Archive for November 2016

St Andrew’s day – Scottish law in Northumbrian manors

As Northumberland is the most northerly English county the history of its manors is tied very closely to Scotland and its history. War has shaped the fortunes of many manors, but this is also the case with cooperation between the two countries. The connection between them is local, not just national, and Northumberland’s manors have played a role in that history. The whole picture is far too detailed and interesting to deal with in a short blog post, with so many wars, conflicts, rebellions and raids, but we can look at what impact the relationship had on the way manors were run and the terms they used.

Wark-on-Tweed manor has a fascinating cross border history, and has changed between being English and Scottish at different times in its history.

Wark-on-Tweed manor has a fascinating cross border history, and has changed between being English and Scottish at different times in its history.

Early in manorial history many manors were owned by the Scottish Kings and noblemen. For example in 1279 the kings of Scotland rented two thirds of Bellingham Manor to the Bellingham family by a Serjeanty, or condition, where the Bellingham family acted as the king of Scotland’s forester in Tynedale forest. Eleventh and twelfth century conflict between the countries changed this ownership. The king of Scotland’s portion of the manor was seized by Edward I during war with Scotland and was later given with other lands to Edmund earl of Cambridge, later duke of York, by his father Edward III. Edward III forced the Scottish king and nobles to give up the southern counties of Scotland in 1334, and nobles forfeited their estates in England, including Patrick V earl of Dunbar whose manor of Middleton Hall was granted to Henry Percy.

Warfare damaged the crops in many manors, bringing no income for the lord of the manor and famine for the inhabitants. A number of manors were expected to provide soldiers and equipment in peace and war, such as Corbridge which had to provide one man! A lawsuit of 1579 over a small holding at Burton shows that land tenure in Northumberland still came with a requirement to serve in protecting the border. Peles and other fortified dwellings were often built by the lords of manors for safety. Even manors a good distance from the border were vulnerable, with Longhoughton described as ruined and waste after wars in 1368, and from cattle raids in 1573. Border reivers operated from both sides of the border, and watches would be kept for reivers in many places. One example from the Order of watches in 1552 shows a night watch was kept between Hitchcroft in Shilbottle to Rugley in Alnwick by ten men from Shilbottle, Whittle, Sturton Grange, Birling, High and Low Buston, Wooden and Bilton townships.

However it is the everyday business in manorial documents that show the connection – Scottish law and terminology was sometimes applied across the border. We have below a few Scottish terms we have found in the manorial records.

We found ‘Grassum’ was paid in what is known as the West Water manors (the manors of Melkridge, Henshaw and Ridley & Thorngrafton). This was paid every 21 years from 1758-1885 for some of the leasehold tenements, and recorded in one book for the purpose (ZBL 66). Looking at a few Scottish law sources this can be a sum paid by a tenant at a renewal or grant of a lease, or a single payment made in addition to a payment such as rent or feudaty. It might be comparable to the English term premium. It is hard to say why Grassum would have been paid there, or for how long the practice was carried out. The key may be right back in the early history of the manors, when they were owned by the Kings of Scotland and leased to a number of noble Scottish families such as the earls of Athol and earls of Badenoch.

As covered in a previous post, there were numerous jobs associated with the manorial court, and Scottish roles were similar to many in the English manor courts. For example in Norham, now a small English village on the banks of the River Tweed overlooking Scotland, we find the Scottish term ‘Land liners’ used. Within Scottish burghs, as in the English equivalent, Boroughs, the inhabitants (burgesses) were entitled to a ‘burgage plot’ of land. Whilst in an English manor a ‘fence-looker’ would check the legality of such boundaries, in Scotland and Norham, the term ‘land liner’ was used for this official who measured out and checked the size of the burgage plots.

Our project is continuing to compile the history of each manor at a time and through doing so will be continuing to post about the interesting terms and stories we find.



The Northumbrian County Histories Volumes I, V, and XV have been of great use in the preparation of this blog, as have The Concise Scots Dictionary and Law Basics: Glossary of Scottish Legal Terms (O’Rourke and Duncan).

