Northumberland: County of Culture
Rebecca Horton, International Training Programme Assistant
After a long weekend away in Northumberland, a county in North-East England, I am back at the British Museum. For alumni who visited the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, Newcastle was a part of Northumberland centuries ago.
Northumberland is a beautiful part of England, packed with many interesting heritage sites and museums. I stayed in Budle Hall, a former country house turned Bed & Breakfast which in itself felt like a heritage site- filled with portraits of the owners’ ancestors and objects found when metal detecting on the land surrounding the property.
Budle Hall is situated in Bamburgh, a village perched on the coastline of the North Sea and dominated by Bamburgh Castle. Bamburgh has been occupied since 800BC; the cliff top on which the castle now stands was an attractive location for each generation due to it’s defensive position. The initial foundations for a castle were built in 547 AD, when Anglo-Saxon Kings made Bamburgh their royal capital. Since then the castle has changed appearance and ownership many times. Today the castle is privately owned by the Armstrong family who bought the castle in 1894. Although Bamburgh castle is technically their private residence, the family open the castle to visitors each day and this provides the small village of Bamburgh with a buzzing tourist industry.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne can be seen when looking across the estuary from Budle Hall and Bamburgh Castle. The island is home to another castle and the ruins of a priory. The priory was founded by St Aidan in early 600AD, under the orders of King Oswald (King of the area, then known as Northumbria) who ruled from Bamburgh Castle. Lindisfarne was a prime location for a priory as the tide cuts the island off from from the mainland daily, providing peace for worship.
Although secluded this tiny island witnessed Viking and Scottish invasions, resulting in the fortification of the priory itself. The island also became a popular pilgrimage destination; Bishop Cuthbert of Lindisfarne had been buried for 11 years when monks opened his coffin to find his body had not decayed, the opportunity to visit the priory and relics of St Cuthbert resulted in a popular Northumbrian cult.
The priory which survives today is a 12th century building, believed to be built on the site where St Cuthbert’s body was originally buried. The priory is an English Heritage site and a museum is situated next to the priory, putting the building and any other objects found into context. The island continues to be home to a small community today.
A 40 minute drive away from Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle, along the coast and through green hills stands a grand Victorian house. Cragside House resides amongst tall woodland trees, colourful flower beds and interestingly a working Archimedes Screw. The 1st Lord Armstrong who bought Bamburgh Castle was a successful industrialist in Newcastle, who also built and resided in Cragside House, the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. Cragside was sold to the National Trust in 1977. Today visitors can enjoy the contrasts between the gadgets and gizmos of an eccentric inventor mixed with the beautiful Victorian interiors which run through-out the house. Stained glass and wall paper within the house were designed by the William Morris Company, a company some ITP alumni may be familiar with from their project weekend visit!
Northumberland is steeped in an inter-connected history which makes for a fascinating weekend away!