English Stately Homes and Castles

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland - Part 1

Some history, the medieval kitchen and small rooms

Bamburgh Castle is one of the iconic images of Northumberland built on top of a crag of the Whin sill above the North Sea. This is the castle that features in all the tourist literature.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

The site has been settled since prehistoric times and there are ongoing excavations at the western end of the castle. Flints have been found from the Stone Age, grave goods from the Bronze Age and pottery fragments from the Iron Age. The Anglo Saxons settled here and built a basilica to hold a reliquary containing the arm of St Oswald. The Normans built a castle on the site and it became the property of the English monarch.

The castle was the target of raids from Scotland and in 1464, during the Wars of the Roses, it was the first castle in England to be defeated by the use of artillery at the end of a nine month siege.

Ownership was granted to the Forster Family and remained with them until Sir William died bankrupt in 1700 when the estate was sold to Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham. The castle fell into a ruinous state and was bought in 1893, by Lord Armstrong, the Tyneside multi millionaire, for £60,000. He began to restore it as a convalescent home for retired gentlemen, ‘persons of superior education in reduced circumstances.’ A village of wooden bungalows was erected for the workman and these can still be seen along the B1340, Seahouses Road. He spent one million pounds, but died before the work was completed. The family home of Cragside was transferred to the Treasury in part payment of death duties and the castle became the family residence. It is still owned by members of the Armstrong Family and much of it is let as private apartments.

The splendid gatehouse was the first part of the castle to be built in the C12th and houses the ticket office. Beyond is Vale Typping, a narrow passageway which runs between the inner and outer curtain walls beneath the massive Constable tower. Steps lead up to the Battery armed with cannons in response to the threat of invasion by Napoleon. Below is the Battery Gate which was used by horses and carts as Vale Typping was too steep for them.

The massive Norman keep dominates the site.

Bamburgh Castle

Work began in 1164 and the keep was built from stone quarried at North Sutherland. Its walls are 10-15’ thick. Inside is a well dating back to the Anglo-Saxon occupation of the site. The pinkish stone is from the original C12th building. The grey/greenish stone dates from the Armstrong restoration and comes from a quarry on the Cragside Estate.

On the east side of the Keep, in the inner ward are the State Rooms with the medieval kitchens and great hall. Along the curtain wall of the middle ward were the stables and domestic buildings which included store rooms and washroom. These divide the inner and middle wards from the west ward which is reached through the Neville Tower.

The west ward was the site of the prehistoric settlements. St Oswald’s Gate at the far end dates from Anglo-Saxon times and was the earliest entrance to the castle giving access to the harbour. The base of the windmill is all that remains of a mill built in the C18th. Grain prices were high and the Lord Crewe trustees bulk bought grain which was stored in the castle, ground and then sold at a reasonable rate to the local people.

The laundry building now houses the Armstrong and Aviation Artifacts Museum.

The STATE ROOMS were badly damaged during the Wars of the Roses and were completely restored by Lord Armstrong. Entry is into what used to be the MEDIEVAL KITCHEN with the remains of three big fireplaces and a very high beamed ceiling. The Lord Crewe Trustees restored this as a school room providing free education for local children. Armstrong completed the restoration and this became the refectory for the residents of the convalescent home. It is now furnished with a hotch-potch collection including a sedan chair, hobby horse bicycle, spinning wheel, dressers with china and a baby’s crib.

Bamburgh Castle

A doorway leads into the ‘first’ and ‘second’ small rooms. These were originally medieval store rooms with stone vaulted ceilings. Lord Armstrong intended the FIRST SMALL ROOM to be the resident’s reading room but it was used as the estate office after his death. It is fitted with a C19th form of air conditioning. A long thin wooden box on the wall by the fireplace brings in air from outside. The room has a gate legged table and chairs, grandfather clock, dresser dated 1711 and two big carved wood cupboards.

Bamburgh Castle

Along one wall are glass fronted display cases with blue and white china. Another cupboard has late C18th porcelain figures.

Bamburgh Castle

On top of the fireplace is a big Chinese vase and a Victorian Tea Urn presented to Armstrong on the occasion of his marriage by the tenants of the Cragside Estate.

The SECOND SMALL ROOM served as the School mistresses sitting room in Lord Crewe times. It later became the sitting room of the convalescent room and then the office of the Second Lord Armstrong.

Bamburgh Castle

It has examples of Meissen china.

Bamburgh Castle

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