Bamburgh is a most important site in the history of Britain.
Sadly the castle is only beginning to receive proper archaeological
excavation. The site of Bamburgh castle was fortified from an
early date, even if it still is in use today and this fact of some 2
millennium of continuous usage has much disguised the early phases of
the castle. Limited excavation has shown that the rock was
occupied continuously from the first century BC until the
Renaissance. After the arrival of the Romans it is thought the
site may have been used for a beacon. Later Bamburgh appears to
have been the royal centre, Din Guyardi.
As such it was ‘the capital' of the royal dynasty of
Northumberland which produced the religious hero, St Oswald
(d.642). His remains were said to have been preserved in the
basilica of St Peter which stood upon the high point of Bamburgh
rock. According to much later reports the history of the site
began in 547AD when King Ida of Northumbria during his 12 year reign:
built Bambrught, which was first enclosed with a fence and afterwards a wall...
The Winchester chronicle which mentions this is the earliest of the
renditions of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles and probably dates to around
890. The implication from this is that by the tenth century
Bamburgh was seen as an ancient stone fortress that dated back
generations. Ida seems to have died in 559 or 560 and knowledge
of Bamburgh disappears with him for some 200 years, although a little
after 1116 it was recorded that King Oswald's hands were preserved
undecayed in Bamburgh in 641. Simeon Durham (d.1129+) states that
these were held in a case within the church standing in Bamburgh
castle. He also stated that the castle was named after Queen
Bebbab who was supposed to have been the wife of King Æthelfrith
of Bernicia (d.616). According to Bede, King Penda (d.655) twice
unsuccessfully besieged Bamburgh, on one occasion trying to set fire to
the town within the wall by setting a great fire at the base of the
In 750 it was recorded that Bishop Ealdwulf (Eadberto)
of Lindsey was captured by King Ceolwulf (d.764) and held captive in
Bamburgh, presumably after the king had besieged the basilica of St
Peter at Lindisfarne. In 774 Bamburgh was described as being:
The well fortified city of
Bebba, not very large, occupying the space of 2 or 3 fields, having one
excavated entrance which was only reached by wonderfully lofty
steps. On the summit of the hill is a splendidly made church in
which is a beautiful cabinet. Within this lies the unspoiled
right hand of King Oswald, as Bede the historian of this nation tells
us. There is to the west, at the top of the city, a wonderfully
excavated well sweet to drink and pure to see.
In 926, King Aethelstan (924-39) expelled Aldred Fitz Eadulf from Bebbanbirig city, while in 993 the army of the Danes broke into Babbanburh
and carried away with them all that was found within. The castle
was presumably otherwise undamaged and soon reoccupied as it was
obviously still functional in 999 when Earl Waltheof of Northumbria
(d.1006+) defied King Malcolm MacKenneth (995-1034) from behind its
The castle seems to have survived intact from the sixth century right
up to the time of the Norman Conquest. Probably in the 1050s the
church seems to have been semi derelict when a monk from Peterborough
abbey succeeded in stealing the arm of Oswald from its care. Of
this Reginald of Durham remarked:
The city formerly renowned
for the magnificent splendour of her high estate, has in these latter
days been burdened with tribute and reduced to the condition of a
slave. She who was once the mistress of the cities of Britain has
exchanged the glories of her ancient Sabbaths for shame and
desolation. The crowds that flocked to her festivals are now
represented by a few herdsmen. The pleasures her dignity afforded
us are past and gone.
In the meantime, war came again to Bamburgh. The contemporary
Symeon Durham (d.1129+), who was born around 1070, stated that after King William I (1066-87) had laid waste the North of England during the latter part of 1070:
Earl Gospatric, who had been
made earl of Northumberland by King William, invaded Cumberland and
depopulated it. Having accomplished the slaughter and the
burning, he returned with great booty and shut himself up with his
allies in the most reliable fortification of Babbanburch, from which he often burst out, weakening the strength of the enemy, for Cumberland was at that time under the dominion of King Malcolm, not possessed by law, but subjugated by force.
Some 25 years later in 1095, the castle was obviously still defensible. During the reign of William Rufus
(1087-1100) a conspiracy was hatched against the king by Earl Robert
Mowbray of Northumberland, William Eu, Stephen Aumale, the king's
cousin, together with many others. However the plot was
frustrated by King William II forming the English army and besieging the rebels for 2 months in Newcastle at the mouth of the River Tyne. The Durham chronicler notes:
Then he [Rufus] stormed the
besieged castle and handed over the earl's brother, together with the
knights who he found there, to custody. After this he established
a castle before Bamburgh, that is, the city of Queen Bebba, into which
the earl had fled, and named it Bad Neighbour (Malveisin); and after placing soldiers therein, he returned to the south of the River Humber (Suthymbri). After his departure, the guards of Newcastle
promised Earl Robert that they would permit him to enter, if he should
come in secret. So he, having become joyful, went out one night
with 30 soldiers to accomplish this. When this was discovered,
the knights who guarded the [siege] castle pursued him, communicating
his departure by messengers to the keepers of Newcastle.
Which he [Robert], being unaware of, attempted to accomplish what he
had begun on a Sunday. But he could not do this, for he had been
For this reason he fled to the monastery of St. Oswin, king and martyr [Tynemouth].
Were, on the sixth day of his siege, he was severely wounded in the leg
while he was resisting his adversaries, many of whom were killed and
wounded. Of his own men some were wounded, but all were taken
prisoner; but he fled into the church; from which he was extracted and
placed into custody.
This succinctly sums up the events of Spring of 1095. Robert
Mowbray was the third and rather more successful Norman earl of
Northumberland. However, like his predecessors, he felt his
distance from London gave him an independence from the rest of the
Norman kingdom. As such he plotted with other nobles to place
Stephen Aumale (d.1135) on the throne in place of Rufus.
The king seemed aware of these plots and demanded that Robert come to
court to answer a charge of piracy after Robert and his nephew Morel of
Alnwick fame, had violently plundered 4
canard trading vessels from Norway. The earl's refusal was taken
as an act of rebellion, which allowed Rufus to act first against the
rebels before they were ready. The king rapidly marched on Newcastle
where the earl's brother underwent a 2 month siege, while Earl Robert
attempted to breath life into the rebellion. However, on the fall
of Newcastle, Robert was forced back with
his wife, Matilda and Sheriff Morel of Northumberland, on Bamburgh
castle. The king found the fortress too strongly defended to
storm so he built a castle to control Northumberland and
Bamburgh. It has been argued that this was a siege castle due to
much later accounts of the siege. However, such suggestions have
always floundered on the fact that there are no visible castle remains
within eyeshot of Bamburgh castle which would suit the designation
siege castle. It is therefore possible that the castle
‘before' Bamburgh was before in so far as it was between Newcastle
and Bamburgh, therefore coming after leaving Newcastle, but before
reaching Bamburgh. In this case it is worth suggesting that Rufus
used his large army to build a new fortress at Warkworth,
which was 20 miles away as his castle ‘before' Bamburgh.
These thoughts will be amplified more after looking at other accounts
of the war of 1095.
Another contemporary, Florence Worcester (d.1118), knew pretty much the
same story as Symeon, although he also noted the storming of another
fortress before Newcastle. Possibly this was Morpeth some 30 miles south of Bamburgh and 14 miles north of Newcastle straight up the Roman road. Florence wrote:
the king... assembled his
army from all England and besieged the castle of Earl Robert [Mowbray
of Northumberland], which was situated near the mouth of the River Tyne
[Newcastle], for 2 months; and meanwhile having stormed a certain fortress [Morpeth],
he made prisoners of nearly all the best soldiers of the earl and put
them in confinement. Then he took the besieged castle [Newcastle]
and placed into safe custody the brother of the earl and the knights
whom he found within. After this he raised a castle before
Bamburgh... into which the earl had fled and this he called Malveisin and having garrisoned it, he returned to the south of the Humber. After his departure, the watchmen at Newcastle
promised Earl Robert that they would allow him to enter if he would
come secretly. And he joyfully acceded and went out by night to
accomplish this with 30 knights. This becoming known, the knights
who kept the castle [Malveisin] followed him and sent messengers to the guards of Newcastle
to inform them of his departure; [Robert] being ignorant of this, on
Sunday he made his attempt, which failed, for he was detected.
Wherefore he fled to the monastery of St Oswin, king and martyr [Tynemouth],
where, on the sixth day of the siege, he was severely wounded in the
leg... while resisting the enemy many of whom were killed and
wounded... he himself taking refuge in a church from which he was
brought forth and placed in confinement.
The monks of Peterborough compiled a new Anglo-Saxon chronicle for
their house around 1121 after they had lost most of their possessions
in a great fire during 1116. This recorded that after Pentecost
1095 the king went against the earl of Northumberland:
and immediately he came there he conquered many and well nigh all the best men of the earl's court inside one fortress (faestene, ie. Morpeth) and put them in captivity; and then besieged Newcastle (castel aet Tine muthan besaet)
until he conquered it and in there the earl's brother and all those who
were with him. Afterwards he travelled to Bamburgh and besieged
the earl in there. But then, when the king saw that he could not
conquer it, he ordered a castle to be made before Bamburgh (he makian aenne castel to foran Bebbaburgh) and called it in his language Malveisin,
that is in English ‘Evil neighbour' and set it strongly with his
men and afterwards went southward. Then immediately the king had
gone south, the earl travelled out one night from Bamburgh towards Tynemouth (Tine muthan),
but those who were in the new castle became aware of it and went after
him and fought against him and wounded him and afterwards captured him
and of those who were with him, some they killed and some they took
Writing some 20-30 years after the event Orderic Vitalis (d.1142) stated:
They laid siege to the most
secure castle which is called Bamburgh. And since that
fortification was impregnable, because it seemed inaccessible on
account of the marshes and waters, and certain other obstacles across
the routes by which it was surrounded, the king built a new
fortification for the defence of the province and the confinement of
the enemy, and filled it with soldiers, arms and supplies. Those
who were part of the conspiracy [to kill the king] fearing detection
observed silence... The king... urged forward the works of the
new fortifications... while Robert, in deep tribulation, saw from his
battlements the works which were being carried on against him, called
loudly to his accomplices by name, publically recommending them to
adhere faithfully to their traitorous league to which they had
After the king departed:
Robert Mowbray... attempting
to pass from one castle to another fell into the enemy's hands... and
lived 30 years in confinement....
