St Oswald's Way - Associated History

A brief history of St Oswald. 605 to 642

In the 7 century Britain was divided in a different manner to today’s countries and there were Kings of areas such as Northumbria, Mercia, Deira and Bernicia.

In Northumbria at the turn of the 6th to 7th Century the ruler was King Æthelfrith but this was taken in 616 by King Edwin who came from the rival Deiran Kingdom of North Yorkshire. Some of King Æthelfrith family fled to Scotland and the island of Iona where one of his son’s Oswald was brought up and converted to the Christian faith by the monks. In 633 King Penda of Mercia defeated King Edwin and in his place Eanfrith, the elder son of Æthelfrith, was installed as King of Northumbria, reverting the people of Northumbria back into paganism. This did not please Oswald and in 634 Oswald returned to Northumbria, killed his half brother and took the throne.

Heavenfield The year later (635) against all the odds, King Oswald and his army defeated the combined and stronger armies of King Penda and Caedwalla from Wales at the Battle of Heavenfield, making him then the effective King of Bretwalda (of all England). It is said that before this battle King Oswald and his army erected a cross in the field and prayed to God for a victory, and as a result of the victory King Oswald sent to Iona for monks to come to Northumbria to convert and preach the Christian faith. The second and successful monk to come was St Aidan and he was given Lindisfarne (Holy Island) as his place to establish a monastery and from where to go out to convert the pagans of Northumbria and further south to the Christian faith.

From 635 until 642 King Oswald’s influence and kingdom grew to include as far north as Edinburgh and he set up further monasteries in Hartlepool and complete the first Minster in York, something that had been started under the reign of King Edwin. It is said that because St Aidan could not speak in the same language as the population on Northumbria many of the sermons were translated and delivered to the people by King Oswald himself, and it was this devotion to the Christian faith that was the reason for his resultant saintly status.

In 642 King Oswald faced the might of King Penda for another time at Masserfelth but on this occasion he was defeated and killed. King Oswald’s body was dismembered and parts scattered across the countryside and even into mainland Europe. His Northumberland kingdom was split but the strength of the Christian faith was not defeated and ultimately in 655 the threat from King Penda was removed when he and many other of his chieftains were kill in a battle near Leeds.

As for the remains of St Oswald, the head is now buried in Durham Cathedral along side the remains of St Cuthbert, his body is at St Oswald’s in Gloucester and if one is to travel around England today there will be churches all over that claim a connection and name of St Oswald. He is remembered annually on the 5th August which is the day of his martyrdom.

This Way therefore traces many of the important places in St Oswald’s life, from the Holy Island where his first Bishop, St Aidan, was established, being close to King Oswald's castle in Bamburgh. The other end is at Heavenfield where St Oswald had this great victory over the armies of Penda and Caedwalla.

History of Lindisfarne

St Aidan's statue on Holy Island This island was first noted in 7th century when King Oswald gave the land to St Aidan and his supporting monks. They had been asked to come from Iona by King Oswald to preach to what was at that time a mainly pagan Northumbrian kingdom. The island of Lindisfarne was chosen as it was close to Bamburgh, the seat of King Oswald and the Northumbria kingdom.

The original monastery had a succession of bishops, of note being St Aidan, St Cuthbert and Eadbert. This was a very successful monastery and also wealthy and towards the end of the 8th century the island was raided on several occasions by the Vikings arriving in their long boats across the North Sea. This forced the monks to eventually leave the island in 875 taking with them the body of St Cuthbert, the Head of King Oswald and the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Benedictine Monks did not return to the island for a further 200 years (1082), but on their return they started to build their stone Priory, the ruins of which still remain to be seen today. The religious activity of the monks continued on the island for a further 450 year until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537.

Stone from the Priory and its surrounding buildings was used to build the Castle on the island as a defence against the Scots and then following the Union in 1603 it became a garrison location that changed from royalist to parliamentarians in the courts of the Civil War (1636 – 49). The castle since then has seen decline, private ownership, renovated and is not in the ownership of the National Trust.

The island of Lindisfarne takes it name from the stream that runs from the island, however when the Monks returned in the 11th century they renamed it the Holy Island after the many saintly people that had previously inhabited the island before the Viking invasions. The island still remains a place of pilgrimage and is seen by many as the original home of Christianity in England. The other important link to the early monastery is though Bishop Eadbert under whom the Lindisfarne Gospels were written, this manuscript now preserved in the British Museum in London.

