Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Birth of Be-Ro, Longhorsley (NZ148947)


© Copyright C Massey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

We have already seen how a nondescript terraced house in Longhorsley played a small but notable role in British history (see here) – and it is scarcely believable that the very same building should have played host to another significant event in our cultural/social history. For what was until recently the Post Office building in this Northumberland village was the base from which one very enterprising local man took the first steps towards the invention of Be-Ro, the most famous of our self-raising flours.

1 South Road, which stands directly opposite the Shoulder of Mutton pub in Longhorsley, was, before it was taken over by Emily Davison’s mum, the home of the Bell family for several decades. It was a bakers and general dealers in those days and the chap who lived there with his parents, William and Ann, was one Thomas Bell. Born in 1848, his father died when he was young, leaving Ann to raise the sizeable family – and run the business – on her own.

Thomas was clearly an enquiring sort, and began experimenting with flour, baking powder and various ‘raising agents’ in an attempt to improve the family’s lot. The exact sequence of events is unclear, but he is thought to have hit upon the ‘magic formula’ around 1875, and in the 1880s left the village to set up a grocery and tea business in Newcastle. Here he sold his new self-raising creation under the name of Bell’s Royal. It may not have been the very first ‘self-raising flour’ (a chap in Bristol claimed to have beaten Bell to it), but it certainly proved to be the most successful. Forced to drop the ‘Royal’ part of the name, Bell rebranded his creation as ‘Be-Ro’ (short for Bell’s Royal – his wife’s suggestion) in around 1895, and never looked back.

Originally sited in the Groat Market, Newcastle, the business grew and moved – firstly to Low Friar Street, then Bath Lane. Thomas died in 1925, presumably a fairly wealthy man, but Be-Ro continued to grow in popularity, spreading across England and into Scotland – greatly assisted by the publication of the famous Be-Ro recipe books from 1923. In time, the firm was swallowed by Rank-Hovis, then, most recently, by Premier Foods.


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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Cromwell at Netherwitton (NZ102904)


Love him or hate him, Oliver Cromwell certainly made his mark on British history. One of the most hotly disputed aspects of his time at the helm of British politics was how he interacted with those who crossed his path – and was he really quite as bad as is sometimes made out?

One interesting piece of evidence in his favour comes from his brief stay at Netherwitton Hall and its environs in the summer of 1651 whilst on his way north to face the Scots. He called in for an overnight stop at the little Northumberland hamlet of Netherwitton, which was watched over by the incumbents of the aforementioned mansion, namely, the Thornton family. The army, consisting of nine regiments of foot, Cromwell’s horse guards and two regiments of dragoons (as well as assorted ‘baggage’) put quite a strain on local resources and one might have feared for the general well-being of the villagers during what must have been a fraught night.

However, a rare survival from the event itself demonstrates the lengths to which the Lord Protector was prepared to go to appease those upon whom he imposed himself. On 17th July 1651, special letters of protection, signed by Cromwell, had been given to the family’s head, Lady Anne Thornton, by which ‘all Officers and soldiers under my Command, and all others whom it may concern’ were forbidden to ‘prejudice’ the said lady ‘either by offering any violence to her person, or any of her family, or by taking away any of her horses, cattle or other goods whatsoever without special order’. Despite this, of course, considerable damage was done by several thousand men and animals traipsing here, there and everywhere across and around her estate, but, soon after Cromwell had moved on, £95 5s 6d was paid to Lady Thornton as compensation for corn and grass used/destroyed by his army, as well as other random incidents such as the burning down of a barn and the consumption of sixteen sheep. What made the act of reparation especially noteworthy was that the woman in question was a known Royalist.

It is, of course, likely that Cromwell’s action was little more than a ‘keep ‘em sweet’ tactic – and it is not known if any of his compensatory instinct trickled down to the lower classes of the parish, many of whom must have suffered in one way or another.  However, the whole episode is a nice little insight into the sometimes murky world of Cromwellian diplomacy.


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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Morpeth Missionary (NZ195864)



Robert Morrison, the first Protestant Missionary to China and the man responsible for translating the Bible into the Chinese language, was born at Buller’s Green, Morpeth, in 1782. He was the youngest of eight children born to a Scottish father and an English mother. Little is known of his early life in the town, his family moving to Newcastle when he was three years of age.