At the present day, at any rate, waters and marshes do not constitute
the principal defences of Bamburgh, but the drainage where the town and
cricket field now stand might once have been more wet and certainly the
sea came right up to the rock under the barbican to the west at
Elmund's Well. Yet it is possible that Orderic was simply
guessing about the reasons for the strength of the castle upon Bamburgh
rock and invented the marshes. Regardless, it is quite clear from
these near contemporary accounts that there is no evidence as to what
form or even where this ‘siege castle' was built to control
Northumberland and keep Earl Robert bottled up. Warkworth
therefore still seems a good possibility, especially when there are no
traces of royal sized earthworks anywhere near Bamburgh. However,
Orderic's account, if it can be trusted, does seem to suggest that
Bamburgh and the siege castle were intervisible in 1095.
Roger Wendover (d.1235), writing many years later, is the first to describe the ‘siege castle' as a wooden fortress.
Since Earl Robert of Northumberland in his pride refused to go to the king's court [King William Rufus]
therefore advanced an army into Northumberland against Robert, where he
captured all the most powerful of the earl's household at Newcastle and bound them in chains; from there he proceeded to Tynemouth castle
in which he captured Earl Robert's brother and then on to Bamburgh
castle where he besieged Earl Robert; but when he saw that the castle
was impregnable, he built another wooden castle in front of that
castle, which he called Bad Neighbour (Malveisin), leaving a part of his army in it, he withdrew from thence.
And when one night the earl secretly withdrew from it [Bamburgh castle], the king's army followed him to Tynemouth; where, when he attempted to defend himself, he was captured without a wound, and imprisoned at Windsor.
Bamburgh castle was therefore surrendered to the king and all the
earl's supporters were badly treated; for William Eu was deprived of
his eyes and Earl Eudes of Champagne (Odo of Campania, d.1115+) and
many others disinherited.
The blunders of this history are manifold. Tynemouth was a priory and not a castle at this point in history. Earl Robert's brother was captured at Newcastle, not Tynemouth. Earl Robert's household was probably captured at Morpeth, not Newcaslte and he was wounded in the leg during his capture. How could the earl be defending Tynemouth which had already fallen to Rufus in Wendover's story? Finally, Wendover has it that Earl Robert was imprisoned at Windsor,
rather than being taken directly to Bamburgh to make the garrison to
surrender. Considering all of this and that no early source
mentions a wooden castle being built ‘in front of' Bamburgh, it
is possible that this ‘fact' too belongs to the realm of
One final possibility should be examined and that is that Orderic was
right in his history and that Earl Robert ‘saw from his
battlements the works which were being carried on against him' and
shouted to those in the newly rising defences. If this were the
case then it opens up the possibility that the siege castle was
actually built upon the Whinsill itself and that its ‘motte' lies
under the mid eighteenth century windmill. The mound of his lies
some 250' from the Smith Gate curtain and nearly 500' from the keep
battlements. Such would be well within shouting range.
Further, the 2 mottes surrounding Wigmore castle may
well date to the siege of 1155 and offer similarities in position and
style to the Bamburgh windmill mound. This said, there is no
reason why Malveisin could not have been the windmill mound at Bamburgh, while Rufus also built Warkworth castle to help control Northumberland.
At this time a probably genuine charter of Edgar, claiming to be king of Scots, was made to the bishop and monks of Durham. A supplement to this stated that it had been confirmed in the churchyard of Norham on 29 August 1095 ‘in the year in which King William the son of King William Senior,
built a new castle near Bamburgh against Earl Robert of
Northumberland'. This is often translated as the simple ‘at
Bamburgh'. However, the word used in the original is ‘apud'
which means at, by, near, among or before. Considering the
circumstances near or before seems a better translation. This
shows that an Anglo-Scottish army had reached as far as Norham, which they no doubt secured for Rufus, while Earl Robert was still resisting at Bamburgh.
According to Geoffrey Gaimar, who was writing before 1155, Earl Robert was penned up in Bamburgh when:
The king with his host went thither.
The new castle he then built.
Then he took Morpeth, a strong castle,
Which stood on a hill.
Above Wansbeck it stood.
William Morlay held it.
And when he [Rufus] had taken this castle
He advanced into the country.
At Bamburgh upon the sea
He made all his host stay.
Robert Mowbray was there...
According to Gaimar, Rufus pressed the siege hard and suffered many
assaults in return, but the castle began to run short of supplies, so
the earl fled by sea through the postern gate, having one man steering
the vessel which took Robert and a few folk to Tynemouth
where the king took him and imprisoned him. This is the only
account of Robert going by sea to Tynemouth and if the Windmill mound
was Rufus' siege castle, then it is doubtful if Robert could have got
past them to the port which seems to have been at Elmund's Well
postern. That said the idea of travelling by sea to Newcastle and Tynemouth might have been quicker by sea than by land as well as being more surreptitious.
With the revolt of 1095 over, Rufus took over Bamburgh as a royal castle. His brother and successor, Henry I (1100-35), made Eustace Fitz John of Alnwick constable of the castle. The vill was certainly in royal hands around 1119 when King Henry
granted the churches of St Oswald and St Aidan of Bamburgh to Nostell
priory. The first was probably in the castle and the second in
the town. That the vill and therefore the castle were still under
royal control is confirmed in the Spring of 1121, when King Henry informed the barons of Northumberland that he had given to Eustace Fitz John (d.1157) the land of the crossbowman (Arbaristarii)
which the king held in demesne at Bamburgh, viz the land of
Spindleston and the mill of Warnet [Waren Mill in Spindleston]
which used to render 60s annually, as well as the land of
Budle which used to render 40s; to be held as Eustace holds his
other lands from the king. This was witnessed by various local
dignitaries, namely, William Aubigny, Nigel Aubigny, Walter Espec [Helmsley], Robert Bruce [Lochmaben
and Skelton] and Forne [Fitz Sigulf]. The implication of all this
is that the castle remained a royal stronghold. The lands granted
to Eustace were probably those still held by William Vescy in 1168 and
worth 25s 4d. As a royal castle of Northumberland it was recorded
in September 1130, that Osbert the mason of Bamburgh had been allocated
35s directly from royal revenues and a further 7d for repairing the
castle gate. That Osbert was a mason would strongly suggest that
Bamburgh castle was a stone fortress needing maintenance. The
castle gate at this time was probably the Tower Gate, just north-east
of the keep, although Smith Gate might be meant.
Five years later King Henry I died and chaos came to his former domains. The story of the conquest of Northumberland by King David of Scotland (1124-53) is told under Alnwick castle, but events concerning Bamburgh will be recapped here. In early 1136, King David captured Alnwick castle. According to various chroniclers the Scottish king, cynically remembering his oath to King Henry I (d.1135), invaded the kingdom of England swiftly taking various garrisons in Cumberland and Northumberland and advancing on Durham,
while bypassing the royal castle of Bamburgh held by Eustace Fitz John
(d.1157), as this was too strong for him to assault. On hearing
of the fall of Carlisle and Newcastle, King Stephen marched north in the winter of 1136. He reached Durham where he made a treaty with King David. By this the Scottish king kept Carlisle and Cumberland, but restored Alnwick, Newcastle, Norham and Wark to English control.
Despite Eustace Fitz John's successful defence of Bamburgh in 1136, when his own castle of Alnwick
and the rest of Northumberland fell to the Scots, the king subsequently
moved against him, fearing treachery. In February 1138, King Stephen forced Eustace to ‘resign his fortress of Bamburgh into the king's hand'. Due to this:
Eustace Fitz John, one of the
great nobles of England, a good friend of the late King Henry as well
as a man of great prudence and a good councillor in secular affairs,
joined him [David] and was present in his army. King Henry had
committed a castle to him [Bamburgh] which he was compelled [by
Stephen] to return; being offended by this, in order that he might
avenge the injury that had been inflicted on him, he turned to his [the
The predictable result of stripping Eustace of his great charge, was
that at the first possible opportunity he joined the Scots and then
attacked Bamburgh castle, doing it great damage. The royalist Gesta Stephani thought that Eustace was an old and loyal friend of King Henry I
and therefore to gain justice and favour as it seemed to him and
several others like him, he took the opportunity of supporting the
Empress. Symeon Durham gave another take on the same story.
According to him King Stephen advanced during Lent to Wark castle before planning to continue to Roxburgh, where King David was preparing a night ambush for him. At this point King Stephen became aware of a plot within his army to turn him over to his Scottish enemies.
But the plot was made known
to King Stephen, who, preparing to return [south] in anger, forced
Eustace to resign the fortification of Bamburgh (Bahanburch) into his
own hands, and he hastily returned to England.
Whether the plot was real or imaginary did not really matter, for
Eustace lost control of Bamburgh which he had successfully defended
against King David in 1136. The actual events were thought so important some 150 years later that they were recorded for King Edward I on 20 May 1291. According to chronicles held at Carlisle cathedral:
In 1138 King David wasted and occupied almost all Northumbria and seized Carlisle, Newcastle and other towns excepting Bamburgh, when Stephen compelled him to return to his own land and followed him to Roxburgh...
In the autumn of 1138 King David again advanced over the border, this time marching on Yorkshire while he left 2 of his barons to besiege Wark castle. As he marched south Eustace Fitz John, ‘from whom King Stephen
had taken Bambrugh' abandoned his fealty to the English king and united
his forces to David's troops, rather than opposing them.
So they set out past
Bamburgh. There the young men of that same place, recklessly
boasting about the fortifications in the valley which they had built in
front of the castle, roused the Scots as they passed by. They
applied themselves at once to the destruction of the rampart, the
Scots' spirits excited, so they hastened inside and killed as many as
Despite the success in taking the defences ‘in the valley', the
Scots and their ally failed to take Bamburgh castle itself. These
valley defences were quite possibly the barbican including Elmund's
Well. After the battle of the Standard on 22 August 1138, another
treaty was negotiated in April 1139 between David and Stephen.