First World War Stannington – John Atkin’s story

During the First World War Stannington Sanatorium continued to run, but there is no doubt the lives of those there were affected by it. We can gain an excellent insight into that time through the lives of a family closely connected with it, the Atkin family. Here we will look at the Philipson Farm Colony manager John Atkin’s wartime farm, and will follow this with another post that will look at his son Robert’s war and a project exploring the men of Stannington village in WWI, and unveil sanatorium nurse Hilda Currie’s (Robert’s wife) album of photographs.


John Atkin from Hilda Currie's photograph album (NRO 10361/1/286).

John Atkin from Hilda Currie’s photograph album (NRO 10361/1/286).

John Atkin

John was born on the 28th March 1858 in Rothbury. On the 1861 census we find him living with parents Robert and Joanna in Corbridge. Robert was a Blacksmith from Corbridge, and Joanna was from Rothbury. John had a sister, Isabella, and his 11-year-old uncle Adam lived with the family. This would be a big and busy household as Robert and Joanna would go on to have another six daughters and five sons, and apprentices and visitors also shown on the census. John followed his father into the Blacksmithing trade, and married Margaret. The couple are found on the 1881 census living in Stargate, near Ryton, with John working as a colliery Blacksmith. Their son Robert was born there in 1882, though the family had moved to Scotswood-on-Tyne by the birth of daughter Minnie two years later.

However the family were divided on the 1891 census. John was living at Newburn Hall, Lemington, the sole occupant of a house, and was working as a Blacksmith. Margaret is harder to locate, but it is likely she was a patient in the Royal Infirmary in Newcastle at the time. During her stay there Robert and Minnie had gone to stay with their grandparents Robert and Joanna in Corbridge, the house still busy with aunts and uncles Joanna, Minnie, Matthew, James and Jane, and three visitors.


A 1910 photograph of the Atkin family of Corbridge kindly sent to us by John's Great-granddaughter. John and Margaret are 4th and 5th from left at the back, with Robert on the far right.

A 1910 photograph of the Atkin family of Corbridge kindly sent to us by John’s Great-granddaughter. John and Margaret are 4th and 5th from left at the back, with Robert on the far right.

John became the farmer at Whitehouse Farm in 1900, and on the 1901 census Margaret, Robert and Minnie are all present at Whitehouse, with Robert employed as a farmer’s son. However John was not there. He was boarding with the Nylander family at Newburn Hall, and working as a Blacksmith. Perhaps this was a transition, or he was supporting the family while the farm was still being set up. Five years later the Philipson Farm Colony was established by the PCHA, and John was asked to remain and train the boys in agricultural skills. John grew crops, raised livestock, and he and Minnie kept hundreds of chickens, with the eggs sold to the sanatorium. They also supplied the sanatorium with milk, and sewerage from the sanatorium was used as manure on the fields.

John gave a talk to the Newcastle branch of the Rotary Club, published as an article in the August 1918 volume of the Rotary Wheel magazine, in which he described his endeavour to maximise yield from the farm. At the end of the First World War this was vital as the country became affected by food shortages. John argued these were caused by the farmers’ preference for producing only sheep or cattle, though he felt “they could hardly be blamed for adopting a system that pays them best”. A reliance on imported wheat meant:

“The doctrine of the cheap loaf has carried the day, and we are now paying for it in millions – the neglect of this most important industry has brought us almost within measureable distance of defeat.”

He then described how he had taken on and run Whitehouse farm. The first year’s profits were entirely used in rates, taxes etc., perhaps suggesting why John had found work Blacksmithing again. He turned over more fields to hay, and made a 100% profit on poultry farming. The fields, once drained, produced better crops, and in eight years the yearly value of the farm’s produce rose from £400 to £1200. This was with the help of the boys from the farm colony, and they took the ideas learned from John with them into their adult careers, and even overseas.

John felt that “Well-cultivated land is a national asset, and at any time like the present is equal in value to many Dreadnoughts”. He felt the war would revolutionise farming, and though it did not bring many ‘back to the land’ as he suggested it did bring about greater use of machinery: “In many farm operations the motor will supersede the horse”. However his most important argument for farming to help the war effort lay in the diversity of stock and crops he had introduced in his own farm:

“We scour the world for eggs that might be produced at home … Organisation, co-operation and modern appliances will, I am convinced, make the farming of the future an industry such as it has never been in the past in our country”.

This seems to have worked, as the National Farmers’ Union statistics show that only 50% of eggs and 19% of wheat consumed in Britain originated here in 1914, compared to 87% and 83% in 2013.

