Bourne Archive: Bourne Castle: Swift

http://boar.org.uk/abiwxo3SwiftsCastle.htm Latest edit 22 Aug 2009.

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The Bourne Archive


John T. Swifts Description of Bourne Castle from his book, Bourne and People Associated with Bourne. (ca.1925)


The Story of Bourne Castle


This is the print version of the page, modified to stand in for the interactive one, until I have prepared it. RJP.


There are very few more interesting pieces of ground than those two fields lying east and west of that beautiful spring, called St Peters Pool in Bourne. The field on the western side of the pool contains the remains of an old Celtic camp, built many years before the advent of Christ, and which was no doubt the first part of Bourne to be inhabited. When the Romans dug out their great waterway and navigation, the Carr Dyke, they took possession of this camp, turned it into a fort, and occupied it with troops whose duty it was to protect the canal, and convoy the strings of barges, containing corn and military supplies, to their camps and cities of Lincoln and York; the Carr Dyke connecting with the Witham, via the Humber and the Ouse, to York.

On the eastern side of St. Peters Pool is the site of the great Norman Castle, which stood on the same ground as the old Saxon manor house, which had been the residence of many great Saxon noblemen such as Morcar, who fell at the Battle of Threekingham.

Leofric, the great Saxon statesman and Earl of Mercia of the time of Edward the Confessor, had a residence here, and he and his wife, Godiva, may some time have lived at Bourne, and according to tradition here also lived our hero Hereward.

No doubt in the early part of the 12th century, the old manor house began to show signs of decay, and as at this time things began to look rather threatening, war clouds thickening over the country, civil war becoming nearer owing to there being two claimants to the throne of England (Stephen and Matilda), the owner of the manor thought it best to build a strong castle, for the protection of himself and his family.

There was at this period a great epidemic of castle building throughout England, over 1,100 being built in a few years.

The lord of the manor of Bourne at this time was Baldwin FitzGilbert, called Strongbow, a son of the Earl of Clare, and a near relation of another Strongbow, who a few years after this date invaded and partly conquered Ireland.

The castle erected by FitzGilbert was a large, strong and imposing building, surrounded by three moats very deep and broad. The keep stood on an artificial hill or mound, was very high, with thick heavy looking walls pierced with narrow loopholes, and very small windows. At the bottom of the keep and round it, between the moat and mound, was a small yard, protected on the side of the moat by a battlemented wall, which sprang from the moat and formed as stone side to that deep ditch, and a protection to the mound.

On the other side of the moat, away from the keep, was a large open space, extending from the inner moat to the second moat called the inner bailey, containing about 5 acres of land. This inner bailey, or large yard, was partly filled with stables or storehouses, and sleeping places for the garrison, stablemen, and others, who had to do work in connection with the castle.

Also within this inner bailey stood the banqueting hall, a large stone building, which, in addition to its thick walls, had eight large round pillars to support its roof. In this large hall, dinners and banquets would possibly be held, and here the manorial court would meet, to settle disputes and arrange the affairs of the manor.

Outside the second moat and the great wall, was the outer bailey, containing eight or nine acres of park land, with trees and stocked with sheep and cattle.

Round the outer bailey was a lower wall or fence, and outside of all, another moat which surrounded the whole of the castle grounds. This moat is still in existence, running from St Peters Pool, back of West Street, and the side of South Street.

The view of the castle from West Street, or the Market Place, must have been very fine, for there were at that time no houses between the Market Place or West Street and the castle. Before you would have been the moat, in the middle distance and the great wall of the castle, nearly half a mile in circumference, about 30 feet high, battlemented, and with half circular towers at frequent intervals, and back of all the great square keep, flying the flag of the Wakes, or when Edward III. visited Bourne the great Royal Standard of England.

Anyone wishing to enter the castle could enter the outer bailey from either side, from the east over the moat in South Street, or from the west over the moat near St. Peters Pool, but he could only enter the castle through one entrance. After entering the park, he would soon be faced by the drawbridge, and a strong gateway flanked by two large round towers set in the great wall, which ran right round the inner bailey.