This granted both Northumberland and Cumberland to Scottish control, although the castles of Newcastle
and Bamburgh were exempted. This exception obviously didn't last
long and by 1147 Bamburgh was in the hands of Earl Henry when he made a
charter to Tynemouth priory at Bamburgh exempting them from castle works on Newcastle or other fortresses in the earldom. With him at this time in Bamburgh were Bishop Ethelwald of Carlisle, Hugh Morville (d.1162), Earl Gospatrick of Dunbar
(d.1166), Gervase Ridel, Gilbert Umfraville, William Somerville
(d.1162) and Sheriff Ada. It is possible that the 5 fees in Earl
Henry's earldom of Huntingdon were granted to Eustace Fitz John
(d.1157) around this time and that they were related to his
constableship of Bamburgh castle.
King David's death in 1153 at Carlisle was followed a year later by that of King Stephen at Dover. At David's death Northumberland, presumably with Bamburgh castle, was turned over to David's younger grandson, William the Lion (d.1214). In England King Stephen's successor, Henry Fitz Empress
(d.1189), wished to turn the clock back to 1135 when his grandfather
died. He therefore required back from the Scottish king, David's
elder grandson, Malcolm IV (d.1165), the northern counties of England. Consequently in July 1157, King Malcolm surrendered to the king Cumberland and Northumberland with the castles of Carlisle, Bamburgh and Newcastle as well as the county of Lothian. This occurred when the 2 kings met at Peak castle.
Henceforward Northumberland appeared in the pipe rolls as a royal
county and in 1159 it was recorded that 60s 10d had been paid to John
Fitz Canute, the hereditary porter of Bamburgh castle. The clock
had been successfully turned back to 1135 in the North.
It seems likely that King Henry II
(1154-89) received a fully functional masonry castle in 1157, for
during the next 90 years next to nothing was spent on the
fortress. In 1164 the king authorised the spending of just
£4 on work on the keep. Later in 1168, 1170 and 1171 a
grand total of £112 3s 3d was spent on undefined castle works,
while in 1183, £19 6s 8d was spent on repairs to the castle and
its gate (porte). Considering the inner ward of Dover castle
including the great keep cost over £6,000 to build between 1180
and 1188, it can be seen that this sum, if this were all that was
spent, amounted to mere tinkering with the defences of Bamburgh
castle. By volume Bamburgh keep is 43% the size of Dover's
keep. As Dover keep,
admittedly the grandest of its type in England, cost over £3,000
to build, it would be expected that expenditure at Bamburgh would have
exceeded £1,000 if Henry II built this keep. By comparison the entire castle of Orford seems to have cost over £1,600 to build, although nothing was recorded as being spent there on the keep.
The pipe roll evidence considered above suggests that something large,
like a tower, was built at the castle during the period 1168 to
1171. Firstly £112 3s 3d would build quite a sizeable
structure, either a tower or a hall, while whatever was built was
finished in wood at a cost of £4 15s in 1171. This suggests
the structure took some 4 years to build. It is possible that the
building work was more extensive than the expenditure suggests as one
Crown tenant, William Fitz Waltheof, was fined 5m (£3 6s 8d) in
1170 for refusing to help in the works at the castle. Possibly
others gave their assistance for free and therefore these expenses were
not recorded in the pipe roll. After these works were apparently
completed, King William the Lion (1165-1214) in 1174 sent a force of knights from his siege camp at Wark
towards Bamburgh, but the sun having risen before they reached their
objective, they abandoned any attack. Nine years later repairs to
the castle and its gate cost £19 6s 8d.
In the next reign, King Richard I
(1189-99) spent just £3 1s 3d on amending the king's houses in
the castle during 1195 and 1197, while in 1198 just 10s was spent on
amending the castle gates. King John
(1199-1216) was rather more interested in the fortress spending
£110 13s 9d on repairs and amendments between 1200 and 1209, an
average of some £15 a year on the 7 years that repairs were
accounted for. On the first occasion £5 was noted as being
spent on repairing the houses within Bamburgh castle and a similar
amount on Newcastle. This is a similar amount to that apparently spent yearly on Carlisle castle.
Perhaps most northern castles usually had this sum nominally spent upon
them as the figure of £5 for amending the king's houses in
Bamburgh castle appears again in 1229. Against this, in 1202 it
was recorded that £3 12s 6d was spent on amending the king's
houses in Bamburgh and Newcastle
combined. The next year, 1203, amendments to whole fortress cost
a much more substantial £60 2s 5d. Similarly in 1204,
£12 was spent on repairing the castle while a further 17s 7d was
spent on amending the king's houses within it. The same year 3
crossbowmen were paid £24 16s 4d for staying in the castle for 36
weeks and 2 days at a rate of 7½d per day. In 1206, 26s
was split between amendments to the houses in Newcastle
and Bamburgh castles. In 1208 merely 25s 4d was spent upon the
same, but the next year 59s 8d was spent on repairing the king's houses
in Bamburgh alone. Quite obviously King John
was interested in keeping the accommodation within this fortress in
good condition and having troops within them. It should be noted
that virtually nothing was spent upon the actual defences after 1157,
unless this was done by expenditure outside that recorded in the pipe
The castle history during the reigns of the first 3 Plantagenet kings seems quite peaceful, with King John
staying at the fortress between 13 and 15 February 1201. Around
1212 it was recorded that the office of porter of the main gate at
Bamburgh had been held by the descendants of a certain Canute since the
time of King William I (1066-1087). On 20 August 1212, Robert Fitz Roger (d.1214) of Warkworth was ordered to deliver the castles of Bamburgh and Newcastle
to Earl William Warenne (d.1240), Archdeacon Aimeric of Durham
(d.1217/18) and Philip Oldcoats (d.1221). The king stayed again
on 28 January 1213, while he was engaged in ravaging the lands of his
enemies in the North. In 1216 Philip Oldcoats seized a merchant
at Bamburgh, but was ordered on 23 August to release both him and his
Oldcoats was obviously still constable when he died early in 1221. As a result Hubert Burgh (d.1243) and the young King Henry III(1216-72)
came to Bamburgh castle with Brito the crossbowman and his 18
followers on 21 March. Hubert's first act there was to order the
sheriff of Northumberland to pay Constable John Wascelin, as well as
John Carpenter and Robert the porter, their proper salaries as well as
to build a grange, 150' long by 34' wide. The king also ordered
that Roger Hodesac should be reimbursed his expenses of 60s for
providing the castle with knights and serjeants on the death of Philip
Oldcoats and maintaining them until John Wascelin could take over as
constable. The minor amount of 10s 8d was then spent in building
a stone wall around the barn in the bailey, while the building of the
grange itself had cost £46 18s by 1222. During 1221 and
1222 Hubert Burgh had also authorised £5 to be spent on the
castle. Also, on 1 May 1221, the castle of Nafferton was ordered
to be demolished and the woodwork from it taken for the works at
Bamburgh castle. Further, the constable of Newcastle
was ordered to send 3 horn crossbows and 3 well strung wooden ones with
the crossbow of William Statton together with 4,000 quarrels to
Bamburgh. Soon afterwards the mounted crossbowmen Boniface and
Roger Quatremares arrived at the castle with a foot crossbowman, Roger
Bosco. These men were then paid for the next 8 years with the
mounted men receiving 7½d per day and the footman 3d.
Further work on the castle included repairing the turning bridge before
the great gate for £5 2s 2d. The only drawbridge certainly
at the castle was the one before the twin towered gatehouse at the new
eastern entrance to the castle.
In 1223 work was carried out on the floor planks (planchicii)
of the great tower of Bamburgh castle as well as on the keep guttering,
other turrets, the hall and other houses within the castle for
£14 13s 4d by the view of Adam Docsford and Nigel
Cordwainer. Carpentry was continuing at the castle during 1225
with their wages costing £10 8d. At this time the castle
seems to have had a fee of 100m (£66 13s 4d) per annum attached
to it to maintain the building and a garrison there. In 1226 this
went up to 120m (£80) and then in 1239 to 200m (£133 6s
8d). Repairs at the fortress were going on again on 28 November
1227, when Roger Hodesac, the king's serjeant of Bamburgh, was ordered
to let Constable John Wascelin have 106s in recompense for the money he
had spent having timber that belonged to the bishop of Durham brought
to the castle for its maintenance. The next year on 16 May 1228,
Serjeant Roger Hodesac was ordered to have the breach repaired in
Bamburgh castle and to have a carpenter do the king's works there at
fixed wages, namely 6m (£4) per year, the amount that his
predecessor used to receive. Three years later in 1231, £26 1s
11½d was spent on repairing the castle bridge, a stable within
the castle and work on a new chamber. In 1230, 1231 and 1238
£10 was recorded as shared with Newcastle on repairing the king's
houses within the castle. This was followed on 2 March 1233, by
the sheriff of Northumberland being ordered to have the castle gate
repaired without delay. The repairs were done by September 1234
when an account for works at the castle included £10 being spent
on amending the king's houses of Bamburgh and Newcastle
castles, £4 for the wages of John the carpenter and £78 9s
11d for repairing the gate of Bamburgh by the testimony of Henry
Sunderland and Peter Estreit. Additionally provisioning the
garrisons of both Bamburgh and Newcastle
cost £100. This large sum suggests that more than mere
repairs to the gate were carried out, some £80 would have been
sufficient to build a small tower. Perhaps this saw the
construction of the rectangular chamber on the east side of the great
twin towered gatehouse.
On 12 May 1236, Hugh Bolbec (d.1262) was appointed custodian of Northumberland with the castles of Bamburgh and Newcastle.
He soon wrote to the king that his salary was both insufficient for the
job and in arrears, so it was impossible for him to have the buildings
and turrets of Bamburgh castle repaired, the wall raised in one place,
a new turret built in another, the one that was half completed finished
and the great grange repaired so that it did not collapse. All
these works had been urged on him by royal letters and 2 household
knights, Richard Fitz Hugh and Simon Brumtoft. However, it was
estimated that these works would cost over £200 and the money
simply was not available.