John beside an apple tree from Hilda Currie's photograph album (NRO 10361/1/233).

John beside an apple tree from Hilda Currie’s photograph album (NRO 10361/1/233).

The family moved to The Birches in Tranwell Woods, and John built the family a home there in 1910, named White House after the farm. The family lived there for many years. Robert’s granddaughter recalls her father’s memories of following John around his different pursuits, such as beekeeping (never wearing a hat) and growing apples for shows. He also won trophies for shooting with the Hexham Volunteers. His huge greenhouse in which he grew tomatoes and chrysanthemums was destroyed during the Second World War.

We will continue the story with Robert, Helen and Helen’s photograph album in a future post.

This Week in World War One, 17 November 1916

Berwick Advertiser title 1915






The inhabitants of Lowick and the near vicinity have reason to remember these last two months, because the horrors of the great war has never been brought so closely, when five of its gallant young lads have since September, paid the extreme sacrifice by giving their lives in the great struggle for existence. Although they did not reside in the village, their homes were so near that a great deal of their leisured time was spent in it. They all had most of their schooling in the village schools, and it seems but yesterday since we remember them playing in the streets. We have watched them grow from youth to manhood, and also when they went forth at the call of duty, loyal to the core, and thoroughly determined to assist the motherland to conquer and defeat the treacherous enemy who has steeped Europe in blood. In the days to come Lowick will be proud of her heroes and proud of the noble sacrifices they have made. Today there is nothing but sorrow and anguish, and the sympathy of the whole village and district, where they were so well known, goes out to the bereaved parents.

BRO 1550-017 Lowick War Memorial

BRO 1550-017 Lowick War Memorial


Lance Corporal G. Stothart, son of Mr T. Stothart, Hetton Lime Works farm was the first to fall, and following closely on the fateful 15th September, private R. Foster, son of Mr R. Forster, Commercial Hotel, Lowick, and then Private James Fairbairn paid the toll. The photos and careers of these lads have already appeared in the “Advertiser,” and its it with great regret we publish this week the photos of Private T. Young and Lance Corporal W. C. Milburn, who fill soldiers’ graves.





November 14th, 1916


Sir, – I trust you will permit me a little space in your valuable paper, in order to bring to the notice of the public at large, the mean manner some farmers in the neighbourhood of Wooler are treating their men of eligible age for the Army. As is well known, when any man is engaged to a farmer for the ensuing year, the wage agreed upon is partly made up with extras, for instances- so many potatoes, corn, etc., and it is the custom, when the potatoes are lifted, for the man to receive the quantity agreed upon at once.

Glendale Area, Northumberland-john-box

Glendale Area, Northumberland (c) John Box

Instead of doing that, these farmers in the case of those military age, are keeping back several bags of potatoes in case they lose their services in January. This, sir, is what only can be termed “the limit of meanness, “ and have these same farmers lost anything by the war? Most emphatically – No! Rather they have gained, judging by all appearances. These few farmers, and we may be thankful that upon the whole they are in the minority, if they have a spark of decency left, will surely act in a sportsman-like manner and give their men their due at once. A few bags of potatoes surely won’t ruin these farmers, but it does mean a lot to the working man who has a hard struggle to make ends meet, especially in these times.

I am, yours etc.,




Russia’s Day – A handsomely carved mahogany, gilt, and enamelled bed plate is on exhibition in the window of Mr R. Robertson, guilder, etc., Hide Hill, Berwick. It is intended that this handsome plate, which symbolises the Borough seal and arms, and contains on a scroll a suitable inscription in Russian, should be affixed to the Berwick bed, which was gifted to Petrograd Hospital as a result of Russia’s Day collections in Berwick on April 15th, 1916. The plate bears the following inscription in Russian, “The gift of Berwick on Tweed to Petrograd.” The medallion plate was carved and decorated at the expense of the Committee of Berwick European War Relief Fund.

Efficacy of the “Berwick Advertiser.” – Just the other week the “Advertiser” was the means of bringing two local soldiers together in a ward at Wharncliffe Military Hospital, Sheffield. A Berwick lad had just finished reading his weekly copy when a cheery North country voice hailed him. The paper had caught the eye of a Scremerston lad, also an inmate of the Hospital, and with the readiness of the “Tommy” a friendship was soon set up. Not only, however, in the hospital and training camp can the “Advertiser” be found, but out in France within sound of the guns it is passed round amongst Border men as a general and personal message from home.

