Barnard Castle: A town in N.E. England which has suddenly become very topical.

This evening, I am focusing on Barnard Castle in Teesdale, N.E. England., about 26 miles S.W. of the ancient city of Durham. The town grew up around a 12th century Norman castle and assumed the name, hence Barnard Castle can apply to either the ruined castle or the adjacent town (or both).

Here is a video clip of town and castle.


The Castle

This massive edifice sits on a natural defensive position, high on a rock above the River Tees. As a power base, the castle reached its zenith in the 12th century under Bernard de Bailliol after whose first name the castle is named. The castle subsequently passed to the Beauchamp family and then to King Richard III via his wife. After Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 the castle fell into disuse and ultimate ruin.

At the castle can be found a sensory garden and Richard III’s boar emblem carved into the inner ward.

The Town

Pleasant and prosperous with a population of about 5200. A market town with usual complement of shops, tea rooms, restaurants and pubs.The architecture is predominantly 16th and 17th century. Barnard Castle is considered by some to one of the 50 most historically and architecturally important towns in Britain.

Nearby is the Bowes Museum which contains a fine collection of European fine and decorative art works.

Famous authors, Walter Scott and Charles Dickens both visited the town and used experiences in their respective literature.

Stop Press

Archaeologists have discovered a parchment from the late medieval period which had been hidden at the castle at Barnard Castle. This contained script written in Norman French which is in process of translation with results to date revealing a hitherto unknown episode in England's history. A summary of the translation revealed so far is as follows:
  • The parchment is undated but commences with reference to the 'Battle of the Red Wall' the exact location of which is not known but seems to have occurred somewhere between the English Midlands and the North. Here protagonists were King Boris I and Jeremiah of Islington with latter being head of the Peasants Army. It seems the Peasants Army benefited from strong historic local support but due to Jeremiah's vacillating tactics on the day he was outflanked on the field by Boris's brilliant new general Sir Dominic de Cummyng resulting in vast numbers of Jeremiah's army switching sides and granting victory to King Boris.
  • After the battle King Boris consolidated his grip on power but continued to rely on the multi-talented thinker Sir Dominic to design and implement his domestic policies.
  • Shortly after the battle a very serious outbreak of the plague (black death) occurred which affected most of the country. The only means of combating this disease was to curtail human contact and shut down places of public gatherings such as markets, hangings, bear baiting, cock fighting, religious festivals, etc. Everyone was ordered to stay at home.In this regard Sir Dominic was heavily involved in designing policies and issuing proclamations to the general public.Penalties for transgressions included fines of up to 1000 groats and two days in the stocks.
  • There is a mention in the parchment that King Boris actually succumbed to the disease but miraculously recovered after three witches were hired and sacrificed a goat called Nicola.
  • At about the time King Boris was incapacitated Sir Dominic and Lady Cummyng began to show early symptoms of the plague.This caused concern regarding the safety of their only child. At this time there was, of course, no health service or other means of obtaining childcare in London where the family lived at the time.
  • With protection of the child paramount the de Cummyngs decided to hire a horseman and carriage to undertake the perilous, 270 mile journey north to Durham, the ancestral home of the de Cummyngs where Sir Dominic's parents resided. 
  • On arrival at Durham the local beadle is alleged to have made contact with someone connected with the family to remind them of the 'stay at home' rules but no records were kept as the beadle was illiterate.
  • The de Balliols of Castle Barnard learned of the arrivals of the de Cummyngs at nearby Durham and urgently reminded them of the need for all horsemen in the district to have regularly eye tests. Again, at this time there were no opticians, optometrists or competent medical facilities of any kind other than witchcraft. The eye test was usually conducted by poking the person concerned in each eye with a burnt stick. If, after each 'poke' he could describe the picture of King Boris on the nearby wall his licence was renewed but if not he was declared blind and was required to beg on the streets.
  • The de Cummyngs took the opportunity to renew contact with their friends the Balliols and ordered their horseman to drive them to Barnard Castle and have the eye-test undertaken at the castle.On arrival at the castle the de Cummyngs were obliged to wear steel fighting helmets with visors as experience had shown such offered some degree of protection from the plague the reasons for which were not clear at the time. The horseman bribed the eye official to avoid the mandatory test. Instead he was made to clean the castle latrines which he later claimed was a far better deal than the proverbial 'poke in the eye with a  burnt stick'.
  • After the de Cummyngs had returned to London local scriveners  had learned of their trip to the north and published details in local news sheets. This news caused uproar amongst the peasantry who had diligently complied with the stay-at-home rules and had been forced to eat rats to avoid starvation.
  • Despite the protection of King Boris, Sir Dominic was forced to account for his actions in front of a court of news letter barons.His key defences being:(1)  As he had written the rules only he could interpret them, and (2) The dictum of Superior Equality under which all people are nominally equal but some are more equal than others owing to their privileged education culminating in Oxford University..
 Further translations of the Barnard Castle script are awaited with interest.

NB: Apologies to non-British readers of this post as the 'stop press' section is a satire on a current episode in Britsh politics.


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