Reports from 2017
Can she bait a line? Fisher Women in Northumberland
by Katrina Porteous
A packed audience was treated to an informative talk by local historian and poet, Katrina Porteous, at the January meeting of Glendale Local History Society. As the Chair remarked it was the first time we have had to provide “sitting-on-the-floor-room only!”
Katrina made excellent use of various images from the past depicting girls and women whose lives were integral to the fishing industry of the north-east coast. Those fishing communities are connected by the Anglian culture in which dialect and the fishing coble are fundamental. Starting with the American artist Winslow Homer of the Cullercoats artists’ colony, she led us from the romanticised “bonny fisher lasses” through to Isa Thompson’s pair of fishwives in their dark clothing trudging over the shore and on to beautiful medieval images from France and Italy of women practising the skills still in use in these parts 700 years later. The method of knitting a net has not changed for even longer, possibly 6000 years! Numerous photographs from places like Seahouses, Beadnell, Craster and Newbiggin gave an insight into the work and toil of these hardworking women. It was fascinating to travel back in time to familiar places such as the car park at Beadnell Beach occupied by women rough-salting the herring before the finer packing into wooden barrels when there was a glut.
Just as important as the images in this talk were the quotes and anecdotes which Katrina has collected from local people working in the industry for many years. Thank goodness she did! For many of these characters are now no longer with us and fishing, as it was in the first part of the 20th century, has now almost disappeared. Some of the people Katrina has known have inspired her poetry, now published in several books. Among these was Cathy, from Newbiggin and later Amble, whom she described as “busy as a sanderling”. Bird-watching members of the audience did not miss the allusion.
Fundamental to the women’s story is the fact that without their work the men could not do their job and fish could not be caught. It was women’s job to bait the long lines, half a mile in length, with 700 hooks each requiring a limpet and mussel to be added by hand before men could go out with the boat. Normally each man took two half-lines, carefully wound into a “sweel”, a basket shaped to hold the line so it could be fed into the water smoothly at the right time. The woman who had several unmarried grown-up sons was to be pitied for she would have all those lines to bait every day. In some cases other women had to be paid to do so as it was a time-consuming and skilled job. It was rare for a man to marry into a non-fishing family simply because it was essential to have a wife who already had the skill to bait a line. It was not a skill a woman could simply “pick up”. And of course they had first to fetch and carry home the bait from the shore! It is said that Beadnell women walked to Waren Mill to gather limpets which they took home to plant on the rocks at Beadnell in the early 20th century. Such toil meant that it was usual for women in fishing villages to die much younger than men.
From the end of the 18th century the herring industry began to be industrialised. Most of the fish was exported to the Baltic, once improved methods of preservation were introduced. We learnt about the tradition of the herring girls, both those resident in local villages who must have anticipated the arrival of the herring shoals each year with mixed feelings and those from the North of Scotland who followed the fleets down the coast as far as Lowestoft. In the early 19thcentury they travelled with the boats but used the railway from the middle of the century. The latter were fortunate enough to acquire some freedom and independence as well as hard cash through their work but at what cost! Paid a retainer for the months they were not working, it was not unknown for them to work up to 16 hours daily. Employed by the coopers, many of whom settled in the county from Scotland, the girls slept in dormitories above the herring yards. They worked in teams of 3, with 2 gutters and 1 packer, aiming to deal with 1 fish per second. Those gutting suffered numerous cuts on their hands from the sharp knives used. The record is said to have been set at Seahouses when a team packed 24 barrels in a single day, each barrel containing 1000 herring. Some of the Scottish women went on to marry Northumbrian fishermen.
Smaller villages like Beadnell ceased their involvement when over-fishing by steam trawlers from the Tyne saw a decline but places like Seahouses continued to fish for herring after WW1.
Women’s work did not end when the men set sail with their baited lines. Many would walk miles carrying their own weight in creels on their backs as they sold the fish at markets or door-to-door around neighbouring villages. Once home again they would take up their knitting needles and oiled wool to knit ganseys for their menfolk, incorporating their own family motifs into the pattern. They would even knit as they walked and waited for the boats to return.
Another task for women was launching the boats. The coble came into its own in the absence of a harbour. Its flat bottom was designed so it could be dragged over the sand where there was no harbour. To avoid men getting wet from wading into the water before going to sea, women carried out this task and also launched lifeboats. This was such a hard job that many families moved from places like Newbiggin to Amble, where there was a harbour. There are many tales of heroic action by these strong women in times of rough and dangerous weather.
