Reports from 2014
CLOTHING & HISTORY: An Anglo-Saxon and Viking perspective
These days, we go to talks to hear about history, or we watch television programmes, listening attentively to a speaker or presenter. Glendale Local History Society members were not disappointed in early January. Paula Constantine, a specialist in creating clothing for living history re-anactments, did not disappoint us as she introduced us to life in post-Roman to Norman Britain, through the medium of the clothes people made and wore. It soon became obvious that, in those days, we would never have had time to just sit and listen. Instead, the business of creating our clothing would have occupied a lot of time in days already busy with many other tasks. Our learning, then, would have been through doing and making things. Instead of formal talks, we would have exchanged knowledge and information among ourselves as we worked on various tasks together. Today, only a few of us have the knowledge and skill to do the many complex tasks involved in producing a 'kirtle' – the smock form worn by men and women from iron age to medieval times.
In her talk, Paula took us through the various stages from initial ingredients to finished garment. The main materials for producing fabrics were flax, fibre from nettle stalks, and, especially in north Northumberland, wool. She explained that it is very difficult to find archaeological evidence of the fabrics as they decay so quickly, but sometimes leave their mark on the back of broaches. Archaeologists have also found signs of ponds used to soak flax and the pith from nettle stalks, as well as durable parts of spinning wheels and weaving looms. It looks as if some of the production of yarns of linen, nettle fibre and wool was organised in a semi-commercial way. Until just before the Norman period, when Flemish weavers brought a new weaving technology to Britain, upright looms were used. Paula told us that at Akeld, there is evidence of considerable weaving activity and speculated that this could have been for the production of rich garments for the royal household at early medieval Yeavering. Some of the cloth found from early medieval times shows a very high level of skill in patterning the fabric and creating braiding which could be used to ornament the neckline, sleeve ends and hems. It was also possible to dye the cloth or thread in various colours, and elites enjoyed brightly coloured fabrics. The resultant clothing took a lot of time to make, so people had to make them last a long time. The braiding helped to protect the edges of clothes from wear and tear. Paula noted that some clothes were sufficiently valuable to be listed as goods in people's wills.
Anglo-Saxon costume women had kirtles made from two straight pieces of cloth, tied at the shoulders with broaches. Working women would have had short –sleeved garments, but elite ladies could allow themselves the luxury of longer sleeves. Ladies decorated their costume with necklaces made of glass beads, and teeth from wolves or boars, as well as small bronze discs. Possibly the discs and the teeth had a medical role in warding off disease and evil spirits. A belt at the waist was accompanied by a pocket bag, the opening made from iron or perhaps elephant ivory. Paula suggested that elephant ivory too had a medical purpose. Clearly such a material would have been imported from far away. Ivory was also used to make needles. Men's kirtles were shorter, worn with trousers, and with an indent in
the neckline. Both men and women's garments were braided, with very complex patterns woven into the braiding.
By the 900s, Scandinavian influence was beginning to be felt in north Northumberland, probably through trade links with Denmark and Sweden. This influenced the style of dress worn by women in particular. Paula demonstrated this by dressing herself in a fine pinafore-style garment, with stretch fabric over the chest and a fine flared skirt below. The shoulder straps were fastened with the classic 'Viking' tortoise broaches, with strings of beads hanging between them. By this time, and especially in the Viking culture, jewellery was worn as a sign of wealth, as was also demonstrated in the cut of the cloth and the colours used. By this time, yarns, cloth and jewellery were being traded on a considerable scale as well as made locally.
Paula brought with her a rich array of materials for us to look at and the fabric specialists among us were especially fascinated by the techniques. But I think we all felt that, through imagining making and wearing the clothing Paula described, we had been transported back a millennia and a half to a time when north Northumberland was at the centre of an important European kingdom.
The Society's next talk will be on 12th February at 7.30 Cheviot Centre, Wooler, when the topic will be North East War Memorials, by Janet Brown.
North East War Memorials
WAR MEMORIALS: a stone cross in a prominent place? Yes, but village halls, hospitals, community clinics, playing fields, plaques, fountains, gardens, seats, nurses' homes, statues, fountains, and boats or trees being named in memoriam, were just a few further examples.
Those present at Glendale Local History Society meeting in February soon realised that Janet Brown knew her subject thoroughly. It was she, and a small team, (under the auspices of the Association of Northumberland Local History Societies) who were responsible for initiating and setting up the North-East War Memorial Project – the envy of the Imperial War Museum, London. It now has an extensive website, thanks to Janet.
There exist 4,500 war memorials between the Tyne and the Tweed, commemorating those who lost their lives in the Great War. Janet hailed the end of the Boer War as an occasion which captured the public imagination, inspiring rows of houses, built as memorials, in Co. Durham as examples for posterity. Sixteen years later, following WW1, we heard that the Government had no plans for any particular grand memorial. However, the Cenotaph was unveiled as the body of the Unknown Warrior was brought past to be buried at Westminster Abbey.
