A busy day in Norham, Northumberland (2004)

Looking down Castle Street towards Norham Castle. You can just see my cottage 4th down on the left; the white one with the little shrubs in front of it.

My cottage is the white one in the middle.

Norham Village Green looking down Castle Street towards Norham Castle.

Norham Castle 2004 (I am planning to move in once I can get a roof on it...)

Yes, you've guessed it. I am descended from several of the Constables of Norham Castle. Here is my descent from Sir Robert Manners (d. 1355), Constable of Norham Castle.

Sir Robert de Manners of Etal, Constable of Norham Castle (d. 1355) = Joane Strother
Sir John Manners of Etal = Alice w.o. Sir John Manners
Sir John Manners of Etal (d. 6 Sep 1438) = Anne Middleton
Sir Robert Manners of Etal = Joane Ogle
Sir Robert Manners of Etal = Eleanor de Ros
Sir William Fairfax = Elizabeth Manners
Sir William Fairfax (d. 1557) = Isabel Thwaite
Sir Thomas Fairfax (d. 1599) = Dorothy Gale
Sir Thomas Fairfax, 1st Baron Fairfax of Cameron (d. 1640) = Ellen Aske
Ferdinando Fairfax, 2nd Baron Fairfax of Cameron (b. 29 Mar 1584 d. 1647)= Lady Mary Sheffield
Sir Thomas Widdrington of Cheeseburn Grange, = Frances Fairfax
Sir Robert Shafto of Whitworth (b. Before 13 May 1634 (Bapt) d. 21 May 1705) = Catherine Widdrington (d. 31 Aug 1676)
Mark Shafto of Whitworth (b. 8 Apr 1662 d. 28 Dec 1723) = Margaret Ingilby (b. 1660 d. 12 Dec 1715)
Sir John Eden (b. About 1680 d. 2 May 1728) = Catherine Shafto (d. 2 Jul 1730)*
Sir Robert Eden (b. About 1718 d. 25 Jun 1755) = Mary Davison of Beamish (d. 30 Jan 1794)
Thomas Eden (b. 1734 d. 1 May 1805) = Mariana Jones (b. About 1750)
Arthur Eden (b. 9 Aug 1793 d. 1874) = Frances Buncombe-Poulett-Thomson (d. 25 Mar 1877)
Hugh Hammersley (d. 28 Sep 1882) = Dulcibella Eden (d. 1903)
Walter Nassau Senior (b. 16 Mar 1850 d. 20 Oct 1933) = Mabel Barbara Hammersley (b. 23 Jan1864 d. 19 Mar 1943)
Oliver Nassau Senior (b. 28 Nov 1901 d. 30 Jun 1992) = Dorothy Gardner Smith (b. 31 May 1904 d. 27 Dec 1987)
Denys Gordon Milne, C. B. E. (b. 12 Jan 1926 d. 9 Feb 2000) = Pamela Mary Senior (b. 25 Aug 1928)
Graham Nassau Gordon Milne (b. 29 Sep 1955)

*Catherine Shafto was the aunt of Bonnie Bobbie Shafto

Bobbie Shafto's bright and fair,
Combing down his yellow hair,
He's my ain for evermair,
Hey for Bobbie Shafto.

Bobbie Shafto, went to Court,
All in Gold and Silver Wrought,
Like a Grandee as he ought,
Bonnie Bobbie Shafto.

All the Ribbons flying about,
All the ladies looking out,
Clapping their hands and giving a Shout,
Hurrah for Bobbie Shafto.

Bobbie Shafto rode a race,
Well I mind His bonnie face,
Won it in a tearing pace,
Bonnie Bobbie Shafto.

Bobbie Shafto throws his Gold,
Right and Left like Knights of Old,
Now were left out in the cold,
Bonnie Bobbie Shafto.

Bobbie Shafto's gone to sea,
Wi' silver buckles on his knee.
When he comes back he'll Marry Me.
Bonnie Bobbie Shafto.


The Boldon Book has been called the 'Domesday Book of the North'. Compiled in 1183 on the orders of the Bishop of Durham, it was an assessment of land's worth, the annual returns, and the customary tenures of the See of St Cuthbert.

The entry for Whitworth read, 'In Whitworth there are 16 villeins each of whom holds one bovate of 20 acres and pays rent and works for all. Thomas de Acle holds Whitworth for the free service of a quarter of a knights fee'

The Prior of Durham had settlements and fields at Aycliffe and Woodham for the maintenance and support of the Convent of Durham. Thomas de Wodom was the Prior's tenant, and his knight's fee tenure of Woodham would have obliged him to give military assistance to the Bishop in times of need. That feudal obligation might explain why the Acles of Woodham (who also called themselves Wodom) got Whitworth.

After 1183, the descendants of Thomas de Acle lived at Whitworth for nearly three hundred years and were known as the lords of Whitworth. They continued to farm their Woodham property of about three square miles while Whitworth had about four.

