A History of Beacon Hill
by Harry Rowland
I have long been familiar with the work of T.H. Rowland, MA FSA (Scot), an academic historian who has published over 20 books on the History of the County of Northumberland.
In addition to these works, Harry Rowland has also contributed articles on local history for the Morpeth Herald for over thirty years. I have read these articles with great interest, more especially because from time to time in these articles the history of Beacon Hill was mentioned.
I realized that Harry Rowland was an historian of advancing years and often thought about the great knowledge of the area that would be lost following his death. I decided to approach Harry, who was previously unknown to me except through his writing, and ask him to write a short history of Beacon Hill and its environs. He was very enthusiastic, in an octogenarian sort of way, and what follows is the result of his work.
I will be the first to admit that this will be of very little interest to all but a few of you. Rowland has chosen to write a collection of essays on Beacon Hill, Longhorsley and subjects in the immediate area and it could be thought a little dry.
One thing that does strike me is how much happened so near to here – the story of Claverings Cross – that is situated three fields west of here is intriguing. The Devil’s Causeway runs along the field below meg’s lake and was used by Oliver Cromwell amongst others and so on it goes.
I have spoken loftily to my friends about ‘my personal historian’ and I certainly don’t regret commissioning these few pages. My only hope is that one or two of you may find it interesting and that it may add a tiny bit of pleasure to your holiday to feel that you are staying in a location with a past.
In the distant past, Beacon Hill was a place from which the surrounding countryside and the coast could be watched and warning given of unwelcome visitors, whether Viking raiders, Border reivers or Scottish armies.
In his View of Northumberland, published in 1825, Aeneas Mackenzie of Newcastle wrote: ‘There is a lofty eminence which separates the township of Stanton from Longhorsley Moor and it is remarkable for commanding one of the most extensive and variegated prospects in the north of England.’
‘Eastward there is an uninterrupted view of the coast from South Shields to the northern extremity of Northumberland, interspersed with noble buildings, ancient and modern, numerous ports, towns, villages and hamlets, while fleets of coasters are continually skirting the distant horizon. The numerous streams which are seen glittering in the sunbeams in their meandering course towards the sea, through as fine a cultivated country as any in the universe, tend to heighten the beauty of the scene.’
‘To the north nature assumes a more bold and imposing form; there the lofty heights of Rimside and Simonside are seen rising like two immense pyramids, between which are perceived the Cheviot Hills, whose grey tops seem enveloped in clouds. Gateshead Fell terminates a fine prospect in the south.’
‘At this place – Beacon Hill – there is one farmhold and a few cottages for colliers, sheltered on the north and west by a plantation of fir trees.’
‘A field below is still called Limestone Kiln Flat, near which are limestone quarries and ruined lime kilns. Bell pits for coal can also be detected.’
Here, too, Clavering’s Cross is a reminder of the terrible events that could happen in the Border Country. Hodgson, the historian, wrote in the 1830s: ‘On the Lime Kiln Flat, about a quarter of a mile north of the village of Stanton, a stone cross stands in a field on the east side of the way, which tradition of the neighbourhood says was set up in memory of a gentleman of the Clavering family being slain on the spot in an encounter with the Scots.’
This was incorrect: it was the result of a feud between local Northumberland families and indicates how difficult it was to keep the peace in Elizabeth I’s reign.
On 22 November 1586, a gallant company might have been seen from this vantage point, riding up country from Newcastle, but not following the main road. The party was led by Sir Cuthbert Collingwood of Eslington, who had twice been Sheriff of Northumberland. With him were his wife and daughters who were riding pillion behind retainers: his son Thomas and a younger son, his son-in-law Robert Clavering (who was now Sheriff) and nine other persons, who had been to Newcastle to meet the Lord President of the Council of the North, the Earl of Huntingdon, and to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s accession 28 years earlier.
A report of the time ran: ‘On a moor beyond Morpeth, above the castle of the Fenwicks at Stanton, they were met by William Selby of Berwick, son of Sir John Selby of Twizell, and a dozen or so associates from the garrison of Berwick.’ There was no doubt about their intention. A bitter feud existed between the Selbys and Collingwoods, especially among the younger members of the families. At one time Sir Cuthbert had accused Sir John of high treason.
