Anyone who knows the story about Grace Darling will no doubt want to allow a bit of time after visiting Bamburgh Castle to come and see the Grace Darling Museum.
The location is easy to find as it’s at the top of the village directly opposite St. Aidan’s Church.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Grace Darling I’ll attempt to put into words what this remarkable young woman did to achieve the fame that she so richly deserved.
Grace was born in her grandfather’s cottage (a few doors up from the museum) on 24th November 1815, but after a few weeks was taken to Brownsman Island, one of the Outer Farne Islands, where her father was the lighthouse keeper.
The family lived there until 1826 when the Brownsman Light was replaced with one on the Longstone, an island even further out.
For William, his wife Thomasin, and their nine children it was a tough existence. The seas around the Farne Islands were – and still are – notoriously dangerous, and it was on the morning of 7th September 1838, that The Forfarshire, a steamboat on passage from Hull to Dundee, got into serious difficulties and struck the west point of Big Harcar Island. Almost immediately the ship broke in half and was swept away with more than 48 people on board.
From her bedroom window on the Longstone Light, Grace spotted the wreck. It was early morning and still dark, but as the light improved the Darlings could make out some survivors on the rock. Believing that a rescue from the nearest lifeboat wouldn’t succeed, William and his 22-year-old daughter launched their coble (boat) into the water and rowed for a mile in treacherous seas and amongst dangerous rocks to get to the survivors.
When they got there, they found one woman and eight men still alive. William scrambled onto the rocks leaving Grace to handle the boat. William was no spring chicken, and he later said that ‘the worst moment of his entire life was when he had to leave his cherished daughter to fend for herself in the open sea’.
They only had enough room in the boat for the woman, an injured man and three others, which meant that William and two of the men had to make a return trip to complete the rescue while Grace and her mother looked after the first batch of survivors.
There’s no doubt that this was one incredible rescue, and Grace became a reluctant heroine overnight. She played down her part in the affair, and wasn’t completely comfortable with her fame.
Within four years she had contracted tuberculosis and died in her father’s arms in Bamburgh, aged just twenty-six. She was buried in the family grave in St Aidan’s Churchyard opposite the building that now houses the Grace Darling Museum.
The museum is run by the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution). It’s free to go in and you can see the coble that was used in the rescue – now named Grace Darling. There are some other interesting bits and pieces including the original headstone of the family grave.
To see the grave with its replacement headstone, cross the road and go into the graveyard of St. Aidan’s. The grave isn’t difficult to find, but there’s also a memorial to Grace Darling so make sure you don’t confuse the two.
While you’re here make sure that you pay a visit inside this lovely church. St Aidan was the missionary who brought Christianity to this part of the world, and it was here that he died. He is buried on Lindisfarne, but everything will become clearer when I write about one of the most spiritual places I know. (Coming soon).
As influential as St. Aidan was to this part of the country, I wouldn’t mind betting that as many people, if not more, come up here to the top of the village to see where Grace Darling was born, rather than to see where St. Aidan died.
Below is a music clip of a song by The Strawbs called Grace Darling which they released in 1975.