Katrina’s presentation was followed by numerous questions from an enthusiastic audience, privileged to hear this knowledgeable and inspirational speaker.
The Fortifications of Berwick upon Tweed
The talk, illustrated with maps showing the different plans of the ramparts as they were built, re-designed, allowed to fall into disrepair, were re-built, strengthened and altered over the last millennia, gave a detailed insight into the strategic importance of Berwick as a bulwark between England and Scotland.
Not only were we informed about the walls themselves, but also of the weaponry, military developments, sieges and changes of power which led to the need for advances in protection.
The current walls are largely Elizabethan, but fortifications have been present since before the 12th century. We know that there were wooden walls and a castle even before King David l of Scotland in 1124 made considerable improvements to an existing castle.
When Edward l (The Hammer of the Scots) pushed north in 1296 he overwhelmed the forces of the Scots at Dunbar and ordered a deep moat to be dug at Berwick, added a palisade ‘a spear height’ above the walls and enlarged the site considerably. The following year William Wallace recaptured the town for the Scots briefly, and over the next 9 years power fluctuated between Scots and English until Wallace was decisively beaten in 1305.
Edward II managed to maintain some control in Scotland until 1314. He added 14 towers to the walls and held on to Berwick until 1319, but after Bannockburn (1314) there was no longer any real chance of succeeding in the north. The walls fell into serious disrepair until after Homildon Hill (1402).
In 1408 John of Gaunt spent £6000 over 14 years to rebuild and defend the ramparts.
We were told that although one cannot be certain how many times Berwick changed hands, at least 13 can be accounted for. It continued to be fought over during the Wars of the Roses, with Henry IV being defeated but Richard of Gloucester recapturing it in 1482.
Henry VII improved defences as artillery power required stronger protection against cannon fire; thus Coxon’s Tower was built as a great bulwark guarding the entrance. Henry VIII added a tower at the foot of the White Wall, and at Lords Mount, gun emplacements and a self-contained edifice with kitchen and latrines.
The later Tudors continued improvements, until Elizabeth developed, with Italian designers, a 20-foot-high rampart with a parapet of 17 feet. Six bastions were designed to completely surround the town, but only two-thirds were completed. There were brass demi-cannons, heavy mortars, Venetian cannon and breech loading guns. The Bell Tower was erected and the whole project was the most expensive of Elizabeth’s reign. A huge moat can be seen on a contemporary map.
When James VI of Scotland marched south in 1603, a cannon was fired symbolically and the garrison reduced to 100 men. He was crowned James I of England, an event re-enacted colourfully in Berwick recently. There was no longer a need for a barrier between the countries.
Although improvements to weaponry continued to be made, and even in WWII defences were added - this time to protect the coast, the walls were never again breached.
Berwick has a unique place in British history, its ramparts a fascinating reminder of conflicts in times past.
Outing: Berwick-upon-Tweed fortifications
Earlier in February Derek Sharman had spoken to the Society on The fortifications of Berwick upon Tweed; on this fascinating walk, Derek told us more as we looked at the defences on the north, east and south sides of the town.
The medieval street plan hasn’t changed since the 13th century, so when our tour started at Low Greens, we were following the line of the fastest route from Berwick to Edinburgh (the main route north went west through Duns).
After the Battle of Carham in 1018, the lands north of the Tweed became part of Scotland. Berwick, a seaport dealing with wool, grain and fish, became the most important town in Scotland, its population 4 times that of Edinborough.
In 1296 Edward I took Berwick for England, and immediately ordered the building of substantial stone walls to replace the timber defences around the medieval town; remains of these medieval walls can be seen in the boundaries of gardens to the north of the Greens, and along the north bank of the Tweed estuary. Over the next 220 years border warfare continued and the town changed hands at least 12 times, and the economy of Berwick never recovered.
We went into the ground floor of Henry VIII’s two-storey gun fortress, which lies outside the medieval walls, to the north of the town, to be a bastion against artillery attack. For maximum strength the fortress was octagonal, like a giant WWII pill box; it was completely self-contained with a well, latrines and fireplaces and flues to draw in fresh air, and the magazine under the captain’s accommodation. The kitchen was immediately outside, as a precaution against fire. The fortress was excavated in the 1970s and the layout and features clear to see.