Details of his Morpeth days may be sparse, but the Nothumberland town does receive a mention in the man’s lengthy and highly descriptive epitaph. From his memorial in the Old Protestant Cemetery in Macau, China:

Sacred
to
the memory
of
Robert Morrison DD.,
The first protestant missionary to
China,
Where after a service of twenty-seven years,
cheerfully spent in extending the kingdom of the blessed Redeemer
during which period he compiled and published
a dictionary of the Chinese language,
founded the Anglo-Chinese College at Malacca
and for several years laboured alone on a Chinese version of
The Holy Scriptures,
which he was spared to see complete and widely circulated
among those for whom it was destined,
he sweetly slept in Jesus.
He was born at Morpeth in Northumberland
5 January 1782
Was sent to China by the London Missionary Society in 1807
Was for twenty five years Chinese translator in the employ of
The East India Company
and died in Canton 1 August 1834.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth
Yea saith the Spirit
that they may rest from their labours,
and their works do follow them.


The house in which Morrison was born no longer stands, having been demolished and replaced in the Victorian era. A suitably engraved stone slab marks the spot over an archway in North Place.

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Newminster Abbey, Morpeth (NZ189857)


A little beyond the southern extremities of our region can be found a landscape riddled with the remains of abbeys and monasteries. As one creeps ever northwards they thin out noticeably, and anything north of the Tyne is a very rare specimen indeed (we can thank the Scots and their periodic raids for that). The largest such establishment in Northumberland is thought to have been that on the south bank of the Wansbeck near Morpeth, and was called Newminster Abbey.

This nigh-on forgotten religious house has now been almost completely wiped from the landscape, but it was quite a significant institution in its time. It was, in fact, one of the first daughter houses to be founded by the famous Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire – quite possibly the very first, some say. This all happened around 1137 when the Cistercians were invited north by local noble, Ranulph de Merlay, and his wife, Juliana. ‘Robert of Newminster’ from Fountains was appointed the new abbey’s first abbot, ruling the roost with considerable vigour from 1138 to 1159. A year after its founding the Scots came down and set the place abaze – and as part of the resultant peace treaty with the English pretty much everything north of the Tyne was ruled by the Scots during 1139-57. The monastery slowly recovered under Robert’s enthusiastic leadership, being properly rebuilt by 1180.

Morpeth’s wealthy residents occasionally granted land and possessions to the young institution, and it came to exercise control over much of the land from the Wansbeck to the Scottish border. No one seems to know quite how extensive its influence was, but in time it spawned daughter monasteries of its own at Pipewell (Northamptonshire) and Roche and Sawley (both in Yorkshire). By the late thirteenth century, Newminster Abbey also had two hospitals dependent upon it, at Mitford and Allerburn. This all mattered little come the Dissolution, though, when it was officially sacked in Henry VIII’s first round of plundering in 1537. The Greys came into possession and thereafter began the systematic robbing of its masonry over successive generations. In turn, the Brandlings and then the Ords assumed ownership.

Newminster Abbey was last used in 1937 for the 400th anniversary of its closure. Most of what remains today is hidden underground or under trees. However, a nice collection of photographs from the 1960s can be found here.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Emily Davison’s Northumberland Links (NZ197851 & NZ148947)



Emily Wilding Davison, the accidental martyr of the 1913 Epsom Derby, is arguably the most famous suffragette of them all. And as she is buried in Morpeth it is often assumed that she was a Northumbrian ‘made good’. The truth, though, is not quite as straightforward. So just what exactly were the woman’s North-East credentials?

Firstly, she wasn’t born up here. She barely lived here, either. And we all know how and when she died. So how is it that she is interred in Northumberland’s county town and held so close to our North-Eastern hearts?

Essentially, it’s down to her ancestry. On both her father’s and her mother’s side, Emily is rooted in England’s most northerly county. Her dad, Charles Davison, was 50 when baby Emily was born – a retired merchant who had been born in Alnwick with extensive connections in and around Morpeth. Emily’s mother, Margaret (nee Caisley), was Charles’ second wife and hailed from Longhirst, a little to the north-east of Morpeth – and was a good deal younger, too. Extended family of the couple was (and still is) scattered widely throughout the immediate area. However, shortly before Emily’s birth in 1872, the family had relocated to London – and she entered this world at Blackheath, in the south-east of the capital.

