Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Who Was Barnard? (NZ049165)

The town of Barnard Castle is, of course, named after its, er, castle – but who, or what, was Barnard? Turns out that the Barnard in question was actually a Bernard, with historical origins stretching back to the time of the Norman Conquest.

Bernard Balliol (or, rather, Bernard de Balliol I), was a twelfth century nobleman whose father, Renard, and uncle, Guy de Balliol, had literally come over with the Conqueror during the Norman invasion. As a reward for his military service in Normandy, Uncle Guy was handed the Lordship of Gainford at the very end of the eleventh century, and he set about building a wood and earthwork fortification on the site of the later ‘Barnard Castle’.  Then, when his nephew, Bernard, succeeded him in the 1130s, the stronghold was rebuilt in stone, like so many others the country over.

Bernard I died around 1150-60 and was succeeded firstly by his son Guy, then almost immediately by a younger son, another Bernard. And though the castle was much adapted over the succeeding centuries, the work done by the two Bernards during 1130-1190 cemented ‘Bernard’s Castle’ as the name for the settlement which developed around the stronghold. In time, this became ‘Barnard Castle’, which is what we’re stuck with today.

I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you that the Balliols had a colourful history, what with their connections in Normandy, England and, of course, Scotland, where John Balliol was king during 1292-96. John, in fact, was most probably born in Barnard Castle around 1249. And the castle also had strong connections to the English throne, being later owned by ‘Kingmaker’ Richard Neville and King Richard III.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Founding of the Bowes Museum (NZ056163)

The extraordinary mansion that is the Bowes Museum lies on the eastern fringes of Barnard Castle. Designed and constructed in the French Renaissance style, it is perhaps the North-East’s greatest oddity, being so obviously out of place. And, perhaps just as strangely, it is a purpose-built museum and has never been used as a residence.

It was the brainchild of a rather odd couple, too: the illegitimate John Bowes, a rogue branch of the family line that was to produce Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and one Joséphine Benoîte Coffin-Chevalier, Countess of Montalbo (San Marino) who was an employee of a Parisian theatre. The two had met and fell in love during one of John’s long stays in the French capital, during which time he bought the establishment in which Joséphine worked. They were married in 1852.

John’s wife was big on art, and her husband soon came to share her passion. And so, around a decade into their marriage, they began collecting pieces of art for their own gratification and with the long term intention of establishing a public museum – funded by John’s coal industry dabblings. The collection soon grew to mammoth proportions.

It is simply assumed that John & Joséphine’s English base, Streatlam Castle (a few miles NE of Barnard Castle), became too small to house the collection, hence the necessity of a new purpose-built museum. However, it seems that the spectacular structure almost ended up at Calais…

The late Mr Bowes and his first wife, the Countess of Montalbo, when they formed the idea of founding a museum, did not originally propose to locate it at Barnard Castle. Their first idea was to place it at Calais, within the Countess of Montalbo’s own country, and yet looking towards England, Mr Bowes’ country. They abandoned this idea from a consideration of the permanently unsettled state of politics in France. They thought there was less chance of revolutions occurring in England than in France, in which the works of art might be injured. 
[from an account by Mr E.Y.Western, sole acting executor under the will of the late Mr John Bowes of Streatlam Castle]

It took years to bring the plan to fruition. It was not until 1872 that the building work commenced in earnest, but it then ceased in 1882 on account of a slump in the coal trade. In the meantime, Joséphine died in 1874 and John followed her in 1885 – but they made provisions in their wills for the completion of the museum. The establishment finally opened to the public in 1892 and was a massive success.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Pub With No Bar (NZ086103)

© Copyright Hugh Mortimer and licensed for 

In days of old there could be found many hundreds of institutions known as ‘alehouses’ scattered across the nation, which were essentially domestic dwellings that brewed and served ale. In time, of course, there developed the traditional ‘pub’ as we know it – commercial institutions specialising in the boozing business – and the basic alehouses fell from use.

Most alehouses didn’t really have proper serving bars; folk just turned up and bought their beer from the house owner/tenant. Across the UK today there are less than ten such survivals from the distant past – and one of them is the Milbank Arms, Barningham, on the Co.Durham side of its border with North Yorkshire.

It looks like a regular public house from the outside, but on entering you are faced with little in the way of pub-like options. The landlord will be there waiting for you at the top of the cellar steps, and he will fulfil your request by scampering down to, and up from, the cellar. And if you’re interested, there are plenty of fancy cocktails to choose from, too (their speciality, in fact), and the cellar stairs are adorned with thousands of miniature bottles.

There is a small tap room for visitors to down their drinks, actually, as well as a seldom used ‘domino room’. It is on the Campaign for Real Ale’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors – and quite right, too.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Strange Neighbours of Hutton Magna (NZ127124)

© Copyright Oliver Dixon and licensed for 

Hutton Magna’s two most curious items are located within a few feet of each other in the centre of the village. Both are contained in the image above and they are very different in their nature.

The first is, obviously, the red telephone box – or the ‘News Box’ as it is affectionately known. It is always a delight to fall upon one of these distinctive and well-loved landmarks, especially as they have been disappearing from our landscape at an alarming rate of late. When the same fate threatened to swallow up Hutton Magna’s specimen in 2009, the villagers asked if they could buy it from British Telecom – and they did… for £1. Unfortunately, it then cost them £250 to have the phone disconnected!

Suitably phone-free, the locals decided to turn the little box into their very own multifunctional village ‘News Box’, complete with community notice board, lending library (books and DVDs) and newspaper distribution point – together with any other bits and bobs which folk are happy to pass on. Nice.

Just behind the ‘News Box’ can be seen an old water tap and commemorative tablet. The latter pays tribute to one Cuthbert Watson of nearby Ovington, who, in 1858, laid a water pipe from Warden Hill to the spot in order that the villagers might at last have a fresh water supply. It ran for 1,200 yards and was initially a great success … until, twelve years later, the iron that the pipe was made from rusted up and, well, that was the end of that. They should have seen that one coming.

An 1890 account tells us that the supply had still not been reinstated. One assumes that the problem has now been rectified.