Thereafter, each community became responsible for initiating its own war memorial(s). The inevitable financial issues provoked ingenious ways of fund-raising, encouraged by the slogan: "For those who gave their lives freely, give freely". Committees were set up and the revenue raised dictated the type of memorial and of what it might be made. Often rural communities, with land-owning benefactors, proved wealthier than those in poorer towns, with land or memorials being given to honour their own lost sons and heirs. Working Men's Clubs excelled at putting up memorials; so too did the Freemasons. In 1923 an Act of Parliament dictated that each Local Authority must donate one penny in the pound, from rates, towards the cost of war memorials. This act was amended after WW2, allowing names of those fallen in this subsequent war to be added.
Numerous decisions had to be made: to add names or not, to add the rank of the individual or not, to place names in order of seniority, alphabetically, by Christian name, chronologically, or by length of name - to fit with the style of the memorial – and so on. Commonly names appear on more than one memorial but it also happens that some names do not appear at all. We heard that in the post-WW2 period with gradual 'improvements' and prosperity, with greater change from the 1950s onward, and for many other reasons, memorials were under-valued so that in many cases they were lost or destroyed. Many people wanted to forget, or deny, the traumas and hardships that war had brought.
Quotations on war memorials are numerous, sources varying from biblical, Latin, poetical or literary texts. Jilly Cooper campaigned for the erection of a memorial in Park Lane, London, to animals who served in the war - it states: "I had no choice".
The North-East War Memorial Project took five years of detective work (and remains ongoing), including the study of newspapers (for information on memorials, some long since gone, and social comment), diocesan faculty books (for additions to the interior of churches), photography, cataloguing and more. Janet hopes that all are recorded but this cannot be guaranteed and in many cases details remain missing. In addition, currently, an initiative 'Every Name a Story' aims to add details of names on every North-East War Memorial. Please visit: www.newmp.org.uk and communicate any additions.
"Lest we Forget" Rudyard Kipling
Rosemary Bell February 2014
From Barrow to Bunker
"The Ministry of Defence Establishment controls one percent of the total land surface of the United Kingdom". This was a statistic given to members and visitors at Glendale Local History Society's latest meeting on March 12th by the speaker for the evening Philip Abramson. Philip is the Defence Estates Environmental Advisor and in a fascinating talk entitled "From Barrow to Bunker" he explained how the MOD takes its role as custodians of the land very seriously. Parts of MOD land are farmed and provide a livelihood for those involved in its care. The MOD estates have their own natural environments and provide a habitat for numerous flora and fauna including some rare and listed species. It has its own archaeological, historical and cultural associations that the MOD is mindful of and takes great pride in. Philip explained that a large part of his job is to liaise with other agencies that have an interest in documenting and recording what the land contains. He pointed out that being on MOD land is not a bad place for a plant or a feature to be. The footfall in such places is low and consequently the chance of being left in peace is high. While rare plants or animals may not be able to stop a war they can modify an exercise and some features are "off limits" to troops. A local example is a Roman camp on the Otterburn moors. Perhaps the only instance where second century soldiers have managed to bring their twenty first century comrades to a halt!
Having such cultural gems under its care has a positive feedback for the MOD. Operation Nightingale is a rehabilitation programme that uses archaeology to help soldiers injured both physically and mentally to come to terms with their situation and prepare them for further work in the military or a move into civilian life. Archaeology and soldiering have a number of skills in common and the cross-over between the two disciplines is beneficial to both. Archaeologists and soldiers survey and read ground, both professions have an interest in what is under the ground and soldiers actually seem to enjoy digging! Philip cited how a dig at Hadrian's Wall had been attended by injured soldiers from the UK, Germany and Cyprus and how Operation Nightingale had helped to restore the participants' self-esteem and improve their social skills. For their part the civilian archaeologists involved had learned to appreciate the culinary delights of army rations and the luxury of standard issue sleeping bags! Operation Nightingale has received recognition from Current Archaeology and Time Team, several participants have gone on to study archaeology at university and in 2012 Nightingale was awarded a special trophy by the British Archaeology Society for its outstanding conservation work on MOD land.
Glendale Local History Society The Press Gang experience!
For its last session of the season, Society members and visitors were drawn into a dark side of the build up of British naval power through song and story. Our presenters were a Singing Group, 'Old English', who provided a commentary, pictures and excerpts from documents, interspersed with songs. They explained that they had been drawn into the experience of the Press Gangs through folk songs about the fear of being 'pressed' and about protest against the system. They reminded us that folk songs had once been rejected as of any historical interest, but now we value them as an expression of the 'complexion of the times', or the 'sound of history', giving voice to ordinary people whose experience would otherwise be lost to us.
The background to the Press Gang system was the build up of the Navy in the 17th and 18th centuries, as Britain sought to establish dominance in control of the seas. The merchant navy was already expanding as British trade across the world grew, but the country was also involved in many wars with other European powers. This military and commercial expansion needed not only many more ships but also many more men to man them. Many men were drawn into becoming seamen – in the merchant navy and in the fishing fleet, and some might try their fortune by volunteering for the Navy. But we were told that pay in the Navy was less than on merchant ships, and conditions were harsh, with long periods at sea, a poor diet and the risk of disease in crowded boats, to add to that from injury in naval battles and drowning at sea. And the Navy's demand for men was not constant – very high during periods of intense military activity, with little demand during more peaceful times. When a war broke out, the Navy needed to recruit large numbers of men, especially those with some seaborne experience. Many such people were recorded as 'volunteers', though our speakers suggested that some of these may have been very reluctant ones. But this was not enough, so the system of Press Gangs was created to search out sailors to 'impress' into the service of the crown.
