Our speaker this month at Rothbury and Coquetdale History Society was Christopher Hunwick, archivist to the Duke of Northumberland.
Using illustrations, maps and photographs he informed us about the history and importance of these fascinating documents, and the unique insight they provide of the life of the castle and its inhabitants.
The immense collection of archives is now housed in the Round Tower, which in the mid 18th century was rebuilt for this purpose. It includes documents, such as leases of farms, rentals, purchase agreements and plans.
They are parchments, seals and paper. Significant damage has been caused by the use of inappropriate materials to bind them.
A challenging programme of sorting, cataloguing and conserving is in progress, and exciting discoveries are revealed. Immense care is used to package and preserve these items for future generations.
There are letters from William Ord to the 9th Earl in 1620, encouraging the development of fulling mills used in the cleaning of cloth and wool, which contributed to the wealth of the family.
Thomas Percy was appointed constable of Alnwick Castle, about which there is documentation. He was involved in the Gunpowder Plot. His association with the castle and Syon House implicated the Earl, which led to the Earl’s long-term incarceration in the Tower of London. Thomas Percy was later pursued and shot by Government forces.
Various exhibitions have been held, such as at the 500th anniversary in 2013 of the Battle of Flodden. Recently discovered archives showed inventories of items of clothing and armoury. There are lists of equipment, bows, splentes (protectors for arms), steel bonnets and nages (small riding horses). There was a muster roll of 71 archers. Painstaking work took place to identify those families.
Research was carried out for an exhibition commemorating the 1914-18 war. A Roll of Honour was found, listing all those who served, as well as those who died, but the names of members of the household were not included. Recent work revealed information about employees on the estate. Staff and family members contributed stories and personal possessions.
Letters written home by Lord Henry Percy, who was in the Grenadier Guards, provided an excellent record of life in the trenches. Those letters are now on display.
Further research revealed pictures and maps, which showed the area before Capability Brown altered the landscape. Documentation shows how the pastures were given over during the war as a training camp, and later for convalescence purposes.
Massive bundles of accounts, musters, reports, letters of complaint, requests and personal stories are part of the collection. The oldest item found is dated 1120, probably part of a chain of title deeds. The purchase deeds of acquisition of the castle in 1309 have been discovered.
The research continues, supported by students.
We gained a fascinating insight into the history and life of the castle.
The next meeting is in the Jubilee Hall on February 16, at 7.30pm. Michael Thompson will speak on Armour – Fashion Wrought In Steel.