The Age of Sail in Everything: Bamburgh Castle


I didn’t expect to fall over anything from the period when I went to visit Bamburgh castle for a friend’s birthday, but as it turned out one of the first things we found was a row of late 18th and early 19th century cannon on the castle wall.

The first, and smallest, was an 18 pound cannon supplied (or at least promised) by the king in 1781 ‘for the protection of ships passing’.

18 pounder
18 pounder sign

By this time the castle was already in the hands of Lord Crewe’s charity, having passed out of the hands of the Forster family.

A larger 32 pound gun was added a few years later – bought, this time, and transported by a local ship to save on delivery costs.

32 pounder

In between are two 24 pound guns probably acquired in 1798, when the French were threatening to invade.

24 pounder inscription

These guns are marked both with the government ‘broad arrow’, and the stylised N which shows they were intended for naval use, as well as figures indicating the weight of the gun and carriage.

24 pounder

You don’t really expect castles to be carrying on a defensive role by this period, but it is a very good position for watching the sea.

Various charitable activities were carried on in the castle, including schools and a hospital, and during the wars, when grain prices were high, a mill was set up to sell flour to locals at a reduced price.

Another project was the ‘signals made use of… in case ships or vessels are perceived in distress, and of the charitable institutions established there for their assistance and relief’ as the Newcastle Trinity House described them in 1771 – two years before the first lighthouse was built on the Farne Islands.

These smaller guns were fired as a warning to let the locals – custom officers and castle tenants – aware of ships on the rocks in need of assistance.

Signal guns

As well as the guns, a bell was to be rung in fog, to warn ships from the rocks, and watchers set during storms. A flag was hoisted on the castle to let a ship in trouble know that it had been seen – in return, ‘Masters and Commanders of ships or vessels in distress, are desired to make such signals as are usually made by people in their melancholy situation.’

Once rescued, shipwrecked sailors were provided with bed and lodging for a week, while any dead bodies were given a coffin and funeral services, and goods washed ashore could be stored in the castle until claimed by their owners.

Nelson Monument, Edinburgh


I finally got round this weekend to visiting the Nelson monument on Calton Hill, which I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while now – I’ve looked at the outside often enough, and even posted a picture of it all dressed up for Trafalgar Day.

Trafalgar Day

The idea of building a monument was first proposed in late 1805, but it was 1816 before the monument was finished – less efficient than Glasgow! I find it kind of impressive, though, that it was still worth doing 10 years later – although I suppose that was the Waterloo time.

The inscription over the door reads:

To the memory of Vice-Admiral Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson, and of the great victory of Trafalgar, too dearly purchased with his blood, the grateful citizens of Edinburgh have erected this monument: not to express their unavailing sorrow for his death; nor yet to celebrate this matchless glories of his life; but, by his noble example, to teach their sons to emulate what they admire, and, like him, when duty requires it, to die for their country.

Nelson monument inscription

Another plaque by the door marks the 200th anniversary of the battle.

200th anniversary plaque

The monument itself was built in the shape of an upturned telescope – although I can’t quite decide if that’s genius, or too much like a bad joke…

Nelson monument

Sunday wasn’t a very good day to go, because I missed the chance of seeing the thing that the tower is most famous for these days – the dropping of the time ball at 1 o’clock. But I did see it when I went to visit the observatory earlier in the year (a much brighter day!)

Timeball up
Timeball down!

The time ball was a much later development, installed in 1853 to allow ships at Leith to set their chronometers – before that they could come up the hill to set their clocks by the reliable clock in the observatory on the hill, but it was a couple of miles with the risk of something going wrong on the way back. The far more famous one o’clock gun started a few years later, to give a signal even in fog.

The ground floor of the monument is an exhibition – small but efficient and fairly eclectic, covering Nelson and Trafalgar, the monument itself, Scottish lighthouses, and the time ball and its creator, the astronomer Charles Piazzi Smyth.

Everything else is stairs – all quite tight.

Inside the tower

I’ve seen the view from Calton Hill often enough, and it’s sufficiently impressive, but the view from the tower is even better in some ways – a very clear view of the way that Waterloo Place cut the old Calton Cemetery in two.

Calton cemetery

A very direct view right down Princes Street, as well – I knew that the Mound was an artificial embankment, but it had never occurred to me that Princes Street was deliberately built up above the gardens, as it seems to be from here.

Right down Princes Street

The other impressive view was the observatory – or observatories – from above.

City observatory

William Smith in Scarborough


I went back to Scarborough at the end of my Christmas holiday adventure in the hope of finally visiting the Rotunda museum, but I seem to be doomed never to get there, because it had closed up early for new year without warning anyone.

It was still the first time that I’d seen the building – I’ve always been rushing through before. It didn’t look quite as enormous as I’d pictured it, but then it’s really late Georgian rather than Victorian – built in 1829 to a design which would allow rocks and fossils to be displayed by age in a huge spiral – the oldest at the bottom, as they would be found deepest in the earth, and the youngest at the top.

Rotunda museum

I still had another thing to hunt down, however – the blue plaque on the house where William Smith, designer of the museum and the so-called ‘Father of English Geology’, lived – which I found with some difficulty, because the map of blue plaques shows it in an entirely different place!

William Smith plaque

It’s actually just on the corner of Bar Street – site of a medieval gate, and the point where the main street still turns from Newborough to Westborough.

Bar Street

According to the Geological Society it’s still on the wrong building, but never mind…

1 Newborough

An accidental bonus in Bridlington, where I started walking, was the discovery of 12 flagpoles erected for the Trafalgar bicentenary, to hold the flags of the famous signal.

Trafalgar flagpoles

At the moment they just seem to be flying the flags of an assortment of neighbours, but in today’s England that’s still quite a nice thing to see!

Local flags
European flags