The Garrison at Lindisfarne

Martin Beckman's survey of 1683 includes the earliest-known Castle image © National Trust / Nick Lewis

Martin Beckman's survey of 1683 includes the earliest-known Castle image

The first mention of soldiers serving at Lindisfarne comes in 1559.

The garrison included a non-resident Captain – William Reede, two Master Gunners, one gunner’s mate and 20 soldiers. The soldiers were not permanent residents in the fort and would have been billeted in the village and working in shifts.

For the next 300 years or so there were soldiers at the fort almost constantly. This underlines the Castle’s importance to the security of the country and you only need to stand on the Upper Battery on a clear day to see why. The Castle sits on easily the most prominent feature for many miles and so is a perfect spot for keeping watch on the coastline.

In the early years, when England and Scotland were at war (the border is only 6 miles away), the men of the garrison were concerned with protecting the Island’s harbour. Following the union of the two countries, the fort continued to be manned against foreign enemies, but interestingly its only major challenge in this period came from inside Britain.

1841 brought the first census returns which mention who was stationed here. Although the enquiry into the 1715 event left us names of the soldiers involved, the census returns tell us that the men in 1841 lived here with their families. Men like John McLean, John Pritchard, Joseph Cooper and John Gould were present. Many of the serving soldiers had their families with them.

In 1851, William Hall (aged 28) had with him his wife Caroline (23) and daughters Emmanuel (3) and Susannah (1). Evidence of this family life was noticed by visitors such as the writer Walter White who wrote in 1856 of... clothes hanging to dry on the platform, while a narrow strip of ground under the southern wall is made to yield potatoes.

The guns were removed temporarily in 1819 but eventually returned to the fort. They were removed again in 1893 and this time permanently. The keys to the fort were officially given to the local landowner Major Crossman. The census entry of 1901 lists the fort along side a Fishing Sheil as being ‘uninhabited’.