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Bamburgh in 1835

BAMBOROUGH, or BAMBURGH, an ancient town on the coast of Northumberland. Bede says it was called Bebba from a queen of that name, and Alfred, translating him, calls it ‘the kingly burgh which men nameth Bebbanburgh.’ The Saxon Chronicle, under the year 547, says that Ida then began to reign, and was twelve years king of Northumberland, and built Bebbanburgh, which he first inclosed with a hedge, and after with a wall. Though now only small village, it was once a royal burgh of considerable importance, with the privilege of returning two members to parliament. It is five miles east from Belford and 329 from London. The castle, which is one of the oldest in the kingdom, stands on a perpendicular rock close to the sea, above the level of which it is 150 feet. The castle is only accessible on the south-east side. Some antiquaries are of the opinion that the remains of Ida’s castle are part of the present structure. Within the keep is an ancient draw-well, 145 feet deep, and cut through the solid basaltic rock upon which it stands into the sandstone below : it was first known to modern times in 1770, when the sand and rubbish were cleared out of its vaulted cellar or dungeon. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, after the memorable Battle of Musselburgh, Sir John Forster, warden of the marshes, was made governor of Bamburgh Castle. Sir John’s grandson obtained a grant of it, and also of the manor, from James I. His descendant, Thomas, fortified both in 1715 ; but his relative (not uncle) Nathaniel Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, purchased, and by his will, dated 24th June, 1720, bequeathed them to charitable purposes. In 1757 the trustees for Bishop Crewe’s charity commenced the work of repair which was wanted, on the keep or great tower of the castle. The superintendence of these repairs being committed to Dr. Sharpe, one of the trustees, and afterwards Archdeacon of Northumberland, he converted the upper parts of the building into granaries, whence, in times of scarcity, corn might be sold to the poor, at a cheap rate. He also reserved to himself certain apartments for occasional residence, that he might see his charitable objects carried into effect ; and the trustees still continue to reside here in turn. Dr. Sharpe expended considerable sums of his own in these repairs, and in 1778 gave property, which was of the annual value of £109, 17 shillings in 1830, to trustees for the repair of the great tower. Much has been done since his time, and it is matter of just exultation to see this venerable fortress gradually reclaimed from ruin, and converted into apartments for the most wise and benevolent purposes. A large room is fitted up for educating boys on the Madras system. A suite of rooms are also allotted to two mistresses and twenty poor girls, who from their ninth year are lodged, clothed, and educated here till fit for service.

Various signals are made use of to warn vessels in thick and stormy weather from that most dangerous cluster of rocks called the Fern Islands. A life-boat, and all kinds of implements useful in saving crews and vessels in distress, are always in readiness, and all means to prevent wrecks from being plundered and for restoring them to their owners. This charity has also been judiciously extended to the relief of seamen who may suffer either by shipwreck or otherwise in navigating this dangerous coast. A constant watch is kept at the top of the tower, whence signals are made to the fishermen of Holy Island as soon as any vessel is discovered to be in distress, when the fishermen immediately put off to its assistance. The signals are so regulated as to point out the particular direction in which the vessel lies. Owing to the size and fury of the breakers it is generally impossible for boats to put off from the mainland in a severe storm ; but such difficulty occurs but rarely in putting off from Holy Island. In addition to these arrangements for mariners in distress, two men on horseback constantly patrole the coast a distance of eight miles, from sunset to sunrise every stormy night. Whenever any case of shipwreck occurs it is their duty to forward intelligence to the castle without delay. As a further inducement to this, premiums are often given for the earliest notice of such distress. By these means are many lives are saved, and an asylum is offered to shipwrecked persons in the castle for a week, or longer if necessary. The bodies of those who are lost are decently interred at the expense of this charity. There are likewise the necessary instruments and tackle for raising vessels which have sunk, and whatever goods may be saved are deposited in the castle. The castle contains an extensive library, an infirmary, and dispensary. In the infirmary, on an average, 1,000 persons are received in the course of a year. In addition to what has been mentioned, the funds of the charity are also applied to the augmentation of small benefices, contributions towards the building and enlarging of churches, and the foundation and support of schools, exhibitions to young men going to either of the universities, the binding out apprentices, annuities and casual donations to distressed individuals, and subscriptions to different charitable institutions. In 1830 the total income of Lord Crewe’s estates was £8,1261, 8 shillings and 8 pence. In 1801 the population of Bamburgh was 295 ; in 1811, 298 ; in 1821, 342 ; and in 1831, 417.