Lady Collingwood dismounted and pleaded with Selby to go in peace and the Sheriff himself ordered them to keep the peace. Selby and his company, however, replied by discharging their pistols and ‘shot Sir Cuthbert in the belly and young Clavering, the Sheriff’s brother in the breast and out at his back’. He was mortally wounded. Selby fled, but several of his associates were put on trial and convicted of manslaughter. Such were events at that time.
In 1601 / 1602, a certain Robert Selby was indicted for the murder of William Horsley of Scrainwood, a relation of the Horsleys of Longhorsley. He was outlawed for the offence but seems to have been pardoned by James I in 1605.
The inhabitants of the Beacon Hill area through the ages would have noticed various events. We know from archaeological remains that there was a native prehistoric settlement, and the Britons would see a Roman army constructing a road that was later called the Devil’s Causeway, since after the Romans’ four centuries of rule it was not realised how such works could be done. It was thought the work of the devil or giants.
The Anglo-Saxons gave names to their settlements, but hills and rivers retained their old Celtic names. Churches were erected first of wood and then of stone. Longhorsley old church, some distance from the village, was probably built on a pagan site. St Augustine advised his followers to take over the old religious places and not destroy them.
Pilgrims would pass along the Roman road – Hartburn, Brinkburn, Longframlington; the Devil’s Causeway continued to Tweedmouth.
At a later date (1650), Oliver Cromwell came along the same road from his campaign in Scotland. His army, consisting of nine regiments of foot, two regiments of dragoons, horse guards and their baggage and train, ‘was quartered for one night upon the grounds of Lady Thornton’. Two letters in the County Record Office give first his grant of protection and secondly the sum of money paid to the Lady for the damage done to her estate by the army – fuel, fodder, etc – costing the sum of £95.5s.6d. Later Colonel Sanderson and his troops were around sorting out the Royalist rebels, and some fortifications were destroyed.
Hunters might be seen about in medieval times, hunting the deer. There were deer parks and the Royal Forest of Rothbury where King John hunted. The monks of Brinkburn were not averse to a little hunting. Later there was the hunting of the fox and the hunting by magistrates in the time of Charles II, when Catholics and Covenanters were pursued for not accepting the Book of Common Prayer and not attending Anglican churches. They had their own meeting places in hidden venues, or in open locations from which pursuers might be seen approaching, giving them time to disperse.
Longhorsley – Village and Parish
Horsley was an old English name and could be defined as a wood or clearing where horses grazed. Curiously, today in the fields about Beacon Hill, you can see a fine collection of piebald horses of various ages. They provide splendid photographs in this rural setting. The name ‘Long’ was added to distinguish it from another Horsley. In fact, in the Latin records, it was Horsley-longa. It includes within its boundaries Stanton, Wingates, Todburn and Witton Shields. Originally it belonged to Gospatric, Earl of Dunbar, but it came into the hands of the de Merley family by marriage to his daughter, Julia. The lands included Witton, Stanton, Horsley, Wingates and Learchild.
Longhorsley was near one of the main routes to Scotland, the Roman road called the Devil’s Causeway, which ran from Portgate north of Corbridge in a direct line to Tweedmouth, passing through Netherwitton, Todburn and Longframlington. A curious feature of Longhorsley is that the Norman church was situated more than half a mile south of the present village on the Whemley Burn. It is now completely deserted, but the medieval village must have been near it and perhaps larger than supposed.
I looked at the subsidy rolls of Edward I: these were the taxation levies on different places to finance his expensive Scottish Wars. I was surprised to find how heavily Longhorsley was rated higher than Morpeth itself, the head of the de Merley Barony. The total assessment for Longhorsley was £57.15s.2d, Morpeth was £47.14s.111/2d, so Longhorsley was one of the wealthier places of the survey in which 23 taxpayers were listed. They would only have been a small part of the local population.
