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Northumberland and Durham Family History Society had a talk on The Rise And Fall Of The Forsters Of Bamburgh, by Carol Griffiths.

Monday, 14th May 2018, 09:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th May 2018, 10:35 am

Bamburgh’s appearance was very different in the past.

In the 16th century the church had a roof only half-covered in lead, glass was missing, thatch defiled and rubbish piled behind the porch.

For centuries owned by the Crown, the castle stood in ruins since the siege of 1464 when cannonballs had bounced off the Keep. The Grove did not exist, the area then being a dangerous, open quarry.

The late 1700s saw the crypt of the church sealed up as a vault of the Forster family. It had two apartments, one containing five coffins when it was entered in 1837. They contained the remains of Mr Bacon-Forster d.1765, Fernando Forster d.1701, allegedly murdered, John or William Forster, General Tom Forster d.1738, and Dorothy Forster d.1739. A plan shows only three coffins, however.

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John Forster is the first known member of this family, which had owned land in the area since the 1200s. He was knighted in 1548 for bravery in wars against Scotland, held several high offices, including Captain of Bamburgh Castle, and purchased the Mansion House, which we know as Bamburgh Hall. Later he acquired property in Spindlestone and Alnwick, including Hulne Abbey, which became his main residence.

Legend states that he lived to be over 100 and escaped death when 30 raiders attacked the castle. His wife swiftly bolted his chamber door and they abandoned the chase.

His funeral in 1602 was an extravagant affair, with delicacies of birds from the Farne Islands for mourners. The cost was £454 11 7d. He was buried in the chancel.

His illegitimate son Nicholas earned the gratitude of James VI/I when he received him at Berwick in 1603. James was not impressed with the old wooden bridge over the Tweed and was responsible for the stone bridge we use today.

Nicholas’ eldest son Claudius became, like his father and grandfather, High Sheriff, and was granted the castle by James I, with the huge expense of repairs.

A few generations later came Ferdinando, who became MP. A quarrel with Sir John Fenwick of Rock resulted in a duel being arranged. Before it commenced Ferdinando lost his footing and Sir John killed him. Fenwick was later hanged on the same spot.

By now the Forster fortunes were declining and they were forced to sell their estate.

Ferdinando’s sister Dorothy was married at the age of 27 to Lord Nathaniel Crewe, 67. It is said to have been a happy marriage. He bought the estate for £20,000, saving the Forsters further debts, and began restoring Bamburgh Castle. It is said that a pear tree, which still stands today, was planted by Dorothy.

General Tom Forster was a prominent Jacobite. He surrendered at the Battle of Preston in 1715. Imprisoned in Newgate for insurgency, he was rescued by his sister Dorothy. Their aunt had married Lord Crewe.

Dorothy rode to London, accompanied by blacksmith Purdy, and disguising herself, she smuggled Tom out of prison and to France, where he died some years later. She even arranged a mock funeral at Bamburgh with a coffin filled with sawdust. This was replaced by one containing his real corpse, brought to Bamburgh in secrecy.

Our speaker returned us to the crypt for the final chapter of this informative and entertaining talk with a graphic description of the occupants of the coffins.

Carol’s talk brought alive the incidents familiar in varying degrees to members and kept us enthralled with the details of a well-known family. It proved a stimulating end to this year’s programme.

Our AGM is on May 19.