This record is held by Northumberland Archives

Details of NRO 452
Reference: NRO 452

Records of Lord Crewe's Charity

Date: 1565 - 20th century
Held by: Northumberland Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Crewe, Nathanial, 1633-1721, 3rd Baron Crewe, Bishop of Durham

  • Bamburgh, Northumberland
Administrative / biographical background:

Nathaniel, third Baron Crewe and Bishop of Durham, was born on 31 January 1633 at Steane, Northamtonshire, the fourth of six sons of John Crewe, a Presbyterian Commonwealth MP, who nevertheless worked for the restoration of Charles II and was subsequently created 1st Baron Crewe of Steane. His mother was Jemima Waldegrave of Lawford, Essex. Nathaniel was a delicate child, brought up in Northamptonshire and London and sent to school at Cheynies in Buckinghamshire, before in September 1652 he and his brother Samuel entered Lincoln College, Oxford, as commoners. This was the beginning of a distinguished scholarly and ecclesiastical career, and of a long attachment to the University of Oxford, which later bore fruit in the bequests of his last will and testament as the charitable trust of Nathaniel Crewe, Bishop of Durham.


His career was a lengthy and somewhat chequered one, beginning with a swift rise in his own college and university. At 23, a Bachelor of Arts of only three months' standing, he was elected a fellow of Lincoln College, and 6 months later a moderator in logic and philosophy, presiding over the disputations of undergraduates and BA's. In 1658 he became senior inceptor in arts, and in 1659 sub rector of his college at the age of 26. In the eyes of his contemporaries, he was ideally fitted for the position - handsome, intelligent and very wealthy, able to entertain his colleagues liberally and to endow his college with considerable generosity. Crewe was, however, already earning a reputation as a timeserver and turncoat as the period of the Commonwealth drew to a close. From a strong Presbyterian like his father he became a convinced royalist and high church Anglican, who is said to have shaved off a beard and dropped a so called 'Scottish' habit' of preacher's gown to attend the college chapel in a cassock and surplice of Anglican style.


Crewe first met the newly crowned Charles II when the King visited Oxford in September 1663, and made an immediate favourable impression, as proctor, with a witty speech of welcome, spoken in Latin. This was the beginning of a successful court career. In November 1666 Crewe became one of the King's chaplains in ordinary, and later deputy clerk of the closet, while in 1668 he was chosen Lent preacher at court. He began to spend a good deal of time at court, where his accomplishments, attractive personality and high church attitudes made him readily acceptable to the King, his Roman Catholic queen and his brother, the future James II. While in London, Crewe became acquainted with the diarist Samuel Pepys, who had been a friend of his father's, and who noted him down in his journal as 'a very fine sober gentleman'. Others were less polite; one man called him 'the spawn of a puritan turned papist', for he was already friendly with the future James II, at this date a secret Roman Catholic, and this was rapidly bringing him a number of enemies.


In August 1668 Crewe became rector of Lincoln College; his rectorship was strong, generous and successful, in spite of his relative youth, and his hospitality to his colleagues and others was extensive, as was his endowment of his college. He was offered the vicechancellorship of the University but declined it; his ambitions were elsewhere, and in 1671, while remaining rector of Lincoln, he became bishop of Oxford at the age of only 37. The see was not a large or wealthy one, but it was a first step on the way to advancement. Then, in 1672, the future James II finally cut his ties with the Church of England; Crewe stood by him through a difficult period and in 1673 officiated at the second, Anglican marriage ceremony of James with the Catholic Mary of Modena. The friendship between the two was now firm, and so it was to James that Crewe applied in 1672 when the bishopric of Durham fell vacant on the death of Bishop Cosin, James used his influence on his brother the king, and in 1674 Crewe was confirmed as the new bishop of Durham.


