of shame” and incarceration at Durham Cathedral
On September 3rd,
1650 Scottish defence forces suffered a terrible defeat at the hands
of Oliver Cromwell’s invading English army at the Battle of Dunbar.
Cromwell went on to ruthlessly ransack Edinburgh and other Scottish
towns and cities and take control of the country south of the
Immediately after the
battle, Cromwell’s forces rounded up around five thousand Scottish
prisoners and embarked on the ‘march of shame’. You will hear little
about this in the history books probably because it marks a profound
disgrace in the annals of English military history. The battle
weary Scots were brutally forced on an eight-day, 118 miles march
south to the English cathedral city of Durham with virtually no rest
(the first 28 mile stage to Berwick being undertaken non-stop and
through the night) and with no food or water other than what could
be scavenged. So starved, en route, raw cabbages and roots were
pulled from fields in a desperate effort to gain some sustenance,
however, this only served to cause dysentery like symptoms. Of the
estimated five thousand who started out the march, only around three thousand
were left at the end when they reached their destination on
September 11th .
Of the survivors, Durham
Cathedral and Castle was used as a makeshift prison and an equivalent
disgraceful episode commenced. The conditions the Scots were kept in
were utterly appalling. Records indicate that the Scots died at an
average of 30 a day between 11th September and 31st October and it
seems this reached over 100 a day with virtually no food, clean
water or heat and the linked spread of disease and infection.
By the end of October
1650, approximately 1,600 Scots had died horrible deaths in Durham’s
much-revered House of God and Durham Castle. This was a desecration
of the holy Cathedral. The military leader appointed by
Cromwell to take charge of the prisoners (Sir Arthur Haselrigge,
Member of the English Parliament for Leicester)
later claimed in a letter to the Parliament that adequate
food, water, bedding and fuel for heating had been provided,
however, the facts speak for themselves that this was a merely an
attempt to excuse his own conduct during the horrific weeks in
September and October 1650. The Scots in a desparate effort to create some
heat and reduce the death toll stripped the Cathedral bare of all
wooden items, including pews and the organ for the making of fires,
save as for one item - a clock embossed with a carved Scots Thistle,
which remains to this day.
Only 1,400 of the
men who started the march from Dunbar in September were still alive
less than two months later, when they were sold as slave labour by their
captors. Nine hundred of those survivors were sold to the New World, mainly Virginia, Massachusetts and the
Barbados colony in the Caribbean. Another 500 were forced the
following spring to serve in the French army, and were still
fighting seven years later against the Spanish, side by side with a
contingent of English soldiers sent over by Cromwell. Those who
profited from the slave trade grasped every opportunity to earn
money from this evil practice which wasn't abolished in Britain
Discovery of mass
grave at Durham Cathedral?
According to research and
a paper written by past Cathedral employee, John Cole, 1991, "The
Scottish Prisoners from Dunbar Held in Durham Cathedral", when a central heating
system was installed in The Music School at the Cathedral in 1946,
the trench for the pipes cut into a mass grave on the north side of
the Cathedral. The conclusion was that it held the bodies of the Scots who had perished.
That they had been, "buried without coffins
and had been tossed in on top of one another.". Separately, a
Cathedral gardener spoken to in 2008 recalls seeing the corpses of
Scot's soldiers during works on Palace Green, just outside of the
The Cathedral has recently (2008) cast doubt on
their earlier conclusions, however, as yet no
geophysical survey (x ray of the land) of the Cathedral landscape
has been undertaken to ascertain the existence of the mass grave.
To this very day, there is no memorial of any
kind to these unknown Scottish soldiers who died such horrible
deaths at Durham Cathedral and Castle. It would appear that they lie
in anonymity and without Christian burial in what they would have regarded as
foreign soil in the place they had been imprisoned, far from their
homes and the graves of their loved ones.
- an appropriate and enscribed memorial at the
Cathedral to the Scots who perished at Durham
- a Christian service blessing the dead
appropriate to the beliefs of the Scots Covenanters
- confirmation (or not) of the mass grave at
Durham via a geophysical survey (x ray of the land) of the Cathedral
and surrounding area, including Palace Green, Music School .. etc.
Further discussion with the Cathedral and/or University, as
appropriate if the grave is identified over possible further
examination. Appropriate and respectful marking of the grave where
delighted to report (July 2008) that the current Cathedral
administration has been positively discussing with us these aims.
Discussions are, of course, ongoing ... We recognise that the
Cathedral was also a victim in 1650 as was desecrated by the English
military authorities at the time.
This campaign seeks non-financial
support. The more individuals giving us support, the greater
our chances of achieving our aims.
So to play your part, please send us an email to signify your
support and we will be in touch with a progress report.
CLICK HERE TO EMAIL US YOUR SUPPORT
behalf of the Campaign
For a perspective on the history on the Battle of Dunbar which is
available on the web,