The lost house of Mr Strafford

Mr Stafford gave up his home so that we can continue to enjoy Bondgate Tower. So far we’ve been unable to find out anything else about him. Can you help?

Once there were four gateways into the walled town of Alnwick. Pottergate Tower was rebuilt in 1768. Clayport Tower was removed in 1804 to improve the approach into town from Clayport Bank. Nobody knows when Narrowgate Tower was removed (or even where it stood). But Bondgate Tower has stood for more than 500 years, despite attempts to have it removed.

The railway reached Alnwick in 1850. It brought excursions and increased traffic. Visitors sought out Bondgate Tower, alongside the Percy Tenantry Column, the Castle, and Hulne Park as attractions that they didn’t want to miss. Bondgate Tower, 150 years ago, was already both an obstruction to traffic and a tourist attraction.

In February 1865 the fifth Duke inherited the title. He was aged 86. At the time life expectancy for a man was about 40 years. The Board of Health must have been considering the matter, because within a few weeks of his succession they wrote to the new Duke, indicating that this approach to the town needed improvement. They reminded him that some thought this could be achieved by removing Bondgate Tower. George Tate wrote:

Utilitarians complain that this ancient gateway is a nuisance and would have it taken down, because it is not large enough to allow a free passage to large vehicles such as caravans.

However, the Board wanted to reassure the Duke that they did not approve of this suggestion themselves. Instead they suggested that Tower Lane should be widened.

Tower Lane

At the time, Tower Lane narrowed as it approached Clayport. By removing the obstruction traffic passing between the station and Clayport would be able to avoid Bondgate, using Hotspur Street, Green Batt and Tower Lane. This idea must have gone down well with the new Duke. After further correspondence he consented to take down a house occupied Mr Strafford on the corner of Tower Lane and Clayport; and to widen and improve the Clayport entrance into Alnwick, at his own expense. He sought (and received) assurances that by doing this he could avoid any further application for the removal of Bondgate Tower or alterations in the vicinity.

So Mr Stafford gave up his home, and we can continue to complain about this obstruction on Bondgate. Given the chance, we would erect a blue plaque to Mr Strafford: but there’s nowhere to put it. Instead, as George Tate also said:

Earnestly do we hope that this brave old tower may be carefully preserved; it is the last important relic of the ancient fortifications of the town; and though grim and weather-worn it is nevertheless a picturesque object stirring up ancient memories of brave men and heroic deeds which throw a glory around the town and possessing an interest, not only to the inhabitants but to strangers who come from a distance.

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