Archive for General

Blyth Bathing Disaster 1917

The late Second-Lieut. Kenneth Brown of a Warwickshire Regiment and son of the late Dr D. W. Brown formerly Mayor of Preston was buried at Horton, Northumberland with full military honours. The deceased officer was one of nine victims of the Blyth bathing disaster. Capt. the Rev. Mr Vecschoyle, chaplain to the battalion who was highly commended for his gallantry in attempting to rescue the deceased officer, assisted the Rev. H. P. Cutter in the service. [Taken from the Morpeth Herald 31 Aug. 1917.]

The following has been extracted from the Morpeth Herald following the inquest.

Hundreds of soldiers were bathing at a spot between the West Pier and Gloucester Lodge. There was a strong southerly wind and a heavy hash on the sea. The tide was at a low-ebb, making the spot very dangerous for bathers. At this spot there were deep water channels cut in to the sand by the currents and the water rushes with an irresistible force. The soldiers had not been in the water long when some of them got into difficulties and were washed out seawards, in spite of their struggles. A number of comrades rushed to their assistance until at the fatal spot 13 men were seen struggling and evidently drowning.  Soldiers formed a human chain by joining hands and wading as far they could into the fast ebbing tide. They succeeded in saving 5 of their comrades, three of whom were very exhausted, when they got ashore that they were immediately rushed off by car.

A statement by an old fisherman who knew every foot of the beach remarked. ”To bathe there was almost suicidal”.

The inquest into seven of the men was held on the Monday by the Coroner H. T. Rutherford. The recovered bodies were – Sgt. John Riley aged 25, Private Fred Shale 18; Thomas Forty; Edward G Beavan 19; Ed Noy 18; Harry Southern and W. W. Henderson. The other two missing were Private Blunn and Lieut. Kenneth Brown.

Sgt. James Dowling of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment identified five of the bodies. He was present bathing when the accident happened between 10 & 11 o’clock on the Friday morning.  Private Leonard James identified the body of Private Harry Southern and was a witness at the time of the accident. He stated that he had never bathed in the sea before and went out about 30 yards and it took him all of his time to get back. He also stated that he had never seen the sea before! Police Sgt. Hill gave his account of the recovery of the 5 bodies. Private Southern was taken out of the sea by a Boy Scout belonging the 8 1/2 Maple Street, Hirst and Private Noye was rescued by a Boy Scout called Johan Gowans of 97 Pont Street, Hirst. Private Fortey was rescued by H Malston of Kimberley Terrace, Cowpen Quay the other bodies were got by the soldiers.

Lieut. Colonel Frank Martin Chatterley of the Warwickshire’s was the Commanding Officer and expressed his deepest sympathy to the relatives of the deceased and wanted also to recognises the great gallantry shown by the Chaplain Captain G. J. F. Verse Hoyle who tried to save Lieut. Brown and also to Sgt. Riley who lost his life whilst trying to save his comrades.

The soldiers left camp at 09.30 on the weekly route march. Arriving at Blyth sands about 11.30. He give the men a rest of 20 minutes to allow them to cool down and afterwards extended them along the sands in the usual place where the battalion had bathed several times before. This is the exact place civilians and children bathe. Chatterley issued orders to the detachment. Strong swimmers had to be taken out first and the ranks were warned not to go beyond their depths. About 600 men then went in to the sea.Chatterley remained on his horse and watched as the men went in to the water. He then decided to have a bathe himself. He undressed and went into the water and was in the water for about 6-7 minutes. As he came out of the sea Major Burn galloped up to him, informing him that someone was in difficulties towards the pier.

He ordered Major Burn to gallop off and arrange for a boat which he did and the steam launch ‘Water Witch’ was there within 10-12 minutes. Chatterley went into the water where he saw the chaplain had swam out to Lieut. Brown who was 70-80 yards out and in extreme difficulties. The chaplain was supporting Lieut. Brown and Chatterley shouted to the chaplain to encourage him, but the chaplain had to relinquish the Lieut. and had the greatest of difficulty getting back. Indeed he would not have reached the shore if others hadn’t assisted him. The witness added there was a terrific current on the right flank.


