Durham Cathedral tribute to Dunbar Martyrs

The Northern Echo: Scottish campaigner George Wilson, right, speaks in the Chapel of Nine Altars, in Durham Cathedral yesterday Scottish campaigner George Wilson, right, speaks in the Chapel of Nine Altars, in Durham Cathedral yesterday

A LITTLE-KNOWN mass human tragedy has finally been commemorated at a landmark North-East building.

The deaths of hundreds of Scottish prisoners in Durham Cathedral in the aftermath of a battle linked to the English Civil War has remained unheralded within the World Heritage site.

They were among several thousand defeated Scots captured by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian troops after the Battle of Dunbar, on the south-east Scottish coast, 30 miles north of the English border, in September 1653.

Many died during a seven day march south and it was recorded that about 3,000 prisoners were initially housed at the cathedral, which was largely empty and abandoned at the time, as the Dean and Chapter was dissolved and worship suppressed by order of Cromwell during the period of the Commonwealth.

Despite them burning pews and other wooden furnishings for warmth, a combination of the cold, a lack of food and the onset of disease saw only 1,200 survive the next few weeks, before eventually being transported abroad as bonded labour in the colonies.

It is thought that the dead were buried in mass graves, the site of which has not yet been definitively pinpointed.

“This has taken a long time, but, with the help of the dean and the dean and chapter, we’ve finally got there.”

Campaigner, George Wilson

Following a campaign led by Scottish historians, the cathedral’s Dean and Chapter agreed to the installation of a memorial plaque to mark the fallen Dunbar Martyrs, as they have become known North of the Border.

The memorial has been placed alongside the altar to Queen Margaret of Scotland, at the east end of the cathedral, and, equally fittingly, it was dedicated at evensong yesterday, on St Andrew’s Day, the feast day to the Scottish patron saint.

Among the guests witnessing the short ceremony were George Wilson, a Scottish campaigner who has been active in seeking some form of commemoration to the martyrs, and Roy Pugh, from Dunbar Local History Society.

The Dean of Durham, the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, said: “I’m glad that we are at last honouring those who died in and around the cathedral during their imprisonment.

“The desecrated cathedral was, like them, a victim of the Civil War, so it is right that we should recall this bitter episode in Anglo-Scottish history.

“As we do this, we give thanks for the gift of reconciliation and remember those who today continue to suffer cruelty at the hands of others.”

Mr Wilson, who has helped to raise much of the £2,000 to fund the plaque, thanked the dean for his support and said it was a fitting memorial to victims who have been largely forgotten about.

“This has taken a long time, but, with the help of the dean and the dean and chapter, we’ve finally got there.”

As part of the ceremony he quoted a verse from a song penned by the Scottish bard, Robbie Burns about man’s inhumanity to man

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