The diocese of Durham in 1674 included the whole of Durham and Northumberland, a widely spreading and thinly populated area containing 80 cures of souls, where communications were difficult and slow and travel still highly dangerous. Newcastle was by far the largest town in the diocese, with under 18,000 inhabitants, compared with Gateshead's 7,000. The see was, however, one of the richest in England, as the bishop still retained palatinate jurisdiction in parts of Northumberland (Bedlingtonshire, Norham and Islandshire) in Durham and parts of North Yorkshire, and had extensive interests in the flourishing coalmining undertaking throughout the palatinate. By contrast, church life in the area was in a depressed state, with preachings and catechizing neglected, and Holy Communion generally celebrated no more than 3 to 4 times a year.


Crewe could not be said to have undertaken any great reforms in the diocese during his term of office, although he was well disposed to those of his clergy who did attempt them and did his duty as a bishop in accordance with his lights. After his first visit to the diocese as bishop and Lord Lieutenant in 1675, which was accompanied with great pomp and splendour - as well as with a very well received tour through Sunderland on foot; an early political meet the people walkabout? - Crewe held a visitation of all parishes in Durham and Northumberland in 1676, preaching at Newcastle and stopping at Alnwick and Berwick. He stayed 4 days in Berwick, where the mayor and aldermen left him at the church door, as they were Presbyterians. After this, although Crewe invariably spent the winter, and often most of the year, in the south of England, he visited his diocese every year for the next 40 years, holding annual confirmations and 3 yearly visitations until his health broke down in 1716. Although today such conduct would seem impossible, his contemporaries regarded his attendance to duty as better than most.


In the meantime, his career as courtier underwent a series of reversals. At the time of the so called Popish Plot against King Charles, the Duke of York and his friends went through an unfavourable period and it was at this point that Crewe refused the highest preferment to the archbishopric of Canterbury, though he would later joke that he had lost it because of his father's prayers: John Crewe, still a staunch Presbyterian prayed for his son's ambition and superstitions to die in him. In 1685 James II succeeded his brother as King, and Crewe's fortunes took an upward turn; but he suffered a disastrous setback in 1688 when the Catholic King was forced to flee abroad for a year until things had blown over a little, although returning in 1689 to take the oaths of allegiance and take up his office again. From then on, however, his career was past its peak, and he never fully regained royal favour.


Perhaps because of the failure of his court career, Crewe at long last turned his mind to marriage. He had at first courted Dorothy Forster of Bamburgh, but her parents felt her to be too young for him; so he married in 1691 Penelope Tynte, widow of Sir Hugh Tynte, of Kent. We know little about the marriage, but in 1699 Lady Crewe died at the age of 44, two years after Crewe had succeeded his elder brother, Thomas, as 3rd Baron Crewe.


The following year, in July 1700, Crewe at last married Dorothy Forster, now aged 27; Crewe himself was 67, but there seems no doubt that this was a lovematch, and the bishop was inconsolable when his wife died. Dorothy was the youngest daughter of Sir William Forster of Bamburgh Castle and Dorothy, daughter of Sir William Selby of Twizell. She was fair, blue eyed and charming, known as 'pretty Dolly Forster', and through her the bishop acquired the property in Northumberland and Durham which in his will was devoted entirely to charitable purposes. She did not bring it as a dowry, since the family were deep in financial trouble when she married Crewe. But her husband by 1709 bought up from his relatives by marriage the manor and castle of Bamburgh, the townships of Shoreston and North Sunderland, Bamburgh Friars farm, Bamburgh cell and tithes, Fleetham, the manor of Blanchland, the rectory of Shotley, the manor of Thornton, houses at Alnwick, Edmondhills and Durham property, and extensive mineral and fishing rights, to an annual value at that date of £1,314. The purchases cost the bishop a total of £20,697, and he then proceeded to begin the restoration of Bamburgh Castle.


