Barnard Castle, in southwest County Durham, appears to the casual observer like many other market towns of its size. However, hidden in plain sight is a real treasure trail for both amateur and professional historian alike.
Barnard Castle Urban District Council started erecting Blue Plaques throughout the town to celebrate its famous connections, a tradition which has been maintained by its successor, Barnard Castle Town Council.
There are twenty-one such plaques in total in what has become known as the Blue Plaque Trail. A map of the route is available from the local tourism office, which is an easy stroll of around one mile in length.
Possibly one of the most recognisable names that appear on the plaques, if that of Charles Dickens, world-renowned author. Just near the Market Cross, this blue plaque on a low wall, where Newgate meets The Bank.
Dickens’ “Master Humphrey’s Clock” was inspired by the Barnard Castle clock-maker Thomas Humphreys. Not a novel like you may think, “Master Humphrey’s Clock” was a weekly periodical, published from 4 April 1840 until 4 December 1841. Unlike Thomas Humphreys, who was a popular master craftsman, born in 1787 and living to the age of 81, Master Humphrey was portrayed as a rather lonely man, living in London, who kept manuscripts in a grandfather clock. In a bid to overcome his loneliness, he starts a club where characters read their own manuscripts to the other members. Whilst Master Humphrey’s Clock presented short form stories, it provided Dickens with a mechanism to introduce his readers to the novel format. This is clearly shown by one of the club members, Mr Pickwick, who later became immortalised in The Pickwick Papers.