The entrance to the castle was very strictly guarded, and in order to call the attention of the guard, he would probably have to sound his horn, and then, if he satisfied the captain, the drawbridge would be let down by means of a windlass, the portcullis raised , and the strong iron-studded gates opened, and he would pass through the tower, going under a chamber in which was an apparatus for boiling pitch or lead, to pour on the heads of enemies when the castle was besieged.

Having crossed the inner bailey, the visitor would come to another moat, crossed by a narrow stone bridge, also defended by a somewhat smaller battlemented gateway. He would then ascend a balustraded stone staircase up the side of the mound on which the keep stood, entering the large hall of the castle on the first floor, the ground floor containing the dungeons, the scullery and domestic offices.

Passing through the large hall, on either side of which were the offices of the garrison, and for the officials who managed the business of the estate and castle, the visitor would then be taken up the main staircase to the apartment of the owner, which he would find on the next floor. The floor of the lords room would not be carpeted, as you would find even ordinary homes are carpeted to-day, but it would be strewn with reeds or rushes, the walls covered with tapestry or rich coloured curtains, a wood fire burning in a large open grate, and at night lighted with torches or crude oil lamps.

The roof of the castle would be covered with lead, and at each corner of the keep of great square tower, was a smaller tower, from which Peak, who wrote in the latter part of the 16th century, said: There was a very pretty view of the fens, and the surrounding country.

Bourne Castle was a stern, noble looking building, not beautiful, as you would call many of our Lincolnshire churches beautiful, or as our great cathedral at Lincoln is beautiful, but beautiful in its simplicity, its ruggedness, and in its strength.

Right up to the end of their connection with Bourne, the Wakes kept up the old feudal system on their estate. All their tenants, that is most of the people of the town, had to take their turn of duty in the castle, as soldiers or doing the work of the house and estate. All of them had to work three weeks on, three weeks off, and then three weeks on again. A tenant of the Wakes holding a bovate of land had to pay 4d., owed suit to the court, and hold himself ready for foreign service.

And now for some of the people who lived in our castle. First of course was its builder, Baldwin FitzGilbert. FitzGilbert was a great friend and companion of King Stephen, and supported him in his claim to the throne of England, was with him in various campaigns, and fought beside him in most of his battles.

The army led by Stephen was one of the vilest and most wicked that ever engaged in war. Composed mostly of continental troopers, it committed the most appalling atrocities on the people of England, torturing and murdering them, and during this war, the people of our country had a very sad time.

FitzGilbert was present at the Battle of Lincoln, was terribly wounded fighting beside the king, and captured with Stephen by the soldiers of Empress Matilda.

FitzGilbert was the founder of our fine old church, and of the monastery which for some hundreds of years stood by the side of it.

The next owner of Bourne was Hugh Wake, of Wilsford, near Sleaford, who obtained it through his marriage with the daughter of FitzGilbert. At this period, all heiresses were the wards of the king, who usually gave them to one of his favourites, or sold them to the highest bidder.

Hugh Wake, being selected by the king, became the husband of our heiress, and the lord of Bourne manor, but we must leave him there, as nothing of his life is known.

In the year 1174 Baldwin, the son of Hugh Wake, became the owner of Bourne and the castle. He was a friend of Richard Cur de Lion, was present at the coronation of that king, which was conducted with great pomp and splendour, the leading figure next to the king was a near neighbour of our Bourne lord, the Earl of Albermarle [sic], who lived at Castle Bytham. He carried the royal crown, and headed the grand and glorious procession which wended its way along the aisles of Westminster Abbey.

Some few years after this, King Richard having been captured, was held as a prisoner in Austria, and such a large ransom was demanded for his release, that the people of England could not raise all the money in one year, had to pay part and give hostages as security for the remainder. One nobleman, who volunteered to become a hostage, was Baldwin Wake of Bourne, who thus surrendered his liberty, that his king might go free.

The next occupant of our castle, also named Baldwin, was a great soldier, and went with King John on an expedition to France, but the campaign was a failure. Being unable to bring the French forces to an engagement, the English had to return home without having achieved any result. Apparently Baldwin Wake did not return to England with the King. Being fond of adventure and loving the excitement of war, he stayed in France seeking for further deeds of glory and daring.

