House steward, Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle, the 16th-century fortress on Northumberland’s Holy Island, is in the middle of an 18-month restoration project. House Steward, Nick Lewis, explains what’s involved – from carrying historic treasures across the causeway to making sure the builders spot the nearby seal colony.
A castle in need of repair
I feel a huge sense of relief that the work is underway. I started here in 2007, and we knew then that we were just chipping away at the emergency work that needed to be done.
Lindisfarne Castle is extremely isolated and vulnerable to the weather in every direction. We knew if we didn’t deal with the major issues such as damp, leaks, failing stonework and pointing (the cement or mortar used to fill the joints of brickwork and masonry) soon, we would get to a stage where those issues would be beyond what we could reasonably control.
" You can already feel that the rooms are starting to breathe; everything is drying out."
Masterminding the move
As the House Steward, I’m responsible for the castle’s historic collection of 2,500 items and we needed to move all of that off site.
We burnt the midnight oil planning everything: organising removal vans, volunteers and packing materials. I was scouring the local shops for bubble wrap!
You have to plan around the tides too, because the causeway to the island is only open for 14 hours a day. The volunteers and the specialists who came from other nearby National Trust properties were fantastic. You could see people shaking their heads in wonder that they get to do this for a living.
A new view of Lindisfarne
At the south end of the castle, the scaffolding is on a buttress that sticks out 60 feet from the building, 100 feet up in the air. At high tide you can look down almost directly into the water. It’s spectacular, and a very special place.
" I took a telescope up onto the scaffolding and pointed out 2,500 grey seals to the stonemasons working here recently. They hadn’t noticed them. If you don’t look carefully the seals do look like rocks. It’s just that the rocks have whiskers!"
Revealing layers of history
At one point we stripped back the plaster ceiling and found a receipt written out to E Hudson, who commissioned major restoration on Lindisfarne in 1903.
You lift floor stones and see carvings underneath from the original stonemasons and on some of the timbers you can see the original joiner has signed them with a pencil.
It sends a shiver down your spine. There are times that you feel like Howard Carter looking into Tutankhamen’s tomb.
The importance of your support
This is a seminal time to be working at Lindisfarne. It’s a once-in-a-century process, and we have a responsibility to do it right.
Anyone who donates to restoration work like this can be very confident that their contribution is going to stand the test of time. Whether that donation goes towards a new window or one trowel of mortar, it’s a huge opportunity to be part of something that’s going to be an icon on this coastline long into the future.
On the day we reopen to the public, I’ll be excited, relieved, brimming with pride – and just a little bit sad not to be able to go up that scaffolding any more...