Through the songs from the period, and one special composition by the group, we were given a feel of what it was like to be taken by the Press Gang. The river Tyne area was the second most important source of 'pressed men' after the London area, because of the extent of commercial trade and the coal industry, which exported by sea. The system was organised through 'Regulating Captains', who were given a quota of men to provide for the Navy. Under them were lieutenants, who worked with individual Press Gangs and informants to round up groups of sailors – some on shore leave, some standing down after previous periods with the Navy, and some on merchant ships coming into port. Ships and their crews seem to have got quite skilled in finding ways to evade the Gangs. Employers valuing their skilled workers would also try to find ways to avoid their men being impressed. We were told that the keelmen on the Tyne, often at loggerheads over pay and conditions with the coal owners, actually banded together with their bosses to get exemption from the Press Gang, though apparently there were many keelmen at the battle of Trafalgar. There were also instances where local people banded together to fight the Press Gangs, with women being as active as the men in these protests. In one case, a group of men and women tried to seize a ship moored in the Tyne, in which many pressed men were 'imprisoned' before being distributed around the naval fleet. In the songs which 'Old English' sang, a key theme was the problem women faced in sustaining their households if men were taken away, as they never knew if they would see their men again or get paid for their naval service.
We were invited to consider arguments for and against the Press Gang system. For many, it was a bad episode in our history, undermining principles of liberty which were being put forward at the very same time. But without it maybe Britain would not have been so successful in achieving command of the seas during the 19th century. Whatever we thought, we found experiencing history through song in this way provided a fine ending to the GLHS season of talks. The new season starts again in September.
Patsy Healey, 9th April 2014
Visit to Barmoor Estate
Tour of Barmoor Estate and Castle on Saturday 5 April.
After a week of persistent fog thirty members of Glendale Local History Society were welcomed by sunshine when they met for a tour of Barmoor Estate and Castle on Saturday 5 April. Our guide was archaeologist John Nolan who had given a talk to the society some months earlier.
We began by walking around the estate, once substantially larger, now an attractive country park for caravans and lodges with magnificent views to the north. This allowed the castle to be considered in its physical context while John told something of its history. And there was plenty of that! A 14th century core tower house, supplemented by 16th century additions and remodelled in the 19th century, Barmoor may well have had an earlier Manor House and even a Saxon settlement.
Of the various families owning Barmoor, the Muschamps, Carrs and Sitwells are probably the most well-known names.
Our walk took in the old roads now converted into tracks and drives for caravan owners, the former village green and the site of Barmoor town which originally had its own school and chapel. Earthworks of tofts and crofts were visible as recently as 40 years ago. A map from 1772 has survived on which names of tenants appear. Barmoor Woods (where the English army camped before the Battle of Flodden in 1513) were once the source of coal-mining and quarrying which helped later owners develop industries on the estate. Accounts from the 17th century record timber use for fuel and weaving. Brick making also took place.
After John's vivid descriptions of township life in earlier times, it was not difficult to imagine a hive of industry as we peeped over the fence at the stub end of Barmoor Town at the surviving 18th century cottages and dry stone walls.
The Sitwells owned the estate from 1791 until the late 1970's. There were several colourful characters amongst them including one known as Frank the Gambler who became MP for Berwick and left huge debts for succeeding generations. They were known on the whole as good landlords who looked after their tenants. However, this did not prevent them from demolishing most of the township in 1825 in order to make the view from their remodelled castle "more agreeable"! Our circuit through the grounds completed and our appetite for further exploration definitely whetted, we were led inside the castle itself after health and safety warnings. In 1540 it was described as "in extreme decay and almost ruinous" and since then a number of improvements have been made. In 1801 the present building was designed by John Paterson, a pupil of the Adams brothers. It is best described as a castellated Gothic Revival mansion. The present owners made it a priority to ensure the building remains watertight though it is not yet habitable. We were shown different architectural features which have survived, some in surprisingly good condition, such as glass domes and plasterwork, other less so. Old bread –ovens and fireplaces remain as do the main staircase with ornamental metalwork and the servants' stairs. Hooks from the ceiling from which candelabra once hung are still in place in the Billiard Room. We admired the revolving fireplace which allowed a newly-laid fire to be instantly swung around for lighting at breakfast time following all-night gambling sessions.
The fortunes of the Sitwells began a downward slide mid-19th century and they were compelled to vacate the castle in order to lease it out while they moved into nearby Barmoor House built about 1780 from estate bricks. During the 20th century most of the estate including several farms had to be sold off. The last member of the Sitwell family continued to live in it until the 1960's and photographs from then show the interior to be quite habitable. Sadly that is no longer the case. It appears on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register and it is to be hoped that substantial grants will be available from national sources in order to conserve this unique and important building.
Our thanks go to the Lamb family who kindly allowed us to visit and to John Nolan who led the tour and shared with us his impressive knowledge of the castle's history. We would also like to thank Jenny Vaughan who provided an interesting display of archaeological finds from the estate including mediaeval pottery, buttons and buckles, and to Alistair Mackenzie, who showed us hundreds of coins, badges and other items he had found locally with the help of his metal-detector.