The only war we can trace at this time in this part of Europe was the crusade ordered by the Pope against the Albigenses.

This war was one of the tragedies of Europe. A religious people living in the sheltered valleys of this beautiful part of France had dared to express and practice opinions which were not in accordance with the orthodox views and regulations of the Catholic Church. For this they were ex-communicated, and their extermination ordered. The war was carried on in a most cruel and relentless manner; as each town was taken the inhabitants were put to the sword. Said one of the leaders of the papal army, How shall we know the faithful from the heretics? Replied the Roman legate Kill them all. The Lord will know His own. This Baldwin married the daughter of the Lord of Blissworth [sic], and through this marriage Blissworth [sic] came into the Wake family.

In the year 1240, an appeal was made to the chivalry of Europe to save the Christian kingdom in Palestine from total destruction by the infidel Saracen. Jerusalem itself being in great danger.

Among those who responded to this appeal was Sir Hugh Wake of Bourne, who, with many of his tenants, went to the Holy Land and fought for the Holy Cross. He was wounded in battle, died at Jerusalem, and brought to Bourne for his burial in the year 1246.

When Simon de Montford [sic] the younger rose against the tyranny of Henry III. he was supported by Baldwin Wake, son of the last Baldwin, who thus helped to introduce popular government into England, through the formation of the first House of Commons by de Montford [sic]. But it is probable that Baldwin Wake may have gone back to the side of the king, for he lived to a good old age, which few supporters of de Montford [sic] succeeded in doing. He died in 1282.

The next owner of Bourne Castle was John Wake, son of Baldwin. He took an active part in the wars of Edward I., both in France and Scotland, and probably was at the battle of Falkirk where Wallace made such an heroic fight for the liberty and freedom of his country, against overwhelming English forces led by the greatest general of his age, Edward I. For his services in these wars, John Wake was made a baron, given an estate in Scotland, and took the title of Baron Wake of Liddle [sic]. He died in 1300.

He was succeeded by Thomas Lord Wake, who was one of the noblemen of England selected to govern the country as regents during the minority of Edward III., but very early in his regency he came into opposition to that ambitious pair, Isabella and Mortimer, who, raising a large army, forced him to leave the country, and confiscated his estates. But after the capture and overthrow of Mortimer at Nottingham Castle, and the imprisonment of Isabella, Thomas Wake resumed his position as regent, and brought the young king with him on a visit to Bourne, where he stayed for some days.

Thomas Wake was not a success as a statesman, was careless and very lax in his methods, and for these reasons, was several times dismissed from his appointments.

But one enterprise in which he engaged was a success. Having a dispute with the King of Scotland about his land at Liddle [sic], which had been given to his father by Edward I., and not getting any satisfaction from the Scottish King, he in conjunction with Baron Beaumont of Folkingham, and four other barons, raised a small army of 2,500 men and invaded Scotland.

At this time this was a most daring thing to do. The chivalry of England was under a very dark cloud; the English soldiers held their heads very low; the memory of that terrible defeat of Bannockburn still rankled in the hearts of the English people. But Thomas Wake, of Bourne, daring everything, went to Scotland, and landing at Kinghorn came into contact with the royal army of that country, numbering 40,000 men, and inflicted upon it such a severe defeat that the memory of Bannockburn was quite washed out, and the English people dared look the world in the face again.

Thomas Wake died in 1349, and not having any children, was succeeded by his sister Margaret, who for reasons of state had been given in marriage to John Comyn, of Scotland. John Comyn was a son of that John Comyn who for many years fought for his country against Edward I. of England, and was said to have inflicted three defeats on the English army in one day, but he was afterwards assassinated by Robert Bruce, for being found in treasonable correspondence with the English king. After the murder of his father, John Comyn came to England, and was given Margaret Wake, the heiress of Borne, and the estate of Bourne, in recompense for his losses, but their wedded life did not last long. Comyn, going back to Scotland, appears to have been killed in the general massacre of the Comyns, which took place at the instigation of the patriots of Scotland.