In 1271, Roger de Merley the Third had died and his daughter Mary married William, Baron Greystock. He became Lord of Morpeth and other de Merley lands, including Longhorsley. So in the subsidy roll, William, son of Matilda, may well be a member of this family, since he is assessed at £7.14s.8d, this being the highest amount.
The Rectory was valued at £33.6s.8d and the vicarage at £7.5s.01/2d – this was the value of the office and not a building. Later the advowson (right of presentation to a church living) and rectory were granted by Lord Greystock to the Priory of Brinkburn; one of their canons would hold the office and appoint a curate. It seems, however, the priory suffered from the common plea of poverty, induced by the ravages of the Scottish Wars. Edward II had to remit taxation, since returns were often ‘laid waste by the inroads of the Scots’. he priory (and Longhorsley) were close ‘to a public highway frequented by the military in their marches into Scotland and the great resort of travellers to it’. In 1299 Robert Dathenorth was admitted to the vicarage of the church of Horsley-longa by Walter Grey, Archbishop of York, 1299.
I now return to the church as described by Hodgson in 1830. ‘The church of this parish stands in a field called Elledge, about half a mile of the village of Long Horsley, on the side of the Breamish turnpike road and on the north side of the brook which comes from the farm called Smallburns and just opposite to the church on the west turns the water mill of Horsley. It is dedicated to St Helen.’
I remembered that the de Merleys held Learchild, part of Beanley, where there was a Roman fort on the Devil’s Causeway. I was reminded of St Helen who was the wife of a Roman general called Constantius Chonis who served in Britain. She was said to be an innkeeper’s daughter from Bithynia in the East, and when Constantius Chonis returned to Rome and became Emperor in 292 AD, he divorced her. She was, however, the mother of Constantine, the Roman Governor in North Britain based at York. She made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she died in 330 AD at the age of 80 and was buried in Rome.
Cynewulf, the Anglo-Saxon poet, wrote his finest poem Elene on the subject (ninth century AD). St Helen’s feast is celebrated in the East (with Constantine) on May 21, but in the West, August 18. In the north east of this country, there were 135 churches dedicated to St Helen. Pevsner (1992) in Buildings of Northumberland records: ‘Old Church, in the fields some distance SE of the village and sadly derelict. 1783 nave and lower 1798 chancel on medieval foundations. Three wide lancets of typical churchware dimensions, and an odd trefoiled chancel arch.’ In fact, it was once very like Longframlington, a Norman church and possibly the site of an earlier Anglian building, in which St Helen was remembered.
Longhorsley on the Moor
Longhorsley, in the past as at present, had a good deal of people and traffic passing, not only then on main roads northwards but also across country. There was a great deal of cross-country traffic: the monasteries of Newminster and Brinkburn had to be supplied from their close and distant lands. All kinds of food supplies were carried, but most importantly salt from the coastal salt pans.
There were travellers of different types – pilgrims, persons visiting monasteries, churches and chapels. Packmen, peddlers, pardoners and beggars came along. There were official armies and unofficial raiding parties. Hunters passed by, and cattle drovers. This went on through the ages, but there was also much more contact with the sea for fish and smuggling. In the days when roads were bad, there were more people and produce moving by sea. Ships were built at Newbiggin and there was much trade through the ports of Amble, Warkworth and Cambois. A cross-country route no doubt passed near St Helen’s Church.
This is an account of the site and building in 1950, when it had gone out of use altogether: ‘Longhorsley church stands in a field beside the alder-fringed Paxtondene Burn away from the village. It was built in 1783 on the site of a Norman church and has a battlemented bell turret at the west end, matched by a battlemented chimney on the eastern apex of the nave. The chancel arch is of an odd ogee shape and has panelled sides. The altar table and rails with trefoiled openings are said to have been made from an oak found in a peat bog at Linden East Farm at the beginning of the 19th century.’
Behind the altar is a rather unusual window: its glass has transparencies of Bible scenes in brown and yellow against a blue background, and an inscription states that it ‘was designed and executed in diaphanie by the late Sarah Elizabeth Ames of Linden in this parish who died on the 29th of February in 1868’. It is rather unusual to have died on this date and to have had one’s own memorial already designed.
