The following group of historical insights have been compiled by the wonderful Bamburgh Bones volunteer researcher Carol Griffith. Carol delights in scouring archives and ancient documents to gather information about Bamburgh and it’s impressive castle through the ages.
Who, knowing Bamburgh today, has heard of the Kiln Well? No, I thought not…nor had I till some 18 months ago.
There are several Wells in Bamburgh, a glance at early editions of the Ordnance Survey Map will show some of them. There is of course one fabled Well in the Castle, the Anglo Saxon well of the Anglo-Saxon dynasty of Northumbria, dating from the 7th century, but more of the Castle wells later. There is also the well from the Lepers Hospital, and the well/pump near the medieval Dovecote. But what of the Kiln Well? And a kiln in Bamburgh? Although we are very familiar with the limekilns at Seahouses, Beadnell, Holy Island, and inland at Christon Bank.
As part of my work during the “Working Lives” project at Woodhorn Archive, I have translated both parts of the first 2 Court Books (one end refers to the Court with jurisdiction over Balmbrough, Fryers, Fleetham, Elford, Budle and Newton; the other end to the Court covering Sunderland and Beadnell) – a labour of love I can assure you in view of the scores of ever changing names of the Freeholders, Leaseholders and Cottagers who must all be summoned to attend in the ancient Courtroom at the Castle. The pictures the Court records reveal are fascinating (Woodhorn ref NRO 00452/ D/2/1 and 00452/D/2/2); villagers “presenting” each other due to trespass by swine or geese trampling in a neighbours corn; Aletasters, “Constables” and “Pounders” for each village were appointed but what is this? Reference after reference to the Kiln Well in Balmbrough-
Several orders have been made at this Court for the cleaning and repair of the Kiln Well (situated in the Town of Balmbrough), by the respective inhabitants or Householders of the Town, which orders have not been carried out. Rules are laid down for a regular annual inspection and cleaning to be carried out by the time of the Feast of St. John the Baptist under a penalty of three shillings and four pence for any one who did not play their part.
Fined for breach of By law about repairing and cleaning the Kiln Well, every householder within Burrough the sum of 6d, and every inhabitant besides the sum of 3d.
The well was clearly so important, the main well in the Village, that inhabitants were forbidden from watering animals there:
As the Well in Balmbrough called the Kill Well is of great benefit to all inhabitants but is much dammified and abused by the watering of horses and beasts there which may be better watered elsewhere, it is ordered by common consent that a fine of six pence be paid
Later on the fine was increased and perhaps rowdyism was becoming a nuisance because the Court ruled-
It is ordered that due care be taken in cleaning the Kill Well at the charge of the town if due notice be given by the Constables-offenders to pay 6s8d
It is also ordered that we shall have a pair of stocks in this Burrow at or before Lamas Day next at the expense of the town persons refusing to pay his portion shall pay-3s4d
It is also presented and ordered that the Kiln Well shall be repaired and cleaned before Midsummer Day next at the charge of the Householders of the Borough, each Ale housekeeper to pay 2d and each other housekeeper to pay 1d, the said sums to be collected by the Constable and applied by him for that purpose..any person refusing to pay 3s4d
So, where was the most important well in the village sited? I asked around, friends asked local residents with long memories and although I was told of a Kiln Field, it lay well outside the site of the old village. My archivist supervisor friend thought I had become obsessed; all my fellow volunteers were on alert; I was shown many precious 18th century estate maps. But no luck-
I had visited the well from the Leper Hospital. Many years ago I had stayed on several occasions with an older relative who was devoted to the village, and inspired me with the magic of Northumberland, telling endless stories of Victorian Bamburgh heard from her mother (both ladies lived into their late 90s). My relative told me as a child she could remember the remaining building of the Leper Hospital with ornate carvings, which was then used as the slaughter house by the local butcher. She showed me the site of the well, now covered with thick layers of vegetation. I also knew and you could say revered the legendary Anglo-Saxon well, in the ground floor of the Norman Keep (Canny Normans to build over the well! No point in having walls 9-12 feet thick, being in an impregnable Keep, without a water supply. It is certain that the St.Aidan and St.Cuthbert, would have drunk water drawn from that well when they visited their Patron Kings, including Oswald, at the Castle) This well was lost by becoming silted up over the centuries, and rediscovered in December 1770. Woodhorn Archive contains a slim moss green leather bound book “The expense of restoring the Roman Well” (Woodhorn ref NRO 00452/D/5/11/1, in the 18th century it was believed, incorrectly, the Keep was Roman). Not only was the well cleared out, but under Dr John Sharp’s inspired direction, water was pumped to supply hot and cold baths, and to the kitchens. Indeed there were originally 3 wells within the Castle, water divining techniques must have been sophisticated, and we still do not know exactly how the boring through the whinstone rock was achieved.