After a childhood and youth spent at a considerable distance from her parents’ homeland, a promising education was cut short on her father’s death in 1893. With funds running short, her mother moved back to the North-East, settling in Longhorsley, to the north-west of Morpeth, and opened a shop. Though Emily never permanently lived in the village or the area thereafter, she would often visit her mother and relatives in the ensuing couple of decades.

In 1906, Emily joined the Women’s Social & Political Union and became ever more involved and embroiled in the suffrage cause. Her repeated imprisonments and episodes of force-feeding often left her in a poor state of health. She would regularly retire to Longhorsley to recuperate … and to deliver the occasional provocative speech on the village green!

Her horrific death at the feet of the King’s horse at Epsom in June 1913 immortalised her name and ensured her everlasting fame. She had left her mother’s home (until recently, the Post Office building in Longhorsley) a few short days before the tragic accident in order to make the trip south. After a funeral procession and memorial service fit for a heroine in London, her coffin was brought north by train, where she was laid to rest – in front of huge crowds – in her father’s family plot in the churchyard of St.Mary the Virgin, Morpeth.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Britain’s Oldest Bell? (NZ169856)



Mitford, the ancient parish to the west of Morpeth, contains within its church an item which claims to be the oldest surviving example of its kind in Britain. As you can see, it’s a church bell; and those who know about these things state that it is more than 850 years old.

St.Mary Magdalene’s ringer is no longer in use, having been removed from the tower in 1862 – it still, however, hangs in the church, in a spot near the main entrance. Experts reckon that the curiously-shaped item was cast no later than 1150, which makes it an extraordinary survival – especially as the church itself was set ablaze on at least three occasions (once, in 1216, on the orders of King John, with many of the locals still inside).

A quick search of the internet soon brings other candidates for the UK’s ‘oldest bell’ into view, many of them (like Mitford’s) amounting to unverifiable guesses. The only one which claims to be older is that at Hardham, Sussex, which may date to c.1100. In fact, there are no obvious examples worldwide that can claim a more distant origin … so Mitford may, in fact, possess the oldest church bell in the world!


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Meg O’ Meldon (NZ108855)


The sleepy hamlet of Meldon in the Wansbeck valley a few miles west of Morpeth was once the home of one of the county’s most infamous ghosts, namely, Meg O’ Meldon. As with most such shadowy figures, the story of Meg is based loosely on fact – in this case that of a misery old woman (and suspected witch) by the name of Margaret Selby. There are spectral appearances, tales of misfortune (and good fortune), as well as, of course, hidden treasure...

Margaret was the daughter of William Selby of Newcastle, who was a well-known money lender. She married Sir William Fenwick of nearby Wallington, and brought with her to the arrangement the estate of Meldon. This all happened a long time ago – in and around the late 17th century – and well before the construction of the current John Dobson-inspired effort known today as Meldon Park. Anyway, the only facts that seem to have trickled down to us from these distant days concern the infamy of Meg’s great meanness and avarice. Any income which came her way was greedily hoarded, being stashed away in any number of places across the parish. She was understandably disliked and therefore (of course) branded a witch; and when she and her husband passed into history, stories persisted of caches buried in almost every corner of the district.

Such was her reputation, though, that the locals claimed that her spirit continued to guard over her riches after her demise, wandering from pillar to post, triggering tales of ghostly apparitions aplenty in its wake. Meg’s spirit would travel hither and thither by way of a subterraneous coach road, and she would often be seen on Meldon Bridge in the shape of a little dog – or, indeed, ‘in a thousand forms, lights and colours, flickering over the Wansbeck, or under a fine row of beeches by the river.’ She would sometimes present herself as a mysterious, beautiful woman; or sit in a stone coffin at the site of Newminster Abbey (water from this trough was used to treat warts and other ailments).

Most famously, the ghost of Meg would sit guard over a well near Meldon Tower, where she was thought to have hidden a bull’s hide full of gold. She once enticed a local man to attempt its retrieval at the dead of night, but at the point of success he shouted in triumph, thus breaking the spell and causing the treasure to be dropped and lost forever.

Understandably, any discovery of value in the neighbourhood has been attributed to the legend of Meg. Once, when the ceiling of Meldon schoolhouse gave way, a stash of gold coins issued forth from the attic, sending the pupils into a ‘rich scramble’ for their unexpected windfall. Every time a stash is thus revealed and put to some good, so the spirit of Meg rests ever more soundly. And, though Meldon Well still hides its bag of riches, the ghost of Margaret Selby has long since disappeared from the banks of the Wansbeck.