For the Millennium Year of 2000 the inhabitants of Longhorsley – both women and men – embroidered a wall-hanging of the village. The important buildings are shown with the hills in the background. The present St Helen’s Church is shown, and the Roman Catholic Church next to the Tower, which was once the residence of the minister. The church was not included in the list of ruined churches and chapels of 1715.
Dr Thomas Sharpe, who visited in July 1763, ordered amongst other things: ‘all stones except regular headstones to be thrown out of the churchyard’. What were these ancient relics? ‘The roof of the church to be soldered where necessary (lead). Two strong and sufficient buttresses to be built on the north side. Four stone pillars to be fixed at the sides of the arch, between the church and the chancel, in the places of the marble pillars that have been broke.’
At Longhorsley, a meeting was held by the vicar, churchwardens and parish council on February 20, 1783 and it was agreed that a tax of £50 be collected forthwith towards defraying the expenses of rebuilding the church. It was a comparatively plain structure built upon old foundations, but it was extended northwards to allow a second aisle and more seating. It had no gallery but at the west end was an embattled bell-cote.
In 1798, Mr Wallis Ogle of Causey Park was responsible for rebuilding the chancel. He offered to provide a vestry but the Parish Council was unwilling, because the extra expense of a coal fire would be needed – something like £5.
Then in 1820 Mr Bigge, who built Linden Hall, had a new vestry constructed, repaired the chancel and the arch between it and the nave. It was from his farm that the bog-oak was excavated for the altar and rails of the chancel. He is also thought to have been responsible for the trefoiled arch in the church.
In 1737 a long causeway was built across the field leading to the church; in an attempt to establish a better link between the village and its somewhat remote church. Now it can be regarded as an interesting environmental site and trees have grown back again. New houses have been built on the other side of the highway, but St Helen’s Church is now housed in the buildings of the old village school and a new St Helen’s School has been built.
Buildings of Longhorsley
Longhorsley had a school as early as 1751 when Mrs Anne Ogle left £100 towards the education of the poor children of the parish, and in 1857 this was replaced by another school which is still standing and still in use, but not as a school. This school, with the schoolmaster’s house, developed into St Helens Church, the school being called by that name. When the old remote church south of the village was abandoned, the school was then used for Anglican services. The building was added to and items had been transferred from the old church. In fact, the porch of the present building was originally there.
Not very far away in the grounds of the old tower is the Roman Catholic Church, dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury and built in 1851 by the Riddell family who also built the Catholic Church at Felton Park – the Church of St Mary – in 1857. Longhorsley Tower was not included in the list of castles compiled in 1415 in the reign of Henry V. The buildings divided into castles, fully fortified and what were then called fortalices (lesser forts). This does not mean that there were no substantial buildings in other places. There would be manor houses or long halls, built of stone and strongly defensive. A castle, however, had to have a licence from the king to ‘crenellate’ – to set up hoardings and extra defensive structures that would enable them to resist sieges. Demolition of Longhorsley Tower would no doubt reveal some medieval structure.
Present records give this information: ‘Substantial early 16th century tower with a mid-17th century north wing, restored in 1930. Square headed windows with hood moulds, some renewed. Embattled parapet and higher SE stair turret. Barrel vaulted ground floor and stone newel stair. Original large fireplace on the first floor, early 18th century panelling on the second. The third floor was used as a R.C. chapel in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Afterwards it became the residence of the Catholic priest for a time. It is now a private house. It belonged at one time to the Horsleys and overlooked a large deer park to the north, which is surrounded by a stone wall.’
On my visit to the Tower some years ago, I described it as basically measuring 42 feet from east to west and 30 feet from north to south. There is an entrance in the east wall, but an old square headed doorway in the south wall still exists. This led to a basement 22 feet long by 18 feet broad internally. A door led to a gabled building added to the north in the 17th century. In the SE corner of the main building a wheel-stair rises to the three upper floors and the roof which is battlemented.
