Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bamburgh-Castle Part II

The great saga of Bamburgh Castle continues.

Bamburgh was very important, due to it's location. It was used to keep the Scots and other rebels at bay. So it was necessary to keep the place up: over the next few hundred years, various improvements were made on Bamburgh. In 1131 the castle was rebuilt (wear and tear from various sieges and all) and fortified. And in 1164 The Great Tower, or Keep, was built. It still stands in the heart of the castle to this day. A very sturdy structure.

A Great Hall, 150 feet long and 34 feet wide, was built by Henry III in 1221. Well, he ordered it to be built, it's not like he did it him self. He also had glass windows put in (a luxury) to protect against the fierce northerly gales and had chimneys built in place of roof holes.

During the War of the Roses (the Red Rose and the White Rose being Lancaster and York [respectively], the two royal families) in 1464, King Henry the Sixth of the Red Rose of Lancaster was living at Bamburgh. Lord Warwick, fighting for Henry's rival Edward the Sixth of the White Rose of York, besieged the castle. After centuries of withstanding every kind of armed assault, Bamburgh Castle finally fell. King Henry fled the castle as the walls crashed to the ground. It was the first castle in England to be destroyed by gunfire. Bamburgh never again regained its powerful status as a fortress.

Another terrible blow befell Bamburgh. In 1610. James the First gave the fortress to Claudius Forster, the castle's last royal keeper, in thanks for his long standing service to the Crown. And so, after more than 1200 years of being the property of kings, Bamburgh Castle was privately owned for the first time. Now this by itself might not have been a problem, but, alas, sadly, though, maybe not surprisingly, the Forsters were unable to afford to keep up the already declining castle and Bamburgh fell into uninhabitable ruin. Only the Norman Keep remained intact. That is, the Great Tower. I knew it was a sturdy structure.

The darkest hour is just before the dawn. And so it (kinda) was for Bamburgh in 1701. The pitiful remains of Bamburgh Castle were inherited by Dorthy Forster, the last of the Forster family. Things looked very hopeless, but, fortunately, Dorthy fell in love and married the distinguished Bishop of Durham, Lord Nathaniel Crew. He was 40 years her senior, but they loved each other and were very happy. That was the dawn, but it came to an end (this had to be tragic). Dorthy died.

But, poor Lord Nathaniel set up a trust fund in the memory of his dear wife to restore her beloved castle and support the people of Bamburgh. This was, perhaps, another dawn.

Dorthy Foster's great niece proved a heroine. Her name was also Dorthy. In 1715, Dorthy's (the younger) brother, Tom Forster, became a supporter of the Jacobite Cause (a political movement to restore the House of Stuart to the thrones of England, Scotland, and the Kingdom of Ireland). Tom was made a General. His army was defeated and he was captured made a prisoner. (In London, if you wanted to know.) Here is where Dorthy comes in. She went to London, riding behind (it's called "pillion") the local blacksmith, to rescue her brother. She would go visit him often, and always took her maid with her (The website didn't say how the maid got to London). On her last visit, she went alone, and she wore under her dress her maid's clothes. When the guards weren't looking, she dressed Tom in the maid's clothes. After a bit, she and Tom left. By now, the guards had been changed, and these ones were accustomed to seeing two women leaving, so they let them pass, and Dorthy and her brother returned safely to Bamburgh.

The Bishop died in 1757 and a large sum of money was left in the trust fund for the upkeep of the castle. The Crewe Trustees began restoring Bamburgh. The work was done under the supervision of Dr. John Sharp. Now, Dr. Sharp did great wonders for Bamburgh. He set up a pharmacy and a hospital, he used his own money to pay for a midwife for the town and he did many other things. He turned the Castle into a free school for underprivileged children, and he had meat, milk and coal distributed to the poor and had their crops ground at the castle mill and the meal sold to raise funds for their benefit.

Dr. Sharp did more great things in 1781. He turned Bamburgh Castle in to a coastguard station. It is believed that it is the first ever of it's kind.You see, the 20 Farne Islands and hidden reefs before the castle had claimed many lives. The good Dr.Sharp was determined to make Bamburgh's seas safe. A gun was fired from the castle in foggy weather, a watch system and beach patrols were set up and massive iron chains for hauling floundering ships to safety. In 1786, Dr. Sharp launched the first ever lifeboat at Bamburgh. He also provided accommodation for shipwrecked mariners and paid for the bodies that washed up on the beach to be buried. I find all of this very neat, particularly fascinating, actually.

But, as you already know, Bamburgh's history is always full of ups and downs. Despite Dr. Sharp's efforts, the Castle fell into financial difficulty once again and the castle was sold.

In 1894, the Victorian industrialist and inventor Lord Armstrong learned that his distant relatives, the Forsters, had put Bamburgh Castle up for sale. He bought the partly restored castle for 60,000 pounds. His vision was to create a great country mansion to be used as a convalescent home for retired gentlemen.

Lord Armstrong did a great many remarkable things. He built a hydro electric power station, and he invented and installed central heating and air conditioning in Bamburgh Castle. But he died before all of his work on the castle was complete. His great nephew, the 2nd Lord Armstrong, completed the work, though, and made Bamburgh a family residence and it remains a private home to this day. It is also a museum.

You can read all about it at This website is where I found the information I have relayed here.

There are two artifacts associated with Bamburgh Castle that are quite interesting, The Bamburgh Sword and the Bamburgh Beast.

The "Beast" is a little solid gold plaque from the 7th century based on Celtic zoomorphological artwork. I couldn't find out exactly how big it is, but one place described it as being "thumbnail sized." The Bamburgh Castle official site says it is "smaller than a penny piece" so that sounds about right. I read on one place that it looks like an elephant, I thought
that's weird, but as I was tracing the picture above, I thought this does look like an elephant. Look at it closely, you'll see. I'd like to tell you what the tablet is but, they don't really know what it is, so I can't. It does look very cool, though, and has become sort of an emblem of Bamburgh Castle.

The Bamburgh Sword is most remarkable: it is the believed to be only one of its kind. I found this place that tells all about this absolutely fascinating sword.

Now, there are pictures of two different swords. I think that the cool shiny one is a replica of what the Bamburgh Sword would have looked like and the rusty shard is the actual sword.

I believe Bamburgh Castle is one of the most amazing fortress I have ever come to know.


Anonymous said...

Wow!! That sword is fantastic!! We want to go with you when you visit Bamburgh!! ;)

~ A. K. ~

Julie said...

Isn't it great!!! And of course you can come with me, I'll just ad you to the list of every one else that wants to some with me to Europe: My sister wants to go with me to Scotland (and I know you do to.)My mother wants to go with me to France, and my other aunt wants to go with me to Switzerland. :D

But yeah, Bamburgh is really neat!

Anonymous said...

I finally had time to read all of this. What an amazing history. I love it. Learning world history through the castles time left. I have heard of learning history through reading historical fiction, but this is even cooler!


Julie said...

Oh, Yes!!! I learned a ton! And I totally prefer this to historical fiction! ;)