This was a very special outing for members and we came away feeling privileged to have such an in-depth tour.
Visit to MoD Otterburn Ranges
A gloriously fine day greeted 28 GLHS members and friends for their tour of the Ministry of Defence Otterburn Ranges on Sat April 19th. It couldn't have been a more appropriate visit as we remembered that soldiers would have been training in this very landscape 100 years ago in anticipation of what became the Great War.
Our group travelled along the old Roman road, Dere Street, built in 71-81 AD as a thoroughfare from York to the north. From this track evidence of 4 or 5 Roman camps could just be detected by a discerning eye. As we entered the 'danger area', used for live firing practice and night training, it became apparent there were no stone walls, sheep stells, or barbed wire fences – thus reducing the risk of ricochet. We were privileged to be taken into a forbidden area littered with dozens of historic tanks now used for target practice. We also saw two small 'railway' track systems which were still used for targeting moving objects. Along with more modern day bunkers we viewed 'Ridless' Bronze Age burial cairn which, situated on high ground, had high status and commanding views.
The bulk of this remote, desolate land (now comprising 32,000 hectares) had been purchased in 1911 from the Redesdale (Mitford) family and has been used for military training for 104 years. It comprises undulating moorland with ridges and basins of which 95% is now designated National Park. The area is farmed as upland grazing with the lambing season protected by a 'no firing' policy. A wealth of protected wildlife and archaeological remains is to be found. The highlight, regarded as the most evocative site ─ more than the older Bronze Age and Roman sites ─ is the protected Scheduled Monument W.W.1 Trench system. These trenches were dug, when strategic changes were needed as the War progressed, to initiate new recruits into the type of warfare they would face. An archaeological excavation in 2005 concluded it was unlikely that soldiers of the day had lived in these trenches; however, they had been constructed according to the manuals of the time. Their design included a Front Line, Support Line, Communication Trench and Reserve Line. It is likely that they were used to train gunners and for artillery practice from miles behind the reserve line, in practice for firing over trenches to enemy lines. After the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force (which numbered far less than the French and Germans armies) and the British Forces saw a million men join up, occupation and fitness were required in readiness until these new recruits could be deployed; trenches were dug all over England - on beaches and farmland – to fulfil this purpose. The Otterburn trenches, however, are unique.
We were very grateful to Philip Abramson for guiding our tour and sharing his extensive knowledge. To conclude, eighteen of the group enjoyed lunch at Otterburn Mill, which itself has a rich heritage, reflecting the rise and passing of the industrial revolution ─ the main buildings dating back to the mid18th century, when Otterburn was a thriving woollen Mill.
This proved a special day enjoyed by all. Rosemary Bell: April 2014
ROUND COUNTY DAY 21st JUNE 2014
Farming and the Railways in Glendale 18th to 20th Centuries
Hosted by the Glendale Local History Society, the Association of Northumberland Local History Societies held a day event at the Cheviot Centre, Wooler, focused on agricultural history in Glendale from the 18th Century. Dr Ian Roberts provided an authoritative overview, underlying the significant role our area played in agricultural improvement, while Dr Bill Fawcett provided an account of how this story linked to the development of the railway network on both sides of the Border.
Dr Roberts set our local story in the context of the overall agricultural revolution in the UK. He recounted how Arthur Young, the great 18th century advocate of agricultural improvement, was critical of what he found in the south of Northumberland on a visit late in the century. He found little evidence of the new breeding practices and crop rotations being promoted elsewhere. He attributed this to the small size of farms and short leases. Landowners near the burgeoning Tyneside industrial complex were more interested in mining opportunities on their land. In contrast, Young reported significant improving zeal in the north of the county. Here landowners granted much longer leases (up to 21 years) for larger units at modest rents, and several looked out for tenants committed to improvement. This attracted farmers, such as the Culley brothers, to move into the area. At this time, the Earl of Tankerville was much more energetic in promoting improvement than the Duke of Northumberland, and there were strong linkages among the landowners and farmers on both sides of the Border. Robert Bakewell's ideas about sheep breeding stimulated both James Robson from Belford in the Beaumont Valley, and the Culley brothers, who started at West Fenton farm in Glendale. They focused both on sheep breeding and improving land quality, especially through liming. The result was a huge increase in the amount and value of both crops and stock, which enabled the Culleys to rent and then buy more farms. By the mid-19th Century, their descendents were significant landowners in Glendale themselves. With John Bailey, the land agent for the Tankerville estate, George Culley wrote the Northumberland volume of the English county agricultural reviews, produced at the turn of the century. Dr Roberts underlined that the Culley and Bailey report was considered nationally among the best of these accounts.
This increase in agricultural productivity in Glendale benefitted centres such as Wooler, where weekly and annual markets were held. The size and quality of farming in the area also enabled it to survive the recession which followed the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 much better than other areas of the country. Commentators reporting on the condition of agriculture in Northumberland in the mid-19th Century noted that agriculture in some parts of the county was in a poor state, but Glendale was praised for its productivity, which in turn increased wages for farm workers and shepherds. By this time, improvers were emphasising the virtues of land drainage, promoted vigorously by the new Duke of Northumberland. As the century wore on, and due to competition from imported grains, especially wheat, there was a significant shift from arable crops to stock. The railway came to Wooler in the 1880s, and an auction mart replaced the scattered markets.