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

RAF Morpeth (NZ173821)


If you’re a car boot sale enthusiast you may well know about this little bit of wartime history. For three miles SW of Morpeth, near the village of Tranwell, lie the fading remains of a short-lived World War II airfield once known as RAF Morpeth – aka Tranwell Airfield.

It existed for a few short years in the 1940s, but has now lain fallow for more than sixty years. Constructed from 1941, it was opened the following year as ‘No.4 Air Gunnery School’, and was handed a collection of ungainly Blackburn Bothas for the purposes of training up student airmen – with around 4,000 young men passing through its gates during WWII.

The Botha was essentially a failed torpedo bomber, relegated to a training role early in the war. Other, more reliable, aircraft were to be found at Tranwell, but it was the Botha which was to be most infamously linked to the site – and which was to account for several fatalities during the base’s short life.

Essentially, the Bothas were heavy and underpowered – and the airstrips at Tranwell were only just long enough to take them. Several incidents in a few short months were punctuated by two especially notable accidents – the first occurred in November 1942 when two planes collided on the same runway, resulting in one death. Then in March 1943 two Bothas collided over the base, killing ten young airmen (average age 20) – five of whom were from The Netherlands. All are buried at St.Mary’s Church, Morpeth. With its appalling safety record the Bothas were eventually replaced by Avro Ansons in July 1943.

In time, demand for air gunners dimished and RAF Morpeth/Tranwell was closed in December 1944 – the substantial numbers of staff being reassigned elsewhere. A few months later the site reopened as No.80 Operational Training Unit, pairing Free French pilots with the famous Spitfire – though this only lasted three months before the base became a Maintenance Unit. Activity diminished thereafter before it was closed for good in 1948. Many of the overseas men who spent time at Tranwell – including a large Polish contingent – settled in the region after the war.

A few relics remain, including an underground control room, but the site is today a car boor sale haven. Proposals to reactivate the airfield and/or create a museum there in recent years have come to nought.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Stannington’s Hospitals (NZ182810 & NZ188819)


Source: WellcomeLibrary blog (WI no. L0016013)

A couple of miles north-west of the Northumberland village of Stannington, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, there once stood two really quite extraordinary medical institutions. Until their closures in the 1980s and 1990s respectively, Stannington Children’s Hospital and St.Mary’s Asylum were two of the most interesting places in the North-East.

The former, known more commonly as Stannington Sanatorium, was the very first purpose-built children’s TB hospital in the UK. Opened in 1907, it was built specifically for the needs of youngsters suffering from the disease in the days before the use of antibiotics. Fresh air, exercise and good nutrition were the order of the day, as well as the use of cutting-edge medical techniques – and all done with remarkable frugality due to much voluntary support. It was originally known as ‘Philipson’s Colony’ after one Roland Philipson who had made a generous donation to the appeal for the campaign by the Poor Children’s Holiday Association for just such an institution. In the seventy-odd years of its (sometimes controversial) existence around 11,000 youngsters passed through its doors.

The nearby St.Mary’s Hospital was, somewhat strangely, Gateshead’s official lunatic asylum. Built to the designs of George Thomas Hine during 1910-14, it served as the home of the town’s mentally ill until as recently as 1995. Almost immediately after its opening it was requisitioned by the military for the duration of World War I, but was thereafter returned to Gateshead who added a nurse’s home in 1927-8 (and otherwise modified the site) – before adding yet more buildings in the late 1930s, making St.Mary’s a sizeable concern in its ‘heyday’.

The old asylum site is now disappearing fast under new (and ongoing) development – the old children’s sanatorium up the road having been obliterated several years ago.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Whalton’s Bale Fire (NZ128815)


The few of us who still celebrate Midsummer's Eve now do so at the back end of June. A handful of ancient celebrations persist throughout the British Isles, but Whalton’s ‘Bale Fire’ is a little different from the rest.

The residents of Whalton, you see, mark Midsummer’s Eve on 4th July – a fact easily explained by the change here in the UK, in 1752, from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar, when we all made a ‘jump’ of several days. The minor furore caused by this shift was eventually overcome and, in time, almost everybody made the transition to the ‘new’ date for Midsummer. Not the villagers of Whalton, though. They would not be moved. And since 1903 it is the only village in the country to have maintained the curious ceremony on the wrong date. Or should that be the right date?