In September 1237, it was recorded, without cost, that the rock next to Bamburgh castle barbican had been excavated (concavanda),
a grange and bakery built and the castle bridge repaired. This
seems to have been in response to a command to repair the grange and
bakehouse of the castle on 16 May 1237. These works were caused
by the simmering tension between Henry III
and Scotland. This mistrust was brought to an end that September
and on 28 September 1237 the king wrote to his constables of Bamburgh
and Newcastle that a firm peace had been
made with the king of Scots so that the king ‘is not now in fear
of his castles as before' and so Hugh Bolbec was ordered ‘to
spend as little as he can on these castles'. Regardless of this,
in November or December 1237 Sheriff Bolbec wrote again to Henry III (1216-72) that he had received the king's command to carry out repairs to Bamburgh and Newcastle,
but that the county did not supply sufficient funds for this and that
he had not been paid the 200m (£133 6s 8d) which he should have
been for keeping the county and the castles for a year since Michaelmas
last. Despite this he had paid the crossbowmen at Bamburgh and
repaired 2 bridges at the castle. Two years later at Michaelmas
1239, the sheriff recorded that he had spent £18 4s 9½d
‘in repairing the king's mill at Bamburgh and the king's chamber
of the king's old hall and the king's old kitchen to the same hall
pertaining to Newcastle' (in
repatione molendino regis de Bamburc et cameo regis vetris aule regis
et vetris coquine regis ad eandem aulam p'tin in Novo Castro supra Tynam).
He also spent a further £3 9s 4d on amending the king's houses in
Bamburgh castle. In 1240 he further amended the king's houses of
Bamburgh and Newcastle for £8 3s
9½d and in 1242 he did the same for £3 11s 11d. In
1243 it was recorded that £9 13s 9½d had been spent on
amending the king's houses in Bamburgh and Newcastle,
while a mill had been thrown down by the wind at Bamburgh and had had
to be repaired for £12 13s 9½d. The mill had been
blown down by a storm before 27 April 1243. Whether this was the
windmill in the castle west ward or not is another matter, but the
king's mills of Bamburgh were ordered repaired again on 9 May 1250,
which was done by September 1252 at a cost of £33 15s 9d.
The next year on 10 August 1244, the sheriff was ordered to let Gerard
the Engineer have what he needed while he repaired the king's castle
crossbows at Bamburgh and Newcastle.
These crossbows needed further maintenance by 25 October 1249.
Once more in 1245, £9 5s 2d was spent on amending the king's
houses in Bamburgh and Newcastle.
On 29 July 1249, the sheriff was ordered to spend up to 40m (£26
13s 4d) on repairing and improving the king's castle of Bamburgh.
In 1250, £17 9s 8d was spent in repairing the tower of Elmund's
Well in the castle and the barbican before the gate of St Oswald.
This was in reply to the sheriff being ordered to repair this tower and
barbican on 20 April 1250. The next year on 17 October 1251, he
was also ordered to carry out any necessary repairs on Bamburgh castle
hall. This was done by September 1252 when it was recorded that
£15 8s 9d had been spent on repairing the king's houses in the
castle over the past 4 years as well as £33 15s 9d on repairing
the king's mill this year.
On 31 May 1253, the sheriff was ordered to mend and repair where
necessary the great tower, the 3 gates within the castle with their
doors, locks and fastenings as well as the great swing bridge outside
the great gate to the south. On 13 November 1255, the sheriff was
ordered to repair the king's buildings of Bamburgh castle ‘where
absolutely necessary and at the least cost possible'. This
resulted in an expenditure of £39 14s 5d on repairing the houses
of the castle as well as repairing 2 turrets in the fortress with lead
at a cost of £8 2s 4d, while other repairs had cost 40m
(£26 13s 4d) by September 1256 and £3 1s 7d had been spent
by September 1258 on repairing the hall. In the summer of 1263,
the king, finding many of his barons unfaithful, ordered the castle
prepared for defence when it was learned that the kings of Denmark and
Norway were prowling the outer islands of Scotland with a great
fleet. Presumably this was the fleet eventually destroyed at the
battle of Largs by King Alexander III (1249-86).
From 3 May 1266, the cost of maintaining the garrison of Bamburgh
castle for 1 year was £1,231 9½d. It also seems that
Bamburgh was one of the few castles to remain constantly under the
control of the royalists during the Barons' War. It is to be
wondered if some of this immense cost was not simply exploitation of a
weak and incompetent king. When Edward I
(1272-1307) arrived back from Crusade in 1274 he immediately carried
out an inquest on fiscal abuses that had gone on during the end of his
father's reign. This discovered that William Heron [made
constable in 1248] had purloined some £5 when he had charged the
Crown £9 for building a granary at the castle which should have
cost no more than £4. Worse still, the current constable,
Robert Neville [of Raby, d.1282] had charged
the exchequer 1,200m (£800) for works at the castle that could
have been done for 200m (£133 6s 8d). As a consequence of
this Robert was relieved of his constableship on 7 June 1276.
The castle played an important part in history in 1296 when King Edward summoned King John Balliol
to meet him at Bamburgh to avoid war. After his victory over
Balliol, Edward halted at the castle on his triumphant return from
Scotland on 20 September. On 12 December 1299 and 1 January 1300,
King Edward was again at
Bamburgh. During the 9 years he was constable (1295-1304), Earl
John Warenne expended £570 on the munitioning of the fortress and
the repair of the castle houses. The bulk of this was still owed
to his executors several years later.
On 23 November 1307, Edward II (1307-27) granted to Isabel Beaumont, the widow of John Vescy of Alnwick,
the custody of Bamburgh castle with the truncage due to it and the rent
of Wearmouth town for her life. This was all for a rent of
£110 annually and the condition that she repaired at her own cost
the houses, gates, bridges and walls of the castle as well as sustained
the gatekeepers and watchmen of the place. Then on 6 November
1307, King Edward II ordered
her to release, at her own request out of piety, 8 Scottish prisoners
held in Bamburgh castle. They were also to have their wages paid
as well. All of these had been taken prisoner during the reign of
Edward I (1272-1307). On
19 December 1307 and 6 April 1308, the king ordered the fortifying and
guarding of many castles throughout England. This of course
included Bamburgh. On 12 March 1310, the king further conceded to
Isabel in consideration of her expenses in remaining in the company of
the queen of her payment of £110 yearly for Bamburgh as long as
she undertook the maintenance of the houses, gates, bridges and walls
of the castle and also the payment of the watchmen. The king
engaged to find victuals and other necessities in case of war and
further took on the expenditure of having the great and lesser towers
as well as the great outer ward maintained at his own expense.
The 1307 grant of Bamburgh to Isabel Vescy had gone against statute,
but the king's position was strong at the beginning of the reign.
This royal strength was frittered away as time passed, but the grant of
Bamburgh assured him of Isabel's loyalty and King Edward II stayed at the castle on 26 July 1311 during his Scottish campaign. Afterwards:
The king, fearing the envy
and hatred of the great of the kingdom of England for Piers Gaveston,
placed him in Bamburgh castle for his security, asserting that he had
placed him there to please his prelates, earls, barons and great men.
Therefore, in order to
preserve him [Gaveston] from the intrigues of the magnates, the king
shut him up in Bamburgh castle, asserting that he had done this to
appease the hearts of his friends. But this did not appear to be
enough to them, so that even this worst king suffered not a few insults
because of it.
Therefore in the year 1311 about 24 June [more likely 26 July
1311], he [Gaveston] was recalled from Bamburgh and entrusted to the
custody of Earl Aymer Valance of Pembroke (d.1324), whom he [Gaveston]
had previously compelled to swear by the sacred sacrament, standing in
his presence, that he would defend him, as far as he could unscathed,
against all his enemies, until the time came when he proposed to
reconcile him to the rest of the nobles by charter.
This of course did not happen and Gaveston went into exile after the
Autumn parliament on 3 November 1311. King Edward was furious,
but initially powerless. On 27 September 1311, he had assented to
the Ordinances being enacted, one of which stated that the Lady Vescy
should be banished from court for obtaining grants of land for her
brother, Henry Beaumont, and others to the disherison of the Crown and
that Bamburgh castle should be taken from her and not let out again
unless at the king's pleasure. Consequently on 18 December,
Isabel Vescy was ordered to hand Bamburgh castle over to Henry
Percy. Before things could settle down, around Christmas 1311,
the king suddenly recalled Gaveston to him at York, the friends probably meeting at Knaresborough
on 13 January 1312. A fortnight later on 28 January 1312, the
king wrote to Isabel Vescy as keeper of Bamburgh castle, stating that
he wished her to retain possession of the fortress, as he was
‘unwilling that Henry Percy, to whom he had granted it, should
have custody thereof'. After this there was some minor
campaigning in Yorkshire which set in motion events that led to
Gaveston's death on 19 June 1312 as related under Scarborough.
In the meantime on 16 May 1312, about a week after Gaveston's capitulation at Scarborough,
Isabel Vescy was commanded to yield Bamburgh to John Eslington and he
was ordered on 29 May 1312, to victual the castle with 100 quarters
(6,400 gallons) of wheat, 200 quarters (12,800 gallons) of malt and 300
quarters (19,200 gallons) of oats. The resumption of the castle
ended Isabel's association with Bamburgh, although on 25 November 1313,
it was recorded that Isabella, the king's kinswoman and widow of John
Vescy, had lately surrendered Bamburgh castle, granted to her for life,
to the king. The king wishes to know if she has also surrendered
the armour, victuals and other things in the castle.
John Eslington remained constable until his capture at Bannockburn on
25 June 1314. Three days later Roger Horsley was appointed by the
king's word of mouth to fill the now vacant position. Eslington
had proved a powerful constable which caused the locals of Bamburgh to
complain to the king that he refused to let them pay £270 to the
earl of Moray for a local truce unless they paid the constable the same
amount. Further, he charged them exorbitant fees for permission
to store their smaller goods in his castle and that his porters and
serjeants extorted money from them for merely entering or leaving the
fortress. They therefore found themselves reduced to the
bitterest of states trapped as they were between the Scots on the one
side and the constable on the other. Further, John the Irishman
and his fellows of the castle seized their provisions without any
intention of paying for them. The constable also seemed to
practising piracy against any who came near the castle by sea.
