| Northumberland possesses a long roll
of hermits. In the Book of Life, once placed on the high altar of
Lindisfarne, their names follow immediately after those of the queens
and abbesses, before those of the abbots.
N But in the land of St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert, St.
Bartholomew and St. Henry, the hermitage `bilded in a rocke of stone
within the parke of Warkworth in honour of the blessed Trynete' is now
unique ; in all England its one rival in interest is Guy's Cliff, near
Warwick, a possession likewise of the Percy family. Although so near the
cell of Coquet Island the contrast is as great as that between St.
Herbert's anchorage embowered on Derwentwater and the wild retreat of
his great companion in death among the breakers and sea-fowl of Farne.
The row up the river with the receding and reflected castle and the
darting silvery fish forms an admirable prelude : we seem to have left
the cold nineteenth century on the right bank of the Coquet and to be
landed in a world of medieval glamour.
EXTERIOR OF THE HERMITAGE.
We pass the hermit's well
N and wind our way under the great beeches
N between the cliffs and the river till we see the rough steps
on the right ascending to the door of the rock-hewn
sanctuary. A small seat has been cut out on either side of the little
porch formed in the thickness of the rock : over the inner door is a
rood, the Saviour stretched on the transverse limbs of the cross between
vague outlines of the Virgin and St. John. We enter the chapel : over
the inner door-head are still one or two letters of the inscription:
lacrymæ meæ panes die ac nocte N
the shield with the figure of a gauntlet has disappeared.
N Over the doorway immediately opposite, which leads into
another chapel, the shield carved with the emblems of the Passion
N remains, but the verse:
Dederunt in escam meam fel: et
in siti mea potaverunt N
is entirely gone.
The chapel is about 18 feet long, 7 feet wide and 7 feet high
to the central bosses of the three bays into which it is divided. Of
these the western and the central are regularly groined, the eastern
with diagonal ribs only.
Pillars, ribs, tracery, mouldings, everything in the chapel is hewn out
of the solid white free stone. At the east end is the one altar in
Northumberland that was not overthrown or defaced during the great
religious upheaval of the sixteenth century.
N The front is a plain sunk moulded panel : no dedication
crosses are now visible. In the rock immediately behind is a small niche
in which a crucifix was probably placed : just under the vaulting above
are faint traces in fresco of a head with a cruciferous aureole.
To the south of the altar, an arched recess, lit by two rough
lancets, contains a columnar piscina
and a mysterious group of figures. Kneeling in a niche of the west wall,
a man, clad apparently in skins, the right hand held up against the
face, the elbow resting in the left, is wrapt in contemplation of a
nimbed lady, reclining
rather than recumbent. Between them, close to the piscina, is the head
of an ox, bull, or cow ; near the lady's left shoulder, the figure of an
angel or child.
EMBLEMS OF THE PASSION
THE OUTER CHAPEL
FIGURE IN THE NICHE
The chapel seems to have been roughly blocked out in
the first instance, and the carving to have been executed by a more
skilled hand. The pillar caps in the eastern corners rest on the altar ;
of the four semi-octagon pillars of the central bay the south-east is
more ornate than the north- east, the south - west than the south-east,
and the north-east the most elaborate of all both in cap and base. This
increased ornamentation probably indicates the order in which they the
were finished. The quarter-pillars in the western corners of the chapel
are still left in the rough, as also are the round bosses of the
vaulting, showing that something occurred to interfere with the
completion of the original design. The pillars may be of almost any date
in the fourteenth century. Both pillars and vaulting are probably
subsequent to the original excavation of the chapel, or the doors would
have been placed in the exact centre of the sides of the western bay.
On the north side of the altar step a window with four low
lights and an elaborate head of trefoil and quatrefoil tracery,
apparently of the latter part of the fourteenth century, has been
pierced through the rock to the inner
chapel for the purpose of light, air, and sound ; Bishop Percy most
improperly called it 'The lattice for confession framed.'