The word ‘bale’ (sometimes shown as ‘baal’) is derived from the Old English Bael or the Old Norse Bal meaning a great fire (it is possibly the name of an old sun god), and in Northumberland seems to have survived as a word used to describe a beacon fire lit on a prominent spot to warn locals when raiders were on their way from the north. These days the ‘bale’ is a modest bonfire on the green by The Beresford Arms pub, around which the local children and Morris dancers jig and twist – after which all present adjourn to the village hall for refreshments and yet more dancing.

Interestingly, during the black-out in World War II a few twigs were lit and quickly put out to preserve the tradition!


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Cale Cross, Blagdon (NZ218775)


© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for 

Head north on the Great North Road and, a little short of Stannington, you will stumble upon an old relic of Newcastle. The strange classical form standing near the roadside, and within the bounds of Blagdon Hall, is Cale Cross, looking more like a daft rich man’s ornament than anything else.

Unusually, though, we have here a ‘folly’ that has – or rather had – a practical use. For it once stood at the heart of old Newcastle, marking the spot where cale (cabbage)* and other foodstuffs were once sold – a sort of mini-market which gathered at the town’s Sandhill area, near the present-day Guildhall on the Quayside. It also acted as a conduit head for some time.  A commemorative plaque now marks the site, attached, as it is, to the modern-day Cale Cross House near the footings of the Tyne Bridge. But however did this old landmark find its way to the grounds of a stately home several miles away?

Well, Blagdon Hall, as you may know, has long been the home of the White Ridleys; and the Sandhill area of Newcastle has long had a ‘Cale Cross’ – at least as far back as 1309. For many years a more ancient ‘cross’ structure marked the spot, but this was replaced by a fancier design in 1783 – drawn up by architect David Stephenson and paid for by Sir Matthew White Ridley. However, nice though it was, it soon got in the way of the local traffic and a decision was made in 1807 to dismantle it.

The White Ridleys, presumably somewhat miffed at the corporation’s change of heart, ended up carrying the said structure stone-by-stone to their ancestral home and throwing it up at the side of the main road north – for no other reason than it seemed a shame to ‘hoy it oot’. And so, like a nineteenth century Angel of the North, it sits in a prominent spot near a major thoroughfare so that passers-by can have a good gawp.

And why not. It is rather splendid.

* Some think the word ‘cale’ is derived from kail wort, a herb used in making broth and which may have been sold at this spot in Newcastle.


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Kirkley Hall Shenanigans (NZ150772)


© Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for 

The man who would become the first (and last) individual to be known as Lord Kirkley was born as William Joseph Noble in Newcastle in January 1863. He married Margaret Dixon and they had four children. Noble made his name and his considerable fortune in shipping – primarily with the Cairn Line – and rose to serve as president of the Chamber of Shipping in 1920.

On his way to the top of his profession he also served on the Tyne Improvement Commission and acted as an advisor to the Ministry of Transport. He served on a number of national and local committees during World War I, and led the British Economic Mission to South Africa in 1930. By this time he was a Baronet and when, in 1928, he bought Kirkley Hall in Northumberland from the Ogles, he soon found himself bearing the title of Lord Kirkley.

He was to die, aged 72, in 1935, but the last few years of his life were eventful enough. First off, his wife, Margaret, died in September 1928 and was interred in Ponteland churchyard. Then his newly acquired mansion was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1929 – which he quickly rebuilt in much the form we see today.

Noble was a staunch Presbyterian and even had his own chapel at Kirkley. He was most vociferous towards the local C of E vicar at Ponteland, who is known to have warned his bishop of “difficulties ahead”. And he wasn’t wrong. Sir William was soon trying to poach worshippers from him by parking a bus outside the parish church at Evensong. But worse was to come…

Keen to do all he could to upset his rival, Sir William then hit upon the idea of exhuming his wife’s body from Ponteland churchyard and reburying her in the garden of his own little chapel … and in very much unconsecrated ground. When the old man himself died in 1935, he joined her. And with no surviving sons to inherit his title, that was the end of the Lords of Kirkley, too.


