Friday, 3 February 2012

Nocturnal Girlish Giggles 'n' Clanking Chains at Naworth Castle

I am most grateful for the kind invitation to make a guest post on a blog I've followed since I first discovered how to 'follow'.
I'm Helen Devries, otherwise found hiding behind the soubriquet of the Fly in the Web on my own and other people's blogs, long time resident of rural France and now settling in to Costa Rica, but in this post I would like to recount my mother's wartime memories of the Borders...centred on Naworth Castle, Brampton, Gilsland and Lanercost Priory

Mother, like many other women, was emancipated by the war, as had been a generation of women in the previous one. She found the bounds of Army discipline far more bearable than the constraints of female upbringing and still speaks of her time serving with the ATS with pleasure.
Early to join up she spent the first part of the war in Winchester...being wowed by David Niven who was, I think, serving with the Greenjackets...learning how to shoot -'take one with you' being the motto of the time when invasion was feared to be imminent - and being instructed how to blow up a German tank with a Molotov cocktail, instruction of whose value she was and still is sceptical.
Later in the war she served in London, making radios for the French and Dutch resistance, both in Europe and  in their overseas colonies, working in a glass roofed building while doodlebugs fell nearby, targeting the railway lines to the North.
However, it was in the North that she spent the middle part of the war years, at Naworth Castle and what follows are her reminiscences.

She was directed to Naworth, which was to serve as an army logistical training centre, and her party arrived in the dark, seeing nothing but a looming structure, dark against the night sky.

They were billeted in two rooms in one of the towers...one room above the other, and settled down amidst much giggling about haunted castles and clanking chains. The temptation was too much....all through the night she and her friends were kept awake by sounds of whistling, moaning and clanking from the room above and her room berated their colleagues over breakfast...only to be told
'We thought it was you!'
They were promptly rehoused in huts in the castle grounds, where the only hazards were cows clustered close to the huts for warmth and stray cats giving birth to kittens in the beds.
The blackout being in force, there was a problem every night with a light showing high up in the old tower...though no one could find access to the aperture involved and she also remembers one room that dogs would not enter.

She remembers too seeing a portrait of Belted Will Howard, and visiting the chapel in the top of one of the towers where this recusant nobleman maintained a Catholic chapel in the Elizabethan period, together with a priest hole. She was told too that there was a tunnel from the castle to Lanercost Priory.
She explored the area when free....and still remembers taking a lift from a local gamekeeper, only to find the van full of crows which he was supplying to a local pub to eke out the meat in time of rationing!
The Howard family were strong on temperance, buying out licences and setting up temperance hotels, but the Army being the Army, pubs, proper pubs, were to be found! She remembers one where the cellar was down a long flight of stone steps and every time beer was ordered the elderly landlady would stump down to fetch the beer in a jug.
She remembers two in particular...I think in Brampton, but I am not sure...the Ring of Bells and the Coach and Horses. In one of these the landlord had a parrot which could imitate the sound of the brakes of the Carlisle bus pulling up outside, and, being a parrot, it had a good sense of timing. Some minutes before the bus was due to arrive...not too many which might have aroused suspicion....it would perform its party piece and men would be gulping down beer and rushing for the door...only to return a few minutes later, cursing the bird!

She visited Lanercost Priory...by road rather than by tunnel....and fell in love with Gilsland, the old spa town...but one of her walks closer to home led to a strange experience.

She and a friend were walking alongside a stream, where there were a lot of cherry trees in flower. It was warm and sunny,  a lovely afternoon. She began to feel oppressed and then frightened...she could no longer hear the stream running, she found breathing difficult. She looked at her friend who was clearly  in the same state and they turned and ran back to the castle.
The cook, a local woman, gave them a cup of tea and told them that the area where they had been walking was known to be haunted...some sort of massacre connected with the '45.
Mother is not and was not psychic...but she can still, at 96, remember the sense of terror she felt under those beautiful cherry blossoms.

She tried to visit Naworth twice after the war...once in the fifties and once in the eighties....but with no success. 
It was private property and no one was willing to let her revisit it.

15 comments:

Hadriana's Treasures said...

I really do wish to extend my thanks to Helen aka Fly in the Web for this wonderful post. It's something we've talking about for a while...so it's great to see her mum's story here. I'm hoping to write some more about Naworth Castle. So please do watch this space! H :-)

Hadriana's Treasures said...

See more of Helen's writing at:
http://costa-rica-life.blogspot.com
She writes about her life in Costa Rica and also in Rural France.

the fly in the web said...

Thasnk you for letting me tell some of mother's stories!

As for David Niven, she remembers him receiving a package in the mess from a well known Hollywood female star...(whose name she forgets!)
To the hoots of his friends it turned out to be a hand knitted willy warmer!
She loved Naworth, the area and the people...so it was a shame she could not visit it again.

Oh...and thank you for the plug!

Hadriana's Treasures said...

You and your mum, Fly, are stars too! Hxx

Hadriana's Treasures said...

I was thinking, Fly, that if ever you, Mr.Fly and your mum ever come up this way we could organise a visit to Naworth Castle and the area. It would be a tremendous pleasure to show you around! :-)

Perpetua said...

I'm really glad to have followed the link from Costa Rica calling and found this. :-) Splendid stuff, Fly. I'm totally unpsychic too, but there really are some things beyond rational explanation.

the fly in the web said...

Perpetua, I've been allowed to reply on this blog...yes, there are odd things.
My father told me of when he was a young man taking a cart load of copper ore through Glasgow on a moonlit night he came to a bridge known as the White Brig and the horse refused to proceed.
No coaxing would budge it.
He said there was as superstition that if you looked between the horse's ears you would see what the horse saw, so I asked him if he did and he said that he had...and he saw Death.
Not a skeleton in black with a scythe...just the presence of Death.
And he wasn't psychic either.

Hadriana...a lovely invitation! I'm hoping mother will be fit enough to come out to see us, so there's a chance that I could take you up on your invitation when I come over to get her organised for the trip. She would be delighted as she has such happy memories of the area...it was where she met my father.

Sandi McBride said...

What a wonderful idea this is, sharing blog space! What wonderful memories are being shared and after all, I suppose that is what blogging is all about. Our ancestors called it Journaling...thanks for sharing and allowing the sharing
Sandi (from Holding Patterns and One Cat Shy of Crazy)

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Many thanks Fly. Great to have you here posting and commenting and visiting as well (with luck)! Hxx

Hello Sandi. Hope you are well. Glad to have you here. Thank you so much for your lovely comment. One of these days my fairy godmother is going to wave her wand to give me lots more time so I can visit everyone's blogs again. ;-) Hxx

Mark said...

Fly - you do get around. I remember Brampton and Gilsland from when my grandparents used to holiday there.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Both Sandi and Mark write terrific blogs too. :-) (Hadriana)

P.S.: It will be a pleasure to show Fly and family around...that invitation is extended to bloggers and non-bloggers as well. This is a fantastically rich region - both in landscape and history and very friendly people....

Have a great weekend! Hadriana :-)

About Last Weekend said...

Hi nice to meet you, came through Modern Mother. What a fascinating story. What a shame her mother could not revisit that site again

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hi lovely to meet you too 'About Last Weekend' ! Many thanks for leaving a comment. With a bit of luck I can tempt Fly and her mum (and family) to come and stay here. We very much look forward to taking them back to the site. :-) Hadriana
PS - Be nice if I can tempt you back to this blog too! ;-)

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Hadriana's Treasures said...

Thank you busanalayali...thank you so much for your comment! :-) H/C