Dr Roberts took the story into the 20th century, when the costs of labour and machinery began to affect profits, particularly after the first world war. Sheep became even more important. There was a brief return to grain production in the second world war, reverting again to stock afterwards. The major shift in this postwar period was the replacement of farm workers by machinery, with all the consequences with which we are now familiar.
So how what was happening with railway investment in these two centuries? Dr Fawcett explained the various projects which were put forward in Northumberland and the Borders, especially by the North Eastern and North British railway companies. The main promoters in these companies were 'improving' landowners and also some traders in places such as Kelso and Berwick. Early schemes were for horse-drawn trucks on rails. Landowners were particularly interested in better ways of moving coal and lime to their estates and exporting their corn. This trade carried on when steam railways were built, and special structures were provided at some stations for storing both lime and coal. But many early schemes did not get built. There were often problems with other landowners, who did not want railways built across their estates, and the 1815 recession affected investment possibilities.
In the end, apart from the east coast line, North Northumberland had only two railways which were actually built – Berwick to Kelso, and Alnwick to Cornhill. Several others schemes were promoted, mostly going north from the Tyne valley. But these never managed to make it across the border. The problem was that the trade was primarily linked to the farming year, which was seasonal rather than regular. In contrast, Dr Fawcett showed how the Newcastle to Carlisle route benefitted not just from moving agricultural produce, but from cutting down shipping routes between the west and east coasts of Britain. This route was completed before the east coast route from Newcastle to London was finished. The Alnwick to Cornhill railway was promoted by both landowners and industrialists, and built by the North Eastern railway company. Some of the stations were very grandly designed and we can still recognise the railway buildings in the landscape today. The line was primarily used for shifting goods and stock, rather than passengers, but increasingly into the 20th Century, livestock and coal were transferred to lorries, and the line was closed progressively after the second world war.
After such an intense morning, ANHLS members relaxed over lunch in the gardens of the Cheviot Centre, and then went on a self-guided tour of interesting sites and buildings in Wooler. GLHS provided a map and notes for the tour and mobilised people to be at the sites to give more information. An informative, friendly and sunny day produced a very positive reaction among visitors to our area!
List of Archive Material held in Society Archives
North-East airfields – aviation history 1910–2003
At the first meeting of the new season on 10th September, Alan Fendley spoke about North-East airfields – aviation history 1910–2003. His talk entertained and informed both those in the audience who had little knowledge of the subject and those who had, like Alan, served in the RAF.
The Northumberland airfields played an essential part in the defence of the country throughout this period.
Until 1918 military flight was the responsibility of both the Royal Flying Corps, which was part of the army, and the Royal Naval Air Service. In those early days there were isolated, temporary airfields such as Newcastle Town Moor, where there was also an aircraft factory (1912–6), and at Long Benton, where there was a balloon barrage to protect the Tyne shipyards.
The RAF was formed as an independent organisation in April 1918. Acklington airfield was operational from 1916–20 as the Royal Flying Corps, and in 1938 it reopened to be used by the RAF until 1975.
In WWII the region was largely responsible for training, which was no less dangerous than the better known exploits of the air crews in the south. The RAF had expanded in the 1930s, and during the Battle of Britain the defence of the UK's airspace was divided up within RAF Fighter Command into four Groups, each comprising a number of airfields and squadrons. No. 13 Group covered the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The four groups saw different levels of activity during the Battle. No. 13 Group was primarily a training region. No. 11 Group, responsible for the defence of London and the south-east, saw the heaviest fighting, and pilots were often rotated among the groups to allow them to rest and recuperate after several weeks of fierce contact with the enemy, so many came north.
No. 13’s training role might be considered less risky, but a quarter died during training so in fact it was more hazardous. No. 4 Air Gunnery School at Tramwell Woods, Morpeth, (1942–45) had an exceptionally high death rate, including many Poles who had escaped to fight for the Allies.
The Group HQ and radar school was at Ouston (1941–3), and training on Spitfires took place at Eshott (1942–5).
Milfield is a natural aerodrome (1942–59); however pilots were obliged to take off into the prevailing westerly wind, leading to many crashes in the Cheviot Hills.
In addition to training, the North East saw plenty of action during the war. Based at Acklington, in October 1939 on their first combat patrol, 607 Squadron shot down an enemy flying boat. In February 1940, also flying from Acklington, F/L Peter Townsend shot the first enemy aircraft to fall on English soil. He became an ‘Ace’ pilot when later he had downed 5 enemy aircraft.
Presumably the pilot of a Junkers 88 thought he had saved German secrets by landing in the sea at Budle Bay, but when the tide went out the plane was salvaged and gave up valuable information.
Attempting to negotiate a peace before Hitler’s invasion of Russia, Rudolf Hess landed at Bamburgh before going on to crash-land near Glasgow.