Margaret Wake then entered the royal family of England by her marriage with the Earl of Kent, the brother of King Edward II. But in a few years was a widow again. Edward II. Having lost his throne, Isabella and Mortimer plotted against the Earl of Kent, sentenced him to death, and ordered his execution at Winchester. But a most remarkable thing occurred at the execution, so beloved was the Earl of Kent that the headsman refused to perform his office, and no one could be found to take his place, until, by searching through the prisons, they at last found a mean wretch who, to save his own life, consented to behead the popular Earl, the husband of our Bourne heiress.

Although Margaret Wake was the owner of Bourne, she allowed her brothers widow, Lady Blanche Wake, to live in the castle at Bourne until her death.

Lady Blanche Wake was a Plantagenet, the daughter of the Earl of Leicester, and like all Plantagenets, was of wilful and violent disposition, wayward, obstinate and fearless, caring nothing for King, Bishop or Pope, and was often in trouble with one or other of them. On one occasion she got into terrible trouble with the head of the Church for something she did at Ely. For in the year 1350, one Friar Lyte, a Dominican monk, complained to the Holy Father of many wrongs done by Lady Wake and her council at Bourne, to him and his church at Ely. Upon this information, the Pope wrote to the Bishop of Lincoln That he should curse all that did this wrong, and that those who were dead and guilty of this matter should be taken out of their graves and cast out of sanctuary. But this papal bull was never executed, Lady Blanch having a large body of soldiers at her command, had the messengers of the Bishop met on the road, killed them and destroyed the papal bull of curses and ex-communication, or as the old record puts it: Much manslaughter was caused by this matter, for those that brought the bull were for the most part killed, so that it was never served.

During the occupation of the castle by Lady Blanche Wake, it appears to have been at the height of its glory and magnificence, as she lived in great state and kept a garrison of 200 soldiers.

Bourne seems to have been visited by that terrible pestilence, called the Black Death, and it appears to have been very violent in this district, for in the years 1348-50, Margaret the Countess of Kent, held an inquisition into the conditions of her estate, and it was found that, owing to the great number of deaths, the value of the land had decreased by nearly one half. Farms which had been let at 6 5s. 0d. could now only be let at 4 5s. 0d.; small holdings that had been worth 35s. were now only worth 16s. It was a terrible time. The Plague visited the villages, as well as the towns; sheep and cattle strayed through fields of corn, and there were none left to drive them. Harvests rotted on the ground, and the fields were left untilled. When Margaret Wake died, she was succeeded by her daughter Joan.

Joan was the great beauty of her day, and was known as the Fair Maid of Kent. She married Sir John, afterwards Lord Holland, who commanded the first division of the English army at the great battle of Crecy, where he had charge of the Prince of Wales (the Black Prince), and where by his valour won great distinction, and earned the gratitude of the King.

After the death of Lord Holland, Joan became Princess of Wales, through her marriage with the Black Prince and for some years presided at the court at Bordeaux, where her son, afterwards King Richard II. was born. Joan, although of a lively and rather gay disposition in her young days, became more serious as she grew older, and became interested in the doctrines and preaching of Wycliffe, and when Wycliffe was in danger, being tried for heresy before the court of the Bishop of London, Joan interceded for him with the King, who sent John of Gaunt to the Bishops court, and ordered him to stop proceedings against the reformer.

Joan once had a very nasty experience. When travelling from Windsor to London, she was captured by the rebellious Wat Tyler, but to the credit of the rebel leader, he allowed the frightened princess and her maids to proceed on their journey with nothing worse than receiving a few rough kisses.

After the death of Joan, Princess of Wales, Bourne castle and manor came into the possession of her son, Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent and Duke of Surrey. Thomas Holland took a very active part in the political life of England, but his first appearance was not very creditable. Riding with his half-brother Richard II. to interview Wat Tyler, he was frightened at the rough, fierce appearance of the rebels, and turning his horse around, rode away and left the king alone to speak to the wile peasantry. The only excuse we can make for him is that he was very young at the time. Thomas Holland had great influence with, and was much in the secrets of the young king, and some historians say his influence was of a very baneful nature. He flattered the king, urged him to actions which caused him to become unpopular with the people of England, and brought about the downfall and deposition of Richard.