During 1315 a garrison of 20 men at arms and 30 hobelars were kept at
the castle under Constable Horsley at the king's expense while Roger le
Attallour was there improving the crossbows, bows and other
instruments. On 7 February 1316, Horsley was ordered to give
custody of the castle to William Felton, but was back in command by
1319 when he had a permanent garrison there of 15 men at arms and 30
foot, while the king was supplying a further 15 men at arms there under
David Langeton and Thomas Hedon. These latter 2 men had led the
garrisons of Bamburgh, Alnwick and Warkworth on a raid that took the peles of Bolton and Whittingham (Wytingham)
in 1318. A Scottish raiding army came near in 1322 as the king
wrote on 18 September stating his displeasure ‘with some men in
Bamburgh castle who held a colloquy with the Scots near the castle and
made a fine to save their houses and goods'. The king also
complained to Constable Roger Horsley of Bamburgh castle that he had
allowed a small force of Scots in ‘infest the area near him,
doing mischief and, what is worse, taking ransoms and hostages from his
subjects' and let them get away without challenge or damage from the
garrisons, to the constable's dishonour and shame as he had a much
stronger force that the king had spent so much in strengthening.
Consequently as they only amounted to 100 men at arms and 100 hobelars
the king was astonished that there were no proper scouts to even harass
or delay the enemy.
Around the same time Robert Horncliff was appointed constable. In
1329 he reported that the munition of Bamburgh castle consisted of 4
casks of wine and a pipe of Greek wine that had gone bad, 1 and a part
jars of honey, 7 targes - broken and unrepaired, an aketon of no value,
5 bassinets of no value, 7 crossbows with screws, one of whalebone and
with a case of new work, a dozen 1 foot crossbows, 4 buckets full of
quarrels, a bow and 5 sheaves of arrows, 7 baskets for bows, 12 baskets
for 1 foot crossbows of which 4 were of no value, 2 baskets for screw
crossbows, 10 one foot crossbows of no value, a teler without a nut for
a screw crossbow, 35 bolts for a springal of new work, 28 unfeathered
bolts for a springal - 4 without heads, 46 wax torches in a chest, 15
baldrics 4 of which had no fastenings, 360 leaves of whalebone, an old
brass pot containing 5 flagons, 10 pairs of fetters, a copper and a
mashvat in the brewery, a copper in the kitchen furnace, 2 tables with
4 pairs of trestles, a fixed table, 4 vats, a tun, a boulting tub, a
jar for putting bread in, 2 barrels, 2 sail yards, 2 windlasses and 4
ship's cables. Further, of this stock, 4 screw crossbows, 4 one
foot crossbows, a bucketful of bolts, the bow and 5 sheaves of arrows,
had been used up in the defence of the castle from Scottish assaults
from October to December 1328. As a result Horncliff
allocated £25 15s 3d on the most pressing repairs and reported
that it would take another £300 to put the castle in order with
work needed on the keep and all the other towers, hall, chambers,
grange and all the other houses and gates that were so roofless and
decayed. Otherwise the whole place would collapse into
ruin. On 8 Sept 1330 he reported that he had found that the lead
covering the keep was so old and decayed that rain had caused the main
beams to rot, threatening the tower with ruin. The stone roof of
Davies Tower (Davytoure) had been carried away in a storm as had that of the Bell Tower (Belletoure)
with the result that its timbers were rotten; the hall, great kitchen,
great grange and the towers called Vale Tipping, Dead House? (Dedehuse) and Colelfte
along with the granary, horse mill and great stable were in equal
decay. This was the result of previous constables not making any
allowance for repairs in their accounts to the Exchequer.
Apparently nothing was done to alleviate this state of decay.
In 1333 when Edward III (1327-77) was besieging Berwick,
the Scots, under Archibald Douglas (d.1333), trying to relieve the
pressure on the town, assaulted Bamburgh castle which was held at the
time by Queen Philippa (d.1369). The attack failed and Berwickfell
immediately after the battle of Halidon Hill in which Douglas
himself was killed on 19 July. After the war, from 1333 to 1335,
some £80 were spent on repairs according to the pipe rolls.
In the latter year, on 29 August 1335, the king gave the castle to the
custody of Ralph Neville (d.1367) of Raby
without any proviso for the maintenance of the castle, other than the
paying of its officers. The consequence of such a grant should be
obvious. Possibly it was made at the time when Edward thought the
conquest of Scotland was a foregone conclusion and therefore a large
royal castle on an ex frontier was no longer a necessiry.
Bamburgh castle was involved in
the next great Anglo-Scottish war too, when, after the battle of
Neville's Cross on 17 October 1346, King David II
(d.1371) was brought to Bamburgh castle where 2 barber surgeons from
York extracted an arrow from him and healed him, receiving £6 for
their work. It was only on 7 March 1347 that David was moved from
Bamburgh to the Tower of London. Some 10 years later, on 20 January 1356, King Edward Balliol (d.1364), completed the final surrender of the Scottish Crown to Edward III.
Afterwards, King Edward spent 10 days at the castle in February
1357. The castle then remained under royal custodians as a bit of
a backwater during the rest of Edward's reign.
On 14 June 1372, a commission declared that the executers of the will of Constable Ralph Neville of Raby
(d.1367) had done all the repairs that they could be charged with and
that over and above these they had been compelled by certain unknown
members of the king's lieges, to build and repair a wall, a tower
[Clock Tower?] and a turret [the elongated D shaped tower north of the
Clock Tower?] and Waltheof's Well (Waldehavewell)
within Bamburgh castle and also a postern [by the Clock Tower?] and
great walls there. The executors had further been forced to
repair the [inner bailey] wall stretching from Davies Tower (Davyestour)
to the west gate of the castle [Tower Gate], a postern at the Gaitwell
[Elmund's Well] and a great wall between the Smith Gate (Smetheyet) and Ravens Hall (Ravenshaugh, the hall by St Oswald's Gate?) and another long wall between the Smith Gate (Smetheyet) and the Vale Tipping (Vallam de Typpyng).
This extra expenditure was valued at £266 13s 4d. Some of
this work was entrusted to the ubiquitous Durham mason, John Lewyn, who
was also responsible for work at Carlisle
and other castles in the North. However in this case it was
claimed, on 9 March 1375, that he had received monies, but did not do
After all this hard work, further problems at the castle were reported
on 21 August 1373, when it was found that Constable Richard Pembridge
[who had taken over the castle in 1367 and died in 1375] had allowed
the well in the keep to become choked up with offal so that it would
take 40s to purify it, while its rope and bucket had gone to the king's
loss of 13s 4d. Meanwhile, William Scra, Pembridge's steward, had
taken away beds, chairs, tables, trestles, saddles, horseshoes, bows,
plates, dishes, leaden vessels and other things to the value of 10m
(£6 13s 4d). Further John Fenwick, who had been
subconstable under Pembridge, had stolen various things from the castle
including, after Sheriff Umfraville had taken possession of the castle,
the principal table and trestles from the great hall as well as 7
stones of lead and the ironwork for a mangonel from which he had
already stolen the wooden parts. An inquiry held 2 days later
found that 2 iron chains, an iron bolt, a lock and a small door at the
postern as well as an iron bolt for 2 barriers had decayed since the
time of Constable Neville (d.1367) while under Pembridge (d.1375) a
bridge within the castle had decayed which would cost 13s 4d to
replace. They also found that Thomas Heddon held lands called
Porterland within the demesne of the castle and had 2d daily paid to
him by the constable for his finding a porter at the gate at all times
and a watchman within the castle all night as well as his maintaining
the Porterhouse within the castle near the Vale Tipping. However,
the Porterhouse had been reduced to ruins during the time of his
predecessor, William Heddon and now could not be repaired for less than
£3. Also, during Pembridge's time, the roofs of the 4
chambers within the 4 turrets on the north side of the castle had
become so decayed that 12s would scarcely mend them. Further,
Pembridge had allowed 3 stables and the slaughterhouse to decay to the
extent of 20s and a boarding (bordour) over the Tower Gate (Tourgate),
valued at 12d, had decayed. Consequently, 40m (£26 13s 4d)
would hardly cover the neglect while a further 10s would be required to
carry out the repairs necessary since the castle was in the king's
In 1384 another Scottish raiding party visited the area with the result
that in November 1384 the castle constable, John Neville (d.1389),
undertook to repair the castle for 1,300m (£866 13s 4d).
His works included a new hall 66' long and 34' wide internally, with 3
windows on one side and 4 on the other as well as a vaulted porch at
the entrance. At one end of this was to be a vaulted chamber and
at the other a pantry, buttery, kitchen and other offices. Such a
layout was visible until the rebuilding of the hall block by Lord
Armstrong in the early 1900s. This work was probably completed by
the time of Neville's death in 1389, but was said to have cost 200m
(£133 6s 8d) more than the budgeted price.
Despite this work, on 26 October 1392,
Constable Richard Pembridge of Bamburgh, complained that there were
many defects in the castle and its great tower, as in houses, turrets,
walls, buildings etc and in mills, houses, buildings, ponds and the
likes... which happened when Ralph Neville (d.1367) was keeper and
constable and these were not repaired by him. The king therefore
commanded his executors to repair them as Ralph had had the issues and
was supposed to repair them. Repairs had since been done, but the
costs misapplied to the previous constable. In 1399 Henry Hotspur
Percy of Alnwick was granted the
constableship of the castle. When he was killed in rebellion at
the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 the castle was passed to Earl Ralph
Neville of Westmorland (d.1425). His constable, John Coppyll,
reported on 13 January 1404 from Bamburgh that the castle and its
lordship were safe in his hands, but the castles of Berwick, Alnwick and Warkworth
were strongly held by William Clifford, Henry and Thomas Percy.
These were eventually taken and Bamburgh held securely for King Henry,
although the fighting continued in Northumberland until 1408.
In 1419 war between England and Scotland resumed with the Scots knowing
that Bamburgh castle was under garrisoned. Therefore Constable
William Elmeden hired 6 men at arms on 8 September at 1s per day and 12
bowmen at 6d at his own costs for 2 years until peace was
restored. Further, he spent £66 8s 8d in repairing the
castle, especially the north wall next to the gatetower as well as the
bridge and well there, 2 ovens in the baker's house, 2 lead coppers in
the brewery, the north wall next to the postern, Neville's chamber, the
hoardings (rakkys, racks) for
defending the walls and the walls of the Vale Tipping, as well as the
Reed and Maiden towers, which were found to be in no condition to repel
enemy attacks. With this the castle slipped back into obscurity.