Two Danish students, who had built a plane in a barn, flew westwards towards the UK where they were picked up on radar. They went on to serve in the RAF, one dying in service.
In the severe 1943 winter, an American Boeing B17 Flying Fortress had to abort its flight to Germany and return to Molesworth, Cambridgeshire. Hopelessly lost, it crashed into Cheviot. By chance a shepherd’s collie led people to the site, and all but 2 of the crew were rescued.
From 1936–8, Hindenburg airships provided the first regular scheduled flights between Europe and the US, but the crews also took aerial photographs for German intelligence. In 1945 some Luftwaffe plates were used to find the site of Ad Gefrin, the royal Anglo-Saxon township.
The WWII airfields now have other uses: Wolsington became the site of Newcastle International airport, Ouston is now Albermarle army base, and Acklington site is a prison.
RAF Boulmer was originally a satellite to Eshott, but now it is now a base for Air Traffic Control and an early-warning station. The remaining ‘golf balls’ face east, as they were built during the cold war. Boulmer plots every flight across UK airspace, sometimes scrambling RAF planes to challenge unplanned flights. This important role will continue, but the more visible RAF Search and Rescue (SAR) Force is to end after 74 years, and instead the service will be provided by a private contractor. So we’ll no longer be seeing the yellow RAF Sea King helicopters, which Alan described as ‘thirty-seven and a half thousand rivets flying in formation’, and after more than a century of illustrious service there’ll be no RAF airfields in Northumberland.
A predilection for steep banks - the Morpeth to Coldstream turnpike road
Getting from A to B in the 1700s was a hazardous business.The roads were unmade, rutted and plagued by footpads and highwaymen. For these reasons most people stayed at home or in their own locality. Any long journeys involved a large retinue of people, horses and armed protectors.
In his talk, Toll Roads and Turnpike Roads, Derek Cutts explained how Britain’s general increase in prosperity and more settled domestic political climate after the mid-18th century brought about a need for better, safer and quicker communications, a need that resulted in the construction of a road system of turnpikes and tolls that established the routes of most of the roads we use today.
The first Turnpike Act was passed in 1697 and more followed. Turnpike Acts put road building and maintenance into the hands of Toll Trusts. These Trusts were essentially local in their make-up but together were charged with doing something of national importance.
By the early 19th century, the toll system had spread all over the country. Progress was not easy. Derek explained how local considerations, petty jealousies or plain greed held up projects, led to their abandonment or to the re-routing of a proposed road. The results of some of this are still with us today – a bend that a horse drawn mail coach had difficulty negotiating will always be difficult for an articulated lorry! Wherever a turnpike necessitated a stop, supply businesses such as inns and farriers emerged.
The Lindisfarne Gospels: their making and meaning
Ross Wilkinson, a member of the Learning and Access Team of Durham University Library, spoke on this subject which is of immense importance in our area, and the large audience proved to be extremely appreciative. Mr Wilkinson, who brought a facsimile of the gospels, displayed an enthusiastic and profound knowledge of the book, which delighted everyone. He began by explaining that his team, since September 2012, had delivered workshops to over 25,000 learners of all ages. Whilst the gospels were on display at Durham last year, an engagement programme of workshops, family activities and lectures involved a further 13,500 people.
The gospels, kept in The British Museum, are constantly giving up more of their secrets about their creation to researchers. A lot is known; more is being revealed all the time. What we know is that they were written between 650 and 715 AD, by one monk called Eadfrith. He would have taken 10–20 years to carry out the task. Although he was the only scribe, several other monks undertook the illustrated folios. At that time, Northumbria was the hub of all Christendom for the writing of books. Written on vellum, it is estimated that 300–400 calves would have been required for the vellum. Although 129 folios make up the book, the remaining skins would have been used and discarded, or else made up into less important books, as those in ‘The Lindisfarne Gospels’ had to be perfect.
We were taken through slides of key pages, beginning with the carpet page of Jerome – like a prayer mat of Islam, but with a Coptic cross, and the words, ‘You are humble before God.’ We were shown the carpet, the portrait, and the incipit pages for each of the four evangelists. Writing on these pages was in a mixture of Greek and Hebrew, and illumination incorporated symbols of the Celtic church and the Roman church as well as elements of Judaism and Islam. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all portrayed with their own symbols, such as the eagle of St John (a link to heaven) and the lion of Mark.
It is to Aldred that the attribution of the gospels being written for Cuthbert is due. However, the only reference to Cuthbert, written 300 years after the saint’s death, is in Aldred’s ‘Collophon’ at the back of the book, stating ‘Eadfrith wrote this book for God and St Cuthbert.’ He attributes the binding to Ethilvald, and the cover to Billfrith, a jewel smith. The original cover is missing. We know it was elaborately decorated with gold, silver and gems, but it was taken by Henry VIII’s men at the dissolution. The cover had an all-important part to play with illiterate pilgrims to Durham, since it represented ‘God’s Word’ when on display before Cuthbert’s tomb.
The gospels disappeared at this time, only to re-appear as part of the ‘Opening Collection’ at the British Museum in c1750. It was last checked out in 1908. Now it is rarely handled, save when a page is turned each year. The audience was invited to examine the facsimile themselves, the use of local pigments was discussed, pencil designs on the back of pages noted and illumination wondered at.
