The Real Heroes of History

Being St George’s Day, I thought I would scour my files and come up with some Berwick connection with tales of dragonslaying.  Unfortunately, Berwick seems to be a bit thin on the ground for heroes.  Or is it?  

Let’s celebrate the “heroic” builders who laboured on Berwick’s defences in the past, and so I give you an extract from a record about repairs at Berwick Castle using the very flimsy excuse that the mason’s contract started on April 23rd!  This is typical of the kind of record a researcher like me has to wade through in order to find bits and pieces about the structure of Berwick Castle.  It also gives us some insight into the workforce involved.

The story so far.

Edward III has taken Berwick in 1333 after a long siege culminating in the Battle of Halidon Hill.  In 1355, Thomas Stewart, Earl of Angus sails down the coast, disembarks to the north of the town and scales the walls by Cowgate at night.  The Scots attack the castle and succeed in taking the Douglas Tower but fail to take the castle.

The next year, Edward takes the town once more and embarks on a major programme of repairs and improvements.  Five years later in 1361, work is still progressing

Now read on…

Particulars of the account of Henry Lord Percy for receipts, outlays, costs and expenses incurred by him on the repair of divers houses, walls and other necessaries in the King’s castle of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Masons wages.  

And on the wages of Robert de Roucebi, mason, and his three fellows working on the walls of a bakehouse and a furnace in the same, and on the repair of the Douglastour and the King’s chamber and other towers and houses in the castle, together with the raising of a wall on the south side the castle, between 23 April and 1 October following, for twenty weeks, Robert receiving 4s. a week and each of the other masons 3s.4d. a week, £14.  

And on the wages of John Quarreour and his two fellows clearing a quarry in the the town there to have stones, and breaking stones in the same, for thirteen weeks, receiving among themselves 9s.4d. a week, £6.1s.4d.  

And on the wages of three masons working on raising divers walls on the western and northern sides of the castle where there were brattices, between 6 September and 20 November following, for eight weeks, receiving among themselves 9s.8d. a week, 77s.4d.  

Total £23.13s.8d.

image

Mason checking wall level.

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Mason beginning to shape a stone at his banque.

From this we find that workmen were brought from all over the country.  Roucebi is probably Rauceby, a small village in Lincolnshire.  The Douglas Tower was at the top of the private road to Castle Vale.  It was part of the town walls but was also formed a forward defense to the entrance to the castle.  The bakehouse was in the north-west corner where the tall stack of stone stands tall.  The King’s chamber was roughly where the viaduct makes landfall. 

Quite where the quarry in the town was is a bit of a mystery though.  The Fell sandstone that much of the mediaeval walls are constructed, can be seen in outcrops above the New Road near the castle but there is no evidence of quarrying.  To the west is limestone – itself important for making mortar.

If you want to find out how castles are built get over to Burgundy in France where they are building a new “mediaval” castle.  Check out this website for some great information and more great pictures of true craftsmen keeping tradition alive.

 

 

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