Community celebrates castle’s major milestone

Norham residents were joined by some illustrious visitors when marking its castle’s 900th anniversary.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 3:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st October 2021, 10:32 am
The Duke of Northumberland and George Straughen, Norham Parish Council chairman, at the flag raising. Picture by Jim Gibson.

The first event was a celebratory picnic in the castle. The Duke of Northumberland, as special guest, cut the birthday cakes donated by bakers James Ford & Son and raised the flag for the first time on Norham’s newly installed flagpole.

He also saw all the scarecrows – or knight crows as they were named in honour of the castle – which were installed around the village to protect the castle.

Earlier this month the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, visited Norham to help celebrate a harvest thanksgiving and bless the castle.

The Bishop of Durham, right, with Rev Rob Kelsey. Picture by Victoria Craig.

Friends of Norham Castle organised the events and members have been delighted with the response.

Victoria Craig, chairwoman of the group, said: “The picnic had a very special atmosphere. We had Newcastle Array, medieval re-enactors up from Newcastle Castle, and Norham Choir and Norham Village band both performed.

“It was wonderful to hear them again after such a long silence. It genuinely felt like normal life was starting up again.

“Luna Nigra Tribal Dancers and Gary Dunn were also there to entertain.”

One of the knight crows that were put about the village. Picture by Jim Gibson.

In 1121, the then Prince Bishop of Durham, Ranulph Flambard, ordered the building of a castle at Norham.

Norham was a far more important place then than now – it originally formed part of the priory of Lindisfarne and was by the 11th Century effectively the capital of the County Palatine in North Northumberland, or North Durham as it was known.

In the medieval period, the Bishops of Durham enjoyed (unlike now) near-kingly powers in return for enforcing order along the border with Scotland, which was in those days a very wild and lawless place.

So Norham Castle was built to guard the strategically important ford across the Tweed and prevent the boisterous Scots from having an easy crossing.

For the next four centuries the castle had a stormy life.

It changed hands many times between bishops and kings, between Scots and English, and between Yorkists and Lancastrians, and was besieged at least 13 times – including by some well-known names such as David I and Alexander II of Scotland, Edward l, Robert the Bruce, and James IV.

But Ironically, peace was the great enemy for the castle.

Towards the end of the 16th Century, there was a relatively long period of tranquillity that led to the garrison being reduced and the castle fell into disrepair.

Such was the state of calm that Elizabeth I refused to spend a single penny on the upkeep of the castle and after James VI and I acceded to the throne, the castle fell into ruin.

But even as a ruin, the castle has had its fair share of famous visitors.

Oliver Cromwell passed through some decades later and spent what must have been an uncomfortable night in the derelict castle.

Walter Scott was an admirer and JMW Turner attributed his fame to his early paintings of the ruined castle.