The small village of Bamburgh lies on the Northumberland coast and boasts reputedly one of the finest beaches in England with its vast expanse of white sands, which at low tide stretch down to Seahouses and Budle Bay and a few miles up the coast is a bird-watchers paradise with many unusual and interesting species of waders. Most tourists to the village will make their way to Bamburgh Castle, which dominates the village and towers over the sea, the Castle was built using magnificent red sand stone and is indeed an impressive sight, however there is more to Bamburgh than the Castle and beautiful sand dunes. Near the village green in a small cottage you find a museum dedicated to the life and times of Grace Darling who is proclaimed as the world's greatest lifeboat heroine, her fame is due to a single act of courage. William Darling was the keeper of Longstone Lighthouse on Brownsman Island, the Farne Isles, just off the Northumberland coast from Bamburgh; he lived in the Lighthouse with his wife and twenty-two-year-old daughter Grace. The Darling's were Bamburgh people and William also had a married daughter, older than Grace, who lived in the village. On the evening of September 6th 1838 a tremendous storm was brewing around the coast, the waters around the Farne Isles were treacherous even in fair conditions and William Darling was exceptionally vigilant that evening; the howl of wind and crash of the sea kept the Darling family awake most of the night and in the early hours of September 7th spume filled the air around the Lighthouse, it was difficult to see anything on the North Sea that morning but Grace spotted a ship aground on Big Harcar Rock, almost a mile away. William Darling looked through the telescope in the direction of Big Harcar Rock and spotted survivors clinging to the wreck and he felt it his duty to attempt to rescue them. Grace was an accomplished oarswoman, often rowing her mother from the Lighthouse
to shore on visits to her sister in Bamburgh, she was not going to allow her father to attempt a rescue in such horrendous conditions by himself and she insisted on going with him. William and Grace lowered the lighthouse coble, a short, flat-bottomed boat, into the sea and began to row the mile to Harcar Rock across the stormy waters; the violent tide and strong winds pushed the stout little boat off course many times, making the journey twice as long. On reaching the shipwreck they found nine survivors, the coble was large enough to rescue five of the nine men so Grace and her father took five back to the lighthouse then two of the rescued men along with William Darling rowed back to Harcar Rock for the remaining four survivors. With the nine survivors safely in the lighthouse Grace and her mother looked after the men for three days until the storm died down enough for the men to be taken safely ashore. The ship was the Forfarshire with a crew of forty-nine, forty men perished that night but because of the heroic deed of Grace and William Darling nine men were saved. Newspaper reports about the loss of the Forfarshire suggested that the owners had wilfully sent a disabled ship to sea and until the scandal died down no mention was made of the daring rescue, however after a few days a 'penny-a-liner' reporter heard of the dramatic rescue and sold his rather melodramatic story to a gossip newspaper, the story leaped from paper to paper and was reported in newspapers around the world, each account became more thrilling and courageous than the last. Artists from around the country travelled to Longstone Lighthouse to capture Grace's dainty face and petite figure then portrayed her in exaggerated scenes of angry seas and suffering humanity. Poems and songs were wrote about her describing her as the 'Grace of womanhood and Darling of mankind', street hawkers appeared selling what they claimed to be locks of her hair a
nd pa tches of fabric from the dress she had worn during the rescue and boat trips were organised to the Lighthouse so people could get a glimpse of her. Grace had captured the imagination of the country and could possibly be described as one of the first media celebrities of Victorian England. Donations from around the country were collected and given to the Darling family, the donations amounted to several hundred pounds, and the Royal Humane Society presented Grace and her father with gold lifesaving medals and a silver tea set. Grace did not find it easy to deal with the media attention and rarely went ashore because of it, in April 1942 she rowed to Bamburgh to visit her sister and sort out financial affairs but shortly after her return to the Lighthouse she became ill. In October 1842, four years after her brave rescue of the men of the Forfarshire, Grace died of tuberculosis and was buried in her native Bamburgh. Her funeral attracted a huge crowd of mourners who also donated money and Queen Victoria sent £20. The donations and money from Queen Victoria were used to build a memorial over her grave in Saint Aidan's churchyard, the memorial, which still stands today, faces out to sea and can be seen by passing ships and a stained glass window was added to the church depicting Grace rescuing the shipwrecked. The museum tells the true Grace Darling story and has copies of William Darling's journal; you also find biographies of Grace, newspaper reports and several romanticized paintings of the rescue. Personal relics include Grace Darling's shawls, books, letters and awards, gold medal and silver tea set; there are also relics recovered from the Forfarshire on display as well as the coble used in the rescue. It is not a large museum; it only consists of two rooms in the cottage but is definetly worthy of an hour of your time. The Grace Darling museum is in the care of the RNLI and is free to enter, there is a li
ttle shop selling postcards of Grace and RNLI souvenirs such as pin badges and pens all proceeds go to the RNLI and they are grateful for any donations given to help their continued work rescuing those in peril on the sea. The official name of the museum is RNLI Museum Commemorating the Life and Time of Grace Darling and can be found in Radcliffe Road, Bamburgh, Northumberland. It is open daily from Easter (or April 1st, which ever is earliest) until October, Monday to Saturday 10.00am to 5.00pm and Sunday 12.00am to 5.00pm., the telephone number is 01668 214465. The museum is only partially accessible for wheelchair uses. Information about the museum can be obtained from: The Curator, Grace Darling Museum, 109 Main Street, Seahouses, Northumberland, NE68 7TS. Grace Darling Song 'Twas on the Longstone Lighthouse, there dwelt and English maid; Pure as the air around her, of danger ne'er afraid; One morning just as daybreak, a storm-tossed wreck she spied; And tho' to try seemed madness, "I'll save the crew!" she cried. And she pull'd away, o'er the rolling sea, Over the waters blue, "Help! Help!" she could hear the cry of the shipwreck'd crew, But Grace had an English heart, And the raging storm she brav'd ? She pull'd away, mid the dashing spray, And the crew she saved!