Broken Village

Etal et al - Castle reduced

The beautiful Northumberland village of Etal, one of a local twin, has a fine ruined castle; but this blog is not entirely about castles…

The picture above is the castle at Etal. It was constructed in the middle of the fourteenth century by Robert Manners, a Norman descendant. It consists of a residential tower in the ‘Pele’ style; a gatehouse and a corner tower of small proportions. The whole is protected by a curtain wall. The castle has a ‘bloody’ past, being close to Branxton, the nearest settlement to the site of the Battle of Flodden (September 1513), at which the English King Henry VIII’s forces under the Earl of Surrey prevailed, after a long and bloody battle, over those of James IV of Scotland.

A few days prior to the battle of Flodden, King James had stormed Etal castle and added it to the many others captured in the most audacious invasion of England ever undertaken by a Scottish army.

History judges the English King to be the primary aggressor, since the whole war was prompted by Henry tearing up the Treaty of Perpetual Peace which had previously been in place between the two countries, and with which the Scots were perfectly happy, since it recognised them as a nation.

James IV was killed at Flodden, which saw almost one-third of the 34,000 Scottish soldiers killed. Etal was a short-lived prize…

We have forgotten the emotional taste of ‘wholesale slaughter’. Like many words that are supposed to trigger a moral response, wholesale slaughter can now be rendered ‘over there’ by television. If the news is terrible we can change channel… the choice is ours. We think it’s an escape, but, really, it eats away at our collective soul… we feel we can do nothing, so we don’t try. We accept horror – real horror, as way of life. The cost is that we become farther from reality – and reality is true life…

Ten thousand Scottish men (and thousands of English soldiers, too). What does that number mean? If we asked them to come back from their dark, Northumbrian graves to help us understand this horror, and line up in rows of ten, how long would it take a firing squad to kill them again? Let’s assume that the modern firing squad uses machine guns that can kill ten men in a minute. It might take four more minutes to have them march to their positions and another five to clear the bodies away. That’s a rounded ten minutes per squad of dead men. To do this to ten thousand would take 10,000/10, which is a nice and easy one thousand minutes. There are sixty minutes in an hour, so the firing squad, with its modern automatic weapons, would be continuously active for nearly seventeen hours – most of a day, if you include the English soldiers too. Imagine being there, and watching all of it? We might get a new appreciation for ‘wholesale slaughter’, and this is a minor example…

Northumberland is full of castles. Castles and ‘Pele’ Towers: tall, fortified dwellings, less than luxurious, but safe – in which a besieged family could live for many months until help arrived. Wars, family and tribal conflicts helped create a very chequered past for this beautiful county, which holds the North East border with Scotland. When there weren’t wars between England and Scotland there were the reivers – bloodthirsty family gangs, ready to attack, plunder and kill in these historically un-policed borderlands.

Border reivers at Gilnockie Tower, from an original drawing by G. Cattermole (Wikipedia Public Domain)

The Roman emperor Hadrian had found it difficult, too. So difficult that he had ordered the construction of a wall that ran coast to coast, from the Solway Firth, near Carlisle to Wallsend, near Newcastle. It has been described as the greatest engineering feat of the Roman world, but, as is the case with walls, it didn’t really work.

A different approach and smaller than a wall is the idea of keeping people in… Being inclusive, looking after them. It’s an idea seemingly at odds with our go-getting, every man and woman for themselves, pursuit of excellence, kill the bastard, commercial world.

The reivers just killed their enemies; and were killed in return. Vendettas, feuds, usual cycles of endless violence. It makes good television and rotten societies.

Caring requires that we believe in Good. Not just as an idea but as a force, an ideal, a state to be drawn on when we are pressed or outnumbered or in despair. The people who established modern Etal believed in good. They twinned it and the neighbouring village of Ford together, establishing a ‘Model Village’. This is not to be confused with a miniature village. An model village was a term coined by entrepreneurs like Robert Owen (who wrote ‘A New View of Society‘) and William Hesketh Lever (founder of what became Lever Brothers – Today’s Unilever). It was place where, alongside work, decent housing and education were provided on the basis that, if you looked after people, you could expect them to look after that which employed them.

The village of Etal is beautiful and has a presence not entirely due to the castle.

Etal main street reduced

The main street of Etal is clean and pretty, with a lovely Post Office cum tea room. Many of the buildings are thatched. This includes the Black Bull – centre in the picture above – the only thatched pub in Northumberland. The pub is being restored and is an example of what’s still very good about Etal and its nearby twin village of Ford. Nowadays, the twin villages are part of a managed country estate owned by the Joicey family. One striking thing about Etal and Ford is that no-one but the controlling family is allowed to own property. The houses, the shop and the Black Bull are only available to rent. Tenants are expected to look after their properties and everyone feels included. it’s a happy place and proud – you can feel it as you walk through on your way to the bloody castle.