When Bolingbroke came back to England after his banishment by Richard II., Thomas Holland was sent by the king to interview him, and to find out what his intentions were. But the new king received him coolly, imprisoned him, took from him his title of Duke of Surrey, and deprived him of his honours. Sore with this treatment, Thomas Holland, when at last set at liberty, raised a large force, rose in rebellion against Henry 4th, and sought to place his brother Richard on the throne again. But, leaving his army encamped outside the city of Cirencester, he entered the town in order to spend the night in one of the inns. During the night, the townsmen rose, attacked the inn, and dragged him out of bed and beheaded him in the market place.

Edmund, the son of Thomas Holland, then became Lord of Bourne manor and Earl of Kent. At the time of his fathers death Edmund was in France engaged in the war which was waging between the King of France and the Duke of Brittany. Taking part in the siege of a stronghold, he was badly wounded and died. He was brought to Bourne for his burial, his funeral being conducted with unusual magnificence and splendour, almost regal in its grandeur.

Joan, the widow of Thomas Holland, and mother of the last Earl of Kent, was a daughter of John of Gaunt, and sister of King Henry V. and Catherine of France, being one of the attendants of Catherine at that grand ceremony. She died in 1442.

After the death of Joan, the grandeur of the Wakes long reign at Bourne passed away, and the glory and splendour of our castle departed. Although some members of the old family resided at the castle for years longer, it was in poverty and without influence.

The estate, which at one time had been extensive and valuable, was now divided, and much of it lost to the owners of the castle.

The last of the Wakes surrendered his rights towards the end of he 15th century, and soon after this the castle and manor of Bourne came into the possession of the Duke of Richmond, a natural son of King Henry VIII., and in the records of Bourne Abbey is an entry by the abbott [sic] paid to the Duke of Richmond at his castle at Bourne, the sum of 22s.. This Duke of Richmond was one of the few spectators present at the execution of Anne Boleyn.

After the departure of the Wakes, the castle soon showed signs of decay, it was occupied for two years by the cavaliers during the great civil war, but was besieged and taken from them in the year 1644 by a parliamentary force under the command of Sir John Meldrum and the next year, 1645, a garrison of the Commonwealth Army was placed there as an observation force, and to keep order in this part of Lincolnshire. After this time, being a convenient quarry for obtaining stone for building and roadmending [sic] it very quickly disappeared, and in a few years nothing was left of the once grand and magnificent castle of Bourne, except the mound on which the keep stood, and the bridge over the moat in South Street.

The following extract is interesting, as showing the prices of agricultural produce in the 13th century: At Deeping, Sir Hugh Wake had 40 cows worth 5s. Each, 30 pigs 1s. 4d. each; at Shillingthorpe, 140 sheep at 1s. each; at Bourne, 24 oxen 6s. Each, 90 quarters of wheat at 2s., 14 quarters of barley at 1s. 6d., and 100 quarters of oats at 1s. per quarter.

The price of a female villain was 18s., and a male villain 2 or 3. In 1421, navvies were paid 4d. a day, a ploughman 3d. a day, for threshing wheat 3d. a quarter, hoeing corn 2d. an acre. Farm labourers received an allowance of one quarter of wheat every 12 weeks. A plough cost 7s., and a spade 1s.

During the 14th century, the Wakes carried on what was almost war against Crowland Abbey, owing to a dispute over the boundary line between Deeping and Crowland. So intense did this dispute become that the king had to send down a commission. This commission searched for and found the foundations of the old boundary crosses, and reported against the claim of the Wakes. But being very obstinate people, the great Bourne family refused to recognise the award, and continued to annoy the Crowland monks in all ways, ill-treating their servants, raiding their cattle, and doing them all the damage they could. At last, the king sent down an armed force to restore order. This force hung a few of the Wake supporters, and banished others. These drastic measures caused our Bourne people to pause, and for at time there was peace, but the dispute about the boundaries was only finally settled, through an agreement between the counties of Holland and Kesteven, in recent years.


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