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.
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.