Berwick 900 commemorates the capture of Holy Island Castle

This weekend, the 300th anniversary of the fascinating story of the capture of Holy Island castle by two Northumbrian Jacobites for James Stuart, the “Old Pretender”. is being commemorated as part of the Berwick 900 Festival in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The anniversaries of several historical events have been commemorated during this year’s Berwick 900 Festival, including the centenary of First World War campaigns in Gallipoli and Flanders and the 70th anniversary of VE Day. However, this Saturday sees the tercentenary of an event that is unique to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
On 10th October 1715, Lancelot and Mark Errington captured the castle on Holy Island, the only fortress taken by the Jacobites during the 1715 Rising.

Berwick 900 is marking this important occasion throughout this weekend with an exhibition and a programme of talks and performances in the Town Hall.

The events of the 1715 Jacpbite Rising are less widely known than the campaign led by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. The Northumbrian Jacobites needed a base to provide a bridgehead for an invasion from France in support of their cause. The best choice was the castle on Holy Island, which had a small garrison of about half a dozen soldiers.

The plan to capture the castle was devised by Lancelot Errington, the master of the Newcastle brigantine ‘Mary’ that was lying at anchor in Holy Island harbour with a cargo of salt, brandy and other merchandise.

On the morning of 10th October, Errington walked up to the castle to ask Samuel Phillipson, the master gunner, to let him in. This might seem strange, but the gunner was also a barber and visiting sailors frequently made use of his services. It is possible that Phillipson was more interested in negotiating a deal over some contraband goods from Errington’s cargo.

Whatever the excuse for Errington’s visit, he left the castle knowing that the castle was occupied only by Phillipson, his wife and a private called Ferguson in the castle. The rest of the soldiers were off duty in the village.

Errington approached the castle again at midday with his nephew, Mark Errington of Monkhouse near Bamburgh. This time Lancelot said he had lost the key to his watch during his earlier visit and wanted to look for it. When they were allowed into the castle the enterprising Jacobites produced a pistol and a blunderbuss, overpowered the master gunner and bundled him, his wife and private Ferguson out of the gates.

The rebels hoisted the “Pretender’s” colours up the flagpole and fired three cannon-shots to landward to signal that the castle had been seized. They expected the rapid arrival of French ships and reinforcements from the Northumbrian Jacobite force camped near Warkworth.

When he heard news of the capture of the castle, the commander of the garrison at Berwick dispatched 100 troops to Holy Island. .

Seeing the King’s soldiers riding over the sands, the Erringtons escaped over the walls, hoping to conceal themselves among the rocks until it was dark and then make their escape by swimming to the mainland. However, with the tide rising, they were forced to attempt the crossing in daylight under fire from the troops and Lancelot was shot in the thigh.

The Erringtons were taken as prisoners to the tollbooth in Berwick. This was the old gaol that was demolished to allow the building of the present Town Hall in Marygate.

After spending some time in prison, the Erringtons managed to escape with the help of Jacobite sympathisers in the town and got down to the Tweed where a boat was waiting. They stayed for a while at Bamburgh until the hunt cooled down, then sailed to safety in France.


The exhibition in the Town Hall tells the story of 1715 and the Northumbrian Jacobites and is open to the public from 11am until 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. Talks illustrating how the 1715 Rising affected the town and people of Berwick will be presented in the Council Chamber on the Town Hall at 2.00pm on Saturday and Sunday.

A series of interactive performances will be staged at times throughout the weekend that will bring to life the events of the capture of Holy Island Castle and the imprisonment and subsequent escape of the Erringtons. Admission to these events is free of charge and refreshments will be on sale on both days, provided by Cittaslow Berwick.

As well as the activities in the Town Hall, historical interpreters “Times Past” are setting up a replica 18th century printing press in a shop in Hide Hill, where they will be printing copies of a specially created period-style broadsheet to be handed out free of charge around the town. The public will be able to see the printing press in action during the day on both Saturday and Sunday.

Another highlight is a performance of a version of the story, based on a tale written in the 1830s by James Mackay Wilson, the editor of the Berwick Advertiser. This short play, “Launcelot Errington and his nephew Mark: A Tale of Lindisfarne” is being staged in the Town Hall on Saturday evening by the Wilson’s Tales Project in association with the Northumberland Theatre Company and The Fifteen (The Northumbrian Jacobite Society).

The performance also features an introduction to Wilson’s Tales and the Wilson’s Tales Project by Andrew Ayre, the project director, and a short talk on the historic context of the 1715 Rising and the tale by John Nicholls MBE, chairman, The Fifteen (The Northumbrian Jacobite Society). Tickets are available from the Maltings box office at a cost of £5.