But where was the Kiln well? In all the papers I had been privileged to see, there was no evidence of a thriving Lime industry as on Holy Island. It must be assumed that the Kiln was either to roast barley for malt or for the production of lime for domestic use in the village or Castle (although I have recently seen a letter referring to Mr. Dixon’s Tile Kilns). Then, just a few weeks ago, Bamburgh Castle staff were invited to visit Woodhorn, to see a sample of the famous archive and our excellent archivist placed out a selection of treasures (including the James 1 Deed of Gift to Claudius Forster in 1610 with the superb huge weighty Seal still intact.) I happened to pick up an old Estate Map not seen previously-and there it was! In the heart of the Village-just where it should be!
Kiln Close is clearly shown on the 1794 Map (Woodhorn ref NRO 00452/D/7/1/1), now in the grounds of a private house not far from the famous Grace Darling Birthplace Cottage. This matches entirely a local story I had been told of a well having been unexpectedly discovered there just in the last few years. After a delivery of building materials cracked a drain cover, when lifted the owners were astonished to find a large well below and very sensibly immediately had it re-covered. And to my joy, the old map showed the adjoining field to Kiln Close to have the happy name “Washing Dike”-let us return for a moment to the 18C-
We present Ruth Forster for [XXX] clothes after washed and otherwise abusing the Kilnwell in Balmbrough at the very mouth of the Well contrary to several former orders made at former Courts held for this charge, fined 3s-4d.
Apon the oath of Ruth Forster we present Nicholas Lowins for suffering his geese to wash in and corrupt the Kiln Well, fined 3s-4d
Perhaps Ruth should have used the Washing Dike rather than the Kiln Well! And I felt it was Christmas Day when I was kindly allowed to stand on the site of the well!
The answer is certainly, more than you would think.
In the Middle Ages there were three main wells in the Village (according to The History of Northumberland Vol 1)-the Wydnewell (The Wynding Well), Edynwell (Aidan’s well), and the Maudlynwell. Local knowledge confirms there is still a well in the Wynding; but where were Aidan’s Well, and Maudlynwell? And are there others now?
Maudlynwell still exists, but you need to be a local to know the spot. It is the well of the former Lepers Hospital, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, the site situated off Ingram Rd where a small modern development now stands. Within living memory the last buildings, said to have been richly carved, were used as the Butchers slaughter house. The well, which never dried up, of the Hospital lies off a small footpath behind the modern houses, and is still there but covered with brambles. It is in this well in the early Middle Ages ,that a dog named Jolyff was thrown, following an argument, poisoning the water, and causing a stillbirth after a matron unwittingly drank from it. After which the well was stopped up by a friar named William West.
What about Aidan’s well? No trace of a well of that name remains today. But could it be the same well that in the 17th century and later was called the Kiln Well, which is sited very near indeed to St Aidan’s Church, in the grounds of today’s Radcliffe House?
There are wells sited at Friars Farm, the Police House, in the Ducket field (adjacent to the ancient sunken Spittlegate Road) where the pump still exists, and one resident can remember pumping up water as a girl from it. Other wells are found at the base of the Castle, and 2 other Wells near the Castle; the Witches Well, and Hannah’s Well.
Old paintings in the Castle show the ruins of a dwelling attached to the old Saxon entrance steps to the Castle, called the Witches house, where allegedly an apothecary or wisewoman once lived. And Hannah’s Well? A poem tells more:
Down by the Coastguard’s Station
I’ll tell ye, if e’ll not tell
Some Bamburgh blades with shovels and spades
Are digging for Hannah’s Well..