Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Isaac’s Well, Allendale Town (NY838558)

© Copyright Mike Quinn and licensed for reuse 

Isaac’s Well sits quietly by the roadside of the main thoroughfare of Allendale Town in the valley of the River East Allen. It is one of several relics in the area with direct links back to a famed local eccentric and philanthropist by the name of Isaac Holden. But what makes the story of this particular do-gooder so extraordinary is that despite his prolific fundraising he himself had barely two pennies to rub together.

Holden began his working life as a lead miner, but when his local mine closed he and his family were threatened with destitution. So, whilst his wife, Ann, ran a little grocery shop in Allendale, he decided to start a modest venture of his own as an itinerant tea seller. And so he began his wanderings over the moors surrounding the town eking out a living as best he could for the rest of his working life.

The man himself

But Holden was a philanthropist at heart, and despite his lack of education and finances, determined to do his bit for the local community. Fired by not a little Methodist zeal, he set about his charity fundraising as best he could among the sparsely populated highways and byways of his working catchment area. Thanks to his drive Allendale would come to be blessed with, among other things, a savings bank and two chapels. And then, of course, there was the little well. As the nearby plaque tells us:

Isaac's Well is named after Isaac Holden (c.1805-1857), a local tea seller who raised the funds for its construction. Fresh, clean drinking water not only helped overcome the threat of cholera and typhoid but also made better tasting tea. Although no longer safe to drink from, the well now lies on the route of ‘Isaac's Tea Trail’, a walk that follows the tea seller’s footsteps through the North Pennines.

(originally, the well was located across the road but was moved when piped water was introduced to the town in the 1870s)

Isaac’s most famous ‘scheme’ was his last, raising money by selling photographs of himself for a ‘mystery’ cause. Turns out it was for the purchase of a hearse for use by the folk of the West Allen area for the princely sum of £25. It was quite a gesture, as dignity in the face of one’s death and funeral was of the utmost importance at the time, of course – no matter how poor you were.

When the humble Holden himself died in 1857 a substantial monument was erected in Allendale churchyard in his honour, with money donated by local residents, naturally. The epitaph reads:

In memory of
Isaac Holden
a native of this parish,
who died November 12th 1857
aged 51 years.
He gained the esteem
and respect of the public
by his untiring diligence
in originating works of charity
and public usefulness.
Upwards of 600 persons
subscribed to erect
this monument.

Now there’s a life well lived.