Bamburgh and discovery of long-lost well to feature in new BBC series

Archaeologist Ben Robinson visits Bamburgh in tonight’s first episode of a new series of BBC Two’s Villages by the Sea and uncovers a well that could be connected to a Christian saint.

Monday, 8th November 2021, 3:16 pm

Historians had been searching for 10 years to find a lost underground structure mentioned in 17th century documents. Could this also be the missing medieval ‘Aidan’s Well’ dedicated to the revered Christian Saint?

The discovery is captured in the first episode of the new series, which sees Ben travel across the country to reveal how some of our best loved villages played a vital part in significant moments of our nation’s history.

He begins his journey on the coast of Northumberland to find out how the health and fortune of Bamburgh was shaped by those in charge of the village’s famous castle, from early English Kings to 18th century philanthropists.

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Villages by the Sea presenter Ben Robinson on the beach at Bamburgh. Picture: Purple Productions/Dave Minchin.

Amazingly, this small village pioneered a welfare system nearly 200 years before one existed nationally.

Ben joins village historian Carol Griffiths for the exciting climax to her decade long quest to find the long-lost well.

Ben said: "It was exciting to be involved with this discovery. It shows the sort of secrets that can be revealed in village back yards - sometimes things are hidden almost in plain sight.

“The well had been exposed during building works, but I don't think its significance was recognised, so it was covered up and made safe.

An aerial views of Bamburgh. Picture: Purple Productions/Dave Minchin.

"Up until the 1950s most villages had several wells, but this is an exceptionally grand one and wouldn't be out of place in a castle or monastery.”

He added: "Further investigation is required, but it’s intriguing to think that Carol has pinned down this famous, lost feature of Bamburgh life".

During the episode, Ben also visits fellow archaeologist Jessica Turner, whose findings show the 7th century residents of Bamburgh were robust and healthy – contrary to the usual malnourishment of the British medieval population.

Ben later meets Dr Sarah Fox, an expert in 18th century health. From an infirmary uncommon for a rural parish of the time, and its experimental medical treatments, to food supplies for the poor, Bamburgh led the way in social welfare.

Cricket in front of Bamburgh Castle. Picture: Purple Productions/Dave Minchin.

The new series also sees Ben travel to Staithes in North Yorkshire, Thorpeness in Suffolk, Charlestown in Cornwall, Arnside in Cumbria, and finally Alnmouth in Northumberland.

Accompanied by local experts, Ben uses clues from buildings, street patterns, artefacts and the landscape to unravel why the village is there, and how its fortunes changed.

Along the way Ben uncovers archaeological gems and reveals surprising stories including a village which flourished thanks to the collection of human urine. He visits the UK’s first purpose-built seaside village and the perfectly preserved Georgian port at the forefront of developments in engineering.

Villages by the Sea has been produced for BBC Two by Purple Productions, part of Objective Media Group.

The first episode airs on Monday, November 8 at 7pm on BBC Two. If you miss it you can catch up via the BBC iPlayer.

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