The old vicarage to the south of the present St Helens Church dates back to 1684. An earlier one was said to have been burnt by the Scots. The present building looks 18th century and is no longer the vicarage. Another has been built to the south, and also the new school of St Helen’s, built in 1966 on an area called Drummonds Close. In 1886 Mr Louis Ames, the new owner of Linden Hall, had a small Catholic School constructed on the western edge of the village. The stone was gained from a quarry on the common. In 1900, however, it was closed and converted into a dwelling place. It has been extended in modern times and takes the name of Old School Cottage.
Longhorsley once had four public houses in the days of horse traffic and the motor car has brought about a decline. The Rose and Thistle, appealing to both English and Scots, was one of these. It was a typical village pub with a coal or wood fire, a centre for drinking, conversation and games. It closed in 1962, after serving the public for some 200 years. After it closed it was converted into a shop and there was found a secret hole in the wall. It was thought to be a salt hole where salt was stored and kept dry to evade the salt tax. James I granted one of his favourites a monopoly of salt, but this did not apply to Scotland. Hence the opportunity for salt smugglers and, in passing, the smugglers of illicit local whisky and imported foreign wine and spirits.
On the other side of the road The Shoulder of Mutton still survives and prospers. In the days of horse-drawn coaches and carriers, it is noticeable that there were hostelries on either side of the road so that there was no conflict of traffic. Usually there was a smithy so that shoeing of horses could take place. ‘Three Horse Shoes’ meant a lame horse and a compulsory stop. The Shoulder of Mutton was originally on the Earl of Carlisle’s estate, but sold in 1861. In the middle of the 19th century, this public house was a substantial building. It had a six and a two-stalled stable, a loosebox and a byre. There were seven rooms, two kitchens, a cellar and a bar. In 1989 it was modernised by its present-day owners, Scottish and Newcastle Breweries.
Stanton lies between Longhorsley and Netherwitton, and it is very agreeable to travel on foot or by car between the winding hedgerows.
In 1825, a description runs: ‘It contains two farmholds and a few cottages for labourers. From the many foundations of buildings still discernable, this place seems to have been of considerable extent. Even within the last few years, many cottages have been pulled down, lest their inmates should become chargeable to the township (under the Poor Law system of the time, each parish was responsible for the support of the poor by payment of a Poor Rate). One of the farmhouses is a good stone building, ornamented by a row of trees, with convenient gardens annexed, and appears to have been erected for the residence of a private gentleman’s family..
In fact, in the middle of the 18th century it was occupied by Ephraim Selby, who was the land agent for Fenwick of Bywell, and the house is called Selby House. It is also a very good farm. Its old stone barn is still standing with the adjacent gin-gang, which was used to power the threshing and grinding machinery within the barn itself. ‘At the bottom of the hill stands the old mansion house. (This is Stanton Hall.) It is a plain building in the form of an oblong square, and has evidently been erected at a time when the conveniences and comforts of modern times were understood. It is now converted into what is called a House of Industry (a workhouse); and the gardens, which were long occupied by an industrious mechanic, are attached to that establishment. At a little distance to the north was a domestic chapel. Some old people remember when part of the outer arches were standing, but now there is not a single vestige remaining.’
From the high end of the village some good landscape views may be obtained, particularly to the south and west. To the south the woods of Nunriding are seen overhanging the banks of the Font, beyond which is a view of a populous and fertile country, to a great extent. Towards the west, the beautiful and productive vale of Netherwitton, with its extensive woods and plantations, attracts attention. On its extremity the land rises in a gradual slope to Rothley Castle and Codger Fort. On the left is a view of Longwitton and the hall peeping through the trees that surround it, while the black mountain of Simonside terminates the prospect on the right.
Stanton was long connected with the Fenwicks. In the reign of Edward VI in 1552, Ralph de Fenwick held lands here and later his grandson married the daughter of George Fenwick of Brinkburn. His son John married Margaret, one of the daughters of William Fenwick of Bywell, by which means the three houses of Stanton, Brinkburn and Bywell became united. In the 18th century the properties were purchased by Mr Baker of Elemore in the County of Durham. The Bakers were an important family with wealth and property. Members of the family were landowners, priests, MPs and in the army and navy. It seems that they were interested in the land for sporting purposes. There was woodland, rough pasture, coverts, pools and good hunting country.
