Bamburgh – a castle to upstage them all

Bamburgh Castle, NorthumberlandIf there was an Oscar for a best supporting role for castles in films Bamburgh would surely be a superstar.

It has undeniable screen presence, the perfect backdrop for historic blockbusters and has been a must for a host of award winning directors and actors over the years.

Hollywood giants Richard Burton and Peter O Toole filmed on the beach below the castle for Becket (1964), Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren walked the ramparts in El Cid (1961) while Elizabethan history has been represented here by Vanessa Redgrave as Mary Queen of Scots (1971) and Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I (1998).

Pioneering director Ken Russell selected Bamburgh as the backdrop for his controversial shocker The Devils in 1971 while Roman Polanski filmed a blood drenched Macbeth the same year.
Standing on the castle ramparts towering over the North Sea it’s easy to see how this building has cast its spell over so many.

The sense of history and dominance is intoxicating. Seeing it in all its glory as you turn into Bamburgh from the south is a draw dropping experience.

For centuries the basalt outcrop on which Bamburgh Castle was built was a royal seat of power dating back to the native Britons. Records of a fortification on the site date from 547AD when it was taken by the Anglo Saxon king Ida of Bernicia. His son Hussa and then grandson Æthelfrith established the powerful kingdom of Northumbria.  Æthelfrith, recognised by historians as the first Northumbrian king, passed the site, known then as Din Guiare, to his wife Bebba, from whom the early name Bebanburgh was derived

Vikings destroyed Bamburgh’s original fortification in 993 and not until the arrival of the Normans was a new castle constructed on the site; a structure which was to form the core of the castle we see today.

Bamburgh became the property of Henry II who is thought to have built the impressive castle keep. In 1464 during the Wars of the Roses, it became the first castle in England to be defeated by artillery during a nine-month siege led by Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick.

The castle then entered a deserved period of peace with the Forster family of Northumberland in residence for over 400 years until the Crown granted full ownership to Sir John Forster. The family retained ownership until Sir William Forster was posthumously declared bankrupt, and his estates, including the castle passed to Lord Crew, Bishop of Durham, under an Act of Parliament to settle the debts in 1700.

The castle deteriorated but was restored by various owners during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, it was Victorian industrial William Armstrong who completed the restoration and left his own unmistakable stamp on the building.

As a tribute to Armstrong the castle now houses the fascinating Armstrong and Aviation Artefacts Museum. In keeping with the castles brutal past its exhibits include engines, artillery and weaponry and aviation artefacts from two world wars that were produced by Armstrong Whitworth.

Whether you are a tourist appreciating its beauty, a student reading its history or celebrating a wedding in its historic confines, Bamburgh Castle has something for everyone.

The credits are destined to roll for many centuries to come on this Northumbrian icon.

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