Once the Elizabethan walls were completed, the first floor was demolished and the tower infilled to prevent it an enemy using it, and in the 1570s the tower nearby was rebuilt as a watch tower.
The medieval walls had fallen into disrepair, so Mary Tudor planned to build new defences; her early death left Elizabeth to implement the plan. With advice from Italian Giovanni Portenari, Sir Richard Lee devised state of the art fortifications. The Elizabethan walls were the biggest single expense of Elizabeth’s 45-year reign and are the only town walls of their type in the UK. (Similar town defences can now be seen only in Lucca, Italy.)
The walls took 2000 men 10 years to construct. The five bastions ensured that attackers from every possible angle could be stopped by cannon-fire or grape-shot. The walls were surrounded by a moat, fed from a lake dug out at the north of the town and controlled by sluice gates. The moat was 150ft wide, mostly knee-depth but with a 9ft ditch parallel to the walls to catch any would-be waders. Also, to deter attackers from the north, a wide trench was dug from the walls to the sea. Long wooden bridges, with drawbridges, enabled traffic to pass in and out in peacetime.
The cow port is the only gate through the walls that is unaltered. There was a portcullis, and the inner and outer doors were set at an angle so that if one were stormed open the way was still blocked.
Berwick’s defences were to protect the whole of the North of England against foreign invaders and also, as there were many catholic families in the North, to be the monarch’s power base in the event of any domestic rebellion or insurrection. However, to prevent the commander of the garrison becoming too powerful, he was kept short of artillery unless specific need arose: at the time of the Spanish Armada there were just 7 canons until more weapons were brought up from the Tower of London.
In 1644, during the Civil War, Cromwell paid Scots soldiers to maintain a garrison at Berwick. They were kept out of mischief building on top of the walls the high earth mounds for gun platforms. Cromwell ordered the buildings outside the walls, including two churches, be demolished to give the garrison clear views of any approaching enemy. Short of space for the soldiers to worship, the parliamentary government paid for a new church to be built; in Puritan style, it was free of ornament and without bells – the town hall bell was used to summon people to services until a narrow tower with a single bell was added for the Queen’s coronation in 1953.
The defences proved their value as a deterrent when in 1715 the Jacobites heading south bypassed the town. In 1745 the gunpowder had got damp, and Dutch troops had to bring supplies; the ammunition store was built in 1749.
The soldiers stationed in Berwick were billeted on the townsfolk until the barracks was built in 1721; the barracks became the model for the British army worldwide.
Berwick retained military restrictions until the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815; until then, the gates were locked and a curfew imposed overnight.
As we walked around the walls, our guide pointed out the military hospital, the house that Lowry had wanted to buy, the Governor’s House, fine individual Georgian houses, the smokery and the Russian gun. We learned that in WWII Berwick suffered 11 air raids which damaged 25% of the houses, and that English Heritage foots an annual bill of £42,000 to cut the grass.
Berwick certainly has a rich heritage, much of it unique in the UK, and as a result of the tour we will appreciate it all the better.
‘Hens that want to crow’: Suffragists & Suffragettes of the North-east 1866–1918. Women’s struggle for votes and other campaigns in the 19th century.
This inspiring talk coincided with International Women’s Day and reminded us of the pioneering women of the North East who had struggled to ensure that today’s women can vote.
The most famous of course was Emily Wilding Davison, who lost her life as she protested at a national race meeting in 1913. But Davison was only one of a long line of female activists with strong roots in the North East. Dr O’Donnell explained how the campaign for votes for women grew out of several related campaigns which arose in the early part of the 19th Century, as the rights of every human being to equal respect and treatment before the law were increasingly recognised. Women were involved in anti-slavery campaigns and in the Corn Law League. The issue of women’s voting rights also arose in the various reform bills which slowly extended the franchise to different groups of men as the century proceeded. We were surprised to learn that Earl Grey’s famous Reform Act of 1832, which introduced votes for all men owning property, was the first to explicitly exclude women. Until then, the franchise was defined in terms of eligible ‘persons’, while the new act referred specifically to ‘male persons’. By the 1860s, with a new reform act underway (passed in 1867), a petition was presented in Parliament to include women in the extended franchise, the petition being presented by MPs whose wives and friends were involved in the growing campaign. We heard of the roles of Emily Davies, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Josephine Butler, the Priestman sisters, Millicent Fawcett, Norah Balls, Florence Nightingale Harrison-Bell and Dr Ethel Williams, all with North East connections. These activists mostly had middle class backgrounds, which gave them the time, the education and the contacts for such campaigning. Several came from non-conformist backgrounds, particularly among the Quakers and Unitarians. But they were often involved in several campaigns and projects at once. Some, such as Josephine Butler, stayed largely on the margins of the movement, as she was so deeply absorbed in her work on the difficult topic of the treatment of women alleged to be spreading sexual diseases. Emily Davies put her main efforts into creating what became Girton College in Cambridge, and did not return to campaigning for the women’s movement until 1906.
