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Edmund Venables’ Lecture of 1889


Bourne, its Castle and its Abbey.


Reports and Papers read at The meetings of the Architectural Societies of the Counties of Lincoln and Nottingham, County of York, Archdeaconries of Northampton and Oakham, County of Bedford, Diocese of Worcester and County of Leicester during the year MDCCCLXXXIX.

General Secretary, The Rev. Prebendary Harvey, Lincoln.

This document is one of several dealing with Bourne Castle and to Bourne Abbey.

It was transcribed from a book lent by the Willoughby Memorial Library, to the trustees of which I offer my thanks.

It comes more specifically from the section of the book, concerning the Architectural and Archaeological Society of the Counties of Lincoln and Nottingham. It is presented here as an historical document so the credibility of what it says should be assessed. The reliability of an old essay on history is usually best on points to do with the writer’s own time.

The Rev. Edmund Venables, M.A. Precentor of Lincoln, read this lecture at the society’s meeting in Bourne of June 26, 1889.

This version is annotated by RJP and contains hyperlinks. A direct transcription is to be found here.

My original purpose in undertaking this Paper was to confine it to the Abbey of Bourne, a monastic house of which the history has never been fully written. I had hoped that the documents relating to the Abbey in the Public Record Office, and at the British Museum, would have supplied materials for a Paper of some general historical and archæological interest. This hope has been to some extent disappointed. It is true that I have found a good deal of matter, but it is chiefly of a kind interesting only to the professed archæologist, and not suited for offering to a meeting like the present. If I were merely to lay before you the results of my investigations among the public records I should deserve to be ranked among the “dry as dust” antiquaries, and as the late Master of Trinity said sarcastically of a sermon—let me add it was his own—”My audience would soon be praying for rain.” I have therefore thought it better to enlarge the field of my Paper, and offer you a few notices of Bourne itself, its history and its notabilities, in addition to what I have to say on the Abbey. Though I may have little that is absolutely new to say, it may be new to some of my hearers, and for their sakes I would ask those to whom it is familiar to bear with my tediousness.

 To begin with the name of your town—Bourne, Brunne, Brunna, and other aliases—this is derived from the copious spring to the south-east [sic] of the church, burne in Anglo-Saxon, now known as St. Peter’s Pool, which from all time has been one of its most remarkable features, the supply of water being so large as to drive three mills within a quarter of a mile of its source and to form a stream declared navigable by statute [Bourne Eau Navigation Act, 1781] and called the Bourne Eau, debouching into the Glen at Tongue End. Not a few English local names have like origin. Sometimes the word stands singly, as in our Lincolnshire example, and in parishes in Cambridgeshire [which then included neither Peterborough nor Huntingdonshire], Hampshire and Surrey; but it is more found in composition, sometimes as the former half of a name, as in Bourne End, in Herefordshire and Buckinghamshire, and the familiar Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Westbourne, Hurstbourne, Pangbourne, and a host more. In early times the name of your town was written indifferently, with the “r” before or after the vowel, Burne or Brunne. This “metathesis,” as the grammarians call it, or shifting of a letter, is very common in English. But it is particularly common with the letter “r”. The old form of “bird” was “brid” or “bryd;” “brent” was as usual as “burnt;” and in many parts of England “curds” are still called “cruds.” “Brunanburh,” where the glorious victory was won in 937 by the Angles and Saxons, under Athelstan and Edmund, over the united forces of the Danes, Irish, and Scotch, “which still lives in the earliest and noblest of our national lays,” signifies “the stronghold at the wells.” The Bubbles from the Brunnen of Nassau, that charming book of our youth, in which Sir Francis Head first introduced the now vulgarized German watering-places to a British public, has made that form familiar to the English ear. But the name Bourne has been thoroughly established for the last three centuries, and is not likely to be dislodged.

From the name I pass to the history of the town. The discovery in 1808 of a Roman urn containing a gold coin of Nero, and some of the Constantines and Maximian II., and other similar discoveries, mark out Bourne as a Roman settlement, if not a station. It stands on the Roman road, called the Kings Way, so clearly marked down in its undeviating rectilinearity on our Ordnance Map, running from the important station of Durobrivæ or Castor, by West Deeping and Thurlby, crossing the Glen at Kate’s Bridge, to Bourn, and thence by what is known as Mareham Lane, to Sleaford. To the east runs the great Roman navigable canal, the Car Dyke, connecting the Nene with the Witham near Washingborough. An abundant supply of fresh water was always an attraction to the practical Romans in forming a station, and your overflowing wellhead may not unreasonably have led to their establishing one here, traces of the earthworks of which in the vicinity of the castle have only recently disappeared. [This will relate to the digging (between 1861 and 1884) of the Horse Pool which destroyed part of the remains of the middle bailey curtain wall and of part of the Civil War gun emplacements. Some of the latter is still visible and more remains but is buried by the spoil bank from the Horse Pool.]

The first certain mention of Bourne is in the Domesday survey. With this we emerge from the cloudland of fiction to the solid ground of historic fact. From this we learn that the celebrated Morcar, Earl of the Northumbrians, brother of Edwin, earl of the Mercians, and grandson of the celebrated Leofric and Godiva, had land at Bourne, which at the time of the taking of the survey had passed from the hands of the rebel earl to one of William’s transmarine adherents, Oger the Breton. Ivo Taillebois, another of William’s warriors, of a far mightier stamp than Oger, held lands in Bourne among his other immense possessions in South Lincolnshire which in large part came to him through his marriage with Lucy, the daughter and heiress of Earl Thorold, and after Ivo’s death, the wife of Roger de Roumare, and of Ranulph Meschin. If we can credit the historical romance of the pseudo Ingulph—which probably contains some golden grains of fact among the tinsel of the story-teller—Bourne in the ninth century belonged to one Morcar, of the same name as the great Earl of the Mercians, in the eleventh. Morcar, according to Ingulph’s narrative, contributed materially, by his own valour and that of his large and courageous band of followers, to the victory of Algar and his army over the invading hosts of Danes in 869, which cost the enemy the loss of three of their chiefs. The following day Guthrum came up with an overwhelming Danish force. Algar posted him in command of the right wing, assigning the left to Osgod, the Eorlderman of Lincoln, and taking the centre himself. The Saxons stood their ground manfully against the Danes till the approach of the enemy, when the Danes feigning flight, they incautiously pursued them in disorder, and the Danes turning upon them they were slaughtered almost without resistance, Algar, Morcar, and the other chiefs sharing the fate of their followers. One wishes that so stirring a tale and one so flattering to Lincolnshire and Bourne rested on a surer foundation than Ingulph. The same doubtful authority tells us that in 960, in the reign of King Edgar, Oslac was Lord of Brun, which was held under him by his vassal Odo. Other undoubted holders of land at Bourn at this time were Alured of Lincoln, whose near kinsman afterwards held Wareham Castle for the Empress Maud against King Stephen; and Robert of Stafford, the ancestor of the Staffords Dukes of Buckingham. One Saxon name appears among the great Norman grandees, that of Colegrim, who once had great possessions in the counties of Hereford, Derby and Nottingham, as well as our own, only his Lincolnshire manors remaining to him out of the general wreck of his property.

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