Beacon Hill, which was a small farmstead, was developed for this purpose on account of its fine situation. The neighbouring property of what became Stanton House was similarly developed. The original building was very much extended, eventually with a fine portus looking south over extensive and pleasant gardens. ‘Stanton House, erected as a shooting box by the late H.J.B. Baker, Esq., is the occasional residence of the lady of the manor.’
In 1888 Stanton is described as a village and township, the sole property of Mrs Isabella Baker of Elemore Hall, County Durham. Mrs Dorothy Charlton is given as the housekeeper of Stanton House. John Waugh, gamekeeper, bailiff and woodman lived at Lambert Hill. On the other hand, William Rutherford, blacksmith, lived and worked in part of old Stanton Hall. William and Francis Rutherford lived at Beacon Hill, Charles Robert Spearman at Selby Farm, John Elliot at Berryhills, Thomas Lilburn at Townhead and Whinney Hill, probably father and son. Mrs Jane Ogle and son farmed at Abshields and Andrew Arnott at Stanton Fence.
The revised Pevsner gives more information: ‘Stanton Old Hall – A three storey stronghouse probably dating to the 16th century, oblong with a projecting stair turret on the east. Some medieval fabric is incorporated. The outline of a lower gable can be seen on the northern end and on the east is a corbelled fire place in what is now an external wall face. The earlier house may have consisted of a tower (containing the fireplace) with an attached two-storey wing heightened to form the present main block. This in turn received a new front in 1700 with rusticated quorns and cross windows with swan necked pediments (revealed by the removal of the covering ivy). Inside a stone window stair in the turrets, several 16th and 17th century fireplaces and unusual roof trusses each with one convex and one concaved principal.’
The Rev John Hodgson
Historian of Northumberland (1779-1845)
John Hodgson was one of the most distinguished scholars of Northumberland and, it could be said, of Cumberland and Durham. He was born on November 4, 1779 at Swindale in the parish of Shap, which had hills of over 2000 feet high. Most impressive were the ruins of Shap Abbey to John, whose father was a stonemason, employed in building walls and quarrying.
The boy acquired a great interest in geology – stones, fossils and minerals. He was educated at Brampton Grammar School, a classics school, but he seems to have been well versed in science and mathematics. Since he had no financial backing for the university, he worked as a schoolmaster and at the same time studied to enter the clergy. He taught in schools at Dacre and Grestock (Howard territory), then in Durham at Sedgefield and Lanchester, where he was inspired by the ruins of a Roman fort.
He was a natural archaeologist as well as a geologist, making notes and sketching. In 1804 he was admitted to the ministry of the Church of England by the Bishop of Carlisle at Rose Castle.
In 1806 he moved to Gateshead, making acquaintance with the ‘coaly Tyne’. He joined the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle and was appointed to the livings of Heworth and Jarrow, an industrial area. Hodgson had considerable experience in mining and might have taken it up as a career. As a cleric he was directly involved after a local pit disaster. He helped Sir Humphrey Davy to invent the miners’ safety lamp. He was also the architect for his own new church at Heworth. He became a founder member of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries, where he met important people like Sir John Swinburne. He was acquiring information for a history and in 1813 published a work on the landscape of Northumberland.
He was keen to discover sources of information and was helped by Canon Raine Gilbranon of Durham. He himself made copies from the Public Records Office in London and got friends to make copies. Local families allowed him to investigate their archives, since local history was family history. At Morpeth he had the help of William Woodman, the Town Clerk, who was re-organising the archives. Woodman was involved in a Chancery case concerning the King Edward VI Grammar School and Hodgson obtained for him a copy of the original Charter of 1553 from the Tower of London for which he paid £1.10s. After Woodman won his case, he had gained sufficient money to build the new Grammar School on Cottingwood Lane. Hodgson was very careful in compiling his records and providing his sources of information, not copying unacknowledged. He was also anxious that records should be kept, though many were destroyed.
