Till Valley Archaeological Society

Norham Castle
Norham Castle

The talk planned for the latest meeting of Till Valley Archaeological Society in Crookham Village Hall could not take place due to the speaker being unavoidably called away.

It is difficult to imagine a more enticing title and we were pleased to see members turn out in their strength to hear Martha’s entertaining and informative talk which was beautifully accompanied by photographs of Norham from different viewpoints through the seasons.

Norham owes its significance to its position on the River Tweed as a long-established fording place for many centuries. Until the mid 19th century there was also a ferry, the only way of crossing the river before the present bridge was built. St Aidan crossed the Tweed by the ford on his journey from Iona to Lindisfarne. The first church was built after this during the 7th century, replaced later by a stone one

Our archaeological appetites were whetted when Martha spoke of the need for a geophysical survey – if only!

A monastery followed the erection of the first church with St Cuthbert’s body passing through the village when monks from Lindisfarne attempted to keep it safe from marauding Vikings.

Reference was made to the sometimes confusing situation of Norham being part of North Durham until 1844.

Norham is, of course, renowned for its magnificent castle under which lies an Iron Age fort. The original castle would have been built of wood, a motte and bailey, as defence against the Scots in 1121.

It proved incapable of withstanding attack by David who succeeded in destroying it not once, but twice. It was rebuilt in stone in 1165 and that is what we can still see today.

The church holds the distinction of having the widest span arch of any Norman parish church in England.

It was at Norham that John Balliol, having been chosen by Edward 1 to be King of Scotland, paid homage to Edward.

The medieval plan of the village still survives with long narrow burgage plots behind the houses even though these may have been rebuilt or replaced many times. The oldest house dates back to the 1700s.

Norham is associated with the story of William Marmion, a knight from the south, presented with a golden helmet by a lady who told him to travel to Norham – the most dangerous place in England – and to let the helmet be seen there.

He joined Sir Thomas Grey, captain of Norham Castle, in repelling the Scots.

The version which is better known, however, is that by Sir Walter Scott who transferred the characters to the time of the Battle of Flodden 200 years later.

The castle’s huge beehive oven has partially survived with its stone turned red by the heat. Masons’ marks are still visible on the walls and one window was turned into a ducket for rearing pigeons for food. It is possible the castle was even plastered and painted on the outside.

In 1497, James IV brought the canon known as Mons Meg to Norham in order to lay siege to the castle but he was unsuccessful.

In 1513, the outer wall was destroyed by the treachery of a groomsman who let the Scots inside. He was hanged outside the village.

After Berwick returned to England in 1482, Norham declined in importance. Yet it has continued to provide a wealth of stories including that of the Rev Robert Lamb in Victorian times who married a girl who brought a teapot with her to their first meeting. They went on to have a happy marriage and the teapot still survives!

Then there is Canon Gilly and his campaign to improve housing for the hinds, Charlie-the church clock, Piper Laidlaw VC, the founding of Ladykirk Church, the Blessing of the Nets and bombing during the Second World War. There is certainly no shortage of stories from Norham!

Martha informed us that another description was given to Norham by Beatrice Potter who holidayed nearby and referred to it as ‘a dirty little town where every tenth house is a public’. We preferred the title chosen by our speaker!

We were very grateful to Martha for stepping in at short notice to offer this illuminating talk much enjoyed by our members.

Our next talk will be on Wednesday, July 1, at 7.30pm at Crookham Village Hall when Mark Hall will speak on Killing Kings – James IV and Richard III. Visitors welcome.