By the 1880s, several roles in public life were being opened to women. They could vote on Poor Laws, and become members of School Boards. A well-supported proposal that the parliamentary vote be extended to women householders was justified on the grounds that such women were not only taxpayers, but had special knowledge of children and would bring more variety into national politics. Newcastle City Council voted for support for this measure, though Gateshead did not. There was also support in some of the national newspapers. However, in the end Prime Minister Gladstone dropped the issue of women’s suffrage from what became the 3rd Reform Act of 1884, in order to pass a significant extension to male suffrage.
But still 40% of men and no women had the vote. By this time, many women were getting impatient with the slow progress of the right to vote. While some continued to work through persuasive argument and continual pressure through legal means, others concluded that the only way forward was to become much more militant. The most visible of such groups was the Women’s Social and Political union, led by Sylvia Pankhurst, which organised not just demonstrations, but set fire to buildings and tried to disrupt the lives of key politicians. North East women such as Norah Balls spent time in prison as a result, though none demonstrated so dramatically as Emily Wilding Davison.
The flood of feeling which Davison’s funeral attracted was so large, that perhaps the campaign for votes for women would have succeeded within a short time. However, the first world war both disrupted the campaign and advanced it. So many women were involved in so many spheres of life, that in 1918, votes were finally extended to women over 30 in 1918, along with all men over 21. Women over 21 had to wait until 1928. As our speaker emphasised, however, winning the vote was only one step in the wider struggle for greater equality for women in all spheres of life. She herself was involved in struggles in the 1960s and 1970s, and suggested that there was a new interest in promoting womens’ rights these days, with very active celebration of International Women’s Day. Her talk reminded us nevertheless just how much the struggles of earlier generations of women had brought benefits which we later generations have enjoyed and should be grateful for.
Mary Eleanor Bowes
by Mr Antony Atkinson
For our last meeting of the season, we were lucky enough to have as speaker Mr Antony Atkinson, a volunteer for the National Trust at Gibside, to talk about Mary Eleanor Bowes, the great, great, great, grandmother of The Queen. His knowledge of this extraordinary woman proved to be profound, and Mr Atkinson was able, with insight and humour, to enlighten us about her life, loves and losses, with his erudite and engaging talk.
He began by giving a preamble about her heritage. Her father, George, (1701–1760) had been known as a rake, yet he was an educated and clever man, and immensely wealthy to boot. He was a ‘Coal Czar’ in County Durham, and a landowner who inherited 1,500 acres and increased his estate to 43,000 acres before his death. He loved horse-racing and introduced fox-hunting to the North, but found time to be a Whig MP too. It was he who had the famous avenue created at Gibside, half a mile long and culminating with the first Statue of Liberty. The statue was originally covered in gold leaf; however, thieves scaled the column and stole the gold.
When George was 24, he married the 14-year-old Mary Gilbert, thus adding her £20,000 dowry to his considerable wealth. The marriage was short-lived, for only 4 months later she died.
His second wife was Eleanor Verney, who gave him a daughter, Eleanor Mary Bowes, his only child, much indulged and his heiress.
George had her educated with music, Latin and Greek, as well as in the sciences – botany became a passion and she was known as the most intelligent female botanist of the age. She created the orangery in 1772 – originally glassed in. The Gibside Hall was deliberately made derelict to avoid taxes.
She was 11 when her father died, and her mother left her to her own devices until she was taken to London by an aunt and, though of unprepossessing appearance, was soon receiving gentlemen. She married Lord Strathmore of Glamis Castle in a sumptuous ceremony – £20,000 was spent on her wardrobe alone. He added her name to his, thus Bowes Lyon became the family name. Five children were born to the couple before Eleanor took George Gray as her lover and was alleged to have had three abortions before deciding to keep a fourth child since Lord Strathmore had died and she meant to marry Gray.