In 1823 Hodgson moved from Heworth to Kirkwhelpington in Northumberland on the way to Otterburn and the Border, a great change in scenery and activities. From here he went on excursions and excavating activities on the Roman fort at Housesteads. He was to write on the Roman Wall, showing the respective contributions of the emperors Hadrian and Severus, separated by a century. Yet in all this, Hodgson did not neglect his clerical duties and he had the service of curates.
At Kirkwhelpington he had a close view of the Border area. The village was on the way to Otterburn, where the battle between Percy and Douglas took place in 1388. Elsdon had its church, Vicars Pele and the old Motte Castle. His own church was strongly defensive and his vicarage embodied a Vicar’s Pele. The River Wansbeck flowed through the area, recorded in verse and story.
Hodgson regularly went to Morpeth to the weekly market and he also went fishing to Sweethope Lough with his sons. He went on a short tour of the Border with his friend, Canon Raine. They met a man who said he was selling ‘new milk’ and would they like any? ‘New milk’ meant that he was a distiller or smuggler of illicit whisky – a lot went on in the remote valleys. Hodgson did not buy, but gave the man a very severe lecture on keeping the law of the land.
In 1827 while at Kirkwhelpington, he had published the first volume of his History of Northumberland, which covered the country of Otterburn, Redesdale, the Wannies and the Wansbeck valley to Wallington and Whalton. He also published a volume of historical records. At this time the Otterburn road had been improved and a coach, The Chevy Chase, travelled from Newcastle to Cambo on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting at 7am. Hodgson continued his writings and excavations at Housesteads. In the summer of 1830 he suffered the loss of a son and daughter, who died at Kirkwhelpington and were buried in the churchyard.
After a visit to Morpeth, he wrote: ‘On November 29th, I was at Morpeth and examined the inside of a gateway of the castle, which is, as you say, devoid of interest. It is indeed a filthy place, but I am told there is an order for repairing it.’ He had great difficulty in getting plans of the new gaol from Mr Dobson, but a Mr Nicholson provided him particulars of the old bridge which was still standing with both arches intact. The new Telford Bridge was to be opened in 1831 and the old bridge was doomed as the danger place for passing coaches. Hodgson also said he had checked about Dr Turner and his Herbal from the British Museum. (See the Elizabethan knot garden at Carlisle Park, Morpeth).
He included particulars of Turner and John Horsley, the historian, in the work he was doing on Morpeth with the help of Mr Woodman. ‘A great deal of Morpeth is yet to print. It has risen into a long account and will be very expensive to me; but on that account I will not shrink from making it as perfect as the nature of my work requires.’ In his introduction to the volume he wrote: ‘I have drawn together and digested into some order, a mass of materials which may be considered a broad foundation for future historians of Morpeth to build upon.’ His foundations are solid, since he starts with the geology of the place, the woods and the waters, the hills and the valleys, the buildings of all types.
His main text is in large print, but there are copious footnotes with extracts and sources. There are short biographies and family trees, since he had to depend on family archives for information and finance. He was always ready, however, to gather oral history and folk tales. Important people are listed – M.P.s, bailiffs, sheriffs, clergy, gentry, schoolmasters and tradesmen. Annals recall some of the important events affecting the area. Collecting and recording the information was an exhausting task, but Hodgson persevered.
By 1834 he had moved to Hartburn, a good living and a very pleasant place, perhaps mellower than Kirkwhelpington, but the hills and moorland were not far away. The vicarage began as a pele tower, which Hodgson made his study. It looked westwards over the extensive garden to Sharp’s Folly – a tower-like building that served as a school, schoolmaster’s house and a coach-house. Below flowed the River Hart, where Dr Sharp had his grotto and bathing pool. Nearby the Roman road, the Devil’s Causeway, crossed the river. The vicarage had been twice extended and large rooms at the east end looked over the lawns to the church, one of the finest in Northumberland and full of historical interest.