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Attractions of Milbourne (NZ113743 & NZ117751)


© Copyright Les Hull and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The village of Milbourne, a little to the NW of Ponteland, is dominated by the Georgian hall of the same name. Built during 1807-09, Milbourne Hall was thrown up by the Bates family to the designs of Edinburgh architect John Paterson and is a standard-looking affair. Constructed of local sandstone collected from the nearby Belsay quarries, its external demeanour belies its curious internal secret: for almost every room within is oval in shape. In a similar vein, the mansion’s stable block is octagonal in its layout. As the house is a private dwelling, we’re unlikely to ever bear witness to these geometrical curiosities, so we’ll have to place our trust in my Pevsner’s guide.

 © Copyright Phil Thirkell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As part of the Bates’ development of the general vicinity, a slightly eccentric chapel-of-ease was also constructed in the village in 1869 by Miss Jane Anne Bates. Intended to save her family, the villagers and the staff of Milbourne Hall the long walk into Ponteland every Sunday, the little building of the Holy Saviour has since proved to be quite a success – right through, in fact, to the present-day. For many religious Pontelanders now make the reverse trip to Milbourne every Sabbath in order to avail themselves of the picturesque facilities in and around the Bates’ Victorian creation.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Snowball Murder (NZ208733)


George Hunter, a pitman, has been executed at Morpeth for the murder of another pitman, named Wood, at Dinnington, on December 19 last. The two men had been out shooting together, and on coming out of a public house about dusk Wood began to throw snowballs at Hunter, who thereupon threatened to shoot him, and immediately did it. The jury recommended him to mercy, but the authorities did not interfere. On the day of the murder the prisoner had signed a memorial praying for a pardon for Richard Charlton, who was then under sentence of death for having shot his wife in the same village. 
 [from The Argus newspaper, 5th June 1876]


The famous ‘Snowball Murder’ of 1875 occurred on a snowy winter’s night as four miners, including the above-named George Hunter and William Wood, were exiting the White Swan pub in Dinnington after a day’s shooting. A couple of the locals were engaged in a friendly snowball fight and Wood decided to partake by hurling missiles at his colleague, Hunter. Not best pleased, Hunter threatened to shoot Wood if he didn’t stop. “Stop heaving and clotting or I’ll fire,” to which the perpetrator replied, “Oh, you’ll not fire, Geordie!” The gunman duly delivered his threat and felled his pal there and then. He fell by the churchyard and soon expired – his funeral the following Sunday attracting 1,500 attendees.

George Hunter was found guilty the following spring after it was revealed that he had a history of errant gunmanship. He was hanged at Morpeth on 28th March. 


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Ponteland: The Battle That Never Was (NZ165729)


Not being best placed in terms of border disputes between the English and the Scots, the town of Ponteland has seen surprisingly little in the way of military action over the centuries. The ‘exception that proves the rule’ was, of course, the town’s complete destruction by the retreating Scots prior to the Battle of Otterburn in 1388. Other than that, though, it’s done pretty well.

Perhaps typically, therefore, Ponteland was the site of the battle-that-never-was during the century preceding Otterburn. During the reign of English King Henry III (1216-1272), relations with the Scots were fairly cordial – Henry effectively enjoying overlordship of his counterpart, Alexander II. Things occasionally got a bit frisky, though, one such episode being a fall-out between the two monarchs in the 1240s. The Scots, it seems, were casting their eyes over the northern counties with a view to reclaiming the large tracts of land which they had previously occupied during 1139-57 – all of this fuelled, apparently, by some traitorist muckraking by one Walter Bisset.

Whatever the cause of the tension, King Henry decided that a show of strength was required and marched north in the summer of 1244 to Newcastle, and thence to Ponteland, where the action was expected to begin. Alexander was waiting for him there at the head of a large army and everyone held their breath. Instead of fighting, however, “a treaty of peace was concluded between them, on the vigil of the Assumption [sometime in August], chiefly at the instance of the Archbishop of York and of other nobles.” A royal marriage was subsequently arranged, thus ensuring the peace – at least for a while.

The ‘Treaty of Ponteland’ is supposed to have been signed at the spot now occupied by The Blackbird Inn, where a fortification of sorts is known to have existed.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Darras Hall: The Garden City (NZ152712)


Darras Hall, to the south of Ponteland, is perhaps the most ‘exclusive’ housing estate in the North-East of England. Famed for its plethora of mini-mansions and sprawling gardens, it is best known for being the collective home of many of our most affluent footballers. But how did it all come to be?

