Howick, Northumberland

Howick is a small hamlet on the rural Northumberland coastline, with a remarkably long history; from Mesolithic settlements to Iron Age hillforts to 20th century shipwrecks. The foreshore today at Howick is mainly used for recreation, with numerous walkers utilising it. However, the past suggests a different occupation from the archaeology discovered here.

The Bathing House at Howick, built by the 2nd Earl Grey
The Bathing House at Howick, built by the 2nd Earl Grey

Earl Grey's Bathing House

This section of the coast is well known for its association with the Grey family, in particular the 2nd Earl Grey, Charles Grey (1764 – 1845), who was at one time Prime Minster (1830 - 1834) and who the famous tea is attributed to. His family home was Howick Hall, which he had inherited from his uncle and is still home of Lord Howick now.

In the 19th century he built a Bathing House at the beach here for his family. Charles Grey had 15 children with his wife Mary, and after his own unhappy childhood at school in Eton, the Earl insisted on his children being home-schooled and built the Bathing House to help with outdoor learning. He had two rock-cut pools constructed on the foreshore below the Bathing House, with a flight of steps leading down to the foreshore. The Bathing House and the steps are both Grade II listed structures.

Rock cut pools

Directly below the Bathing House on the foreshore itself, Earl Grey had two rock-cut bathing pools constructed. The first one, directly below the Bathing House, has a rock-cut channel which feeds the pool with fresh seawater. 

The second pool has what appears to be a rock-cut seating area and after further investigation from the CITiZAN team have revealed several sets of possible steps leading down into the pool as well as possible handrails which would have been fixed into the rock cut sides. In addition there are numerous rock-cut postholes and metal hooks cut into the nearby rock-cut platform which have been suggested that these would have been used to erect a canopy for shade.

 

A previously undiscovered rock cut pool
A previously undiscovered rock cut pool

Discovery of a third rock cut pool

Some 0.5km further down the coast, CITiZAN discovered a third previously unknown and undocumented  rock-cut  pool. There is no evidence to suggest that it is linked to the Grey family, other than its proximity to the other two pools.It is of a slightly different construction, and is filled by becoming submerged by the high tide, whereas the pool related to the Grey family has a cut channel which allowed the sea water to filter in. In July, CITiZAN and a small group of volunteers, conducted a survey of this pool, recording a set of steps down into the pool and the slope cut into the rocks there to assist the filling process. One suggestion is that this site may not be for bathing but for the fishing industry. Examples of fish hullies (places to store live fish, shellfish, oysters or lobsters) are known elsewhere on this coastline.

 

CITiZAN volunteers make a drawn record of the newly discovered bathing pool
CITiZAN volunteers make a drawn record of the newly discovered bathing pool

Quarries

There is also evidence of other activities all along this coastline. There are, for example, numerous little havens along the coast here which may have been used for launching and landing boats. And not far from the Grey’s bathing pool are the remains several sandstone quarries from which stone would have been transported to their destination by sea in barges. It has been suggested the quarries here were may have been used to construct parts of Dunstanburgh Castle, which can be clearly seen from Howick.

Submerged prehistory

There are indications all along the Howick coast of prehistory; nearby is an Iron Age hillfort known as Howick Hill is a scheduled monument. More recently work has been done at Howick after local amateurs found flint objects eroding out of a cliff face lead to the discovery of a Mesolithic hut, one of the oldest building in the Northumberland ever found.

 

A part of the submerged forest at Howick
A part of the submerged forest at Howick

One of the most surprising and unexpected finds from CITiZAN’s survey in July 2016, was the appearance of part of a prehistoric landscape on the foreshore. This comprised an extensive horizon of peat with large unworked wood fragments in it, the partial exposure of an ancient ‘submerged forest’ representing a period when sea levels were substantially lower than the present day. These features were not visible on any of CITiZAN’s previous visits to Howick when the area was covered by a blanket of silts and sands. The team undertook a rapid record of the site, making full use of the CITiZAN App. The sudden and unexpected exposure of this archaeological site demonstrates the crucial importance of regular monitoring of this eroding coastline.

CITiZAN volunteers record the rarely uncovered submerged forest using the CITiZAN App
CITiZAN volunteers record the rarely uncovered submerged forest using the CITiZAN App
All that remains of the Tadorne’s hull
All that remains of the Tadorne’s hull

Tadorne

Not far from the submerged forest are remains of a 20th-century shipwreck. The Tadorne was a steam-powered French fishing trawler, wrecked in a storm on 29th March 1913 while on its way to Iceland. The Boulmer lifeboat was called to assist the vessel, but was forced to make two hazardous trips to rescue the crew, battling through two miles of stormy seas to reach the ship. The Craster Coastguard were also alerted and attempted a shore to ship rescue using a breeches buoy, but the line was not long enough to reach the ship. Of the 30 men aboard, 25 of the crew were saved, initially looked after by the Earl Grey family, with their French maid acting as interpreter. Unfortunately, five of the crew perished, and a memorial to them was paid for by the Greys, and can be found in the graveyard of Howick Church.

Most of the vessel has subsequently been salvaged, and all remains is part of its boiler (the type known as a Scotch Marine Boiler) - a large metal cylinder upended incongruously on the foreshore - and a section of the metal hull.

Only half of the boiler of the Tadorne now survives on the foreshore
Only half of the boiler of the Tadorne now survives on the foreshore

HM Submarine G11

Another local tragedy is that of the British Submarine G11, which tragically struck the rocks here in a storm on the 22nd November 1918, just 11 days after armistice, after overshooting its intended destination at the Port of Blyth. The decision was made to abandon the vessel, but unfortunately two of the crew were lost in the perilous conditions during the evacuation. One was never found, but the other was, and lies buried in the peaceful graveyard of St Peter’s in Longhoughton.

The submarine itself remained as a conspicuous feature on the coast for some time - even appearing on postcards - before being partially salvaged and eventually blown up prior to the Second World War. All that remains now are a few fragments of the keel, hull and engine and, most impressively, its brass escape hatch.

The remains of the escape hatch of the G11 Submarine which was stranded here in 1918
The remains of the escape hatch of the G11 Submarine which was stranded here in 1918