The most interesting lord of Whitworth was Sir Thomas de Quytwrth, Born about 1240, he is believed to have been the son, or grandson, of Thomas of the Boldon Book. It is likely that it was he who built on the site of Whitworth Church, a Chapel of Ease that was endowed to Merrington. His own dwelling may have stood on the site of this Hotel.

Sir Thomas died circa 1320. Nobody has positively identified the two stone effigies that are outside Whitworth church. It has been suggested that they might be of Thomas and Cassandra, but the feet of the knight are upon a writhing figure which is symbolic of a crushed Saracen. We do not know if Sir Thomas was a Crusader.

Sir Thomas was followed by Alexander who was followed by Thomas. Thomas was followed by a second Alexander who was followed by a younger brother called John.

On the 10th November 1355, John Whitworth succeeded his brother at an inquest post mortem held at the Bishop's palace in Bishop Auckland. He was thirteen years old.

It is documented that in 1373 he went with Lord Percy, the 4th and last Lord Percy of Alnwick, to 'the wars beyond the seas' which were in France and Spain. He would have been 31 years of age and he probably saw a lot of fighting, especially in Spain where the soldiers were exposed to severe hardship and disease.

Perhaps John Whitworth went off to the wars with high hopes of adventure and reward of rich plunder. He survived the fighting and returned to Whitworth, but did he leave dead sons behind?

John was the last lord of Whitworth.

In 1420, Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmorland, obtained a licence from Bishop Langley to impark forty acres at Whitworth, and authority to proceed against poachers. He had other land near to Whitworth at Old Park, Byers Green, Newfield and Tudhoe, and his possessions extended in an almost unbroken line from Raby to Brancepeth.

Whitworth and the other Neville properties were forfeited to the Crown when the Sixth Earl of Westmorland was attainted for taking a leading part in the Northern Rebellion of 1569. Queen Elizabeth seized everything and Whitworth was leased to three London aldermen and merchants.

The disgraced Earl of Westmorland's tenant at Whitworth had been Thomas Watson. After the rebellion was quashed, the Watsons stayed at Whitworth and Thomas' son, William Watson, leased the manor.

William Watson had a daughter called Margaret. She married William Baxter of Corbridge, a Royalist who supported Charles I. During the Commonwealth he was compelled by the Court of Sequestration to either forfeit Whitworth or pay a fine of 247.19s.0d. He paid the fine but had to sell Whitworth to do so, and in 1652, Whitworth came by purchase into the possession of Mark Shafto, a lawyer of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The Shaftos were an ancient Border family. At the Raid of Redeswire in 1575, a trumpery border quarrel that was the survival of an old feud between the Scots and the English, the battle cry of the English raiders was 'A Schaftan and a Fenwick'. The story of the raid is related in an old border ballad included in Sir Walter Scott's collection. The representative of the Shafto family was killed, though the ballad says:

"Young Henry Schaftan he is hurt,
A souldier shot him wy' a bow."

The very early Shafto ancestry is uncertain, but it is fact that the Mark Shafto who purchased Whitworth, was a direct descendant of a Mark Shafto, merchant son of an Edward Shafto and Elizabeth Swinburne. Mark was the mayor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1548. His son, merchant Ninian Shafto had a son called Robert Shafto who owned Benwell Tower, and was married to Jane Eden, the daughter of Robert Eden, a wealthy city merchant. Robert and Jane had nine children. Their eldest son, Robert, inherited Benwell Tower. His younger brother was Mark Shafto who bought Whitworth in 1652.

From 1652 to 1981, a succession of 12 Shaftos lived at Whitworth:

Mark Shafto who bought Whitworth in 1652 was succeeded by his son Sir Robert Shafto (1659-1705).
Sir Robert was succeeded by his son Mark Shafto (1705 - 1723).
Mark was succeeded by his son Robert Shafto (1723 - 1729).
Robert was succeeded by his brother John Shafto (1729 - 1742).
John was succeeded by his son Robert Shafto (1742 - 1797), also known as Bonnie Bobby Shafto. It is believed that a condition of Robert's marriage to Anne Duncombe was that Duncombe should always precede Shafto in the names of future Whitworth Shaftos.
Bonnie Bobby Shafto was succeeded by his eldest son John Duncombe Shafto (1797 - 1802).
John Duncombe Shafto was succeeded by his brother Robert Eden Duncombe Shafto (1802 - 1848).
Robert Eden Duncombe was succeeded by his son Robert Duncombe Shafto (1848 - 1889).
Robert Duncombe was succeeded by his son Robert Charles Duncombe Shafto (1889 - 1909).
Robert Charles Duncombe was succeeded by his eldest daughter Rosa Edith Marguerite Duncombe Shafto (1909 - 1979). Rosa married her second cousin, Robert Charles Duncombe Shafto of Beamish. They had three sons, Robert Duncombe Shafto, Mark David Duncombe Shafto, and Edward Foliot Duncombe Shafto; and a daughter, Rosemary Duncombe Shafto.
Rosa's eldest son Robert, inherited the Beamish Shafto estate from his father in 1949, and died in the 1960's.
Rosa Edith Marguerite Duncombe Shafto died in 1979, and Whitworth was sold in 1981 by her grandson, Robert Edward Duncombe Shafto, to Mr Derek Parnaby. Mr Parnaby lived in and maintained the Hall and the estate and deer park.
In 1997, the Hall, gardens and deer park were sold and the Hall is now the Grade II listed Whitworth Hall Country Park Hotel.

