There is an ancient camp not far from the village, sitting on a whinstone ridge named Craster Heugh, from which Craster may have taken its name. The name was spelt Crawcestre until around 1500. It means Crow's earthwork
(Crawe Ceastre) in the Anglo Saxon. The Craster family have been here since at least the 11th Century - reference is made to William de Craucestr holding the estate in 1272. It was the Craster family who built the present village harbour in 1906 in memory of Captain Craster who was killed on active service in India in 1904.
The real fame of Craster comes from its smokehouses. At the turn of the century, the North Sea was teeming with herring, and some twenty boats supplied four kipper/herring yards in the village. Great barrels of salt herring were exported to Europe and fresh kippers were dispatched to UK domestic markets. Craster, along with Seahouses further up the coast, were once the kipper capitals of England, smoking over 25,000 fish a day in the early part of the last century. The fish were gutted by Scottish fishwives who lived in ramshackle buildings called ‘kip houses’, which were only suitable for sleeping in; hence, the saying ‘having a kip’. Today only one smokehouse remains. The fish are still smoked in the traditional way over fires of oak sawdust. The quality of taste and texture of Craster’s kippers and smoked salmon remains unchallenged.
As well as being a thriving fishing harbour, Craster has prospered over the centuries from the stone that came from its quarry, which was shipped to become the kerbstones of London. The concrete construction at the end of the harbour pier and the ruin by the Tourist Information Centre are remnants of the overhead cable system that used to transfer the whinstone from the quarry to the ships that transported it. The quarry was closed in 1939 and is now a car park and a nature reserve under the protection of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
The dramatic ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle lie on top of an impressive intrusion of the whin sill. The stark crags add grandeur to the setting. It was the Earl of Lancaster who started the construction in 1313. The Earl did not live to see its completion because he was executed for treason in 1322. Sir John Lilburn who then became the Constable completed the Lilburn tower in 1325. John of Gaunt who was Lieutenant of the Scottish Marches added another gateway in 1380. The original tower was then enclosed into a massive keep. The castle changed hands several times during the Wars of the Roses. It is suggested that after the battle of Hexham, Queen Margaret stayed here before taking a boat from the cove beneath the castle. From 1464 the castle fell into disrepair and by 1550 it was described as a ruin.
Located at Howick by the coast, a few miles south of Craster, archaeologists from Newcastle University unearthed the earliest and best-preserved remains of a Stone Age house ever to be found in Britain. A reconstruction of the Mesolithic house was built next to the original site. An iron age settlement close to the hut and others in Craster and also near to Dunstanburgh are evidence of the continuous occupation of the area.
Learn more about Craster's past on the following sites
The Craster Living History website came from the oral history project which concluded with the publication of 'We Can Mind the Time'. (see below)
The Craster Local History Group website has much information about Craster's past as well as the Groups programme of events.