Alnwick and District Local History Society, April meeting

FASCINATING HISTORY: While researching his family tree, which is full of doctors, Dr Angus Armstrong came across a link with a branch of the Fenwick family, also full of doctors.

However, looking sideways, he found a much more interesting link in Col George Fenwick. In his time, he became Governor of Saybrook, Connecticut, Berwick, and finally Edinburgh and Leith.

This was the man whose fascinating history delighted the audience of the Alnwick and District Local History Society at its April meeting.

The Fenwicks became owners of the priory at Brinkburn after its first owner, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and later its second, Thomas Percy, had been executed. The first Fenwick, Tristram, leased the land from Thomas Percy, but his son George took it over. His grandson was Colonel George.

The Colonel was born in 1603 and went to Queen’s College, Cambridge to read Law. He became Agent to the Warwick Patentees, an organisation which arranged the colonisation of parts of New England. Many of the Patentees were well-known Parliamentary MPs, such as John Pym, John Hampden and Sir Arthur Hazlerigg, who was a relation of George Fenwick by marriage.

One purpose for this interest in the Warwick Patentees was to serve as a refuge should its members find it necessary to leave England quickly during the troubled times before the Civil War.

Col George Fenwick went to America in 1636. He quickly returned to England to marry and went back in 1639 with his wife, Alice, daughter of Sir Edward Apsley of Worminghurst, Sussex, and his two sisters.

He was appointed Governor of Saybrook, Connecticut, and stayed for five years, but it became clear that none of the other Patentees were interested in going to America.

In his five years in America, the Colonel had formed the colony of Connecticut, and had two daughters and a son, but sadly his wife died.

He returned to England with his family and became MP for Northumberland. He served in the New Model Army, and was appointed Governor of Berwick in 1649 when the Civil War ended. He asked for funds to support the town against the Scots, but this proved unnecessary, and the Colonel used the money he had received to build a church instead.

In 1650 Cromwell came north to fight the Scots, and Col George Fenwick joined him.

He fought with the Berwick garrison regiment at the Battle of Dunbar, which the English won despite the overwhelming superiority of the Scottish forces, largely because of the influence of the Committee of Estates of The Kirk. This body dismissed many Scottish soldiers because they failed their catechisms, and interfered in military strategy.

The colonel was appointed Governor of Edinburgh and Leith till 1656, when he died. He left behind his second wife, Catherine, who returned to Bolam to live. She was an interesting woman in her own right, but that is another story.