Hudson's housekeepers

Jack and Hannah looked after the Castle for Edward Hudson © National Trust/Nick Lewis

Jack and Hannah looked after the Castle for Edward Hudson

Name:
Jack and Hannah Lilburn
Job:
Caretakers / housekeepers / row-boat operators
Location:
Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island

During its period as a holiday home (c.1906-1968), the Castle had three different owners. These men all had different uses for the Castle and welcomed different guests but all through this period there was one constant; the Lilburn family.

In his unpublished study of the island, Professor Vernon Sheddick describes the Lilburns as one of the oldest Island families. The name first appears in the early 1500s and by the 1760s it had become the 'senior family' of the Island.

The men were mainly fishermen, although some sought employment elsewhere. Most notable of these was Captain James Lilburne who fought at Trafalgar in 1805 as a First Lieutenant on HMS Swiftsure and died commanding HMS Goshawk off Malaga in 1812.

Herring to housekeeping

Jack Lilburn had always been a fisherman, but all that changed when Edward Hudson came calling. Both Jack (known to Islanders as 'Wheeler') and his wife Hannah were to be employed as caretakers and housekeepers of the Castle. Hannah looked after the Castle itself and did most of the housework while Jack was responsible for maintenance and odd jobs, such as fetching coal or firewood.

Taxi for Lutyens

Jack was also responsible for collecting Hudson's guests and delivering them to the Castle. This involved driving a horse and cart from the railway station - usually Beal but sometimes Chathill or Belford - and bringing them across the Holy Island sands.

If the tide was in though, Jack often physically carried them through shallow water into a boat and rowed them across from Ross Sands, near where the two navigation beacons are opposite the Castle. Both Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll were delivered to the Castle in this way, though in Gertrude's case it is said that more than one man was required for the carrying part!

My dear Jack

Hudson wrote to Jack in December of 1921 explaining that he had sold the Castle, but assuring him that he will visit again, and that Mr Falk (the new owner) does not wish to make any difference to Jack and Hannah's life. 'There is no master and servant business between us, we are just two friends - very fine friends - and I am very much moved by the love and friendship you and your wife give me'.

Hudson was certainly very fond of Jack and Hannah, as well as their children George and Linda. These youngsters would eventually succeed their parents as keepers of the Castle for the later owners.

Jack died in 1954, Hannah followed him in 1956, both are buried at St Mary's Church in the village. George's daughter Linda, the last Holy Island Lilburn, died in 2008.