a conversation with Jo on a field trip in search of early medieval sculpture in the Wirral. We talked about the significance (and fun) of being involved in excavations as a student and the difficulties of being a scholar of material culture of the Middle Ages “from the other side of Pond.” Then Jo had a brilliant suggestion: Why not join the BRP dig for a few weeks, or even better, take a group of students along to Bamburgh?

Our institution, The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has no official program in medieval archaeology but we have a strong cohort of medievalists at the Center for Medieval and Byzantine Studies and in various departments, and a number of us have a keen interest in material culture. As the “local Anglo-Saxonist”, I teamed up with my historian colleague and friend, Dr. Jennifer Davis, who regularly teaches a course on medieval archaeology for historians, and proposed a trip combining the archaeology field school with visits to historic sites (Lindisfarne, Hexham, Jarrow, Durham, York), all embedded in a team-taught graduate course on early medieval Northumbria. The idea was received with great enthusiasm by our adventure-loving master’s and doctoral students and we quickly had a crew of ten signed up for the trip. CUA’s Center of Global Education welcomed the idea of a study-aboard experience for graduate students and has provided financial and organizational support.

Our students come from four different graduate programs (History, Medieval & Byzantine Studies, English, and Anthropology) and bring various kinds of expertise as well as expectations to Bamburgh. Some had participated in excavations before, while others know more about Old English and Bede than about trowels and trenches. We all are looking forward to hands-on training in archaeology, the excitement of new finds, the breath-taking surroundings, and the experience of being in England (well, not so much the rain). It will be an unforgettable trip and we are very excited to join the BRP crew.”

The students are looking forward to excavating through layers of archaeology dating to periods they have been researching on their courses. CUA English Lit student, Sara Sefranek told us….

I don’t know what to expect, to be honest! My degree is in English Lit with a focus on Old English Poetry. For years I’ve depended on the work of archaeologists to help inform me about the history & culture that produces the texts that I study, so I was excited by the opportunity to learn about that first hand. I hope I’m ready for whatever turns up! As a lit student I’d be curious about finds that incorporate text in some way… some of my research has also been on Christian incorporation of pagan iconography, so if such things have been found, I’d love to see them.”

We will be updating the blog and Twitter feed @brparchaeology with all our activities and discoveries during their stay, so please pop back soon.


Carol’s ‘Bamburgh Ghosts’ book now available

I am sure that regular readers will be familiar with Carol Griffiths work in the Northumberland archives, though the various posts of her work here. You may also recall our reporting on the successful launch of her book on the subject a few weeks ago: Bamburgh ‘Ghosts’-Voices from the 18th Century.

The book is full of fascinating insights into the world of 18th century Bamburgh and the work of the Lord Crewe Charitable Trust. Those of you interested in getting their hands on a copy can do so at both the Wynding Well and Clarke’s Store in Bamburgh and at the newsagents in Seahouses. Those not travelling to the region can make postal orders to: The book title, C/O The Vicarage, 7 The Wynding, Bamburgh. NE69 7DB. Cost is £10.00 and £2.50 post and packaging within the UK (Europe £6.50 and Australia/US £9.00). Cheques should be made payable to ‘St Aidan’s Church PCC’.


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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Royal Archaeological Institute Conference: Legacies of Northumbria.

Over the weekend the Royal Archaeological Institute held its annual conference. This year focused on the early medieval period in Northumbria. The conference began with a keynote lecture from Professor Dame Rosemary Cramp, a good friend of the BRP. The next few days saw a range of papers about fieldwork and research into this interesting period in NE England. Our own Graeme Young was on hand to give an overview of the BRP’s work over the past 10 years with a focus on the excavations undertaken in the west ward.

Graeme’s audience in the imposing Institute of Mining in Newcastle.

We also heard from regional projects such as the work undertaken at Binchester Fort by Durham University (click here to read more) and the recently completed Street House excavations that unearthed a very interesting and finds rich funerary assemblage. To see more on the Street House excavations please click here.

The conference concluded with visits to some of the most iconic early medieval sites in Northumbria, including Bamburgh Castle, Holy Island, Jarrow Monastery and Bede’s world.

Lindisfarne Priory with the castle in the background

Jarrow Monastery

Bede’s Worlds best attraction (in my opinion)

To learn more about the RAI please follow the link

Trench Three End of Season Report

Today we hear from the Trench 3 supervisors, Maria and Steph, as they round up the end of season.

Trench Three End of Season Report

Maria and I (your Trench 3 supervisors!) have noticed the lack of Trench 3 blogs from the end of the season—the Octocopter, Prince Charles, and the Kaims seem to have taken over!  But never fear, Trench 3 continued to excavate and remained interesting right up to the last day of our summer excavation season!  Let’s catch you up to speed:

As many of you will remember from previous blogs, we had quarter sectioned the NW corner of Trench 3 in hopes of better understanding the complex stratigraphy.