In 1715 the north of the country was shaken by the first Jacobite rising; a prominent figure was Thomas Forster of Adderstone, Dorothy's nephew, and the news that a warrant had been issued for his arrest proved fatal to her. She fell into convulsions and died in October 1716. She was buried, like the bishop's first wife, at Steane. Crewe's health was already failing and he spent hours sitting alone beside Dorothy's grave. Eventually, on 18 September 1721, he died at Steane, aged 88. As he had no children by either of his marriages, the peerage died with him.


Contemporary estimations of Crewe's character, both during his lifetime and at his death, varied from high praise to contempt, and the judgement of history is similarly divided. The Dictionary of National Biography for example, views Crewe with great distaste, while C E Whiting's book on Crewe holds a more balanced and charitable view. Even so, he is perhaps more famous now for what he set out in his will than for anything he did in his lifetime. In this will, dated 24 June 1720, Crewe left all the property in Northumberland and Durham which he had acquired from his wife's family in trust to five men: Dr John Montagu, his nephew, and dean of Durham, Dr Morley, the rector of Lincoln College, Dr Lupton, his friend, and prebendary of Durham, Dr Eden, his chaplain and a prebendary, and Dr John Dolben, another prebendary. From the revenues of this property the trustees were bound to make the following annual payments: £20 for up to 8 years each, to 12 exhibitioners of Lincoln College; an increase in their endowments to £10 for 8 poor scholars and the bible clerk at the college; £20 to the rector, and £10 to each of the college fellows. The minister of Bamburgh and of St Andrew's, Bishop Auckland were to receive £40 annually, and 12 poor livings, the so called privileged livings, £10 each. In addition to some educational payments, in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Leicestershire, Crewe left £100 annually to the mayor and aldermen of Durham for charitable uses, £20 pa to the Bishop Auckland schoolmaster, with £30 for clothing poor boys. £200 annually was to be paid to the University of Oxford, to be laid out according to the wishes of the Vice Chancellor; the traditional Creweian oration and Creweian tea of strawberries and champagne, given by the vicechancellor every Encaenia, persists up to the present time. When any of the trustees died, the survivors were within three months to elect a successor, who had to be a clergyman; the trustees were to be no more than five until this was amended by the nineteenth century schemes - and one was always to be the rector of Lincoln College. In addition - and most curcially for the later development of the charity in Northumberland and Durham - any surplus revenue from the former Forster estates was not to be used to increase any of the benefactions made to Lincoln College, Oxford University or the City of Durham, but for such other charitable uses as the trustees at that time should themselves decide.


From Crewe's death, and the start of the trust, meticulous and detailed records were kept by the trustees and their agents, and these reflect the progress of the charity from 1721 up to the present day in a full series of order or minute books, accounts and other papers, the vast bulk of which survived in the Chapter Office at Durham, since from the 18th century it was customary for the Durham Chapter clerk to be clerk also to Lord Crewe's trustees; this is still the position. The order books and some later records remain in Durham, but the majority of papers relating to the charity are now deposited in the Northumberland Record Office. They make up a fascinating, and quite possibly unique, series of charity records giving a clear insight into the complex inner workings of a trust over a period of 250 years.


For an initial period after the bishop's death there seems to have been some confusion, as the executors attempted to wind up the estate and the trustees settled on a workable method of administering their property and income. To begin with, they simply used the bishop's own agents in Bamburgh and in Blanchland, in 1721 the Greys, who accounted for the rents they received and estate expenditure made to a central, Durham based official, Thomas Rudd. Auditors and receivers constantly examined the various accounts, and the individual trustees and Rudd kept their own accounts of the various bequests which each paid, apparently fairly indiscriminately. The income at this point, about £1,300 pa, was sufficient to cover the Oxford and Durham trust payments and the estate and administrative outgoings, but no surplus is visible.