A deeply appreciative audience acknowledged a very successful evening and a vote of thanks was offered to Ross Wilkinson. There follows a trip to Lindisfarne for a limited number of people on Saturday 29th November at 11a.m. where at St Mary’s Church Canon Rev. Kate Tristram will make a presentation.
History of Northumbrian Music
A talk illustrated with music by Alistair Anderson
Alistair Anderson's talk 'History of Northumbrian Music - a lecture illustrated with music' went ahead as planned at 7:30pm at the United Reformed Church in Cheviot Street on 8 December. The 52 attendees (including 23 visitors) who had been able to brave the sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts were treated to a fascinating and comprehensive talk on the history of Northumberland's traditional music and heard some bravura illustrative performances by Alistair on the English Concertina and the Northumbrian Pipes. Alistair’s enthusiasm for folk music is unbounded. He is a devotee of the English Concertina and the Northumberland Pipes and has written beautiful haunting music which he performs with a variety of groups and bands. He set up Folkworks in 1986 working with Northern Arts and was joined by Ros Rigby in 1988, establishing Folkworks as an independent charity that went on to run a huge number of professional tours and education projects. The Summer Schools were great fun, offering workshops for different instruments and for singing and dancing and ending in a big concert. Later Alistair, together with Newcastle University, personally designed and developed the first four year degree course in traditional music in the country.
Alistair made it clear that he was going to concentrate on instrumental folk music and started by telling us about the five generations of Cloughs who were coal miners in the South of the county and all played the pipes. These were the old pipes without keys that would just play one octave. They worked 10 hour shifts, five days a week and an extra half shift on Saturday but were still able to find the time and creativity to make up tunes with intricate variations. He played us a recording of Tom Clough (1881-1964) performing ‘The Keel Row’ that was made in 1929 which had a set of complex variations played with accuracy at breakneck speed. However, in the mainstream of Northumberland folk music, the dominant instrument has always been the fiddle, and the fiddle players have left us their tune books for the dances which go back to the 1690’s. Some of these were in rather strange time signatures such as 3/2 and syncopation was popular as in ‘The Lads of Alnwick’. These books are full of jigs, reels and hornpipes. He explained how the music, the musicians and the dance are linked together and to show this he played the concertina while demonstrating the rant step, making us all want to get up and have a go. Alistair went on to bring to life some of the names on the pages of the Northumberland Piper’s Tune Books such as Jimmy Allen, who it seems was quite a rogue and made his living as he could. Jimmy attracted crowds at fairs with his fiddle playing and got friends to go around their backs picking pockets. He is also said to have fought on both sides in the Napoleonic Wars and to have joined up for the King’s shilling in one town, deserted, then joined up again in another town. Alistair spoke with great affection of Billy Pigg who had been one of his key influences when he first started to play, and, of the three shepherds, Joe Hutton, Will Atkinson and Will Taylor, who played the pipes, mouth organ and fiddle. He ended by playing a beautiful tune he had written in tribute to them called 'Empty Spaces' which evoked the landscape where they were shepherds and also the empty spaces left in the world of Northumbrian music when they died.
Stewart McCormick gave the vote of thanks at the end of Alistair's talk. Stewart recalled how, when he was teaching at Berwick High School, Alistair had contacted him to find if he was willing to co-operate with Folkworks and start up a Ceilidh Band in the school. Classically trained Stewart had been cautious at first but as the project proceeded successfully, he began supporting it enthusiastically. Stewart explained that his conversion was completed when Alistair left a "spare" English Concertina with him over the summer holidays "just in case it was needed".
After dabbling with it a few times he was hooked on the instrument and Alistair had gained another advocate for traditional Northumbrian music.
Equal on the turf
On a cold December evening, GLHS members and visitors were treated to a lively account of horseracing history by one of our own members, Charlie Brown. The talk ranged over the origins of key events in the British racing calendar, key figures who had shaped the rules of racing, the genealogy of some of the greatest racing horses, and the background to famous jockeys. In presenting the story, richly illustrated with slides and anecdotes, we learned the origin of famous terms, like ‘steeplechase’ and ‘Derby Day’.
At the start, Charlie introduced the talk by presenting a famous painting of a day at the races. This underlined that ‘all human life was there’, with all classes mingling as they enjoyed the racing, the betting and the various entertainments that could be found. We then heard about the racecourse that used to be at Belford, one of the most important in our area. It was active from the early 19th century, and perhaps from before. It ceased to operate towards the end of the century for reasons which are not quite clear, although people were coming from Newcastle by rail during the middle of the 19th century.
Nationally, the Jockey Club was founded in 1753, prompted by the need for some form of regulation as, by this time, horseracing and betting were closely linked. In Charlie’s view, three key figures shaped how racing rules evolved. The first was Charles Bunbury who, with Lord Derby, introduced the racing of 3-year old horses and modified the system of heats prior to the main race, which had often exhausted the horses. Racing 3-year olds helped to test the abilities of young racers. Bunbury and Derby were particularly active at the Epsom Downs racecourse, which is now the premier event in Britain, and The Derby is of course named after Lord Derby. The second was Lord George Cavendish Bentinck, in the mid-19th century, who was particularly concerned to eliminate fraud. Until then there had been all sorts of tricks – substituting numbers and colours between horses, jockeys and the programme, to confuse the outcome of bets, presumably a form of ‘insider trading’. The third was Admiral Rous, who was a stickler for enforcement, upbraiding any jockey who had flouted the rules.