It will not surprise you to know that the famous Ponteland annex was actually purpose-built, and was always meant to be for well-to-do folk. Until the Edwardian era, the landscape thereabouts was mere farmland, but an enterprising Newcastle-born philanthropist by the name of Joseph Whiteside Wakenshaw thought it’d be a neat idea for the monied classes to have a nice out-of-town village to live in – thus placing themselves a respectable arms-length from the grime of industrial Tyneside. Acknowledging the potential of the growing rail and road network, he looked at his map and brought down his pin on the area occupied (at that time) by Darras Hall Farm and its neighbours at Callerton Moor and Little Callerton. It was relatively poor farmland and Wakenshaw thought he might get it on the cheap, I suppose.

Wakenshaw put together a consortium of like-minded businessmen and the purchase was duly made in 1907. The 1,000-acre expanse was divided up into around 190 plots of 5 acres each (which were sold off at auction) and a Trust Deed was drawn up and published in 1910 – a document still in use today and which is enforceable by the current ‘Estates Committee’. Essentially, the document lays down the rules, regulations and guidelines for development on the estate in order to ensure a ‘good quality of life’ for its residents – which basically equates to leaving ‘plenty of space’. Hence Darras Hall’s nickname of ‘The Garden City’.

Once an individual had secured a plot there was no obligation for them to build on it (the cheapest went for £35!) – indeed many areas remained undeveloped for decades. However, as land prices crept up, most of the land was given up to residential housing. The place even had its own railway station, but this proved to be a bit of a white elephant and was closed in 1929 (and finally disappeared completely in the 1990s). Strangely, much of the town was given over to a PoW camp during World War II.

Despite the restrictive covenants, there has been much development in the designated zone, especially of late. At one time, the ‘new town’ consisted of modest bungalows set in huge gardens, but now small mansions are being carefully placed on the sprawling plots – though there has been a slight easing of the rules and regulations. But all in the best possible taste, of course.



Note: Darras Hall was once the site of the medieval village of Callerton Darreynes, abandoned after the Scots destroyed it in the 14th century – and from which the modern-day place-name is just about descernable.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Newcastle Airport: the Basics (NZ186714)


1929 – City council first discuss the idea of an airport;
1935 – Small airport opens at Woolsington (“Woolsington Aerodrome”), managed by the Newcastle Aero Club;
1939-45 – Taken over by the RAF;
1946-52 – Charter & private flights only;
1952 – First scheduled flights begin on the appointment of long-term Commandant, Jim Denyer;
1967 – New terminal opens;
1978 – Attains Regional Airport Status;
1982 – More major development work;
1989 – Retirement of Jim Denyer;
1991 – Metro rail link opened, connecting airport to Newcastle Central Railway Station;
1993 – More terminal expansion;
2000-04 – Yet more improvements to the terminal buildings;
2013 – Airport Master Plan unveiled, itemising development proposals up to 2030.

Passenger numbers (approx):
1951 – 5,300;
1957 – 34,000;
1960 – 119,000;
1965 – 254,000;
1970 – 417,000;
1975 – 695,000;
1980 – 1,027,000;
1988 – 1,500,000;
1993 – 2,000,000;
2000 – 3,209,000;
2007 – 5,651,000 (peak);
2012 – 4,366,000.


[taken from Small Enough to Conquer the Sky by John Sleight (Newcastle City Libraries & Arts, 1993), with supplemental information from Wikipedia]

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The County of Tyne & Wear



Just in case you don’t recognise it, this is the flag of Tyne & Wear – the much maligned new ‘county’ formed as a result of the controversial reshuffling of the shire borders of England in 1974. As a consequence of legislation passed since, it has both ceased to exist in one sense, yet continues to exist in another. It has left us locals all rather confused.

The area in question is neatly illustrated thus:


Formerly, the mini-county was shared between Northumberland to the north and County Durham to the south, with the boundary being provided by the River Tyne. After years of humming and hawing, the powers-that-be decided to carve up the land thereabouts as illustrated above. ‘Tyne & Wear’ was the name given to the new creation (born, ironically, on 1st April 1974), it being officially known as a ‘metropolitan county’. The venture was seen as a way of giving the largely urban population of the area a more efficient and properly focussed way of governing their patch of the UK, independent of the old historical counties which continued to exist in reduced form.