History of Belford

Belford Church This Northumberland town’s history is mainly associated with its location on the road between London and Edinburgh. As far back as 1502 it was used as a stopping point for Margaret Tudor as she travelled north to marry James IV of Scotland. This was also the location of a successful coaching inn, the Blue Bell that remained a key stopping point until the east coast railway was opened in 1852.
The Blue Bell Hotel still remains to this day in the central square of the community.

History of Bamburgh

Bamburgh Castle This location was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Northumbria and was established by King Ida in 547. Its name however come later and is derived from the name of King Ida’s grandson’s wife Bebba. This developed into Bebbanburgh. King Ida built the first castle on the same dominant outcrop on which the present day castle stands. The original castle was of wood and it along with the St Aidan’s Church in Bamburgh suffered loss in the 800’s when the Vikings invaded the NE of England. It was not until the 11th century that the castle was progressively re-built and it was this 11th and 12th century work that effectively created today’s castle. This is regarded as possibly the finest castle in England and fortunately it has been restored by first Lord Crewe who was the last Prince Bishop of Durham. The second restoration was by Lord Armstrong, in whose family the castle is still owned, but open to the public.

Grace Darling's Memorial Following King Ida the next famous King associated with Bamburgh was King Oswald and both he and St Aidan were responsible for the building of the first church in the community, on the same site as its present day successor, St Aidan’s Church. Although wooden it is suggested that a major wooden beam that survived two church fires is now incorporated in the present building that was itself built in the 12/13th century albeit added to in later years.

In more recent times Bamburgh has been linked with Grace Darling, the lady who with her father was involved in the sea rescue of the Forfarshire in 1838 and from whom the Royal National Lifeboat Institute was founded. Grace was brought up in Bamburgh and her grave and a museum to her and the RNLI are located in the community.

History of Seahouses

This seaside community can trace its history back to the early 14th century with the establishment of a harbour know as North Sunderland Harbour. This was a fishing harbour and also a port for the shipping of lime from the nearby lime kilns. This latter trade ended in the 19th century and the redundant kilns were then used in the main as fish storage buildings. It was this practice of storing fish in the kilns and a fire in one of the kilns that was said to be the accidental birth of the first Kipper, this being a smoked herring.

Today the fishing is almost ended but the harbour is extensively used for boat trips to the Farne Islands.
The images below are of the harbour in the 19th and 21st centuries, the former image having been taken from an interpretive board close to the harbour.

Grace Darling's Memorial Grace Darling's Memorial

History of Beadnell

Beadnell Harbour From archaeological finds it is known that the area was inhabited in the bronze age. However its history now jumps to the time of King Oswald and the chapel at Ebb’s Neuk Point, this being first a wooden structure for his sister Edda then a stone chapel from the 13th century.

Two peel towers, Chathill erected in 1392 and the 16th century Beadnell tower, now altered to the Craster Arms, tell of the history of raids back and forth with the Scots. In the 18th century this was a time of industry with the lime kilns and harbour being built. Like is neighbouring community of Seahouses fishing and the herring trade have been of significant importance in the more recent history.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle This is a ruined but dramatic castle from the 14th century. The building started under the Earl of Lancaster but completed by both Sir John Lilburn and John of Gaunt who was the Lieutenant of the Scottish Marches. Its most notable visitor was Queen Margaret who came here after the Battle of Hexham in 1464, but its use was short lived with the castle falling into disrepair as early as the second half of the 15th century.
All that now remains are the two ends of the castle sitting on high ground overlooking the North Sea.

History of Craster.

There was an Iron Age fort at Crater / Crawcestre but this was inland from the present sea side village and close to where the present Crater Tower is located. From the 13th century onwards the Craster family have been important and owners of the village, and have invested in the development of the village and harbour. It was the family who in 1415 built the rectangular stone tower.

Craster Harbour The economy of Craster has been based on two activities, one quarrying of stone that was used locally and also shipped from the harbour to London to be used as kerbstones. The second industry was fishing with a very successful and famous kippering and smoking industry. Craster Kippers were sent throughout the UK and signs of the old smokehouses can still be seen today.