In 1734 the trustees and executors settled accounts with each other and drew up a scheme for the future accounting of the trust. From then on the administrative structure of the charity remains basically settled into the present century. As now, a central receiver and treasurer', later called treasurer, treasurer and secretary, or clerk, a paid officer of the trust, usually a chapter official as well, was based in Durham and there co-ordinated the accounts of the Bamburgh and Blanchland agents, and the payments to Oxford, Durham and elsewhere reporting directly to the trustees at their generally twice yearly meetings in Durham, Bamburgh Castle or Blanchland. Richard Weatherell was receiver and treasurer until his death in 1773, he was succeeded by George Wood, who died in 1800, and for the next 25 years the trust employed Matthew Woodifield as receiver and treasurer - all three agents were able, devoted and longlived. In the early nineteenth century some changes were made, in consequence of the charity's development: instead of single overall agents at Blanchland and Bamburgh, directing bailiffs, subbailiffs and other employees (many of whose individual accounts also survive), the Bamburgh work was split into two: a 'castle agent' took over responsibility for the now flourishing Castle charities and their administration, and a land agent dealt solely with the estate administration, both accounting separately to the treasurer in Durham. The Rev Michael Maughan, formerly the Castle Librarian, was the first castle agent, although his clerical training seems not to have made him as perfect an accountant as the trustees desired. He left the complex, letter coded accounts largely to an underling, and occasionally this lead to irritated correspondence on both sides when an item was checked in Durham and counted incorrect.


Maughan died in 1829 and was succeeded as castle agent by Robert Smeddle, evidently an exceptionally able young man, since in 1832 the trustees allowed him to take in the land agents job in addition, at the extraordinarily high salary of £500 a year. Thus the old system came into operation again, and indeed continued unchanged up to the end of the 19th century. Then, when the castle and manor of Bamburgh were sold to Lord Armstrong, and a new scheme for the charity came into use, the Bamburgh agent became superfluous. At present both the clerk and overall land agent operate from the Chapter Office in Durham, and the trustees meet there twice yearly. But the order books, minutes and accounts are still kept in accordance with the trusts traditions, and the administration is basically the same as that of 1721, when legal business and banking were similarly entrusted to outside agents, but all else was firmly in the hands of the trustees, their agents and employees. Under the new 19th century schemes there are now seven trustees, the rector of Lincoln, two clergymen, appointed by the bishop of Durham, two by the bishop of Newcastle, and co-optative trustees, and the surplus is now split equally between the funds of the two dioceses, to be laid out on purposes - educational, health, the augmentation of stipends - close to those which Crewe himself had originally in mind.


Returning to the 18th century: Owing to the prudent and intelligent administration of the estates, the £1300 of 1731 quickly grew, to give a surplus which was too large to be absorbed simply by the relatively small grants of money constantly made to poor people who petitioned for relief, for payments for their childrens' education, for grants towards the rebuilding of a church, and so on. A series of petitions survives from 1743 to 1885, and it is clear that the trustees gave sympathetic and generous consideration to many inside and outside the diocese, even to some who to modern eyes appear obvious professional petitioners. Gradually, however, the accumulated surplus income became so great that a pressing need existed for the trustees to settle on a long term plan for its disposition, as they were obliged under the terms of Crewe's will.


They, and indeed Northumberland, were fortunate that at that time a principal trustee was Dr John Sharp, archdeacon of Northumberland. Sharp became a trustee in 1758 in the place of his father, Thomas Sharp, who had been the youngest ever Archdeacon of Northumberland, and himself son of John Sharp, Archbishop of York. Thomas Sharp and his son were devoted churchmen who worked tirelessly in their parishes and diocese; Thomas is remembered in Rothbury for the so called 'Sharps Folly' built in the grounds of the rectory during his incumbency to give employment to out of work masons. John Sharp was Vicar of Hartburn from 1749 and Archdeacon of Northumberland from 1762; he succeeded his brother as perpetual curate of Bamburgh in 1773. It was he who conceived the idea of disposing of the surplus income of the trust, in the extensive charities based in Bamburgh castle which flourished into the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his correspondence and note books survive among the trust records to show the development of his ideas. First of all Sharp fitted up Bamburgh Castle as a residence, where he, and after his death, all the trustees kept a period of residence. Sharp supervised personally the renewal and preservation of the square and circular towers and other buildings along the SE front, the curtain walls, battlements, ramparts and gatetower, and the erection of a battery platform towards the sea. He also paid for a good deal of the work himself, later endowing a fund with property in order to provide money for maintenance of the fabric. From the outset of the work, Sharp was in Bamburgh administering a good deal of the new charities, keeping the early accounts himself and supervising the entire undertaking.