A scandal ensued when she took a new lover, known as Captain Stoney. Stoney induced her to marry him by staging a mock duel and pretending to be fatally wounded; after a ‘surprise’ recovery he tried to take possession of her fortune – but Eleanor had pre-empted him by taking out an ‘Ante Nuptial Trust’ to safeguard her fortune.
A life of domestic abuse began. She was burnt, stabbed in the tongue, locked up, and starved. She was threatened with a mental asylum if she would not relinquish her fortune, and forced to entertain prostitutes. Eventually she escaped with the help of her maid, and succeeded in obtaining an “Article of Peace’ to prevent Stoney seeing her. Storey attempted to abduct her, was prosecuted and jailed. However she suffered from the media’s cruel and degrading cartoons until she withdrew to Dorset for the rest of her life. She is buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster.
Farming in Glendale: 1800 to the present
Dr Ian Roberts
Dr Roberts emphasised that throughout history agriculture has responded positively to the challenges that social and political changes have faced it with.
Between 1600 and 1800 a number of things happened in England that changed agriculture permanently. Land was enclosed and became more managed, new crop rotations were introduced and animals began to be selectively bred for desirable characteristics such as wool length and carcass size.
A report published in 1770 was very critical of the state of agriculture in Northumberland and it took an influx of forward looking farmers from Durham and Scotland to begin the process of turning things around.
Foremost among these were the Culley brothers who came from County Durham to Fenton in the late 18th century and began making the land more productive by drainage, liming and the use of manure. These practices are accepted today but were revolutionary at that time. Meanwhile war, the industrial revolution and a rapidly growing urban population meant that meat and corn came into demand as never before.
At Fenton Matthew Culley and his sons developed the Cheviot and Border Leicester breeds of sheep – breeds that went all over the Globe with the British Empire.
On the arable side Sir James Caird started a five-crop rotation system growing oats, turnips and grain with two years of grass to feed and refresh the land – a system unique to Northumberland.
Other landowners, seeing how the Culleys - now of Coupland castle – prospered, soon followed. Tankerville, Grey, Northumberland, Delaval and Robson of Belford were all instrumental in adopting new methods and ideas.
The idea of “continuity on the land” became important. Farms were let on longer tenancies than before often passing from father to son and workers’ wages and living conditions gradually improved. The legacy of that is the number of rows, squares and steadings seen in the area today.
The advent of the railway to Glendale in the eighteen eighties brought about big changes. For the first time goods and animals could be moved faster than a man on horseback. This brought an end to droving but it did mean that farm produce could be transported further before final usage.
In the twentieth century demand continued to rise and domestic production could not keep pace with demand. This led to mechanisation on the farm and the establishment of a huge trade in live cattle from Ireland which only ceased in 1971 with Britain’s accession to the Common Market.
At that significant point Dr Roberts brought his narrative to a halt except to mention that modern agri-business can be a lonely and isolating occupation. Here once again it appears that the industry is looking to itself to rise to new challenges and circumstances.
Glendale in the 7th century
by Max Adams
We were very fortunate to have the well-known archaeologist Max Adams to speak on Glendale in the 7th century. As it is the 40th anniversary of the society’s inauguration this year, it seemed appropriate to learn more about the history of our own area in its heyday, the ‘golden’ age of Northumbria, A large audience of appreciative members were there for the occasion.
Max drew our attention to local archaeologist Roger Miket, who had long shared this area of enquiry and helped further our understanding.
An intellectual revolution had taken place in the 7th century, when the district was heavily populated with 10 times the population we have today. There was good soil, and good communication, partly due to the Roman roads. New research techniques show that the Roman occupation had extended more fully into the land north of the Wall.
In 547 Ida fortified his kingdom from his Bamburgh stronghold creating an Anglo-Saxon kingdom on land which was easily cultivated, not too wet, including the coastal plain and with all the resources needed to give him power. By the end of the 6th century Northumbria was the most powerful kingdom in Britain.
Max quoted heavily from Bede, the paramount historian writing from the 8th century. We know that Ethelfrith, Ida’s grandson, was a successful warlord who united the dual states of Bernicia and Deira as Northumbria. Later Edwin continued this development, ruling so skillfully that it was said that a woman could travel from one end of the kingdom to the other without harm.