The village used a large number of Scottish ladies to gut the herring and they slept in very basic accommodation, know as Kip Houses. From this comes the modern day term of having a kip.

South of Craster is Howick, this being the site of a stone age settlement. This was discovered by archaeologists from Newcastle University. This was also the home of the Grey family, perhaps the best know being Viscount Howick - Earl Grey after whom the blend of tea is names. He was perhaps better known for his work as a social reformer both as a MP and then as leader of the Whigs and member of the House of Lords. Some of the reforms related to the abolition of parts of slavery, reform of the parliamentarian system, a factories act and poor laws.

History of Alnmouth

This community was founded in 1150 by De Vesci the occupant of Alnwick Castle. This was in effect a sea port for the Alnwick and the surrounding area. This prosperity remained over several succeeding centuries, mainly due to its port status, with it peaking in the 17th and 18th century as an important ship building and granary location. With this connection to the sea came the problems of smuggling and the theologian John Wesley described the community as a “wicked place” when he visited in the 1740’s.

Alnmouth from west of Aln River Much earlier it is said that St Cuthbert was elevated to Bishop of Lindisfarne in the presence of King Ecgfrith and Archbishop Theodore in 684 in the Alnmouth area.

Natural disaster turned the fortunes of this community in 1806. An extremely rough storm resulted in the Aln River being re-aligned into the sea and the resulting reduction in the depth and accessibility of the harbour. This along with the building of the east coast railway saw the ports importance and need decline and since then the community has become dependent on the visitor market.

This is also the home of the Brothers of Alnmouth, a Franciscan friary, overlooking the sea and the Coquet Island, once home to another monastery.

History of Coquet Island

This was the site of a mediaeval monastery that is likely to have ceased at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537. Its ruins were incorporated in the building in 1841 of a large lighthouse on the island under the ownership of Trinity House. The first lighthouse keeper was the brother of Grace Darling from Bamburgh. It is suggested that on her last visits to see her brother on Coquet Island she was so chilled that this lead to her ultimate decline and death. The lighthouse is now automatic and the island only has human inhabitants during the summer, these being wardens to protect the large bird colonies.

History of Warkworth

Warkworth Castle Warkworth Castle is the main historical interest in this community lying beside the Coquet River and about a mile in from the coast. The first castle was of wooden construction and was built about 1139 by Henry, son of King David I of Scotland. At this time Northumbria was part of the Scottish land. By 1158 the ownership had changed to Roger Fitzrichard and gradually it was re-built in stone and progressively expanded. In the late 13th century the castle was heavily manned as the Anglo-Scottish wars raged. By 1332 King Edward ii granted the ownership of the castle to the Percy family. In the mid 16th century the Percy’s were in difficulties with the monarch and there absence from Warkworth meant that the castle fell into disorder. Later on the Percy family saw Alnwick Castle as their principal residency and the ruins of Warkworth were passed to the predecessors of English Heritage in the early 20th century.

One other historical location is the Hermitage on the banks of the Coquet. This was established as a hermit cell by Sir Bertram of Bothal Castle. After he had slain his lover and brother in error he decided to become a monk and give his wealth to church and charitable activities. He created the Hermitage and after his death the Percy family still maintained this as a heritage for a lone priest. This is thought to have been around the time of the late 13th century.

History of Fenton

This community has a long ecclesiastical history, starting in the early 12th century with the establishment of St Michael’s & All Angels church. William Bertram the baron of Mitford was the inspiration for this as he was also from the nearby Brinkburn Priory. Some small parts of this period remain but it was added to in the 14th century. In the community there are also church buildings for the Presbyterians, Methodist and Catholic adherents.

Fenton has also been for centuries on the main road between London and Edinburgh, bringing with this location a number of trades, shops and inns.

History of Brinkburn Priory

This was an Augustinian Priory founded no later then 1135 by William Bertram, the Baron of Mitford. This priory had its own monastic church and it all survived into the 16th century when with the Dissolution it ceased activity in 1536. The church continued but finally fell into disrepair in the 17th century but in the 19th century under the owners, the Cadogan family the church as refurbished using modern material but to its medieval style. A manor house was added and today this is used for concerts and some church services. Within the reconstruction there are some artefacts such as altar stones and the tombstone of a Bishop of Durham that still remain

History of Rothbury

All Saints Church, Rothbury This area would certainly be inhabited in the 5th & 6th centuries by the Anglo Saxons and it is thought that the name of Rothbury has been derived from the Saxon Warrior Hrotha. By the 9th century it is thought that the Saxon’s had established some form of Christian community in the area of today’s All Saints Church and Rothbury was a Royal Burgh. In 935 the Northumbrian King Athelstan fought and won the Battle of Brunaburg this being on the Croquet to the east of Rothbury.

