Club Meeting, Northumbrian Castles - Tuesday 27th February 2018.

Vice Chairman, John Barnes hosted the Morpeth Camera Club meeting on Tuesday 27th February with a presentation
entitled ‘Northumbrian Castles, or 1066 and all that Jazz’. His aim was to present a light hearted and interactive history
of the castles in our county. Over many years he had been taking photographs, walks took him to castles and graveyards,
leading him to wonder about the families and the stories of the past, sparking his curiosity as to their origins. He began
to research and found that knowing the historical background, brought his photographs into context and over the years
he has become more and more fascinated, the buildings being like a window back in time. An old church in the middle
of a housing estate, ruins of a castle nestled in an industrial estate, Knights Templar symbols, and skull and cross bone
carvings, led him to embark on more and more research.


So, What is a Castle, he asked, is it a fortified manor, a residence, whatever the size it would be a statement, or a
perception of importance of the people who live there, who are to be respected. A Castle was more than just a building
but also a war machine giving a sense of empowerment to the owners.

John continued with a short history of the Battle of Hastings, how it came about and how William of Normandy at first
ruled with kid gloves, and how it all changed and there was raping and pillaging, murder and famine; how he divided
up the country, giving over areas to rule to his favourite knights such as De Merley and Percy. Five hundred castles
were built and run in three years, all over Britain, a statement that said ‘we are here and we are not going away’. A
potted history of our local castles followed, Bamburgh Castle, which has been a place of fortification since 547 and may
have been the capital of the Kingdom of Bernicia, through to the 1700’s when it served as a social welfare experiment
with a commune like school and infirmary. Stories of Alnwick Castle, of the Percy’s and the War of the Roses; Walkworth
with its natural river defences, its design and the changes in layout throughout its history; tales of Dunstanburgh and its
ghostly knight, dungeons and murder holes followed. Etal Castle, which was originally a vertically built Peel house, whose
main aim being to keep the Scots out, served as a storehouse for munitions after the Battle of Flodden; Norham, one of
the strongest of the border castles, built to withstand anything, this true statement of power was built in one of the
most dangerous places on the border between England and Scotland and was the one most often attacked by the Scots.

Tales of treachery followed with Prudhoe Castle, hidden by its modern surroundings of an industrial estate and begun in
1100, was situated at a strategic crossing of the Tyne against Scottish invaders. The chequered history of Bothal Castle
with family disputes and back stabbings was followed by Mitford Castle which John said probably had one of the most
violent histories of them all, adding graphic stories of the Mitford Gang, trials and being hung, drawn and quartered.
Stories of witch trials at Edlingham and the Twizell Castle folly came next, followed by bloody tales of The Hermitage.
John’s account and description of this castle, with black arts and magic, four foot square dungeons in which people were
left to die, ghosts, tales of murder, and visits by Mary Queen of Scots, confirmed that it had a reputation of being one
of the most sinister and atmospheric in Scotland. John concluded with a short history of Ad Gefrin and Yeavering Bell a
place of legend considered to be the Capital of Northumbria.

Together with his photographs, John gave the audience a great insight into the history of Northumbrian castles, with
lurid tales from the past. Programme Sec Glyn Trueman thanked him for a fascinating talk after which coffee was served.