A hagioscope of three plainer lights (the mullions all broken away)
is placed in the same partition in the eastern half of the central bay :
opposite, not quite in the middle of the bay, is a flat arched opening
with a basin—the ` holy water vase ' of the ballad—and a plain
quatrefoil window. In the west wall of this outer chapel are four
irregular slits opening from what was possibly a dormitory.
The inner chapel is in all probability more ancient than is
the outer one in its present form ; it is nothing more than a long,
narrow cave, with the hagioscope
N and traceried window in the south wall and a small niche as
a piscina between them. The altar, approached by two steps, has been
barbarously hacked away, probably by treasure-seekers, who found the
rock behind it had a hollow sound owing to a natural cleft. North of the
altar steps is an aumbry, possibly for the reservation of the sacrament.
FIGURE OF A LADY
RECESS SOUTH OF THE ALTER
mouth of the cave, beyond the door of communication between the two
chapels, a seat has been cut out in the north wall. A doorway, of which
only the eastern jamb with the bolt-hole is left, leads to the
rock-roofed eastern end of what seems to have been the dormitory :
N the level is higher than that of the larger chapel, and it
is necessary to kneel down to look into it through the four slits. A
slit higher up in the south wall opens into a recess provided with a
seat originally approached, perhaps, along a shelf of rock from the
chapel porch. The mouth of the chapel-cave, during the latter portion of
its use, was closed by a circular-headed window with indications of iron
bars having been fixed both in the head and the jambs. The fact of there
being a step down to it suggests that it was originally a door. A fall
of rock may very possibly have destroyed the remains of an earlier cell
to the west of the present one.
On the right of the stairs leading up to the chapel-porch is
the hermit's oven with the hearthstone nearly perfect : near it a
gooseberry bush still marked the site of his garden in 1767.
N Above is a rough door-case in the rock with a break-neck
stair ascending to his orchard at the top of the cliff : old
cherry-trees still stood here in the beginning of the eighteenth
N It is a question whether the small yard at the base of the
chapel-rock containing the oven and a small drip-well was not either
enclosed or intended to be enclosed in a long lean-to. There are signs
of a rough outer wall and of rafter-holes in the rock above.
N A door, now built up, seems designed to have led into this
yard from the entrance passage of the large kitchen, which formed the
basement of the living house. The orchard stair probably came down close
to the face of the rock into a passage just inside the yard door, and
the chapel stairs may have branched off from it, making the whole
hermitage self-contained, with a lower door towards the river and an
upper door towards the orchard. Judging from the masonry, the kitchen
appears to have been built up against the south-west corner of the
chapel-rock at the end of the fifteenth century ; the great fire-place
in the south wall looks of even later date. A door in the north corner
opened from a small closet about 8 feet long by 7 feet wide, with no
external opening apparent in its foundations. The portion of the
dormitory over the kitchen had also a fire-place in the south wall, a
large window looking out over the Coquet, and a smaller one in the east
wall ; in the south-west corner was a latrine. It is difficult to
determine with any certainty how access was obtained from the kitchen
below or if there was any separation between this portion of the
dormitory and that placed obliquely under the rock. It may have been
entered by a door at the stair-head near the chapel-porch.
WEST END OF THE OUTER CHAPEL
The mystery that veils the origin of
the hermitage invests it with a charm that might perhaps be dissipated
if its real history were known. Wallis,
N who was supposed to have had exceptional opportunities,
N identified it with the cell for two monks from Durham for
whose maintenance the bishop, Nicholas de Farnham (1241-1248),
appropriated the church of Branxton, a grant confirmed by his successor,
Walter de Kirkham (1249-1260), but this is now generally referred to the
chapel of which the foundations remain to the east of the parish church,
and may even relate to the Maudlins.
The popular tradition in the eighteenth century was that the
hermitage was founded by `the same Bertram as Brinkburn and Brainshaugh'
to expiate the murder of his brother.
N By the end of the century this was changed into its having
been `the retreat of a Northumberland warrior who having lost the
mistress of his heart by some unexpected stroke, with her lost all
relish for the world, and retired to this solitude to spend the
remainder of his days in devotion for her soul and in erecting this
little mausoleum to her memory.'
