by Kenneth Jacob

I was astonished to hear recently that a debate is raging as to whether Bourne had a castle or not. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I started to research the medieval history of the town, as also that of Stamford and Spalding. I noted down a number of references to source material that mentioned inter alia the castle of Bourne.

Rex Needle quotes a number of secondary sources relating to Bourne's history. I have read none of the books named and don't wish to denigrate them, but they are not particularly relevant. The authors were not privy to the wealth of source material to which we now are. I cannot stress enough that It is principally from primary source material, primary monographs and manuscripts, that a history can be built up and not, on the whole, from secondary or tertiary sources. It does pre-suppose that one reads many styles of old handwriting, and the abbreviations used, a kind of shorthand. The language used was Latin – occasionally Norman French; a good number were translated into English during the latter part of the 19th and much of the 20th century During the course of the past week I have looked up some of what I had noted down.

Let us look at the matter of the castle. The earliest reference I have found to it so far is in 26th year of the reign of Henry II (1179-1180). The men of Aveland Wapentake rendered account of 5 marks for a false claim relating to the castle of Bourne. 2½ marks were paid, the balance owed (Pipe Roll, Pipe Roll Society, Volume 29, p53). The reader may be interested to know that we used marks in those days, but these were not coins. The mark was a unit of account equating to 13s 4d. The only English coins then were silver pennies, the short cross penny being introduced in 1180, its production ceasing in 1247. Silver bullion was also used for payment of larger amounts. To pay 5 marks one would have to use 800 pennies!

A charter enacted by Blanche Wake, Lady of Lidell, was dated at Bourne Castle on the morrow of Michaelmas 48 Edward III, ie 29th September 1374 (Calendar of Close Rolls, 1913, HMSO, Volume 14, Edward III, p255).

A manuscript I started to transcribe all those years ago is an Inquisition Post Mortem, held after the death of Blanche Wake. Such inquisitions were held after tenants of the Crown who held lands in capite had died, ie as tenants in chief, directly of the Crown. It was in the King's interests to see how money could be squeezed out of his tenants, for example, out of the sale of wardships of minors. He also did not want to lose track of who owned what in his realm and what the value of the land holdings were. The inquisition was held at Bourne by William Kelk the King's escheator, under oath of 12 jurors, whose names are given, on Wednesday in the feast of St James the Apostle 4 Richard II, ie 25th July 1380.

It states that Blanche, on the day she died, held the castle and manor of Bourne for the term of her life in dower, after the death of her former husband Thomas Wake of Lidell. A widow was meant to be given a third of her husband's estate after his death with which to support herself, although in practice this was not always the case. An extent is given which I have not completely transcribed, but it lists the land of the manor and of what it was constituted. For example, there were 153 acres of arable land, each acre being valued annually at 12d. There were 307 acres of meadow valued at 18d per acre. The farming community must marvel at these prices. Even allowing for inflation over the centuries, current prices are substantially higher. The manor included a marsh called Bourne Fen, extending from a place called Arsthweyth to Potter Lane in Bourne, thence on to Morton etc. (Inquisitions Post Mortem, 1970, HMSO, Volume 15, p183).

As to what the castle was constructed of and what it may have looked like, we don't know. A geo-phys survey in the first instance would be more than welcome. Perhaps excavations can be carried out subsequently. It is not impossible to obtain an impression from historical records as to what the castle was constructed of, and who knows, perhaps even a description may be found; but that involves a great amount of research.

For it to be described as a castle in the 12th century means, as stated, that it was just that - a castle. The only other interpretation is that there was a fortification of some kind there of an even earlier date; I don't believe that. I don't somehow think the sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1179-1180 mistook a manor house for a castle either.

Interestingly enough, an inquisition held in the last few years of the 14th century, possibly the first few of the 15th , on the forfeited chattels of Thomas, Earl of Kent, states there were 2 iron chains at the gate of the manor, worth 13s 4d. Not a door to the mansion house, but a gate. Gates are usually in freestanding walls. Were these the walls of the castle? Well, let's not start an argument here, let us rather look for further evidence.

