Tuesday, 24 February 2015

How Many Stones at Duddo? (NT930437)

© Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse 

Originally there were seven (we think), then six, five and, inevitably, four. Then five again. And they are now known as ‘Duddo Five Stones’ – Northumberland’s equivalent of the mighty Stonehenge, you might say.

As has often been remarked, the ancient monument is one of Britain’s finest and enjoys a spectacular setting. The Cheviot and Eildon Hills loom to the south-west and west, respectively, with the stones themselves enjoying an elevated and isolated position to the north-west of the village after which they are named.

Until recently, no one knew quite how old the little stone circle is. It is a modest affair at around ten yards across with none of its components more than eight feet in height, and early speculation suggested a Druidical origin. In time, the locals assumed it to be a memorial laid down after a victory over the Scots in 1558 in which the Percies chased off a party of plundering invaders. Quite where and why this tradition arose no one knows, for the truth is that the landmark is, indeed, ancient, with investigations in 1890 revealing remnants of a cremation burial. In 2008, an archaeological dig at the site unearthed charcoal remains which were radiocarbon dated to around 2000BC. Furthermore, faint traces of man-made cup-and-ring marks have been found carved on the large east facing stone which seem to confirm its Bronze Age origins.

There were at least seven stones to begin with, six surviving into the nineteenth century. Two more seem to have disappeared or toppled over during the ensuing decades, after which they became known as the ‘Four Stones’. Then, in 1903, a fifth was re-erected to ‘improve the skyline’.

The Duddo Standing Stones are certainly a curious lot. They have been known in the past as ‘The Ladies’ (due to their tapering shape) and ‘The Singing Stones’ (perhaps a reference to the wind whistling through their weathered grooves). And, once more, they can be easily and freely visited by the casual passer-by.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Lady Waterford Hall (NT947375)

© Copyright Martin Dawes and licensed for reuse 

The village of Ford has many historical items of interest, the most unusual of which is perhaps Lady Waterford Hall. And it all came to be following the transference of the ownership of the Ford Estate (on the death of her husband) to one Lady Louisa Waterford in 1859, when she set about the re-design and rebuilding of the entire village.

Lady Waterford was a talented artist and a great philanthropist, and it was her intention to carry out her ambitious project distinctly for the benefit of her tenants. In fact, she favoured the latter over the former to the detriment of her artistic career. Part of the scheme was the construction of a new school, a lovely little affair which is now known as Lady Waterford Hall. 

As useful as the public building was (it had as many as 134 children on its books in its heyday and remained in use until 1957), it provided her ladyship with a nice outlet for her watercolouring skills. For the interior of the hall is adorned with Biblical scenes for the education of her young attendees – painted over a twenty-two year period during 1862-1883. And the really fascinating fact about the whole thing is that the children themselves and many of the local villagers were used as models in the scenes depicted. Moreover, the names of these humble individuals are recorded for posterity – a great boon for any of their descendants who may be into family history!

It is now used as the village hall – and is surely one of the very best buildings of its type in the country! More info here (including a little video). 

© Copyright Martin Dawes and licensed for reuse 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Cuthbert’s Foster Mum (NU010347)

A little off the B6525 to the NE of Doddington lies the hamlet of Wrangham. One may not immediately associate this rural backwater – now largely a collection of farm outbuildings – with anything too drastic, history-wise, but this lonely spot has a strong link with one of our most famous individuals.

St.Cuthbert needs little in the way of introduction to anyone with even the slightest interest in the history of our region, but biographical detail of his early life is scanty. Born in the Scottish Borders, he is believed to have come from a noble family – if for no other reason than he was raised by a foster mother (a common upbringing for such offspring). Amazingly, we know the woman’s name, Kenswith, and that she lived at a place called Hruringaham – reckoned to be the Wrangham in question.

At age eight, it seems, he was placed in her care, and became a shepherd boy in the surrounding hills. He was something of a gymnast, he and his friends impressing one another with feats of agility and stamina in their spare time. Then, aged 17, he began his religious training and moved away.

He briefly saw military service with the early Northumbrian armies before settling down to his well-known career path – initially via the newly-established monastery at Melrose. As his responsibilities and reputation grew we are told that he still found time to visit Kenswith ‘often’ from ‘the monastery’ – though we do not know which monastery! There used to be a Wrangham near Smailholm in the Borders quite near to Melrose, but the Northumberland option seems to be favoured by most historians.

And, besides, there is a ‘Cuddy’s Well’ and a ‘Cuddy’s Cave’ nearby, which seems to clinch it for the North-East, thank you very much!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Josephine Butler (NT929344 & NT913302)

In net miles she may not have travelled very far – from her birthplace near Milfield to her grave in Kirknewton – but Josephine Butler (née Grey) was a North-Easterner whose influence stretched into the hearts and minds of millions of folk worldwide as both a pioneering feminist and social reformer par excellence.

Josephine Elizabeth Grey was born in 1828 at Milfield Hill House, a mansion which once stood a little to the north of Milfield, Northumberland. A cousin of the famous Earl Grey (Reform Act, Abolition of Slavery and, yes, tea), she was the seventh child of John Grey, from whom she inherited a belief in social justice and reform. In 1852 she married like-minded George Butler, an Oxford lecturer, and so began a husband-and-wife campaign against the wrongs of the world – slavery, social injustice and the rights of women.

Moving first to Cheltenham and then Liverpool, the Butlers championed their cause at every opportunity, often to the detriment of George’s career! After her husband’s death in 1890, Josephine moved to London – and even campaigned abroad for much of the time. Feeding off her own periodic bouts of depression and grief, she constantly sought out causes more desperate than her own. She was a staunch believer in education for women and campaigned ceaselessly for the rights of the female sex in this area – helping found Cambridge University’s first college for women, Newnham. Moreover, her campaigns on the taboo subjects of prostitution and sexual morality led to law changes in women’s favour across Europe – all from a devout Christian who didn’t baulk at upsetting anyone.

In her latter years the grand old woman returned to her North-East roots, settling near her son in Wooler. She died in 1906, aged 78, and was buried in Kirknewton Churchyard, three miles SW of her birthplace.