As well as a winter palace at Bamburgh, Brian Hope-Taylor’s excavations have shown that there was a summer base at Yeavering – still with secrets to give up when further excavations take place – as well as at Maelmin and Gefrin, alternative residences of the court. (Max used various maps to show the extent of Yeavering, including its famous ‘bandstand’.) In fact, 10 shires have been identified at which the retinue would spend 36 days (a tenth of the year). This was undoubtedly why in 627 Paulinus spent 36 days baptising pagans at Gefrin, when Ethelburgha had prevailed on her husband King Edwin to bring Christianity to the kingdom.
Edwin was killed by a pagan king and until his brother Oswald, who had been in exile and educated at Iona in the Celtic form of Christianity, beat Cadwallion at Heavonsfield in 635, Christianity and thus the continuation of authority was in abeyance.
It was Oswald, also educated at Iona, who brought Aidan to Lindisfarne. His brother Oswii continued as ruler, and large parcels of land were given to the church – altogether 6 monasteries were established – and land was granted to members of the royal family, helping ensure stability at the end of each reign.
By the time Maelmin was built, in Oswii’s time, it was fenced as kings realised the benefits of security. There were weaving sheds, and pottery was produced there. Once again, more excavating and geo-physics need to be done to discover further surprises. But eventually so much land had been given away that there was too little to support the warriors who were needed to defend the kingdom: Bede writes ‘Who knows where this will lead?’.
Providing timber in World War 1: the role of North Northumberland
by Roger Jermy
World War 1 cut Britain off from its main sources of timber, 90% of which came from the countries around the Baltic Sea. With the German navy blocking access to the Baltic, and increased demand for timber for pitprops in the mining industry and the construction of railways and trenches at the front line, a major effort was needed to increase British production very rapidly. North Northumberland had extensive forests. Soon our area was dotted with timber felling and rail lines to help move the timber down to sawmills, often specially built, and then on to the main rail system.
Glendale Local History Society was treated in November to a lively and detailed account by Roger Jermy, a specialist in railway history, of where all this happened and how it was organised. He re-created for us through photographs and documents a vivid picture of how the local landscape must have looked at this time. Camps were created near forests for a labour force who worked long hours and days at the physically demanding work. This involved cutting down the trees, loading them on to carts drawn by teams of horses or increasingly by steam engines, which pulled them along temporary and often rather precarious rail tracks. The journey to a sawmill might involve several changes from one mode of transport to another, though in some cases a sawmill was built as part of the camp. In this case, the camp boilers could be fired by the sawdust from the mill. A major problem was to find a labour force to do this work. The Government of the time created the post of Controller of Timber Supplies and asked for help from Commonwealth countries. Two main sources were found: Canadian army recruits, who served as lumberjacks in Britain rather than in the trenches on the continent, and less-skilled bands of internees and prisoners-of-war. The latter were referred to as ‘Finns’, although they came from many different countries. Our speaker explained that officers were required to keep weekly records of what happened at each camp. These are full of detail about daily life in these conditions, including frequent mention of altercations among the ‘Finns’. They seemed to be seen as having quite a low status, yet it was these workers who often managed to create vegetable plots at the camps, as well as managing pigs and chickens, improving the overall diet of all involved.
Timber extraction was concentrated in places such as Harbottle, Chillingham and Whittingham, reflecting the location of the forests in North Northumberland. Conditions at Harbottle seem to have been ‘cold, damp and generally unpleasant’, our speaker suggested. At Whittingham, things were a bit better, as the camp buildings were more substantial. There was also a chance to mix with local people, especially young women, while the officers could be entertained at Callaly Castle or the Bridge of Aln. But the resources at Thrunton Woods were quickly extracted, and the camp moved on to Amerside Law and Hepburn Bell at Chillingham.
Yet little remains of all this activity. A traveller along the A697 in WW1 would have seen a large camp and sawmills in the field opposite Bridge of Aln, with rail tracks connecting this to the woods at Thrunton Crag. The campsite is now a calm field and all that remains of the rail track is the smooth path round the base of Thrunton woods. Our speaker said that signs of rail tracks can be found by the determined investigator here and there, but few buildings remain, as if when peace returned all the activity evaporated. Of course, much of the forested land laid waste by all this effort was later replaced by Forestry Commission plantations. Our speaker encouraged us to go out in search of signs of this vanished past.