Interesting Connection with Berwick. – A paragraph which appears in a Newcastle daily paper this week, recalls an interesting connection with the ancient Border town. The paragraph alluded to refers to the destruction of illicit distilleries a hundred years ago, and is as follows: – On Saturday all the illegal distilleries on the islands in Loch Lomond were destroyed by the boats and crews of the Prince of Wales revenue cutter, and the new revenue boat stations at Luss. These distilleries have been wrought for years back and have employed above a hundred persons. It should be mentioned that Captain John Turner Curry was in command of the Prince of Wales revenue cutter referred to, and that he was a freeman and native of Berwick. It was he who built the house on the ramparts known as the Lions, and which is such a familiar edifice when viewed from the meadows or cliffs.

Mayor’s Sunday – Following the time honoured custom, the Mayor (Ald. J. W. Plenderleith) and the Sheriff (Mr Matthew Ross) attended divine service in the Holy Trinity Church, Berwick, on Sunday. There was a fair attendance of Aldermen, Councillors, officials and prominent townsmen present at the Town Hall, and at ten fifteen the gathering, headed by the Sergeants-at-Mace, marched in procession to the place of worship.

Berwick Parish Church (c) John Box

Berwick Parish Church (c) John Box


A large and representative congregation was present in the church, and listened to a most able and instructive address by the Vicar of Berwick (Rev. R. W. de la Hey). Seventeen pupils from the Boys’ National School were present and answered the customary questions from the Catechism. The boys examined in their knowledge were Andrew Fife, John Hay, Robert Henderson, George Henderson, Robert Jamieson, Peter Jameison, John Kerr, James Leitch, Wm. McCallum, Duncan McCallum, Wilfred Patterson, William Piercy, Edward Rutherford, John Scott, William Skelly, Frank Stothart and Geo. Swinbank. After the service the company returned to the Town Hall, when the Mayor in a few well-chosen words, thanked all for the pleasure of their company.

St. George’s Hospital Case Books: The Case of Sarah Davison

In July 2016 we ran a blog about St. George’s Hospital, Morpeth, the former County Lunatic Asylum, describing life in the Asylum. In this blog we will look at a particular class of record found amongst the records of the Asylum and held by Northumberland Archives – the patients’ case books – and use an example of one case to show how the records can be used to build up a biography of a patient. In the early period of the hospital from its establishment in 1859 information concerning patients can be found in the admission registers. These provide brief details about the patient and their condition – name, address, age, gender, marital status, occupation, union or parish responsible for financing patient’s stay in hospital, diagnosis, supposed cause, comments about physical health further information about the illness and the outcome – whether the patient died, was discharged or removed.

In 1890 a new series of records was introduced – patient’s case books. These records provide much more detailed information about the patient as we will see when considering the case of Sarah Davison (patient number 1645).  Introductory information in the case book reveals that Sarah Davison was admitted to hospital on 9 August 1891. She is described as a 38 year old widow, a field worker living at Mitford Steads Farm, an Anglican and that the supposed cause of illness is ‘failure to affiliate child’. Affiliation or filiation refers to making a maintenance claim for financial support of an illegitimate child through the court system. This reference is supported by an entry in the Morpeth Petty Sessions Register of Summary Jurisdiction of 5 August 1891 – Sarah Davison brought a bastardy application case against Luke Youll that was not upheld. A search of the 1891 census reveals only one person named Luke Youll – a 24 year old farm servant living at Sturton Grange, near Warkworth, Northumberland.  Details in the case book suggest some unpleasantness surrounding the filiation case – Sarah was the recipient of ‘taunts and insults from the relatives of the reputed father’ and the failure to secure the affiliation order are attributed as the cause of Sarah’s illness. It does appear that there is at least the possibility that Luke Youll was the father of the child – he had been providing maintenance payments from the birth of the child eleven months ago.

Register of summary jurisdiction.

Register of Summary Jurisdiction.