Little remains of this early history, destroyed by either the Vikings or the Norman. History becomes clearer in the 12th century with Rothbury church being of importance around the time of the Norman Conquest. Rectors can be traced back to 1107 and in 1291 King Edward I granted a charter to hold a market in the community. The 15th & 16th Rothbury like much of the surrounding communities was frequently attached and many parts destroyed at the hands of the Reivers who would come over the nearby Cheviot Hills. Come the time of the Jacobite Wars, Rothbury was one of the overnight stops for the Earl of Derwentwater just prior to his defeat at the Battle of Preston.

More contemporary history surrounds the Armstrong family that resided at Cragside. Lord William Armstrong (1810 – 1900) was a local industrialist and engineer and had many factories in the NE area. He was responsible for creating high pressure hydraulic machinery and was the first person to have hydro power installed into his home at Cragside. This property is now in the ownership of the National Trust. Apart form his contribution to industry Lord Armstrong also paid for extensive tree planting in the surrounding countryside.

History of Whitton

This is a small community just to the south of Rothbury on the River Coquet. It has medieval artefacts from border fortifications.

History on Simonside Hills ( Lordenshaws)

As long ago as 4500 year in the Neolithic times there was civilisation on these hills, identified by cup and ring marking on the rocks. During the Iron Age (2500 year ago) there was a settlement at Lordenshaws, this uncovered by archaeologists who have identified stone walls of three houses and a number of ditches and banks identifying a settlement of at least seven dwellings.

History of Kirkwhelpington

Kirkwhelpington This small Northumberland village has St Bartholomew’s Church, established in the 13th century but much altered since them. The community has recognition through some of its inhabitants both past and present.

Born in the parish in the community of Kirkharle in 1716 was Lancelot Brown to be known as Capability Brown, perhaps Britain’s most famous landscape gardener. He did not remain in the area but moved south undertaking hundreds of jobs throughout the whole of England. Perhaps some of the most famous gardens being Hampton Court and Blenheim Castle.

Charles Algernon Parsons, (1854 - 1931) is also associated with the community, his body having been buried in the churchyard. This engineer was responsible for the developed the first high speed steam turbine. In 1897 he built the first turbine-driven steamship, the 'Turbinia', with a top speed of 35 knots causing a sensation at Queen Victoria's Naval Review. He also designed searchlights, telescopes and developed the high-speed electric generator. He knighted in 1911, and after retiring lived his final years in Jamaica.

The most recent high profile person to have association with Kirkwhelpington is Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service from 2000 until 2005. Prior to that he was Chief Constable of the Northumbrian Police and is now the Chancellor of Northumbria Univiersity.

History of Great Whittington

Great Whittingtom This small community takes its name from the 9th century Old English “Hwita’s estate”. From then until the 17th century there appears to be little historical interest, at this time the village was on the map by virtue of its well used coaching inn. The area around the village is however steeped in 1st and 2nd century interest this being close to Hadrian’s Wall and the old Roman military road.

History of Heavenfield and nearby Chollerford

St Oswald's Church at Heavenfield This is a wide open field close to Hadrian’s Wall just to the east of Chollerford where King Oswald and his army defeated and stronger armies of King Penda and Caedwalla from Wales in 635. It is marked by a simple wooden cross, symbolising the fact that King Oswald and his army stopped to pray for God’s assistance before entering battle.

At one corner of the battlefield is St Oswald’s Church. This is named after King Oswald who after his death was created a Saint to reflect the Christian works and influence he had over the pagan people of the North of England and the supposed miracles that resulted from his life. The church however is much younger having been built on the location of the King Oswald Cross in 1737.

This area is the only location where armed conflict has taken place in the region. Hadrian’s Wall did not see local battles, but it was the scene of extensive military activity. Close by is Chesters Fort and within close distance from Heavenfield are Planetrees Milecastle, Brunton Turrets and the Chester Bridge Abutments.