The Old Well Inn can be found within Barnard Castle which is built on the site where an ancient Roman road fords the river Tees this is now spanned by a stone bridge. The street know as Galgate (post Roman origin) follows the line of the Roman road – it`s name is connected with the town?s gallows which were en-route. The parish church – St Marys was founded in the 12th century.
The History of the Old Well Inn
In 830AD monks from Lindisfarne held an estate on land which would later become Barnard Castle. They lost their estate to a Viking raid led by Ragnald. They successfully gained it back some time later, only to lose it again to the Earls of Northumbria. The last Viking king of York Eric Bloodaxe died nearby on Stainmore summit in 954AD. Subsequently King Canute owned lands nearby.
The town owes it?s name to Bernard Baliol, who built the castle in 1125. Bernard was from Norman stock. He inherited the lands from his father Guy de Balliol (Lord of Verney, Dampierre, Harcourt and Bailleul and Baron of Teesdale, Gainford, Stokesley and Bywell) who was granted the lands following the Norman Conquest. The first castle was a wooden structure but by the time Bernard and his son (also called Bernard) inherited the estate the castle was in the process of being converted to stone. Legend has it that the town sprang up around the castle because Bernard, being only a soldier and not quite high enough up the aristocracy ladder did not have enough funds to expand and improve the castle as much as he would have liked to and therefore encouraged people to settle around the castle walls so that he could charge them rent.
In 1216, Hugh De Baliol helped King John to defend the North against a revolt from the Northumbrian Barons, who were supported by King Alexander I of Scotland. The castle was besieged in the summer of that year by King Alex – the siege proved unsuccessful but King Alex?s brother in law Eustace de Vesci was killed by a crossbow bolt fired from the castle. Hugh?s son was John De Balliol, who married Devorguilla of Galloway – their son became a contender for the Scottish throne.
Descendants of Bernard include Edward and John Baliol, who became kings of Scotland. Another John Baliol founded Baliol College – Oxford.
The castle is now a ruin but has been a home to Henry VII, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (aka Warwick the Kingmaker) and Richard III – via his wife Anne Neville. In addition to being in the hands of an assortment of Beauchamps and Nevilles, it was also inhabited by some of Durham?s Prince Bishops when it came back into the hands of the church.
Anne Neville was born 11.06.1456 and was the youngest daughter of Richard Neville and Ann Beauchamp. She was used as a political pawn by her father and was betrothed to Edward, Prince of Wales and heir to King Henry VI. Her father had been a key player in the Wars of the Roses and had helped Edward IV to take the throne from Henry VI, however he later felt that Edward had not treated him as well as he should have and therefore changed his allegiance to Henry VI and his Queen Consort Margaret of Anjou and was influential in gaining the English throne back for Henry.
Prince Edward was killed at the battle of Tewkesbury and Anne went on to marry his younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who later became Richard III. Their only son Edward died in childhood and they named Anne?s nephew Edward, Earl of Warwick as heir to the throne. Anne died in 1485 – rumour had it that her husband Richard III had poisoned her, but there is no evidence to prove this and it is more likely that she died from TB.
After the death of Richard III, the castle started to fall into ruin and after falling out of the hands of Sir George Bowes after a disastrous siege in 1569 during the Rising of the North, it fell further into decay and was eventually purchased by Sir Henry Vane in 1630. He lived mainly at Raby Castle however and used much of the stonework from Barnard Castle to make improvements to Raby Castle. More stones were used for local house building.
Famous names connected with Barnard Castle: Sir Walter Scott was a frequent visitor as he had friends in the area. Charles Dickens also visited researching for his novel Nicholas Nickleby – he stayed at the Kings Head and used some characters from the village in his other writings (namely William Humphrey and his son, local clockmakers). Barnard Castle was home to Cyril Northcote Parkinson – historian and writer and inventor of Parkinson?s Law.
A few yards from the Old Well Inn stands the Buttermarket aka The Market Cross – an octagonal shaped 2 storey building, now used as a roundabout for traffic. This was built by Thomas Breaks in 1747 and has been used in it?s time as a Court, Jail, Town Hall, Firestation and Buttermarket. There is a weathervane on the top of the building with two bullet holes through it. These were caused in 1804 after a Soldier called Taylor and a Gamekeeper called Cruddas who worked for the Earl of Strathmor at Streatlam Castle Estate decided that they would have a competition to see who was the best shot.
At this period in history, the Napoleonic Wars were ongoing and the Teesdale Legion of Volunteers were garrisoned in Barnard Castle to guard against the possibility of coastal invasion.
The Bank: The Bank is in the older part of the town. Another building of note along The Bank and not far from the Old Well Inn would be Blagraves House, which was built in 16th Century. Oliver Cromwell was entertained there in 1648 and the attic rooms used to be the secret venue for meetings of the followers of John Wesley. It is believed that there was once a secret passage leading from the cellars of the building to Egglestone Abbey or the Castle. These cellars have previously been described as dungeons.
The Old Well Inn – which backs onto the castle itself – is not far from Blagraves House. It was previously known as The Railway Hotel but even before this it was a hostelry. Beer was brewed on the premises probably aided by the fact that the building had it?s own water supply in the form of a well. The hostelry is centuries gone but probably did not cover the amount of space that it does presently – other families and businesses would have occupied part of the premises – the present Old Well Inn takes up the space of 5 dwellings. At one time, many families would have been crammed into one house, including the basements – living conditions were not always good.
Cholera: Barnard Castle was struck with an outbreak of Cholera in 1849. There were nearly 230 cases reported – 37 of them in The Bank. Due to the overcrowding, the poor sanitation and drainage and the close proximity of animals living with humans (many families kept pigsties in their yards) – the disease spread rapidly. There were contemporary reports of houses being split into tenements and huge families all living in the same room with poor ventilation and little or nothing in the way of sanitary facilities. There were yards running off The Bank and many families lived behind The Bank, clustered around these yards, where sewerage and household refuse were thrown and left to fester and rot (not nice!) It is believed that matters were made even worse because the effluence often drained into the existing wells in the area.
The Haunted History of the Old Well Inn
There is a major paranormal story concerning the Old Well Inn that took place in one of the guest rooms within the inn (no. 7), although there are two different versions to the story.
It goes that one of the guests who was staying in the inn one night came running out of her room and left the the inn during the night because, she claimed, something had pulled back the duvet on the bed and clambered on top of her and the bed. Naturally, you would run.
The second version of the story differs in that it is said the woman woke up during the night and standing at the bottom of her bed, was a child, just staring at her. Again, she upped and left in a hurry!
James, the manager at The Old Well Inn, said that even now, when people phone up to make a booking for a night, there are many people who ask NOT to be housed in room number 7.