The Hart Burn joined the Wansbeck near Meldon Park, where John Dobson was building a Hall for Mr Cookson. He had purchased the lands from Greenwich Hospital, which were the confiscated lands of the Earl of Derwentwater after he was involved in the 1715 Rebellion and suffered on the scaffold. Hodgson carried on his work amid growing difficulties on account of his health. Eventually his work covered a wide stretch of the country from Newbiggin-by-the-Sea to the Roman Wall, including an account of the Great Wall of China. His work was so well done that at the end of the 19th century, when the Victoria County Histories started, Hodgson’s area was not included and it still has not been completed. Some parts have been reprinted, but not in full.
Hodgson died on June 12, 1845, and was buried in a grave cut into the rock at the east end of Hartburn church; the tomb has a medieval type of grave cover. The church and the churchyard, with a fine collection of gravestones, is well worth a visit.
Nunnykirk, William Orde MP and Beeswing
It has been assumed that Nunnykirk was so named because it was part of the land granted to Newminster Abbey by Ranulph de Merley, Baron of Morpeth. The land was called Ritton, which became a monastic grange and was celebrated for the keeping of sheep. The abbot of the monastery, ‘with a love of seclusion and taste for sweet riverside scenery which were common to his order built a chapel, tower and other edifices, all traces of which are now entirely gone and of which no book or record I have seen have left description.’ This was what Hodgson wrote, but he went on to say that foundations of buildings have been found and also bones during excavations for new buildings. There was here an Anglo-Saxon cross, indicating that it was a holy place in olden times.
In 1610, Sir Ralph Grey, who had acquired the lands, wrote of a tower called Nunkirke, late in the hands of Roger Fenwick. From Grey’s descendants, the lands were conveyed to the Wards of Morpeth and by marriage to Ordes of Morpeth. At this time (1830) Mr William Orde was there, ‘who is beautifying it with large additions to the old mansion-house, in a style of great elegance and simplicity, from designs and under the direction of Mr Dobson, of Newcastle, architect’ (Hodgson). William Orde went to London to study law, but the death of his elder brother made him head of the estate. So he gave up the law and came back to the North as a willing country squire – pursuits of hunting and horse racing proved very much to his liking. He became famous as a race-horse owner. Two of his horses, Tomboy and Beeswing, won the greatest admiration of people in these parts. Tomboy won a whole number of gold cups, but he was outshone by the mare called Beeswing.
In 1837 she won three gold cups of Richmond, Northallerton and Newcastle. In 1838, she gained gold cups at Newcastle and Northallerton, the gold shield of Doncaster and, most important, a special trophy in the form of a silver coalwaggon, composed of 350 pieces of silver, given by the last of the George Bakers, of Elemore, later at Stanton, as a contribution to the local races. He was a coal owner from County Durham and very wealthy. The family had purchased the land of Stanton and Beacon Hill. Stanton House near Claverings Cross was originally a shooting box. Stanton Tower, previously belonging to the Fenwicks, was neglected.
By the end of the racing season in 1842 Beeswing retired, having won 51 races and 24 gold cups for William Orde’s sideboard. On her way back to Morpeth, she stayed at the public house that was called Beeswing after her, run by a saddler/farrier. Crowds gathered in Morpeth to see her passage, almost like royalty. There were all kinds of souvenirs: cups, dishes, plates, pictures. A public house and village in Scotland took her name. Mr Orde himself, unmarried, died in that same year and was buried in Morpeth. He was succeeded by his nephew, Charles William Orde.
In 1832, the year of Earl Grey’s Reform Bill, gas lighting came to Morpeth, on the Staithes Lane area. The staithes carried the waggonway over the Wansbeck, the waggons bringing coal down from the Netherton pits of the Earl of Carlisle. John Dobson built the gasworks buildings. In 1932 the Morpeth Gas Company produced a Souvenir Book of Morpeth History. One of the important facts recorded is that Beeswing was born in the same year as the gasworks, so 1933 was the centenary of her birth. When Mr Orde was asked the price of his wonderful mare, he said: ‘She is not mine to sell; she is the property of the people of Northumberland’.