(Images: Urban Ghosts. Eleanor’s Byre, Northumberland)
Yesterday I stopped for a coffee at a pleasant cafe called Eleanor’s Byre, near the Northumberland village of Embleton. A byre is a cowshed, and this disused example has now been converted into a tearoom and shop. But to learn more about its history you’ll need to visit the lavatory, where a large stone gate pillar from another age has been incorporated into a small display. Two signboard read:
In 1269 Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, was awarded the baronies of Embleton and Rock, but when he arrived at the baronial home at Twizzel Hall he found his aunt Eleanor, sister of Henry III, living there. He had a house and a mill, East Mill, built for her and she had the living from this mill. When she died she left the house for the nursing of lepers. Hence the derivation of the name, Spitalford, ‘The Hospital by the Ford’.
Source: The Local History Society
On the adjoining wall, meanwhile, a second signboard explains:
In 2010 when we started work on what is now Eleanor’s Byre, we were thrilled to reveal the stone gate pillar you can see behind the glass.
As the earth floor was excavated hundreds of beach wash cobbles were revealed, alongside many bigger sandstones, suggesting remnants of a much larger building and courtyard. The sandstone appears to have been taken from the quarry immediately over the wall on the north side of the [adjacent] holiday cottage garden.
We may therefore assume that when the final leper died locals would not wish to go near the building because of fear of infection, so what was latterly the hospital would be allowed to become derelict.
The holiday cottage opposite, shown on early maps as Spitalford Lodge, suggesting a gate lodge, was extended in the sixteenth century. We may deduce that at the same time the current byre was built using the stone from the ruins of the original house. Considerable work would be saved by incorporating an already substantial gate pillar into any new building.
Until about fifty years ago a second byre stood on what is now the raised part of the lawn in the cottage garden.
We are told the surrounding of what is now the trompe l’oeil door in the shop is typical of the sixteenth century, as are the works in the holiday cottage. In the field an old established walnut tree is perhaps a survivor from an earlier walnut tree, a common tree in a medieval garden.
The beach wash cobbles can be seen in the grass topped gabions outside the front of the shop.
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