The NW corner of Trench 3 quarter sectioned. Excavations taking place in the NW and SE quadrants.

In the western quadrants, north of a substantial stone wall extending from the western limit of excavation (running roughly E-W), we had uncovered a pebbly/gravely floor surface.  The pebbly/gravely floor surface continued south, under the rubble associated with the E-W stone wall, and east as far a second stone wall extending from the northern limit of excavation (running roughly N-S).  It is thus likely that the two stone walls and the floor surface were once part of the same structure.

Upon excavating the pebbly/gravely floor surface, a linear of degraded sandstone running NE-SW was revealed.

Visible in the NW quadrant, the linear of degraded sandstone containing an area of degraded mortar.

Much to our excitement, further excavation of this area showed that the degraded sandstone turned southeast, creating a rather nice right angle!  This suggests that the degraded sandstone is the corner of a wall from an earlier building (as the linear is lower than and running in a different alignment to the stone walls).  Furthermore, the degraded sandstone contains an area of degraded mortar—possibly another floor surface!

View of the degraded sandstone forming a right angle and containing an area of degraded mortar.

As luck would have it, the features in the eastern area of the NW corner are not as clear.  Our current theory is that some sort of pit has been cut into the area, disturbing not only the stone walls and pebbly/gravely floor surface where they should meet at a right angle, but also the earlier sandstone and mortar structure.  So far, this area has a number of ‘mysterious’ features, including patches of charcoal and other burning, patches of degraded mortar and degraded sandstone, patches of clay, lead and iron small finds, and our personal favorite: an expanding hollow chock-full of loose stones (!?).  These features are similar to those found in the western area . . . but not as tidy—it is as if someone has churned up this portion of the NW corner.  Needless to say, this area will need further investigation during the 2013 season!

However, we do believe that the substantial wall running E-W from the western limit of excavation originally extended to the east onto the bedrock.  Indeed, this may partially account for the wall’s disappearance to the east.  Moreover, yet another linear (running N-S) was discovered just east of the bedrock.  The linear consists of a series of stones resting at angles, perhaps used as packing to support wooden beams (?).  Where the linear approaches the bedrock to the north a possible post-hole was excavated.  The different contexts on either side of the linear and its alignment with the substantial E-W stone wall and the N-S stone wall indicate that the linear may have been a partition wall associated with this later building.

Sue (east of the N-S linear and post-hole) and Maria (in front of the N-S stone wall) working in the NW corner.

I think I speak for everyone when I say that it was difficult to leave Trench 3 this season—the archaeology was finally providing some valuable clues to answer some of our long-standing questions, and yet we still have so many questions left to answer!  I am already looking forward to Summer 2013!

Well, that’s Maria and I from Trench 3 signing off until next summer!  We want to thank everyone (and especially our hardworking, often rain-soaked students) for a great season!

Trench 3 Supervisor’s Stephanie and Maria staying warm during tea break!

BRP: making trouble all over the North

Being  up and about early on a Saturday or Sunday morning here at Bamburgh is no mean feat. And for that reason I beg your forgiveness for the fluffy nature of this blog post. However, many of us do rise at a respectable hour, and get out and enjoy the breathtaking sights unique to this part of Britain. Thats right, folks, today I’m going to show you what we at the Bamburgh Research Project get up to on our days off. It won’t always be pretty, but bear with me, and I promise we will be back to high quality archaeological blogging in no time.


About an hour and 20mins away is the city of Edinburgh. We planned to leave straight from work, and have a night out, followed by a touristy day. I’m sorry to say that once we got into Edinburgh and had some pizza delivered, this happened:

Jeff was just lucky we left the sharpies in the Windmill

Next morning we headed out to see Greyfriars Bobby, the Royal Mile, and do some necessary shopping.

Natalie meets Greyfriars Bobby.

Oh, and we had a crack at Edinburgh’s biggest nachos. I’m very pleased to say, the girls won, finishing their bowl in record time, despite Jess, Lally and Jeff having a good 15 minute headstart.

Competitive Eating at it’s finest.


Being the large group of nerds that we are, we were so amazed by Barter Books that no one managed to get a picture. Just go there. Really.

There’s also a beautiful castle and gardens. Some of the group went to the Poison Garden. Since then we’ve all been really nice to them, as we are a little concerned by the plant cuttings Kirstie now has in her tent.

Jess admires Alnwick Castle.

Let’s not forget the fun we have here in Bamburgh Village as well:

Walking to the village gives views like this.

If you ask nicely, one of our ex-supervisors might read you a story:

Dan reads ‘Moose!’.

And let’s not forget that we have a sandpit on site.

Even on her days off, Jess loves to dig.

We have a lot of fun here at the Bamburgh Research Project. We have the usual Pub, Quiz and BBQ nights, but we have a lot of fun outside of planned activities too. If you have any suggestions of things we can do on our days off, or if you’d like to join us for a day, a week or a season, get in touch via our website or Twitter at #brparchaeology