About a half-hour’s drive away from Etal is the Bambrugh coast, a very beautiful place. We were staying a few miles away in a newly resurgent village with a great beach, and eating our evening meals in a local pub about a mile away, to which we walked, in the January darkness, enjoying the sound of the sea hitting the stone harbour in the inky darkness. Photography was well-nigh impossible but this shot illustrates the point I want to make:

Etal blog dark shore

It was only on our second journey back to our holiday cottage that I realised how dark the cove was – totally dark, in fact, apart from that one street lamp. The reason was simple: there was no-one living there. The most expensive properties in the village – facing the sea – were all empty on that week in January. They had been bought as holiday homes, busy during the summer, no doubt, but a dark and ominous shoreline in winter.

Etal is not the bustling village that the the poster below records it as being in 1820, but it’s not broken, either; not like that winter shoreline a few miles away.

Etal old poster history reduced

Of that list, there remains a church, a post office/excellent tea room, some well-kept and lovely houses, a caring landlord that ensures that everything fits; and, oh yes….a ruined castle.

Inclusion is everything…

The thought brought to mind something I read on a plaque within the gardens of San Jose University, many years ago. I didn’t write it down at the time and had to struggle to remember the gist of it, but it went something like this:

He drew a circle to keep me out

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout

But love and I had a plan to win

We drew a circle to keep him in

It’s a lot better than a dark shoreline and empty houses, or a line of doomed people seventeen hours long condemned to die by the actions of a psychopath…

We think of our world as much bigger than villages. But the villages of our communities need not, ever, be broken. We just have to be inclusive…

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

©Stephen Tanham, Silent Eye School of Consciousness.




14 thoughts on “Broken Village

  1. Great post man, very interesting. I agree with your outlook and points and loved particularly this section, which I think really hits the nail on the head: ‘A different approach and smaller than a wall is the idea of keeping people in… Being inclusive, looking after them. It’s an idea seemingly at odds with our go-getting, every man and woman for themselves, pursuit of excellence, kill the bastard, commercial world.’

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, man.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A terrific post! That little castle is interesting, as I find all castles, and its dark history is hidden within its walls for historians to bring to our attention. Etal appears to have been quite the town in its early days. Perhaps time will repeat itself and Etal will enjoy a rebirth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought it was just those of us in the U.S. who were concerned about the violence on the rise through the U.S. and I am sure other countries too. But we cannot live under fear and a feeling of helplessness no matter what. I once read that we may not be able to change the circumstances of our environments, but we can change how we perceive them. If we have built strong foundations, the structures within which we stand will hold, and I like thinking how we can build those structures to reach to the sky, connecting air and earth, and then fire and water. Whatever structure we are made of and whatever history we have inside our souls, we can be like the ruins and the stones that have lived for centuries through man’s inhumanity to man. As we stand inside the forts, we are flooded with light from the outside and light coming forth from the inside. As long as mankind lives on this earth, there will be those who will survive through this time, and the next, and the next after that through eternity. We are not mere matter; we are energy, and I don’t think energy can be destroyed. It may travel to a different space for a time, but it is going to return, perhaps in a new form – a new being, a new creature, a new plant, a new dawn, a new wave, or a simple grain of sand. We are all one with everything in the universe. Regardless of what we believe, life or as it were, being, will continue through time. I partly got this from what I read here, and part of it came to me in a dream the other night. I could not remember it for a time, but as I read this, it returned for me. Thank you all so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Anne. There are some complex issues, here. It is becoming obvious that, politically and militarily, we live in an age which is undergoing upheaval. A study of the ancient Hindu pantheon will show that those master-minds understood that there have to be times of breaking down as well as building up. Every organic thing undergoes these processes. The body, formed around the living but invisible blueprint of the Soul, must one day ‘die’ though we have a morbid and irrational fear of that process instead of seeing it as a part of greater Life.
      Civilisations have a life, as well. It may be that we are at the end of one of the great cycles in the nature of western society, where the ‘good’ has grown weak and lost the will or the ability to defend its values. Values is the key – when they are vital and healthy, they keep the inevitable forces of decay at bay, when not, those forces, which seem abhorrent to us, do their job of breaking down. We do not think that good and evil have equal importance, but the ancient wisdom cautions us to understand both – this is not to embrace evil, of course. No kind-hearted soul is going to to do that. But we have to recognise that good and evil can be very subjective and, as at present, beyond our control. What is not beyond out control is the reaction and effect of those things that we see in ourselves. Spiritual science, working through the individual, must first build in each a ‘place’ where all reaction is studied and seen to be an imposter of real ‘presence’. This must be approached gradually, but is the key to all that follows.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. This is definitely something or these are things, all of which are critical to remember. I love that every time a door opens in my life or being, the light comes streaming through from outside and from inside. I don’t this will all be learned in several years: it will be a lifelong quest. And for that, I am ever so happy! Thank you all so much.

        Liked by 1 person

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