N Bishop Percy amalgamated the two traditions in the
celebrated ballad which he published in 1770. He supposed the ox's or
bull's head in the chapel was an important clue, and apparently unaware
that the Bertrams of Bothal as well as the Widdringtons bore a bull's
head as their crest he evolved a Bertram Widdrington. On general grounds
we may join with Aytoun in exclaiming, ` All laud and praise to the
memory of good Bishop Percy !' but it is difficult to avoid admitting
the justice of Dr. Johnson's severe condemnation of the Hermit of
Warkworth. The dedication to the duchess of Northumberland possesses a
certain quaint eighteenth-century charm :
Down in a northern vale wild flowerets grew,
And lent new sweetness to the summer gale ;
The Muse there found them all remote from view,
Obscured with weeds, and scattered o'er the dale.
O Lady, may so slight a gift prevail,
And at your gracious hand acceptance find ?
Say may an ancient legendary tale
Amuse, delight, or move the polish'd mind.
But the opening of the hermit's tale is taken, without
acknowledgment, from the exploit of Sir William Marmion at Norham, as
related in the Scalacronica, and Leland's rough translation of
Sir Thomas Gray's nobly-worded promise to Marmion, ` Sir knight, ye be
cum hither to fame your helmet : mount on your horse, and ryde lyke a
valiant man to your foes even here at hand, and I forsake God if I
rescue not thy body dead or alyve, or I myself wyl dye for it,' quivers
with a verve wholly absent in the rhymes :
|Now, Bertram, prove thy lady's
Attack yon forward band :
|Dead or alive I'll rescue thee,
Or perish by their hand.
All the same, we must not forget that the Hermit of
Warkworth acted on the popular mind in re-awakening an interest in
medieval literature much as the Gothic of Strawberry Hill did in regard
to medieval architecture.
It is extremely improbable that the bull's head, if a bull's
head it be, is a crest in the position it occupies. The effigy of the
lady cannot even be a cenotaph, or it would have been necessarily turned
towards the east. Besides this the lady is generally admitted to have an
aureole. Wallis, who wrote in 1767, before the destruction of all
genuine traditions by the ballad, had no hesitation in pronouncing the
figure to be that of the Blessed Virgin ; the small figure at her
shoulder seemed to him the Holy Child standing.
N The shepherd in the niche and the ox would thus naturally
complete a group emblematic of the Nativity, a subject peculiarly
suitable on account of its being believed to have taken place in the
cave of Bethlehem. From the cross, too, on the aureole of the head
painted above the altar we may be certain that this outer chapel of the
hermitage of the Trinity was dedicated in an especial manner to the
Second Person. The objections are that the Virgin is usually only
represented as reclining in the scene of the Assumption,
N while the small figure looks more like an angel and does not
seem to have had an aureole. The whole group has suffered more from the
pawing of visitors than from time or weather.
The period of the probable completion of the larger chapel
indicated by architectural evidence, coincides very closely with that of
the solemn invocation of the Persons of the Trinity and of the Blessed
Virgin, in the ratification of the charter of Alnwick abbey for the good
of the souls of his ancestors and of his late dear consort, Margaret
N by the future first earl of Northumberland as he was leaving
Warkworth for the French wars in 1373.
TRACERY BETWEEN THE ALTARS
The first actual mention of
Warkworth hermitage occurs in 1487, when Thomas Barker, chaplain of the
chantry in Sunderland park, as it was then called, made a payment to
Thomas Sharpe, bailiff of Warkworth, for the privilege of grazing a cow
and calf and a mare and foal in the park both winter and summer.
L Barker had been appointed for life to celebrate mass in the
chapel there by the fourth earl of Northumberland, who had been restored
in 1471, at a yearly stipend of 66s. 8d.
L He was probably succeeded at the hermitage by John Greene,
who was chaplain of the chapel of the Trinity in Sunderland park in
1506, when he received 10s.