The case was not the only distressing circumstances of Sarah’s life. We learn from the case notes that ‘she had a good deal of trouble about 8 years ago her husband and 3 children dying within 13 months …’. The casebook also reveals that Sarah’s father, Joseph Thornton, suffered from mental illness. . We learn that ‘he is said to have been 3 times in this Asylum being 16 years ago. The cause assigned in this case being the loss of a suit at law’. Further evidence of family history of mental illness is provided – the case book notes that ‘the father’s brother is also described as not quite compos mentis’. This information can be used to undertake further research into the family and we will explore this in a future blog.

The case books provide a physical description of the patient. Sarah is described as ‘A slightly built woman somewhat above the average height. Weight about 110lbs. Hair brown turning grey … teeth remarkably bad. Expression not very intelligent’.  Accompanying the physical description there is a photograph of the patient. Many of the patients appear to be wearing similar clothing suggesting that there may have been a hospital uniform.


Sarah Davison

Sarah Davison



A description of Sarah‘s mental condition is also provided –  ‘She is noisy restless & incapable of rational conversation. Does not know where she is or when she came here. With a little management she lies quietly in bed during examination, but is reported noisy, restless, knocking on shutter or spitting during the morning’.  Later on she is diagnosed as suffering from ‘acute mania’, in other words suffering from manic episodes. On 13 August 1891 it was recorded as ‘noisy, restless, incoherent, laughs & cries without apparent reason … resists all attempt at examination, occasionally refuses forcible feeding…’.  By 25 August Sarah appeared to have recovered from this episode – ‘She is now up taking food herself and sewing & is in every way greatly improved’. However, on 14 September 1891 it is recorded that Sarah had suffered relapse – ‘… was very excitable & violent last night till midnight & has been noisy since’. This episodic behaviour continued through Sarah’s confinement to hospital. The case book entry of 3 April 1897 records  ‘No change. She is now quite demented and occasionally abusive’. The apparent change in diagnosis is interesting – dementia was another commonly used diagnosis and in some instances may have been used to describe what we know as schizophrenia.  Able patients were expected to be involved in some work activity – hence the reference to sewing.  Later on, we learn that Sarah is employed in the laundry. By 1895 Sarah has been diagnosed as a chronic patient – one with little chance of full recovery – and had been placed in a refractory ward – solitary confinement.  Sarah Davison died at St. George’s Hospital on 24 August 1903. Cause of death was influenza and cardiac failure. She had remained a patient at the hospital since her admission twelve years previously.


Case Book

Case Book


Northumberland Archives holds patients’ case books for St. George’s Hospital from 1890 until the mid-20th century. These volumes contain information about hundreds of patients that were treated at the Hospital throughout this period and many of the volumes includes photographs of the patients- for some researchers this may be the only photograph of a family member that survives.  Due to the sensitive nature of the content the volumes are ‘closed’ for 100 years – meaning that there is no public access to records that are less than 100 years old. However, it is sometimes possible to gain access to a ‘closed’ record if you are a descendant of a patient. Staff can provide further details about the process to gain access.



This Week in World War One, 3 November 1916

Berwick Advertiser title 1915






Berwick Scout-George-Hawkins

Berwick Scout-George-Hawkins


In our issue of Friday, August 11th, the following notice appeared regarding a brave action by a local Boy Scout:-

On Wednesday afternoon, while playing on the jetty at Berwick Quay, a little boy named Alex. Marshall stumbled and fell into the water. Fortunately, George Hawkins, younger son of Mr W. Hawkins, Hide Hill, who was close at hand, gallantly plunged in and succeeded in bringing the boy safely ashore.

In so few sentences was a gallant rescue made known to the public, but we are pleased now to report that Scott Hawkins’ gallant deed has found its reward. He has earned by his conduct the testimonial of the Royal Humane Society (in vellum), and in addition has been awarded the Medal of Merit and Certificate of the Scouts Association. Scout Hawkins on that memorable autumn day entered the water to the rescue of a boy, six years his junior, minus his blouse alone, and it was then that his knowledge of Life Saving stood him in good stead. A member of No. 3 troop (Scoutmaster E. W. Turnbull), the young hero received his instruction in life saving under Assistant Scoutmaster Edmond Smith. We heartily congratulate him upon his brave action, and the honours which have come to him, and trust his example may be followed by every one of his comrades who have qualified in life saving, and who find themselves in a similar position. We understand a public presentation will take place at a later date.





