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Writer’s Residency: Day 4

August 13, 2013

I am in NeST gallery in Barnard Castle for day four of my writer’s residency.The gallery is a buzz of activity today. The photography studio is open and Gordon Lamb is leading a watercolour workshop next to the hot-desking area.
There has been a steady flow of visitors through the doors, many of whom have admired the new ‘paintings in thread’ by Sandra Mark. I have taken receipt of two more entries for the ‘One Poem for Teesdale’ competition and been preparing a selection of Teesdale Tales ready for Thursday morning’s workshop.
I have also been rewriting a story first conceived a decade ago. I have taken a section out of an early attempt at a novel set in Durham at the start of the thirteenth century and am putting together a short story or tale in which the main character visits the shrine of St. Cuthbert when it was a key attraction on one of the many pilgrim trails popular throughout Europe at the time. I did consider having a go at redrafting it in Chaucer’s rime riche but it is currently still in prose. I have however rewritten a Teesdale Tale about the Buttermarket into a rhyming poetry format as this is one of Thursday’s challenges for workshop participants.
Whilst researching the history of the Buttermarket I came across an interesting story which I would like to share with you. I was aware that there used to be a clockmaker’s shop on the corner now taken by an Indian restaurant called Spice Island and that this was the inspiration for a short story by Charles Dickens entitled ‘Master Humphrey’s Clock’ but I didn’t know that the building next door (now demolished) was the Burns Head Inn. The pub had a picture of Robert Burns ploughing and there were quotes on the wall taken from his poetry.
I tried to track down these quotes via a google search and came up with a site which says that the Robert Burns centre is in Barnard Castle. I racked my brains about this then realised that they’d made a mistake. The Burns centre is still in Dumfries. It hasn’t moved but this error enabled me to trace the link between Dumfries and Barnard Castle.
During the thirteenth century Dumfries was ruled over by Devorgilla and John de Balliol. It was the Balliol’s who built and owned Barnard Castle but John preferred to live in his wife’s castle called Buittle (pronouned ‘Botle) in an area referred to as Grey Galloway and nowadays known as Burns Land.
The Balliol’s had four sons, the youngest of which, also called John, went on to become King of Scotland. Before that his father John died in 1269.
Devorgilla was so broken hearted that she had his heart placed in a small ebony and silver casket (a cophyne) which she carried with her wherever she went. She founded Sweetheart Abbey near Dumfries in his memory and was buried there with the cophyne placed on her bosom even though she died while visiting Barnard Castle in 1289.
Devorgilla also founded Balliol College which was attended by Robert Burns who wrote the ballad of Gill Morice with Lady Barnard as the original heroine.
Today Devorgilla and Robert Burns share a town trail in Dumfries which starts from the Burns centre and takes the tourist over Devorgilla bridge.
I know from the Teesdale Mercury archives that Robert Burns’ poetry was and still is often recited in Teesdale and not just on Burns’ night. My grandparents’ favourite ‘John Anderson, My Jo’ was often quoted at family gatherings where they sang of ‘clambing the hills the gither.’

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2 Comments
  1. It sounds like you’re having a brilliant time as writer in residence, Judith. Good luck with the workshop!

    • Having a great time thanks. Always enjoy writing with an historical/heritage strand to it. What are you writing at the moment? Judith.

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