N On the 26th of July, 1515, the fifth earl of
Northumberland, then at Topcliff, conferred an annuity of 5 marks, the
same sum as Barker had received, but during pleasure, on Edward Slegg,
chaplain, the hermit in the chapel of the Holy Trinity in Warkworth
L On the 3rd of December, 1531, the sixth earl granted the
hermitage with various privileges to his chaplain, George Lancastre :
|Henry, erle of Northumberland, etc. Knowe you that I the
saide erle, in consideration of the diligent and thankfull
service that my well-beloved chaplen, Sir George Lancastre
hath don unto me the said erle, and also for the goode and
virtus disposition that I do perceive in him; and for that
he shall have in his daily recommendation and praiers the
good estate of all such noble blode and other personages as
be now levynge, and the soules of such noble blode as be
departed to the mercy of God oute of this present lyve, whos
names are conteyned and wrettyn in a table upon parchment
signed with thande of me the said erle, and delivered to the
custodie and keepynge of the said Sir George Lancastre ; and
further that he shall kepe and saye his devyn service in
celebratyng and doing masse of requiem every weke as it is
written and set forth in the saide table : have geven and
graunted, and by these presents do gyve and graunte unto the
said Sir George myn armytage bilded in a rock of stone within my parke of
Warkworth, in the county of Northumberland, in the honour of
the blessed Trynete, with a yerly stipende of twenty merks
by yer, from the feest of Seint Michell th'archaungell last
past afore the date herof yerly duryng the naturall lyve of
the said Sir George ; and also I the said erle have geven
and graunted, and by these presents do gyve and graunte unto
the said Sir George Lancastre the occupation of one little
grasground of myn called Conygarth, nygh adjoynynge the said
hermytage, only to his only use and profit wynter and somer
durynge the said terme ; the garden and orteyarde
N belongyng to the said armytage; the gate and
pasture of twelf kye and a bull, with their calves suking ;
and two horses goyng and beyng within my said parke of
Warkworth wynter and somer ; one draught of fisshe every
soundaie in the yer to be drawen fornenst the said armytage
called the Trynete draught ; and twenty lods of fyrewode to
be taken of my wodds called Shilbotell wood during the said
term. The said stipend of xx merks by yer to be taken and
received yerly of the rent and ferme of my fisshyng of
Warkworth by thands of the fermour and fermours of the same
for the tyme heynge yerly at the times ther used and
accustomed to, evyn portions. In wytness whereof to these my
letters patentes, I the said erle have set the seale of myn
armes. Geven under my signet at my castell of Warkworth, the
third daye of December, in the xxiii yer of the reigne of
our soveryn lord Kyng Henry the Eight.
It seems doubtful whether George
Lancastre was actually to live at the hermitage, since his duties were
restricted to `celebrayting and doing masse of requiem every weke.' Two
years later a person of the same name was bailiff of Warkworth, but the
payment of the annuity of George Lancastre, chaplain and hermit, is duly
entered in his accounts.
L It seems hardly credible that the last hermit of Warkworth
took advantage of the ecclesiastical laxity of the period to follow a
secular vocation while still enjoying the revenues of what was rapidly
becoming a sinecure.
In `a view of the castles, lordship's lands and tenements of
the earl of Northumberland conveyed to King Henry VIII.' (1537) there
occurs the following passage :
|HERMYTAGES. One at Warkeworth, being a verey propre
howse buylded oute of a rocke of stone with many comodyties
thereto belongynge, wherof Sr George Lancastre
preste, being a well benyfyced man, ys now incumbent and
hath by letters patentes of the forsaid late erle for terme
of his lyff a yearly salarye oute of the lordeshippe of
Warkeworth of xx marcs and pasture for xij kyne and a bull
and their folowers and ij horses and xx lodes of wood, and
every Sondaye a draught of fysshe.
HERMITAGE FIRST FLOOR PLAN
HERMITAGE GROUND FLOOR PLAN
STAIR LEADING TO ORCHARD