After Blanche Wake died, the castle and manor of Bourne were inherited by Joan, Princess of Wales, the King's mother, the daughter of Thomas Wake's sister Margaret . The castle is mentioned again in the IPM held subsequent to her death on 21st August 9 Richard II (1385) (IPM, Volume 16, p117). It then passed into the ownership of the Holland family, Earls of Kent. Their principal seat was no longer in Bourne and it is likely that the castle was no longer used and maintained and fell into a state of disrepair. It may well have been a very simply built castle, as was the case with many built in the Norman period. Was it up-dated with the latest fortification technology brought back from the Crusades and elsewhere, as was the case with other castles? Probably not, given the above.

As to when it was built, I suspect it was built at roughly the same period as Sleaford castle (1123-1139). That castle was noted to have been in good repair until 1546, but dismantled before 1600. A profusion of castles were erected by discontented Barons during the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda. Many were dismantled on the instructions of Henry II (1154-1189). As to when Bourne castle was finally dismantled or destroyed, as is suggested – that should be possible to determine. It could well have been constructed by Baldwin, the son of Gilbert de Clare, who founded the abbey in Bourne. He had at least two daughters and heirs one of whom married Hugh Wake. This is where the Wake connection – at least demonstrably – came in.

The castle is of course inexorably linked to the Wake family, as the above demonstrates. History is people, or rather made by people and one can largely discover salient facts on the castle by looking at the Wake family.

Is Hereward the Wake the ancestor of the Wakes of Bourne? I have no idea, and suspect it will be impossible to prove or disprove. There is a paucity of material for the end of the 11th century.

Hugh, the son of Baldwin fitz Gilbert de Clare held Bourne in 1166 (Rotuli de Dominabus, Pipe Roll Society, Volume 35 (1913), p 11n). The Wakes at that time and subsequently owned land in many counties, including Lancashire, Cumberland, Bedfordshire and Wiltshire. Bourne, however, would appear to have been their principal seat.

They even held land in Normandy, probably acquired by marriage, perhaps with an heiress of the de Stuteville family; Hugh Wake married Joan, one of the daughters and heirs of Nicholas de Stuteville. We know that in 1201 William, constable of Normandy, and Baldwin Wake rendered their account of 1000 marks for land of Baldwin in England and Normandy. Baldwin was not to marry without the consent of King and council (Pipe Roll, Pipe Roll Society, 1936, Volume 52, p 22). He paid £100 of this, owing the balance of 801 marks. The crown was remarkably lenient in those days about monies being owed. I have come across instances where substantial sums were owed in excess of 30 years.

In 1201 Baldwin Wake was assessed for scutage at 101s 3d, which he was unable to pay at that time. Scutage was originally made available for tenants in chief in lieu of knight's service. It stems from the Latin word Scutum = shield, and was known as shield money. Some knights had become too old, infirm, or simply were not interested in fighting, and the military service due to the crown was commuted into a payment of money. With this other knights could be hired, as could mercenaries from across the Channel. Scutage was already being levied in the early years of Henry I's reign, but by the reign of Henry II it became another form of stealth tax.

I have drawn up a skeleton family tree of the Wakes. This will require a great deal of work done to it. Obviously pedigrees have been compiled and published over the years, both in hard copy and on the Internet, but they have all shown up so very many discrepancies, that one really should start from scratch. Those on the Internet are particularly problematical. The principal reason here is that the information is only as good as the people who upload it. Once errors are there, these are invariably rapidly promulgated without checking sources.

En passant, I found an interesting 16th century reference to Bourne. As many will know, the Bourne Players give excellent performances. Perhaps next year they should be celebrating their 425th anniversary. On 3rd September 1581 Richard Bertie of Grimsthorpe Castle gave the Bourne Players a reward or tip of 10s (Lincolnshire Archives, ??ANC/Lot 317/1?(sic))

© Kenneth Jacob 2005