Northumberland, History Society

Alnwick Castle. Jane Coltman
Alnwick Castle. Jane Coltman

The talk on the archives of the Duke of Northumberland by Chris Hunwick, archivist at Alnwick Castle, at Northumberland and Durham Family History Society, began with an interesting description of the place in which they are kept.

Known as the Record Tower, it is a three-storey building, mainly dating to the early 17th century and boasting a 14th century garderobe. It has been much extended and is now able to accommodate the records from the Duke’s London residence, Sion House.

It was fascinating to see photographs of the storage, including the multitude of tenants’ agreements, recently cleaned, restored and re-organised.

Chris told us about some of the important documents. Perhaps the most exciting find was the Alnwick Muster Roll from Flodden. A long search for material had yielded nothing until the last half-hour of a long day. An archivist’s dream, it contains the names of 71 archers from Alnwick and Warkworth. The 5th Earl was not at Flodden as he was fighting in France, but his younger brother was there.

Not only does the roll contain names, it lists equipment, such as jack (leather waistcoat) and splents (metal protective wear). The document has proved invaluable to the Flodden story.

Much more recent is the World War I Roll of Honour, listing employees of the Duke who served. One in three gave service. Like most such items, many names are missing.

Lord William Percy served in the war after spending time in Siberia bird-watching, where he endured spartan conditions. Indeed, he wrote to his father declaring life in the trenches was not as bad as Siberia.

Capability Brown introduced radical changes to the landscape of the estate, removing field boundaries and bridges, but sadly no plans have survived.

Chris explained how the public may use the archives. It is not possible to freely access them, but the paid research service was vouched for as “outstanding” by one member.

We very much enjoyed this informative glimpse into the archives of a familiar place and look forward to further talks from Chris.

On March 17 we will holding a session on practical tips for finding ancestors. Come along for a 10am start, to Bell View, Belford.