1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alnwick

ALNWICK, a market-town and the county-town of Northumberland, England, in the Berwick-upon-Tweed parliamentary division, 309 m. N. by W. from London, on a branch of the North Eastern railway. Pop. of urban district (1901) 6716. It is beautifully situated on the small river Aln, in a hilly district. Its history has left many marks. Dominating the town from an eminence above the south bank of the river stands the castle, held by the Percys since 1309, and long before this an important border stronghold. A gateway of c. 1350, a fine Norman arch of the middle of the 12th century, and the ancient well in the keep, are among noteworthy ancient portions; but the castle was extensively renovated and altered in the second half of the 18th century, while in 1854, when the lofty Prudhoe tower was built, a scheme of decoration in Italian style was adopted in the interior; so that the castle, though magnificent, has largely lost its historic character. It contains numerous fine examples of the works of Italian and other artists, and collections of British and Roman and Egyptian antiquities. In the beautiful park are a monument commemorating the capture of William the Lion of Scotland when besieging the town in 1174, two memorial towers, and a British stone chamber. Remains of the wall which formerly surrounded Alnwick are visible, and one of the four gates, the Boudgate, stands, dating from the early part of the 15th century. The church of St Michael has Norman remains, but is principally Perpendicular; it contains several ancient monuments and incised slabs. The modern church of St Paul has a fine east window of German stained glass. Within the confines of the park are ruins of two abbeys. Alnwick Abbey was a Premonstratensian foundation of 1147; only a gateway tower stands, but the ground-plan was excavated in 1884 and is outlined on the surface. At 3 m. from the town are more extensive remains of Hulne Abbey (1240), an early Carmelita monastery. The long narrow church remains unroofed; there are also a gateway tower, and portions of the chapter-house and cloisters. The Norman chapel of the hospital of St Leonard, which, as well as Alnwick Abbey, was founded by Eustace Fitz John, completes the series of antiquities in Alnwick. In this interesting locality, however, there must be mentioned the mansion of Howick, built in the 18th century, in a fine situation near the coast to the N.E. Not far from this, overlooking the sea from a rocky cliff pierced by deep gullies, are the ruins of Dunstan borough Castle; it dates from the 14th century, though the site was probably occupied as a stronghold from earlier times.

The chief industries are brewing, tobacco, snuff and fishing tackle making, and corn milling. Alnwick is under an urban district council, but is a borough by prescription, and its freemen form a body corporate without authority over the affairs of the town. It is, however, required to pay, under an act of 1882, a sum not less than, £500 out of the corporate property towards the upkeep of corporation schools. An ancient peculiar ceremony was attached until modern times to the making of freemen; those elected were required to ride in procession to a large pool called Freemen's Well and there rush through the water. According to tradition the observance of this custom was enjoined by King John to punish the inhabitants, the king having lost his way and fallen into a bog owing to the neglected condition of the roads in the neighbourhood.

According to the Chronicle of Alnwick Abbey, the barony of Alnwick belonged before the Conquest to Gilbert Tyson, whose son and heir William was killed at Hastings, and whose estates with his daughter were granted by the king to Ivo de Vescy, although this theory does not seem probable since Gilbert Tyson was certainly not a Saxon. In 1297 William de Vescy, a descendant of Ivo, dying without issue, left the barony to the bishop of Durham, who in 1309 sold it to Sir Henry Percy, in whose family it still continues. The town evidently grew up round the castle, which is said to have been built by Eustace FitzJohn about 1140. Tradition states that it received its borough charter from King John. However, Alnwick is first definitely mentioned as a borough in a charter given by William de Vescy in the reign of Henry II., by which the burgesses were to have common of pasture on Haydon Moor and to hold of him “as freely and quietly as the burgesses of Newcastle hold of the king.” This charter was confirmed by his grandson, William de Vescy, in an undated charter, and again by William, son of the latter William, in 1290. According to an inquiry of 1291 a market and fair were held in Alnwick from time immemorial. In 1297 Edward I., in addition, granted the bishop of Durham a market on Saturday, and a fair on the 17th of March and six following days. By charters of Henry VI. the burgesses received licence to enclose their town with a wall, to have a free port at Alnmouth, a market on Wednesday as well as Saturday, and two new fairs on the feasts of SS Philip and James and St Lucy, and eight days following each. Tanning and weaving were formerly the principal industries carried on in Alnwick, and in 1646 there were twenty-two tanneries there. Alnwick has never been represented in parliament.

See George Tate, The History of the Borough, Castle, and Barony of Alnwick, 2 vols. (Alnwick, 1866-1869); Victoria County History, Northumberland.