Situated between the villages of Belsay and Bolam, not far off the main road to
is the hamlet of Harnham. The little settlement was once home to the famous
Babington family who resided in Harnham Hall – little more than a glorified farmhouse,
which still exists to this day. In the mid-1600s, it was the home of Katherine
Babington, daughter of Sir Arthur Hesilrige, the great Parliamentarian, and the
wife of Major Babington, Governor of Berwick.
Katherine was regarded as something of a beauty, but with this came a stormy temperament – making her something of a celebrity in her day. People would go out of their way to catch a glimpse of this petulant character, such was her ability to attract the wrong sort of attention (she was once reputedly banned by the authorities from ‘eating pies in public’!). Most infamously, this most notorious of nonconformists cocked a snook at the local clergy by bribing a butcher-boy to drag the local parson from his pulpit. Later she was prosecuted for contempt, and even imprisoned in her own home by her husband to keep her from causing chaos. Amidst all of this she was, of course, excommunicated – so when, in 1670, she died, the vicar refused to allow her to be buried in the parish churchyard.
Her well-to-do widower soon came up with an answer, though. In a move with which the stroppy Madam Babington would most surely have approved, he buried her in the back garden – in a cave hewn out of a rocky outcrop. Years later, the tomb was robbed and her remains scattered.
Her bones may have been interfered with but her tomb and vault remain, complete with stone coffin and accompanying inscription and poem…
My time is past, as you may see,
I viewed the dead as you do me;
Or long you’ll lie as low as I,
And some will look on thee.