Before D. H. W. Askew, Esq., and Thomas Wilson, Esq.

An Old Offender. – Robert Clarance Gilchrist, labourer, (43), Berwick, an old offender, was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Marygate on Friday night, and further with breaking a window, the property of Mr Burgon, fish and chip merchant, High Street. Mr Burgon gave evidence, and P.C. Crombie proved the case. Defendant on his own behalf said they had no idea what he had to stand. He was willing to join the Army – that was his own regiment, the Coldstream Guards – but he would prefer to wait until after Sunday, as there was a harvest festival on that day. (Laughter.) he was sentenced to two months imprisonment.


Before His Worship the Mayor, and Messrs T. M. Morrison, A/ Darling, C. Forsyth, Dr Fraser, V.D., Thomas Wilson, A.J. Dodds, T. Purves, R. Boston, and Walter Hogarth.


Robert Dicknson, Wallace Green, Berwick, was charged with haying on 28th September, contravened the Defence of the Realm Act by imparting certain naval information. The indictment bore that on that date he, without lawful authority, did communicate information with respect to the movements, number and description of certain of H.M. ships, and which was of such a nature as to be calculated to be directly or indirectly useful to the enemy.

Defendant – I admit the charge…………………….

Mr Dickinson then addressed the Bench, and said as the agent for the prosecution had stated the letter was written to no German emissary to injure his country. It was written to a younger brother, a chief engineer in marine service, and who now wore the medal and clasp for the South African campaign. During the present war his brother had sailed in ships conveying troops to and from different countries. At the present moment he was in H.M. service. Enclosed with the letter was one from an orphan niece, and he thoughtlessly added some rumours and gossip which he thought would be of interest to the service in which his brother was engaged. These rumours everyone had heard more or less since the war had started. Whether the news was true or not his brother could judge. The assurance was given that the British Navy was being maintained at high water mark, and likely to keep the ocean highway clear of the enemy. He asked them to think of his sailor brother engaged in the active defence of his country, who did not hear from the homeland for months of an interval at a time. Cut off as he was in this way, all news was welcome, and to be interesting and cheering were the only objects he had in forwarding the letter. The letter was addressed in no secret manner, but in the usual official way………….

The Bench afterwards retired, and on returning the Mayor said they were exceedingly sorry to see defendant in such an unfortunate position. It was a very serious offence, and the Regulations had been expressly framed for the protection of our country in these perilous days. The defendant had pleaded guilty to the charge, and although he had not been actuated with any malicious or unpatriotic motives in the eyes of the law it was a serious matter. The Bench were desirous to take a most lenient view, but the fine could not be less than one of £10 with £11 18s 10d of costs, the alternative being six weeks’ imprisonment.




Private William Marsdon

Private William Marsdon


We have pleasure in publishing this week a photo of Private William Marsdon, Royal Defence Corps, a native of Rothbury, along with a pet fox which is the mascot of the section stationed at Berwick. The fox was brought as a cub from Rothbury, and is now almost thoroughly domesticated. Private Marsdon, who has been with the Defence Corps since the outbreak of war, and prior to the present conflict took part in the South African War. His eldest son, Gunner John Marsdon is presently in France with the Royal Garrison Artillery.





Lighting. – Now that Mr Scott is busy putting in plant for supplying electricity for lighting purposes it may be interesting to note that gas was first introduced into Wooler so far back as 1846, and the street lamps were put up the following year.

Both the day schools in the town have been closed this week so that the elder boys and girls might assist in potato gathering. We don’t know how many have taken advantage of it, but the weather during the week-end was deplorable but a marked improvement took place on Tuesday, only the land must still be in a very saturated condition. There is a wonderful variation in the crops. Some have an excellent crop and wonderfully free from disease, while others are an absolute failure.

The Black Bull is the nearest white painted building on the left of the photograph. An old gas lamp can be seen on the right. © BRO 426-1228

The Black Bull is the nearest white painted building on the left of the photograph. An old gas lamp can be seen on the right. © BRO 426-1228


Free Gift Sale. – At a meeting held in the Black Bull Hotel on Monday with Mr A. Riddell in the chair, arrangements were made for the proposed Free Gift Sale to be held at Wooler Mart. It was decided to hold it on Wednesday, 20th December, in aid of the British Farmers’ Red Cross Fund and Agricultural Relief of the Allies Fund. It was arranged to have block test competitions on the day of sale. The committee are practically the same as last year with a few additions for Wooler.