Bamburgh proved a pivotal position in the opening stages of the Wars of
the Roses. In the summer of 1461, after the Lancastrian defeat at
the battle of Towton, Bamburgh castle must have surrendered to the
Yorkists, possibly around the time William Hastings (d.1483) took Alnwick castle
that September. The fortress remained in Yorkist hands until
October 1462 when Queen Margaret (d.1482) returned from France with
6,000 French soldiers. She first took Bamburgh castle and then,
leaving Ralph Percy (d.1464) to defend Bamburgh, besieged and took Alnwick in November. On 1 November 1462, John Paston Junior wrote from Holt castle
to his father stating that he had heard that William Tunstall was taken
with the garrison of Bamburgh castle and that William was likely to be
beheaded at this will of Richard Tunstall, his own brother. The
result was that in December 1462, Edward IV (d.1483) in person marched
on the 3 rebel castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh and placed them under siege on 10 December.
King Henry VI (d.1471) and Queen Margaret (d.1482), had fled from
Bamburgh castle by sea in November 1462. This left Duke Henry of
Somerset (d.1464), Earl Jasper Tudor of Pembroke and Ralph Percy
(d.1464) within. They were soon besieged by lords Montagu
(d.1471) and Robert Ogle (d.1469), with the earls of Worcester and
Arundel appearing later. Warwick supervised operations from his
base at Warkworth castle, riding to all 3 sieges each day, while Norfolk was in charge of bringing supplies up from Newcastle to Warkworth, with the king waiting for a Scottish invasion from his base at Durham. On Christmas Eve 1462, both Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh
castles surrendered on the garrisons being granted their lives and
members and the condition that Ralph Percy (d.1464) should be restored
to Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh castles
as soon as he paid homage to King Edward IV. The Bamburgh
garrison consisted of Duke Henry of Somerset, Earl Jasper Tudor of
Pembroke, Lord Roos and Ralph Percy together with some 300 men.
The surprisingly lenient terms were partially due to the news that a
Scottish relief army was heading into Northumberland.
The peace proved short and early in 1463 Ralph Percy (d.1464) changes sides again, taking Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh castles with him. At this point Warwick marched north and sent a Scottish besieging force at Norham castle
scampering back across the border. Despite this, the 3 major
Northumberland castles were left under Lancastrian control. A
year later in the March of 1464, Somerset with Ralph Percy attacked and
took the castles of Bywell, Hexham, Langley, Norham and Prudhoe.
However, Montagu twice defeated the rebels and Somerset and William
Tailboys were finally executed after the Lancastrian defeat at Hexham
on 15 May 1464. King Henry VI, probably in the company of Ralph
Grey who had quit the field of Hexham before the battle began, fled
back to Bamburgh castle where on 31 May a small band of lords
‘adhered unto Henry of late called king'. Henry himself was
captured, at Waddington Hall in Lancashire on 13 July 1464 within a
month or 2 of having left Bamburgh castle from where he had been ruling
those places still loyal to him in the North during the last
year. During this summer the earl of Warwick had moved against
the remaining rebel castles. First Alnwick and Dunstanburgh
surrendered on 23 June 1464 without a fight, allowing Warwick to move
on to Bamburgh castle which he called on to surrender on 25 June
offering pardon to all but the commanders, Grey and Humphrey
Neville. Grey replied that he had ‘clearly determined
within himself to live or die within the castle'. The herald
replied that his lords had announced that the king wanted this
‘jewel' to be whole and unbroken with its ordinance, as it stood
so near to his Scottish enemies, but if he had to fire upon it, it
would cost the leader his head and for every other shot fired upon it a
member of the garrison would be beheaded until none remained if needs
be. With that Warwick ordered the bombardment to begin. The
great iron guns Newcastle and London hit the castle so that ‘the
stones of the walls flew into the sea'. Meanwhile Dysyon, a
brazen gun, repeatedly smashed through Grey's chamber. After 2
days the castle was surrendered and the wounded Ralph Grey was taken
before Edward IV at Doncaster, charged with withstanding the king's
majesty ‘as appears by the strokes of the great guns in the
king's walls of his castle of Bamburgh'. Humphrey Neville, who had
surrendered the castle rather than the wounded Grey, was pardoned, but
the turncoat Grey was executed that July. With this Bamburgh was
patched up as a Yorkist fortress once more.
In 1480 Edward IV went to war against James III of Scotland
(1460-89). This resulted in Earl Archibald Douglas of Angus
(d.1514) leading a punitive expedition into Northumberland that summer
which reached as far as and supposedly burned Bamburgh castle.
The castle was apparently not in a good condition by the time of the
Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. Parts of this war are described
under Bolton castle. Consequently,
after the rising had been put down, on 13 April 1537, orders were given
to repair and furnish the border fortresses of Alnwick, Bamburgh, Berwick, Bewcastle, Carlisle, Harbottle, Newcastle on Tyne, Scarborough and Wark or some other fortress in Tynedale. Barnard Castle, Knaresborough, Middleham, Pontefract, Sandal and Sheriff Hutton were to be repaired to receive the king in person, while Cockermouth, Conisborough, Dunstanburgh, Penrith, Pickering, Prudhoe, Richmond, Tickhill, Warkworth,
Wilton and Wrestle were to be repaired . One result of this was
that on 22 February 1538, a view as taken of Bambrugh castle by Richard
Bellysys, Robert Collyngwod, and John Horslye. They found that:
is of 3 great wards and in great ruin and decay, albeit the situation
and standing of the castle is of the strongest and impregnable.
These things are the most needful to be done. First, the
drawbridge at the entrance of the east ward must be made anew and that
will cost 40s. Also there must be a new gate of wood with seym and royve
for the gatehouse at the entrance of the said drawbridge of 4½
yards height and 3½ yards breadth, which will cost by estimation
£5. Also the walls of the 2 outer wards are very much in
ruin and decay albeit that the ground and situation of them is
marvellously strong so that if there were but £40 spent in
diverse places of the walls where most needed it would do much
good. Further there must be an iron gate made for the inner ward
4¼ yards in height and 3¼ yards in breadth which will
take 2 tons of iron £10. Also for the smith making the iron
There is a great chamber within the inner ward that will
serve very well for the hall where the leads of the roof must be new
cast and a fother of lead more towards the mending of the leads and the
casting and the laying and the workmanship £3. There must
be for the hall 2 doors and 2 windows which will cost 20s. Half a
rood of skirting board for the hall 6s.
There is another fair chamber joining the north side of the
great hall which must have a new baulk of 6½ yards long which
baulk must be had from Chopwell wood... and which must be carried by
water, all charges thereof 12s. There must be for this chamber
half a rood of skirting board 6s. The leads of the roof must be
new cast and a fother of new lead more towards mending it. And
for gutters, spouts and fillets and the casting and laying 48s.
There is a fair vault under the hall and chambers convenient for a buttery, cellar and storehouse which must have new doors 20s.
There must be a new roof made for a house at the east end of
the hall which must serve for the kitchen and larders. Under the
house is a fair vault which will serve for the stable of 24
horses. And for making the roof there must be 6 baulks of 8 yards
and for various wallplates, spars and other timber for the roof 16 tons
of timber... carrying and making £7. For covering the roof
5 rood of slates with lattes, broddes
and lime will cost £6. For the kitchen and larder for
windows, doors and partitions 53s 4d. There must be for the
stable above for 24 horses, bays, mangers, racks and a door... for
carriage and workmanship £4.
There is a narrow tower [Muniment Tower] of a convenient
length at the east side of the kitchen which will be 2 chambers for
lodgings and must have 12 geystes of 3½ yards long and a rood of
skirting board for 40s. The roof of the house must be new theykyd with lead and must have 2½ fothers of lead more than there is of it. For the casting and laying 24s.
There is a little tower at the south end of the kitchen
whereof the leads of the tower must be new cast and half a fother of
lead... 12s. For the same tower a rood of skirting board
12s. For the floors of the tower a rood of flooring boards
14s. For the tower doors and windows, locks and bands for doors
There are 2 fair chambers well walled joining both together
standing at the east end of the old walls called the king's hall and
under the 2 chambers there are 4 fair vaults and the 2 chambers must
have new roofs of 5 baulks of 8 yards long for either of the 2
chambers. And the rest of all manner of timber for the roofs of
both chambers will be 30 ton of timber... to be carried by water...
£14. For covering the 2 roofs 10 rood of slates which will
cost with lime, lattes, broides
and other necessities £13.... doors, windows, locks and keys etc
£4. There must be half a fodder of lead for a gutter,
plumbers' wages 3s.
There is a brewhouse and bakehouse both under 1 roof which is
decayed... a new roof of baulks 6 yards long and for all other timber
appertaining to the roofs 14 tons of timber... by estimation
£6. For covering the house with slates 4 rood which will
cost with lime etc £5. For doors, windows, partitions and
locks for the houses 20s. For making ovens, ranges, furnaces and
brewing vessels for the brewhouse, £8. There must be
1½ fothers of lead for making the brewing leads. There
must be a horse mill £10.
There are 2 draw wells, one in the donjon with donjon roof is
all decayed and the well of a marvellous great depth. The other
well [Elmund's Well] is in the west end of the west ward and the wall
that encloses the well to the castle must be amended for the mending
and cleaning of the well £4.
For repairing and mending both of divers fair towers
and for the walls of the inner ward that is to say for battlements and
for putting in of archelare stones and for pinning (pynynge) with stone where the walls are rent and rough casting of the said walls with lime some £40.
There are 4 towers within the inner ward whereof the walls
are very good and the timber of the roofs fresh and the lead of the 4
roofs must be new cast and there must be 3 fodder of lead more for
mending the roofs... and for gutters, spouts and fyllettes, £4.
Divers of these houses must be dyght and cleaned for there is
a great substance and quantity of sand within them which has filled
many of the said houses. And for labour and carrying it out
£4. Sum total £210 10s 4d and over and above that sum
there must be 10 fother of lead.
It would seem likely that little or nothing came of this, for on 24
October 1575 another survey was carried out of Bamburgh castle.
This was after a border skirmish at Redeswire Fray on 7 July
1575. The survey found:
Bamburgh castle is in utter
ruin and decay, the drawbridge and gates are so broken that there is no
usual entry on the forepart save at a breach in the wall that has been
well walled and yet has walls much decayed standing and is of 3 wards
in the 2 outer wards whereof nothing is but walls much decayed.
In the innermost ward is one tower 25 yards square by estimation
standing upon the top of the rock and in the same a well of fresh
water. The walls thereof are upright but much ruined and decayed
with weather. The roof whereof which has been timber and some
time covered with lead as it seems is utterly decayed and gone.