The Tyne & Wear brand proved difficult to sell to a resident population that was, remember, traditionally split between Northumberland and Durham and (more importantly) between Geordie and Mackem. It had its own county council, of course, and it can be argued that much good was done in its name; but after limping on for a decade or so the council was abolished in 1986, with the five ‘metropolitan authorities’ of Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside going their separate ways, essentially becoming self-governing.

Rather than reverting back to a clean Northumberland/Durham split, though, it was decided to maintain the ‘Tyne & Wear’ brand in a somewhat half-cocked way. Many services continued to be run jointly by the five authorites (transport, fire & rescue, museums & archives, etc.), and the ‘Tyne & Wear metropolitan county’ continued (and continues) to exist in law and as a ‘geographical frame of reference’. It also still exists as a ‘ceremonial county’, which means that it has a Lord Lieutenant acting as a representative of the monarch. There is, however, no longer any Tyne & Wear-wide administrative/governmental body.

It seems only a matter of time before the term ‘Tyne & Wear’ disappears into history – there being quite a clamour, generally, for a return to the historic county boundaries across the whole of England. Royal Mail officially doesn’t care whether we use Northumberland, Co.Durham, Tyne & Wear or, indeed, nothing at all for the county line of addresses on our envelopes. For the moment, though, we stagger on somewhat confusedly – and under the banner of our proud blue flag, if you feel so inclined.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Black Callerton’s Stephenson Link (NZ174698)


© Copyright PhilThirkell and licensed for reuse 

The tiny hamlet of Black Callerton between Newcastle and Darras Hall holds a rather important place in the personal history of perhaps the greatest ever north-easterner, George Stephenson. Not only does it feature in the earliest years of the man’s illustrious career, but it also had quite a say in his family life, too.

There is, I am pleased to say, a commemorative plaque to mark the story, which, if filled out a bit, runs something like this…

The famous engineer and ‘Father of the Railways’ was born in 1781 at Wylam, a few miles to the south-west of Black Callerton. Illiterate until the age of eighteen, the self-taught genius first worked at Newburn colliery, before becoming a brakesman at Black Callerton (which involved controlling the pit’s winding gear) in 1801.

Rumour has it that whilst there he secretly courted a local farmer’s daughter called Betty Hindmarsh, whom he would meet in her orchard – and behind her parents’ back. All attempts to woo her failed, though – the girl’s father having none of it on account of our man’s lowly status. He thereafter made approaches to another local lass, Anne Henderson, before moving onto her sister, Fanny, who quickly became his wife. In 1802, the couple moved to Willington Quay, east of Newcastle.

Fanny died in 1806, leaving George with one surviving child, the famous Robert, born 1803. Whilst George built his career, young Robert was raised by a succession of neighbours and relatives. Eventually, though, George would marry again, and, strangely, the Black Callerton link would return to shape his life – for it was into the arms of his first love, Betty Hindmarsh, that the now hugely successful (and very wealthy) George would fall. They married (at Newburn) in 1820.

The marriage appears to have been a happy one, though they had no children. Betty took great care of her step-son, Robert, before her death in 1845. George still found time to marry for a third time shortly before his own death in 1848, but was buried alongside ‘Black Callerton Betty’ in Chesterfield.


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Newcastle’s Suburbs, Pt.2


Here’s another batch of place-name meanings from the outlying areas of Newcastle

Kenton – From the Old English (OE) cyne-tun, meaning ‘royal manor/farmstead’. The identity of the Anglo-Saxon nobleman is unknown;

Killingworth – OE in origin, meaning ‘the enclosed farmstead of Cylla’s people’;

Lemington – From OE hleomoc-tun, which means the ‘farmstead/settlement where brook-lime grows’ (a type of herb, aka speedwell);

Newburn – Nothing to do with a ‘burn’, but rather from the OE meaning ‘new burgh/fort’;

Scotswood – Richard Scot began enclosing the wood west of Benwell at this spot in 1367 – hence ‘Scot’s Wood’;

Shieldfield – A field with shielings (huts) in it;

Walker – ON in origin, from wal-kiarr = wall-marsh, i.e. the ‘marsh near the (Roman) wall’;

Wallsend – Literally, the ‘wall’s end’ (i.e. the Roman Wall);

Westerhope – Generally thought to be from the OE, meaning ‘whetstone valley’ (perhaps a quarry?);

Wingrove – No one seems too sure about this one, but it may be OE in origin, meaning ‘the grove (group of trees) of wiga’s followers’ (or someone similar).