In conclusion, Roger Jermy made a few comments on forestry extraction in World War 11, particularly in the Belford area.
A group of GLHS members followed this up a week later, bringing history into the present and the future with a visit to Wooperton Sawmills, which many will know as they drive along the A697 south of Wooler. The sawmill was started in the 1960s, when the Scott family bought the station and yard of the old Wooperton station. Starting from small beginnings, this has now grown into a major enterprise, employing well over 150 people and now among the largest sawmills in the country. We were enormously impressed by the skill and complexity with which the logs, delivered daily by lorry from a radius of maybe 150 miles, are sorted, shaped and then sawn into different kinds of products at incredible speed. We could also see how computerisation and innovation in machinery underpinned the speed and scale of production. We were quite mesmerised watching logs being sliced into planks, and planks into specific shapes and sizes, all controlled by someone in a cab high up in a huge building. On the ground, logs were piling up to be sorted, and nearby sets of fence posts, pallets and building timber were stacked up to be loaded on lorries for deliveries all over the country. With considerable investment in state-of-the-art machinery and in staff training and apprenticeships, the sawmill is set to be part of Glendale’s future for many years.
Mills, milling and bread making
by David Harris-Jones
David Harris-Jones, head miller at Heatherslaw Mill, a self-confessed practical man, proved his ability when he effortlessly demonstrated traditional bread-making to an intrigued, receptive audience at December’s meeting of Glendale Local History Society, Wooler. His ingredients: flour, yeast and water – no sugar, no salt, no additives – all pure and healthy! The dough rose, doubling its size, in no time!
While kneading his dough, Dave explained the difference between the ancient, traditional, stone-milling of grain and the modern machine cutting process. He also told of the ancient bread-making methods versus those of modern commercial products, and of the laws governing current manufacturing of bread ─ for example, if the bread is made on the retail premises, labels do not have to display the ingredients! And, legally, certain vitamins must be added to white flour but they exist naturally in traditionally milled wholemeal flour.
Rye or barley would once have been commonly milled for baking bread. However, bread is mow mostly made from wheat. Currently spelt is increasingly popular and the consequent rise in demand for spelt products has increased its price considerably. The properties of grain vary greatly according to weather conditions, and latitude has an influence. Much of the ‘strong’, high protein flour used in UK and necessary for bread-making, has its origin in Canada. We heard that the original Clipper sailing ships, such as the Cutty Sark, were built for carrying grain from the USA, Canada and Australia ─ rather than tea as commonly thought.
Water-powered mills have existed since pre-Roman times and before then a gin driven by men or animals would have been used; the engineering features of mills were explained in detail. Mill-stones are generally of sandstone or Derbyshire gritstone. The space between the grinding mill-stones requires careful adjustment to create varying products such as rolled or pinhead oats. River levels also affect the milling process. Gears, from below, control the rotation of the top stone, which can turn at 60–80 times a minute on a static bed-stone which becomes worn away and polished. Dave showed a selection of hand-tools used to dress the stones and recreate the ridges and furrows necessary for grinding.
We heard that an original mill at Heatherslaw is likely to be over 1000 years old and probably one of the oldest mills to survive ─ one of 13 which once existed on the River Till. Extraordinary! A mill is certainly known the have existed in the Flodden era, when it was in Scottish hands and probably provided rations for soldiers on the battlefield. Dave has researched the diaries of the Black family (a prominent local land- and mill-owning family) which describe extensions at Heatherslaw from its once much smaller origins. The two outer mill wheels were under a lower floor to protect from the destructive drying elements of the sun.
For local use, at Heatherslaw Mill, Dave assesses his grain ─ a very exacting skill – and chooses it from local sources which he values discerningly. A successful end product – flour or bread ─ demands good grain and good millstones. The flour being milled can vary daily according to the miller’s skills. As in Chaucer’s day, a miller was an important person, a local master! He commanded finances and applied restrictive rules and regulations to the local populace who were bound to take their grain to the miller since their own private means of milling were confiscated. The miller had many tricks of the trade to bring handsome profits (a private banking system!).
The audience much enjoyed a live, enthusiastic, interesting, contemporary Miller’s Tale with humorous anecdotes from a very well-informed speaker. Dave Harris Jones is Vice Chairman of the exclusive trade association, the Corn Millers’ Guild. He recommended, for further interest, a visit to https://millsarchive.org.uk and, of course, Heatherslaw Mill, near Etal.