Within the ward have been the principal lodgings of the house and as
yet may appear all the offices belonging thereunto which for the more
part as it seems have been long in decay and the ruinous walls do in
the most part stand. And yet in one part of the same lodgings has
been of late a lodging for the captain, the parts whereof called the
hall and great chamber have been covered with lead and yet have some
lead upon them and in some parts revin and the lead taken away.
The hall in the captain's lodging contains in length 11 yards, in
breadth 7 yards, has lead upon it yet.... fothers. The great
chamber containing in length 10 yards and in breadth 5 yards has lead
yet remaining... the rest of the lead of both houses decayed and taken
away. The timber of both houses is perished and much
decayed. Within the ward of late a chapel and other little
turrets covered, all which be now utterly decayed saving the .... walls
of the most part thereof, much worn with weather, stands.....
To the castle also belongs a certain piece of ground which it seems has been enclosed, because there remains yet about it the me'cye [messee for mess?] where the ditch has been...
For the decay of the castle..... in the time of Sir John
Horseley late captain of the castle and at his death there was in the
castle a hall, a great chamber and one other chamber on the east side
of the hall, all covered with lead and furnished in other reparations
at that time convenient, to be dwelled in and that there was at that
time 2 other chambers in the castle likewise covered with lead and in
like reparations. And there was in the castle a kitchen covered
with flag and a chapel covered with slate and that under the said hall
and great chamber were cellars for offices with doors and all such
other furniture as was convenient....
Which lodgings are now in utter decay, the chapel timber and
stones clean taken away and all the other buildings before mentioned,
save only the hall and great chamber which have yet some lead upon
them... the timber by reason of the lead taken away, is much perished
but by whom the same spoil was done they know not.
The decay of the castle is before declared and what the
repair thereof will cost they know not, but if it shall be to any
purpose, to restore the former strength and beauty thereof, the charges
will be great. And they say that to their knowledge the queen's
majesty is to repair and maintain the same, because it is the ancient
inheritance of the Crown.
In 1584 John Forster (d.1602), who also spoiled Alnwick and Warkworth,
was charged with having lain waste Bamburgh castle. John had been
granted the possessions of the cell of Austin canons at Bamburgh in
1545. His grandson held the fortress in 1704 when he sold the
ruins to Lord Crewe. It was from 1757 made habitable after his
death by Dr. Sharpe, the trustee of the charitable trust endowed by his
will. The donjon was repaired by 1766 when Sharpe entertained the
bishop of Durham to dinner in the keep court room. In 1769
Pennant recorded that Dr Sharpe had:
repaired and rendered
habitable the great Norman square tower; the part reserved for himself
and his family, is a large hall and a few smaller apartments; but the
rest of the spacious edifice is allotted for a purpose which makes the
heart glow with joy.... The upper part is an ample granary from
whence corn is dispensed to the poor without distinction, even in the
dearest time... Other apartments are fitted up for shipwrecked
sailors and bedding is provided for 30, should such a number happen to
be cast ashore at the same time.
In the early 1800s the outer wall towards the sea was rebuilt, followed
by the conversion of the great hall and kitchen into school buildings
in 1810. In 1817 strong westerly winds stripped the sand away
uncovering a graveyard some 300 yards south-east of the great
gate. Before 1825 the unfinished chapel was taken down and the
wall that stretched from it towards the keep with its 2 rectangular
flanking towers were ‘completely repaired'. Soon after the
trustees made plans for improving the mean appearance of the great gate
and erecting a Gothic lodge near the postern at Elmund's Well when the
restoration of the castle was suddenly abandoned. Finally, Lord
Armstrong carried out an extensive restoration and rebuilding between
1894 and 1904.
The remains of Bamburgh castle stand upon a long volcanic outcrop and
overlie earlier prehistoric and Roman phases. Bamburgh differs
from the other main castles of Northumbria as it stands upon an ancient
crag upon the sea coast, rather than controlling a river crossing, like
a later Norman castle, viz. Alnwick, Mitford, Morpeth, Newcastle, Wark or Warkworth.
It was a huge castle, about a quarter of a mile long and consisting of
3 main wards and 2 unusual entrance barbicans. The highest point
of the outcrop is to the south-east at some 150' above sea level.
This is where the basilica once stood. From here the top of the
outcrop slopes gently to the north-west to Oswald's Gate and Elmund's
Well. The site is still dominated by the great keep which stands
about a third of the way down the slope from the basilica site to St
Elmund's Well. The fact the keep is not occupying the highest
point of the ridge in itself points to the fact that the basilica may
still have been standing, or at least considered holy, when the keep
The rectangular donjon stands some
70' north to south by 60' across and is made of sandstone ashlar of
relatively even blocks which tend towards being square. This
seems a form of masonry in the district with some dozen castles showing
this feature of small, square, poorly fitting ashlar
work. That said the tower has been much modified in modern times
and it is possible that much of the facing, like all the plinth bar some of the south-west side, is
modern work. The tower has clasping pilaster buttresses
rising into 12' square corner turrets. The smaller north and
south keep faces have single, off centre pilaster buttresses, while the
longer faces have 2 each. These decrease with height via offsets
until they die away before the battlements. The base of the tower
has an impressive, but remade moulded plinth, while the tower is inset on each
floor. The battlements are modern.
At the north end of the east wall is a projection partially set over
the corner buttress. This contains the current entrance to the
keep with 2 Romanesque windows above. The Romanesque archway of 2
orders appears old, but the 4 supporting pillars and the interior
doorway itself, like the 2 windows above, are undoubtedly modern or at
least recut. This entrance structure, with the 2 windows, appears
on Buck's mid eighteenth century print. There is a similar ground
floor entrance with a similar mural stair to be seen at Carlisle keep.
Other low buttresses with entrances set within them occur at various
churches, like Rock and Warkworth in Northumberland, as well as Bradford on Avon church in Wiltshire and Berkeswell, Bromyard and Ifley in the Midlands. An oddity is the similar entrance to Upton Cressett
church in Shropshire, built in a similar buttresses, but here having an
odd portal and the 1683 in a dating stone above the relieving arch.
At Bamburgh, within the keep entrance there is straight mural
passage containing the steps up to the
floor above, but neither this nor the passage through the wall show any
signs of antiquity, although the mural stair existed from the sixteenth
century. The interior of the keep is much rebuilt and modified
and little appears to be original or untouched. In 1776 Grose
stated that there were no windows in the keep, merely loops 6" wide
with windows on the floor above only 1' wide with one single window 3'
square. His comments are well worth repeating.
The stones the keep... is
built of are, some lintels excepted, remarkably small and were taken
from a quarry at Sunderland [next the Sea], 3 miles distant....
The walls to the front are 11' thick, but the 3 other sides are only
9'. They appear to have been built with regular scaffolding to
the first storey; and so high the fillings in the inside are mixed with
whinstone, which was probably what came off the rock in levelling the
foundations, but there are no whinstone fillings higher up, the walls
above having been carried up without scaffolding, in a manner called by
the masons overhand work; the consequence of which is that they all
overhang a little, each side of the tower being a few inches broader at
the top than at the bottom.
The original roof was placed no higher than the top of the
second storey.... The tower was afterwards covered to the very
top. There were no chimneys. The only fireplace in it was a
grate in the middle of a large room, supposed to have been the guard
room where some stones in the middle of the floor are burned red.
This floor was also stone, supported by arches.... [and] had a window
near the top, 3' square... all the other rooms were lighted by slits or
chinks in the walls 6" broad, except in the gables of the roof, each of
which had a window 1' broad. The rock on which this tower stands
rises about 150' above low water mark.
The outworks are built of a very different stone from the
keep, being a coarse freestone of an inferior quality, ill abiding the
injuries of the weather. The stone was taken from the rock
itself, a large seam of it lying immediately under the whinstone.
In all the principal rooms in the outworks there are large
chimneys, particularly the kitchen which measures 40' by 30', where
there are 3 very large ones and 4 windows. Over each window is a
stone funnel, like a chimney, open at the top...
In a narrow passage, near the top of the keep were found
upwards of 50 iron arrow heads, rusted together in a mass, the longest
of them being 7½"...
In 1770, in sinking the floor of the cellar, a curious draw
well was found 145' deep, cut through the solid rock, of which 75' is a
In 1778, on throwing over the bank a prodigious quantity of
sand, the remains of the chapel was discovered, in length 100'.
The chancel is now quite cleared. It is 36' long and 20' broad;
the east end... semicircular. The altar... did not stand close to
the east end, but in the centre of the semicircle, with a walk about it
3' broad... The richly carved font also remains.
In the north corner of the keep was a vice whose stairs gave access to
all floors and the battlements. On the first floor an apparent
Romanesque doorway gave access to either a forebuilding, of which there
is no trace, or the south curtain opposite. The internal mural
passageways may well be eighteenth century as the windows most likely
are, although there are some similarities with other such keeps, viz. Dover, Hedingham, Newcastle, Rochester and the Tower of London.
There also used to be the V shaped crease of an early roof at this
level. Similarly to several other larger keeps there are also 2
spiral stairs in the upper floors leading to the battlements, in
Bamburgh's case through the east buttress. This is somewhat
similar to the layout in Appleby, Castle Rising, Colchester, Dover, Norwich and Rochester keeps, while Canterbury has a second stair in a central buttress and the Tower of London expands to a full 3 vices, in all the corners except for the chapel turret.
The inner ward occupied the height of the igneous intrusion that made
up the crag of Bamburgh castle and surrounds the site of the early
basilica. To the south the inner enceinte ran along the edge of
the sill while to the north it occupied the top of a short cliff.
This made an elongated D shaped ward stretching from the keep in the
west to the Davies Tower in the east, with the convex side facing
roughly south. East of the keep lay the destroyed rectangular
Tower Gate. This needed a gate some 13' high and nearly 10' wide
in 1538. The gatetower was apparently about 50' long by 30' deep
and had clasping pilaster buttresses on its northern face. It may
have been the gate repaired in 1130.
From this a wall ran eastwards along the small cliff, enclosing the
chapel which replaced the basilica on the summit of the rock.