It is believed that Robert Shafto, alias Bonnie Bobby Shafto, was born in 1730. Where he was born is not known. Robert probably spent his childhood, and adolescence, at Whitworth.

Robert Shafto was a handsome debonair politician. In Sir Joshua Reynolds portrait he is dressed in fashionable clothes and is tall, slim and youthful, with golden hair and small delicate hands.

Bonnie Bobby Shafto

It is a myth that Bridget Belasyse, the heiress of Brancepeth, pined herself into an early grave because he loved and married someone else. He probably knew her, and there might have been a close relationship, but there is no evidence that Robert went to sea, or that Bridget Belasys pined for him, or wrote the famous song.

At the age of 30, he was the elected M. P. for Durham City. A few years later, he was M. P. for the borough of Downton in Wiltshire.

The words of the popular ballad, 'Bonnie Bobby Shafto' was probably an electioneering song, possibly written for Robert's Durham City campaign. The tune is a traditional bagpipe air from the Borders and it was first put to words as 'Brave Willy Foster'. It has been written, however, that sometime later it was put to a song which described another Border hero called Bobby Shafto, 'who went to sea to escape an enamoured lady of beauty and fortune'. That is probably another figment of imagination. The popularity of the tune persisted and other verses were added to it for the election campaign of Bonnie Bobby's grandson, Robert Duncombe Shafto, when he successfully campaigned in the 1861 election for a Member of Parliament for Durham.

Robert married Anne Duncombe, daughter and sole heir of Thomas Duncombe of Duncombe Park at Helmsley in Yorkshire, on the 18th April 1774. Bridget Belasyse had died a fortnight before, most likely from pulmonary tuberculosis.

"Anne Duncombe married Mr Robert Shafto on 18th April 1774 in the private dwelling house of her Uncle, Thomas Duncombe, in Grosvenor Square, London. The ceremony was conducted by Thomas Shafto of Brancepeth, the witnesses were Lisburn and T Duncombe esq."

Robert and Anne had three [recorded] children, John, Robert, and Thomas.

The exact date of Anne's death is uncertain, but is believed to have been shortly after July 1784. She was buried at Downton.

Robert did not remarry. He died in November 1797, and is buried in the Shafto family crypt beneath the floor of Whitworth Church.

He was succeeded by eldest son, John Shafto.

Whitworth Hall was formerly one of the best family mansions in the County, but it was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1876, the only portion saved being the library and the kitchens. It remained in ruins until 1891, when Mrs Shafto rebuilt the three-storey Hall as the two storey building we see today. The new building could not be compared with its predecessor for size and appearance.

The library was added to the hall by Robert Eden Duncombe Shafto (1802 - 1848) who used to entertain royalty at Whitworth and kept a large establishment. The place resounded with merriment and the young people of Windlestone and Brancepeth used to revel in amateur theatricals and all kinds of fun. There was a small brewery and everybody who had business there was given a horn of ale. The butler of the period was fond of practical jokes and would sometimes bring out Whitworth ale that had stood for 25 years and give it to the lads to drink, with the result that they staggered into the nearest hedge to sleep off the effects of the ale.

After the old squire's death his widow continued for a time to keep up the traditional hospitality of the house, but the terrible expense of her son's parliamentary contests impoverished the estate and forced the family to economise. Lord Roseberry was a frequent visitor at Whitworth as a lad. A visitor related that he once saw the future Prime Minister in the height of high spirits leap right over a donkey.

It is said that Robert Duncombe Shafto spent no less than 100,000 in his attempt to capture the Southern Division of the County in 1832, but all to no purpose. He attained his ambition, in 1847, being elected for the Northern Division and sat in Parliament for quite a number of years. One of the former treasures of Whitworth was the armchair in which he was carried, in triumph, through the streets of Durham, on the last occasion when the ancient custom of 'Chairing the Member' was observed. It was bedecked with party ribbons and his enthusiastic supporters were so eager to possess themselves of a handful that he narrowly escaped being pitched into the crowd.

The Park at Whitworth was divided into three, the High, the Middle, and the Low, the Low Park being a preserve for deer of a very fine breed. James Adamson was the butcher who formerly prepared the venison for the Hall table, and there were times when he found great difficulty in picking out one of the deer because they usually go in herds. The only safe method was to hide inside a cart or up a tree and shoot directly when a favourable opportunity presented itself.

The search for the history of Whitworth began some years ago in the old library of Whitworth Hall. The net was cast farther and wider, and into it swam Acles and Wodoms, Whitworths and Nevilles, Watsons, Baxters and Shaftos. Like 'fleas who had lesser fleas upon their backs to bite them', those names revealed others. Each has contributed to the story of this wonderful place.

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