From Tibet to Craster

Craster is small village on the Northumberland Coast, famed for its kippers and with a long heritage of fishing. At first glance it would appear to have little connection to country of Tibet. But on closer inspection of the Harbour, a plaque reveals that there is a connection.


Harbour Plaque

Harbour Plaque

By George Robinson, CC BY-SA 2.0,


The Crasters have lived in the area since the 11th Century and built the Tower that bears their name and it was there that John Craster lived after his birth in 1871. His father, also John, had been born in Ireland and his wife Charlotte in Scotland. As well as John they had five other children Thomas [born 1860]; Amy [1862]; Edmund [1863]; William [1867]; and Walter [1874].

John joined the Northumberland Fusiliers and was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in 1892, being promoted to Lieutenant in 1899 and finally Captain in 1901. He had joined the Indian Army staff in 1895 and throughout the later part of the 1890s took part in campaigns all along the Northwest Frontier. By 1903 he was an Adjutant, the rank he held when he volunteered for the expedition to Tibet.

The reasons for the trade mission to Tibet, which became effectively an invasion, are obscure. But it is argued that the British Government was concerned about potential Russian influence in the area. Rumours were circulating that the Chinese Government, which ruled Tibet, were intending to allow the province to be taken over by Russia. This would have allowed the Russians a direct overland route to India, the jewel in Britain’s imperial crown. Credence had been lent to these rumours by a Russian exploration mission to Tibet, which had taken the first photographs of Lhasa some four years earlier. Tensions between Britain and Russia were high due to the recent conclusion of what was known as ‘The Great Game’, a struggle between the two powers for control of territories in Central and Southern Asia.

Whatever the reasons, the expedition pushed into the interior, inciting a response. Despite the Tibetan forces best efforts, they were grossly outgunned and their flintlock muskets were no match for Maxim Guns. They had particular trouble firing down onto British Forces as their muskets lacked sufficient wadding, causing the musket ball to simply role out of the weapon when at an angle. Most of the Tibetan Muskets were also Matchlock, using a simple lit taper to ignite the powder, a process that became virtually impossible in the rain. It’s estimated that 2000-3000 Tibetans were killed while the British lost some 200. Of one engagement, Lieutenant Arthur Hadow, commander of the Maxim guns detachment, wrote “I got so sick of the slaughter that I ceased fire, though the general’s order was to make as big a bag as possible. I hope I shall never again have to shoot down men walking away.”

It was during fighting at Tsechen, that John Craster was killed. Tsechen consisted of a village, overlooked by a monastery and fortress. Gurkhas stormed the monastery, defended by some 1200 monks mostly armed with rocks, while Craster’s regiment cleared the town. The fighting was all but done, with a only small band in one house giving any resistance. The British forces suffered only two casualties, one of which was John Craster, who was shot through the head at almost point blank range by a musket.


Alnwick & County Gazette

Alnwick & County Gazette


After his death it soon became apparent that Captain Craster had no Will and that his military service and travelling meant he had assets scattered throughout the British Empire. The task of administering these assets must have been considerable. However, once it was done his estate proved considerable and it was decided to use some of it to fund the building of Harbour, something that had Captain Craster had been a keen advocate of.

Plans were drawn up by Mr J Watt Sandeman of Newcastle and the legal and parliamentary issues were dealt with by Charles Percy & Son, Solicitors of Alnwick. Formal Application to the Board of Trade for a provisional order was made in Autumn 1904 and this received Parliamentary sanction in 1905. The work excavating the rock on the site of the Harbour began in October of that year, and in July 1906 the first concrete for the piers was put in place. The North Pier was completed in September 1907 with work commencing on the South pier the following December.


Harbour Construction

Harbour Construction


It was originally intended to be a smaller Harbour than was eventually built, but extra money was obtained from the Fishery Board for Scotland and from the Treasury. The excavation was out of solid basalt and much of the work had to be done at low tide, which might account for the delay in completion of the South Pier. The Harbour was finally completed in 1910.


Harbour Construction

Harbour Construction