The earliest of the Bamburgh charities for which accounts survive is the corn charity. In the upper part of the square tower a large granary was opened. Corn, bought in the neighbourhood or supplied by trust tenants under the terms of their leases, was sold to the poor at a special low price, fixed according to average corn prices. To obtain the corn, poor people had to be recommended by a trustee, a local cleric or landowner, and were then given a ticket of entitlement. Their names were entered in a register, which gives their names and places of residence, occupation, number in family and circumstances. The corn charity began in 1766, and as it progressed included sales of barley, beans, pease, oats and rice. After Sharp's death in 1792, its supervision passed to the castle agent, who added to its accounts the Christmas distribution of beef and tallow to the poor. Besides ticketholders, trustees, their agents and employees could also buy at the reduced rates, which later lent support to the accusations of self interest and nest feathering which were directed at the mid 19th century trustees.


A subsidiary of the corn charity, started after Sharp's death, was the cheap shop. Such miscellaneous grocers goods as candles, blue pepper, starch, barley, rice, ginger, alum, pins and butter were sold at cost price from 1796 onwards. Another early charity extended to the poor was the infirmary. The 'surgery' as it was first called, was fitted up in 1772, with equipment all painstakingly noted by Sharp in his accounts. This included such varied items as 16 lancets, several pewter syringes, a work tub, a spring penknife, apothecaries measures and instruments brought from London, a sedan chair given by Sharp's brother William - perhaps an early ambulance - an oilskin apron for the bathroom, bellows to give artificial respiration to 'drown'd persons', and a mysterious 'electrical machine' costing £4-5s. Again, Sharp himself kept the accounts for some years until 1780, and after that certified them personally. Treatment was free on production of a certificate of recommendation, and this continued into the 1920s. During the 19thc at least, prescriptions of wine were frequent and generous, but later dispensing was more sober.


The Bamburgh Castle schools would have been particularly close to Lord Crewe's intentions. Both boys and girls were educated there at various periods from 1772, when the school first opened, but most records survive of the female school industry, from 1801. The girl boarders, who were frequently either orphans, without one parent, or very poor and who had to be recommended to the trustees, were given a sound elementary education, and also taught spinning, sewing, knitting, and other domestic arts to fit them for eventual employment. Their work was used to clothe themselves, but also sold to the trustees and their families as well as to a wider public in the district. From simply stocking making in the 1790s they expanded their range to include shirts, shorts and shawls and more exotic items such as doyleys and pantaloons. By the mid 19th century, however, greater stress was being placed on the schooling and less on the industry and girls were accepted as boarders until the sale of the castle in the 1890s. At the same time, too, the trustees maintained an active interest in many local schools, which they aided with financial grants and received reports on.


The frequency of shipwrecks along the coast was another problem which troubled Archdeacon Sharp, and which he attempted to remedy. He fitted the castle up with accommodation for up to 30 shipwrecked sailors, and fixed a canon on the tower in order to signal in the event of a wreck. The coast was patrolled nightly for a distance of 8 miles, and the weather conditions regularly noted in a journal kept by the boys' school master, a Mr Dial, except for the odd night when the Bamburgh bailiff writes in succinctly 'Dial dead drunk'. Washed up bodies were buried at the trustees' expenses in coffins made by their joiner, Bartholomew Younghusband. In addition, Sharp worked on the idea of a mammoth crane in the castle to winch vessels off the rocks. This was only one of the many other unrealised plans he had for the charitable expenditure of the Trusts and his own surplus revenue. A small notebook of his records these contrivances, as he calls them, which included such modern sounding ideas as a free bath house, and a threshing machine to be loaned out free to local farmers. Sharp's interests were not solely concentrated on the poor people in the area; he endowed the trust with his brothers' and father's libraries of books - the latter including many of the books of Sharp's grandfather, the archbishop of York - to be open to all local clerics, and enabled it to keep up the purchase of new books for the library. The collection was later removed from Bamburgh Castle and is now in Durham University Library.


