Alnwick, History Society

The beautiful display of spring flowers at Bowburn Park beside Alnwick Castle.
Picture Jane Coltman
The beautiful display of spring flowers at Bowburn Park beside Alnwick Castle. Picture Jane Coltman

Amazing archives

The March meeting of Alnwick and District Local History Society received a talk from Chris Hunwick about the archives of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle.

Chris Hunwick has been the Duke’s archivist for nine years, and is steadily improving the condition that these very old records require.

They are kept in the Record Tower at the castle, which has thick walls, allowing a steady temperature and keeping them dry. The tower has a special system in case of fire as a sprinkler system cannot be used. This rapidly lowers the temperature in a room, bringing any fire under control.

A priority for repackaging were the 30,000 leases held by the Duke. These were stored tightly-folded and bound. They are accessed on an almost daily basis and were becoming damaged with use. There is also damage from acid from the card container. These are now stored flat, having been cleaned and boxed in acid-free containers.

The top room contains records transferred from Syon House, in their 100-year-old boxes, which are disintegrating when handled. These are being re-catalogued and repackaged. So far, three boxes have been tackled so there is a long way to go.

Gems found in this archive are the purchase deed for Alnwick Castle of 1309, and that for Warkworth. This still retains its seal. It was damaged, but has recently been restored.

Other finds include the Muster Roll for the 5th Earl’s bowmen, made in 1514, just after the Battle of Flodden. It was discovered when research was being undertaken for the Flodden anniversary exhibition. This is of considerable historical interest.

Other research using archival records was undertaken in connection with the First World War exhibition.

An old Roll of Honour, supposedly of all the working men of the estate who served, has been found to be incomplete. The names and details of about 30 more men who served have been found, and these have been added to a new Roll of Honour, a memorial wall, containing 112 names.

In connection with an exhibition celebrating the anniversary of Waterloo, a letter was found from Wellington to Major Henry Percy, his adjutant, who carried at top speed the despatch of the victory, with two captured French standards, to England. The letter started with his orders, but concluded with some interesting social chit-chat.

Currently, the archives for the 18th century are being investigated in relation to an exhibition to start later this year, commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown, with a focus on the Pastures. It promises to be very interesting.

The next meeting of the society is the AGM. It will be held on Tuesday, April 26, at 7.30pm, at Bailiffgate Museum (doors open 7pm), when Vera Vaggs will be talking on the Swarland Settlement.