Then as now, the quality of the horses was a central preoccupation. A famous racer often had a genealogy of winning ancestors and sired new generations of winners. All the racing stock is descended from one of three racehorses brought from Arabia in the late 17th/early 18th Century. We were introduced to the genealogy of ‘Dr Syntax’, a very successful horse owned by the Felton Park family. His ancestors included winners, and one of the original ‘foundation sires’. His descendents included Beeswing, born in 1833, who was even more successful than Dr Syntax, and whose descendents continued to breed winners. One of these was Hermit, who in 1867 unexpectedly won a race on which the Marquis of Hastings had placed a large bet. The Marquis lost millions and died soon after. Hermit’s descendents are still winning on the turf today.
Horses needed good jockeys. Jockeys often came from families working in the racing industry, and their future depended on their weight. We were introduced to Fred Archer, who was very successful in a short life which ended when he was only 29 in 1886. By this time, the railway network enabled him to travel across the country to participate in many races. But perhaps the stress of keeping a low weight and maintaining a winning record cost him his life. Jockeys could also be injured, often falling on the course. But they could be philosophical too. Captain Becher fell at the first Grand National held at Aintree in 1839, which then consisted of a fence and a brook. He fell at the brook and sheltered under the fence as all the other horses jumped over him, and this jump has ever since been referred to as Becher’s Brook. Phlegmatically, he is said to have commented that water is much better with whisky in it. The Grand National is of course a steeplechase, with fences and ditches to negotiate. It apparently originated in Ireland in a challenge to race between two church steeples!
For many of us this was a quite new field of history, and we expressed our warm thanks to our speaker, also thanking him for his work with the GLHS Committee from which he has recently retired.
Our next meeting will be on January 14th, when Jim Herbert will talk on aspects of Berwick History. Visitors are most welcome.
The Alnwick Freemen & The Dukes - 1757 to date
A talk by Cliff Pettit
I have just returned from a visit to the historic town of Alnwick - a visit prompted by an excellent talk given at the January meeting of the Glendale Local History Society by retired solicitor Cliff Pettit.
Cliff’s talk took us back to a time when life was very different to today. He reminded us that in the 15th and 16th centuries Northumberland was a pretty lawless place and Alnwick, being an important trading and market town, was at the sharp end. So much so that the Earls of Northumberland didn’t much care to live there - preferring to spend their time in their properties in the more peaceful (and warmer!) south of England. Consequently the running of the town was left to the Freemen of Alnwick.
In feudal medieval England the lottery of life dealt three options - Nobility (not many of them), Freemen (middling numbers of them), and Serfs (plenty of them). The Freemen were essentially a town council and dealt with all the things that their modern day counterparts handle. Trading standards, local administration, rents and local taxes were all in their jurisdiction as was the magistracy and law and order. The Freemen themselves were, in the main, local trades people who derived their power from the trade guilds. These governed and regulated trades within the town.
They were part trade union, part trade protection with some philanthropy mixed in. For traders who were Freemen, it was "free" to put up a stall in the Market Square, but other traders had to wait outside the town walls to be let in and had to pay a fee (to the Freemen!).
In time, the Alnwick Freemen became influential wealthy property owners and the nobility were content to allow this to happen while they enjoyed their softer lifestyle further south. Then two things happened . The Union of the Crowns in 1603 led to a lessening of cross border strife and in 1672 the first Duke of Northumberland decided to make his home at Alnwick Castle. Suddenly the nobility were not comfortable living in a place where Freemen had such influence and ealth and the Duke began a campaign, mainly through the courts, to reduce their status. This continued into the 19th century and even today the occasional contentious issue arises.
The rivalry between the Dukes and Freeman frequently involved land and property and so it is not surprising that the Market Square featured in many disputes. Cliff intrigued us by explaining that the very grand Northumberland Hall was built on one side of the Market Square by the then Duke and gifted to the town to outshine the Town Hall, owned by the Freemen, on an adjacent side. It seems that prestige was as significant as commercial advantage in this rivalry.
Cliff told us that to be eligible to become a Freeman you either needed to be the son of a Freeman or become an apprentice to a Freeman. Since apprenticeships are scarce in modern times, this meant that succession through the male line had become the only way and women were inevitably precluded. Around the world there were many men who were eligible to be Freemen, but in Alnwick there were relatively few and this could lead to difficulties in maintaining the number of Freemen in future years.
The Alnwick Freemen are still concerned with the governance of their town and own property both within Alnwick and on Alnwick Moor. Cliff entertained us with his account of the Freemen’s traditional initiation ceremony which used to take place annually. This was not for the faint-hearted as it involved riding the town boundary on horseback and crawling through a bog containing hidden obstacles!
Our speaker concluded with a reassurance that relations between the Freemen and the Duke are now “tolerable”. The vote of thanks was given by the chairman of GLHS Hilda Field.