This face of the ward had 2 projecting rectangular towers, about 20'
long by 12' deep, which were heavily rebuilt around 1800. The
foundations of the wall and towers still appear to be original.
Such rectangular towers appear nowhere else on site and are therefore
likely to belong to a different building phase to the rest of the site,
probably being younger than the Muniment Tower and its companion to the
The eastern end of the ward makes an uneven curve around to the south
side of the sill which begins just before the D shaped Davies
Tower. This section of the wall appears early in style and sports
several pilaster buttresses similar to those found in the inner wards
at Carlisle, Middleham and Mitford. The masonry is also ashlar and appears somewhat similar to that of the keep.
D shaped Davies Tower, about 25' in diameter, is made of a fine ashlar
and is a typical 1160-1230 tower similar to those found at Berkhamsted, Beeston, Chepstow, Grosmont, Manorbrier, Pembroke, Pevensey gatehouse, Richards Castle, Skenfrith and White Castle.
Currently only 2 floors remain of this. The basement has 3 loops,
1 forward and 2 covering the wall to either side. The next floor
has 2 loops covering the 2 areas not covered by the loops below, while
the top storey is a repeat of the basement. The loops have fine
fishtails, although some have obviously been restored and the upper
floor has little more than the oillets left. Just east of the
tower a crosswall runs down the scarp to the twin towered gatehouse now
called the great gate.
curtain wall runs from the Davies Tower to the Muniment Tower in 2
sweeps and is made of roughly coursed sandstone rubble blocks.
Its upper sections have been heavily rebuilt and used to have offices
behind it. The Muniment Tower is about 25' square and as such
could pass as an early keep, like the tower by Carlisle castle outer gate, Clun, Goodrich, Loughor, Manorbier, Talgarth, Wattlesborough or West Malling ‘keeps' or the converted gatehouses at Barnard Castle and Hay on Wye.
It is currently 5 storeys high and set on a rebuilt plinth.
Facing south the 3 lowest levels have single large Romanesque windows,
similar to those over the keep entrance. Similar windows also
occur to the east. There is an offset at first and third floor
level, while the fourth floor has trefoil windows and the top floor is
obviously a modern addition. To the west there are no loops, but
an inserted window at third floor level and a garderobe turret serving
the second floor. The tower is ashlar built.
After the Muniment Tower the rubble curtain continues to a smaller
rectangular tower, about 18' square. Behind the curtain lay the
kitchen, buttery and other service rooms whose 3 doors into the hall
survive under the modern hodge-podge of nineteenth century styles,
Norman, Early English, Perpendicular, Art Nouveau and Arts and
Crafts. The medieval pantry and buttery have high, pointed tunnel
vaults, while 3 large segmental arched fireplaces and 4 pointed
doorways, 2 of which have been blocked, remain.
The small, rectangular turret is 5 storeys high, but has a blind
basement storey. On its south front, the uppermost 3 storeys have
small rectangular windows, with the highest level again being an
obvious addition. To the east and west are further small
rectangular windows. The Medieval part of the tower is not as
well built as its neighbour, having well coursed, possibly reused
rubble rather than ashlar. From the turret the rubble curtain
continued on round to another boldly projecting D shaped tower similar
to the Davies Tower. The curtain here has been used as a
retaining wall for the nineteenth century building within which is the
encased original great hall, while a rectangular modern tower rises
from the base of the D shaped tower. This D shaped tower, about
28' in diameter, has been heavily rebuilt, but still sports 3 long
fishtailed crossbow loops in its lowest surviving level.
From the D shaped tower a projecting building formed the curtain wall. In the 1790s Mr King thought this a withdrawing room from the hall with
projecting anteroom to the north. It could have been
the great chamber of the Middle Ages and again was rubble built
and ended with a slight set back before the main curtain continued
alongside the south wall of the keep. This was set some 15' back from it and on
the edge of the crag. This heavily rebuilt wall runs to a pair of
even more rebuilt D shaped towers of which the westernmost one does not
even appear on old plans of the castle, so may be entirely of
nineteenth century provenance, even if the masonry does look distressed
as if ancient in places. This much rebuilt section of wall
probably marks the end of the inner ward, leaving the west face of the
keep forming the west enceinte of the inner defences.
The east ward runs from the new/rebuilt D shaped tower and the
south-west end of the keep in a straight line, some 230' long to the
30' diameter Clock Tower. Modern stables have been built along
this front which probably projects further down the rock than the line
of the original curtain, although traces of the original wall may be
seen next to the D shaped tower. At the corner of the ward lies
the circular Clock Tower. This is named after the clock set in
the modern upper storey on its south face, overlooking the town.
The tower is massively rebuilt, but some original facing appears to
remain next to the south curtain. This contains 2 plain crossbow
loops, the lower one having a ball oillet. The other loops,
windows and plinth are all modern.
From the Clock Tower the east ward takes a right angle and runs
directly across the sill on a 10' high crag. Most of this wall to
the other rock face has been heavily rebuilt, but some of the original
wall remains between the Clock Tower and a totally rebuilt projecting D
shaped tower, just over a third of the way along this front.
Possibly this and the Clock Tower were the tower and turret mentioned
at Waltheof's Well (Waldehavewell)
in 1372. Set in the old portion of wall, only some 15' north of
the Clock Tower, is a tall postern, covered by a single loop close to
its north side. Its arch has clearly been rebuilt, although
apparently before the modern polygonal ‘tower' next to the Clock
Tower was added.
Some 20' from the North enceinte of the castle stood the rectangular
gatetower called Smith Gate. Possibly this was associated with
the Geoffrey Smith and his ancestors who in 1212 held half a carucate
of land in chief from the king in Bamburgh borough for the serjeanty of
making iron work for the castle carts. The gatetower barely
projects through the curtain and had 2 boldly projecting buttresses
forward, rather like the gate to the inner ward at Carlisle castle.
The upper half and rear of this structure have been totally rebuilt,
but the wall from it to the north is Medieval at the base. Just
north of the Smith Gate there are what appear to be buried foundations
of what may have been a rectangular corner tower.
From here the north curtain wove its way back along the top of the sill
towards the later east entrance to the castle. Most of this wall,
much thinner than its counterpart facing away from the sea, is reduced
to foundations upon which have been built a modern rampart,
occasionally lined with eighteenth century cannon. At the end of
this lies a great rectangular gatetower which was probably the Vale
Tipping Tower of 1330. This again is massively rebuilt. The
gate passageway is currently semi-Romanesque in style, but much of it,
including the irregular arch is obviously rebuilt.
This gatehouse at Vale Tipping is shown in a sixteenth century plan as
a rectangle with a vice on the south side of the gate passageway.
The gateway has been ‘Normanised', but a portion of slightly
pointed rubble vaulting remains. Within the passageway are
remnants of a plain chamfered string course. On the north side of
the passageway was a porter's lodge which was used as a barracks in the
Napoleonic era. It was some 20' long and 9' wide with a vault
reaching 14' high. It retains a single original buttress towards
the east end of its north face, next to a Napoleonic gun
casement. The cutting in the rock here was probably that
excavated in 1237.
From the gatehouse a wall dog-legs around the line of the inner ward
towards the south. On the southwards running section of wall are
remnants of a series of offices. These end at a much mutilated,
small twin towered gatehouse which appears to have been built before
1222 when ‘the great gate' was recorded as having its turning
bridge repaired. This had D shaped towers only some 12' in
diameter set astride an originally slightly pointed gate
passageway. This was later ‘converted' to a Romanesque
vault which was inserted just under it, complete with a fake
portcullis. Each turret had 2 loops in the basement and a single
forward firing loop on the level of the destroyed constable's
chamber. In the gate passageway there appears to have been 2
crossbow loops, but the whole has been massively rejigged, so it is
hard to tell what might be original and what fantasy. A later
rectangular building was built on the east face of the gatehouse,
possibly as further accommodation for the porter or guard. Maybe
this structure was built during the £80 refurbishment of the
gatehouse in 1233/34.
The wall running up the scarp between the barbican and the Davies Tower
is probably that repaired by Ralph Neville's executors around 1370 and
was probably the breach in the wall that allowed access to the castle
under Queen Elizabeth. The foundations of a barbican from the
twin towered gatehouse used to be visible and contained the drawbridge.
Outer or West Ward
The outer ward lies at the lowest, western end of the sill. It is
roughly triangular in shape, being some 250' deep north to south by
420' long to its north-western tip. This was set up to 30' below
the east ward and once contained a windmill on a mound. Mutilated
fragments of its south-western curtain remain built up in more modern,
but rough work, while to the north mere indications of the old wall
remain under the modern retaining wall. One singular fragment of
this stands near the north-west corner of the enceinte. Standing
over 20 courses high the piece is made of high quality, rectangular
ashlar sandstone blocks. Its lone survival, facing the sea,
appears rather odd.
Just south-west of this fragment of masonry, in the opposite curtain
wall, stand the remains of a postern, set in a thick portion of
wall. This was partially refaced in the nineteenth century but
appears to have its original, Romanesque arch. Through this steps
led down to a small enclosure at the base of the rock which contained
Elmund's Well. These would appear to be the lofty steps mentioned
by Symeon Durham (d.1129+). Within the tip of the west ward
between the gate and the finger of masonry stood a variety of buildings
recently excavated. First there was a timber hall, some 40' by
23'. This was thought by the excavators to be seventh century and
was later replaced by a smaller masonry building, thought to be ninth
century and which may have been the Ravens Hall of 1372. That
they were aligned to the steps down to the postern suggest that this
was the original entrance to the royal city as mentioned by Bede in the
sixth century. As late as 1870 the high tide still reached the
base of the Whinsill rock here.
The postern led down onto the plane via a set of stone cut steps.
Up to the north of this ran a chamfered off wall with another
Romanesque arch in it. Behind this was a rectangular enclosure
with Elmund's Well in the north-west corner. The base of this
wall is built with squarish sandstone ashlar blocks, while the blocks
above are more rectangular. This was possibly the part repaired
in 1250 when the barbican was built before the gate of St Oswald.
This seems to be the most likely candidate for the outwork built in
1138 which fell to the Scots that year. It is also possible that
this well was known as the Gaitwell at the postern in 1372. It
would seem also to have been ‘the sweet and pure well' of Symeon
Durham (d.1129+) that lay at the west end of the city.
Paul Martin Remfry