High up on the south bank of the River Tweed, overlooking the village of Norham stands the remains of the battered and very much war torn Norham castle. Instead of warding off arrows, battering rams, gun powder and suffering the screams of injured and dying, the keep is now left to quietly
fend off the weather and autumn leaves.
It was originally built as a timbered motte and bailey fort, founded by Bishop Flambard in 1120.
In 1136 King David of Scotland invaded Northumberland and captured the castle but
it was soon handed back to the Bishopric.
Again the castle was captured in 1138 and was substantially damaged and remained in that state until Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham, began rebuilding in about 1157.
There is some information for the period 1170 that King Henry II also ordered the rebuilding of the castle, perhaps to subsidise its costs and to quicken the reconstruction. Richard de Wolveston, Ingeniator or engineer and chief architect to Bishop Puiset of Durham was in charge of this work. Although records only show that he was involved with building the western part of the keep, it is probable that he had overall charge, considering his position within the palatinate of Durham.
By 1185 Christian the mason, was employed by Bishop Puiset and it is possible that he may have worked at Norham. William the engineer, in 1195, appears to have succeeded
Richard de Wolveston as chief architect.
In 1212, King John further invested £700 on building work, but unfortunately no details of the nature of this work are revealed in the pipe roles for that year. However, the Sheep Gate on the south side of Norham castle probably dates from this period.
Robert the Bruce besieged the castle in 1318 and continued to attack it for most of that year, his troops managed to break into the outer ward but were driven out by the
garrison commanded by Sir Thomas Grey of Heton.
Eventually in 1327 a Scottish army successfully stormed the castle but it was soon restored to
the Bishop when peace was declared.
It also saw action during the Wars of the Roses.
By 1497 the castle was yet again under siege by Scottish troops led by James IV who battered the walls and fabric of the castle with artillery but the castle was saved in the nick of time by the appearance of a relieving English army. Sometime during the 15th century the keep was heightened by a further two floors and much other work done, though few details of its construction have survived. Further Scottish attacks in 1513 with artillery forced the garrison to surrender. Again restoration work was carried out and continued until 1521. By the end of the 16th century it had fallen into a state of disrepair.
The castle and manor was eventually given to George Home, 1st Earl of Dunbar and from that time on it was left to fall into a ruinous state.
It is now in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.
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