Today February 2018 snow is threatening, it is -1degrees. I am warm inside, not queuing on the slope leading to Bamburgh Castle at 2 am in the morning, ravenous, desperate for corn to make bread, wind howling off the North Sea, a sack round my shoulders for protection. We can go to the bakers for bread 24/7; 283 years ago, there was a corn shortage meaning hunger and starvation. There were corn riots in Tweedmouth and Spittal. Troops garrisoned in Bamburgh Castle, and in Belford were ordered to quell the riots; starving people got hurt. No Welfare State; no national minimum wage.
Thanks to the former owner of Bamburgh Castle, Nathaniel Lord Crewe-one of the Prince Bishops of Durham who married Dorothy, a daughter of the impoverished Forster family to whom James 1 had given the ruined Castle in 1610-who left his fortune for his Trustees to set up charity work at the Castle, there was help. Later, in 1800, the Trustees would commission the Windmill to be built-it is still there- to grind corn and sell it in a “Cheap Shop” in the Castle at subsidised price to the poor. But in 1783, the poor queued from 2 in the morning, till the Castle Foreman George Hall came to dole out corn to the shivering, starving villagers. Even then, there was anger that some got more than their fair share, using fictitious names and because poor families got the same as a single person. But the Trustees also gave out shares of a fatted ox that was slaughtered every winter milk to make “crowdie” and revolutionary at the time, gave free vaccine to the poor against smallpox. Today’s Flu Jab advert was preceded by a notice pinned on the church door of St Aidan’s, way before free vaccinations were offered in the rest of the country. So it was not all bad in Bamburgh in King George 111’s reign.