The boatsheds at the castle

Nick Lewis, House steward Nick Lewis House steward

The tradition of using retired boats as sheds goes back centuries, particularly on the east coast of England. The sheds on Holy Island though are probably the best surviving examples.

Old boats were used up and down the coast in this way, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Fans of Charles Dickens may remember Peggoty’s house in David Copperfield which was described as simply a ‘boat house’, although apparently it was the original illustrator and not the author who made the boat an upturned one.

The boats on Holy Island today - the 12 at the harbour and 3 at the castle – are some of the most popular features for visitors to the island. A simple internet image search for Lindisfarne Boat Sheds brings tens of thousands of results. Each individual boat though has its own story to tell, and the castle sheds have had a fascinating story since they were upturned.

Like most other visitors to the island, Edward Hudson was rather taken with the idea of boat sheds and organised for two to be hauled up the base of eastern elevation of the castle, probably in about 1905. A third shed was added in late 1912 or early 1913. The seafaring theme is consistent with Lutyens’s scheme in the building; the shape of the boat hulls is reflected particularly in the shape of the Ship Room – which Lutyens initially called the 'Boat Room' but the installation of a model ship changed that – and several objects in the collection have a maritime link.

Custodians Jack and later George Lilburn would buy old keelboats from up and down the coast to satisfy the demand for firewood at the castle, and most of it would be stored in the sheds. During the 1950s we think the ageing retainer Robe Kyle spent the night in the top boat shed occasionally. In the 1970s the Lilburn family wanted somewhere for their car and a proposal was put to the National Trust to convert one of the sheds into a garage. The presence of a lean-to garage on the lower level behind the sheds tells us this proposal was thankfully rejected.

In 1980 the two sheds installed in c.1905 collapsed under their own weight and were replaced with a Norwegian vessel, the Logresund, which in the Second World War had helped men flee Norway to Britain to join the Free Norwegian Army. In 2005 these two sheds were destroyed by fire and had to again be replaced with two more – this time from a boat awaiting demolition at Leith. This vessel was very different to that which the bottom shed came from – it was designed to hold an engine and propeller and so doesn’t have the distinctive deep keel of the original shed.

All three sheds have recently been repaired mainly to make them water-tight – something they hadn’t been before even when at sea. Gradually we need to repair the cladding to the fronts (none of which is original or historic) so that is why visitors today will see the bottom shed has a rather different looking lower panel, but that will soon silver with age. The sheds remain a highly significant part of the collection at the castle (they even have inventory numbers!) and we aim to maintain them and tell their story long into the future.