After John Sharp's death in 1792, the trustees continued to administer the charity in the pattern set by this enlightened social reformer, another well known and able trustee was Archdeacon Thorpe. In the 19th century, however, the trust was not without its problems. It had to undergo a series of financial crises, the first, in the inflationed decade of the 19th century, being no doubt partly a consequence of the death of Sharp, and the loss of his enthusiasm, energy and generous endowments. By means of restricting and steamlining their expenditure the problems were overcome, but the midnineteenth century crisis was more drastic and more unpleasant. Although by 1850 the trusts, income was £9,000 pa. The trustees were accused of profiting from the trust, by appropriating goods intended for the poor for themselves and their families, using the Castle as a luxury holiday home where they would entertain lavishly - the incumbents of the 12 priviledged livings were also involved in this - and of carelessness in supervising the disposal of the funds, so that the trust was running into grave financial difficulties. There was a public enquiry in 1874, at which the trustees, though exonerated of any criminal behaviour, were censured for overuse of trust hospitality; and, in typically Victorian fashion, Sharp was criticised for initiating his schemes which were held to molly coddle the poor. Out of all this emerged the new schemes of the 1870's, cutting down the Bamburgh activities to a minimum, a process carried through in the 1896 scheme, after the sale of the castle and manor, and now the income was distributed through the diocesan funds - an income which has grown to proportions which would have made and Crewe gasp with disbelief. State provisions, such as free education, national health and other welfare facilities, have no doubt made this the only sensible policy, but the people in the Bamburgh area must have felt that they were enjoying all these facilities 100 or 200 years before the rest of us.


A full series of estate records, accounts, vouchers and correspondence gives us further insight into the trustees, not this time as charitable benefactors but as landowners and employers. As landowners their overall policy is admirable. The deeds, show families holding properties as tenants of the trustees for generations. The Greys of Shoreston, the Humbles at Bamburgh Friars, the Nicholsons at Thornton and even in inflationary periods such as the time of the Napoleonic Wars the trustees were prepared to cut the rents they had fixed when petitioned by tenants. On one occasion the Humbles barn and stock of hay burnt down in the 1780's, and the trustees granted them £100 ex gratia to be paid immediately. In the 19th century the trustees' willingness to undertake improvements to their property and extensive building programmes were marked: wash houses for example were added to all the Bamburgh cottages, at the same time as they were paying for extensive church restoring and building programmes. Dr Gilly, Vicar of Norham, writing in 1841 on the cottages of rural labourers in North Northumberland, used the new Crewe cottages at Thornton as model dwellings, which he illustrates and describes in some detail. They were always prepared, too, to consider more ambitious new schemes; one early example is their investigations into building a pier at North Sunderland in the 1780's. The Bamburgh agents records provide an amazing full view of the day to day estate business of the Northern section of the estates. Regrettably, the Blanchard agents papers have not survived so fully; though they contain such amusing sidelights as a dispute with an 18th century tenant of the Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland over his reluctance to keep a room constantly free for one of the trustees, as he was required. By contract, there is a large number of papers concerned with the North Sunderland estate, administered under the Bamburgh agent: accounts for the harbour and the lime works, quantities of copyhold deeds, and bundles of estate correspondence and miscellaneous papers going into this century.

Sharing will require cookies. Show details


Found an error?

If you find an error with this record description let us know

Fields marked with * are mandatory.

Your details

If you provide contact details, we will be in touch about your request within 10 working days.