It seems I originally scheduled this post much earlier than usual. To anyone who saw the rough draft, my apologies! Moving right along, the day after visiting Edinburgh Castle and its wonderful military tattoo, we left Scotland behind and drove to Bamburgh in Northumberland to visit its castle. This area is known for its local puffin population, but sadly we missed out on seeing any whilst we were there.
The first thing that struck me about the castle was just how spectacular its setting, and therefore its views, were. Situated right on the coast, as I explored the castle the views included shots of the pretty little Bamburgh village, the rugged sand dunes, the flat, wide beach, and finally out to the water, and across to Lindisfarne Castle on the Holy Island. I really could have spent the whole day walking along the castle walls and the Battery Terrace!
However, Bamburgh Castle has more than its pretty views going on. The site itself has been important for many, many years. In fact, the first written reference to it is in 547 A.D., although archaeological digs still underway at the site tell us that people and structures were there much earlier. The castle once played a very significant role in royal and ecclesiastical matters; the inner-ward of the castle was built in the 12th century and once housed a chapel that held a precious relic of Saint King Oswald. The ruins you see there today are of the 12th century apse of the chapel.
Interestingly, Bamburgh Castle was the first in England to fall to cannon fire. During the War of the Roses, King Henry VI sought shelter in the castle. However, the siege in 1464 by Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick, led to the collapse of the castle’s walls. It never again regained its previous status, but obviously remained a key strategic point; the great guns on the Battery Terrace were once prepared under the treat of Napoleon invading Britain in the 1800s. This invasion, of course, never happened.
The castle deteriorated but was heavily restored by various owners during the 18th and the 19th century. In fact, it’s the story of two of these men that I found most interesting during my exploration of the castle.
The castle eventually worked its way into the hands of Dorothy Foster in 1701, and after her death, her grieving husband set up a trust fund in her memory to restore the castle and support the village of Bamburgh. Fifty-six years later, Dr. John Sharp, a trustee of the fund, oversees the restoration work in the castle. This man achieved many remarkable things that benefited the lives of many. His control over Bamburgh Castle saw parts of the castle transformed; a free school for poor children; a pharmacy, out patients surgery, and hospital; and the opportunity for the poor to grind their crops in the castle windmill. Dr. Sharp also organised meat, milk, and coal to be distributed to the poor. If that wasn’t enough, he also created a coastguard system based in the castle for the treacherous waters below. Thought to be the first of its kind in the world, this system included firing guns during foggy weather, a watch system, beach patrols, and chains to haul ships to safety. Dr. Sharp also provides accommodation for shipwrecked sailors and pays for a respectable burial for the bodies washed ashore. Despite his control over the fund, much of this was funded by his own money. Certainly a man to aspire to!
Despite Dr. Sharp’s good work, the castle did find itself in financial difficulty, but a purchase in 1894 by Lord William Armstrong proved to be its saving. Lord Armstrong had built up substantial wealth through various industries, including ship, plane, train, and automobile building, and gun making, most notably the Armstrong Gun. He donated heavily to libraries and museums and funded the building of many hospitals. He also founded the University of Newcastle! Lord Armstrong heavily renovated the castle with the intention to make it a home for retired gentlemen. However, the castle never saw this purpose as the Lord passed away before it was completed. His nephew who inherited the castle decided to keep it as a family home, and you can visit its magnificent state rooms today. In honour of his uncle, Armstrong House was created as a retirement home in Bamburgh village, and still exists today.
Well, that was my visit to Bamburgh Castle, with its breath-taking views and its story of two very remarkable men. If you happen to pass by the area, I strongly recommend stopping by to take in the atmosphere. I only wish I had longer there to get out onto the beach!