The Places
Northumberland, England - 1300-2000

The town of Alnwick, sitting astride the Great North Road that for centuries was the link between London and Edinburgh, simply breathes history. The town itself - pronounced “Annick” - grew around the bridge that crossed the River Aln. The name means “farm on the Aln” in the old Anglo-Saxon language. It is significant on this website as the home of Thomas and Eleanor Smiles, who raised their family in the town and ran a tailor’s business in the main street in the second half of the 19th century.

As a fortified border town, with its thick walls and dominant castle, Alnwick was vital in the intermittent conflict with the Scots for centuries until the kingdoms of England and Scotland were finally united in 1603 under the first of the Stuart kings to rule England, James I (James VI of Scotland).

Through the center of the town runs Bondgate, the main street. It is divided by the narrow arch known as Hotspur tower gate, dating from the 15th century and named after Harry “Hotspur” - the popular name for the colorful warrior figure Sir Henry Percy, who is also a major character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1. There were once four such gateways to the town. For most of the 1900s the street has had two names - Bondgate Without and Bondgate Within, depending on which side of the old walled gate to the town it is situated. During the time in the second half of the 1800s when Thomas Smiles had his tailor’s shop in Bondgate, there was only one name.

The town also has a number of inns that once served the stage coaches that plied their trade between north and south, and that date back several centuries. But its most dominant feature is the mediaeval castle that is the best preserved in northern England. It is still occupied by the Percy family, who have lived there for 700 years. The head of the family is the Duke of Northumberland. The castle dates from the 1096 when Yves de Vescy, the new baron of Alnwick, built the earliest parts of it. In 1309  Henry De Percy bought the castle and baronry of Alnwick from Anthony Bek, the wealthy Bishop of Durham, who had obtained the land from the De Vescys.

Top right: The magnificent Alnwick Castle, the largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor. The best view of the castle, usually missed by tourists, has always been from this location beyond the River Aln and bridge. A painting from this spot made in 1828 by William Turner hangs in the National Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide. Above and right: Bondgate, the main street and (below) Market Street. The Queens Head, named after Queen Elizabeth I, is a 17th century inn.

Additional links (these links will take you out of this website):

Alnwick Castle history -
Sir Henry Percy (Harry Hotspur) -
William Turner’s watercolor painting of Alnwick Castle by moonlight, 1828
Significance of Alnwick to this site:
Thomas Smiles (1835-1907) came to Alnwick where he met and married Eleanor Riddle (1835-1901). Thomas ran the family tailor’s business in Alnwick until his death. Children Ralph, Henry and Charles Smiles were born here.