Coroners Recommendation

Summing up the Coroner said the accident was one of the saddest cases of drowning they had had in Blyth for many years and certainly not in his experience, which they knew was an exceedingly long one.

So far as the verdict of the jury was concerned it would be a simple one. They were drowned whilst bathing and they would join him in commending the efforts made to save the poor men, especially the efforts of the chaplain and the others who had done their best to get the men out of the sea.

But there was another matter he would like to refer to. About two years ago he had a case at Seaton Sluice where 3-4 solider went out and were drowned and he had made some rather strong comments at the time in regard to the current at that part of the coast and suggest that many of these men, had never seem the sea before and knew nothing about sea bathing. Every precaution may have been taken, but they did not have the local knowledge and should have consulted with local men who knew the beaches and could give advice.

Lieut. Brown’s brother remarked that an old sailor on the beach told him when he saw the battalion go down on Friday, that some of the men would not get out of the sea alive. They knew the currents and the dangers. Had their knowledge been at the disposal of the officers the lives of the deceased men might have been saved. The jury found that the mem were accidently drowned and they recommended that a boat be provided in case of accidents whenever large numbers of men were bathing.


Burial Register


Blyth Town Council and Blyth Battery are looking for any of the relatives of the nine men who died of drowning while on service with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on August 24, 1917. They are putting together a commemoration for these men on Thursday August 27, 2017. If any of the relatives would like to be involved please contact them on or ring 01670368816.



The 1848-9 Cholera Visitation

Up until the 19th Century, memorials to the dead were usually the preserve of the wealthy. The introduction of burial clubs, offered by trade unions, religious societies and friendly societies, enabled many working class people to have a proper burial. At this time, those who died through some tragedy were often commemorated by the friends and relatives to raise funds for the victim’s dependents. The etching of cheap glassware to memorialise mining disasters, and the profusion of printed material, in the form of memorial cards and silk bookmarks, was a way to remember the victim and to give charity to the family.

Very few memorials seem to have been made to remember people who died through disease throughout this period. Asiatic cholera, which caused epidemics in Britain in 1831-1833, 1848-1849, 1853-1854 and in 1866, fits this trend. However one memorial has been found, and research into the event has provided us with insight into one family’s story.

Original documentation from the 1848-1849 cholera epidemic is sketchy, so newspaper reports are often the only way to find detail on the spread of the disease.

The first mention of Cholera in Northumberland comes in August 1849 with reports of cases in North Shields. By the 8th of September the Newcastle Guardian reports “Cholera in the Mining Districts – This fearful malady has at length found its way into the mining districts of New Hartley and Delaval. It appears that there have been upwards of one hundred and fifty cases of diarrhoea and cholera together in the immediate neighbourhood. Forty four have proved fatal up to the present time”.  By the 15th September the Newcastle Guardian mentions that “At Wrekenton, Howdon, Walker, Seaton Delaval, North Shields and Barnard Castle it has been remarkably severe…Nor should the indispensable duties of mutual help and succour at this trying season be forgotten. Amid scenes of suffering and in the houses of the dying, Charity should walk fourth in all her genial influences; and whilst, with devout hearts and in the spirit of our holy religion, we look to Providence for the removal of the pestilence which in mercy or judgement He has visited our shores, let the wealthy and influential do good and communicate, as they have opportunity to their poorer neighbours and fellow-countrymen on whose families this heavy calamity may have fallen”.

An update from the Newcastle Courant on the 12th October reported “The Cholera at Seaton Delaval and Seghill, though considerably abated, has, since our last notice, been fatal to several families. In the night between the 2nd and 3rd [October] seventeen fell victims to it, and in one row of houses eleven corpses lay within a few yards of each other”.


1st edition [1860] Ordnance Survey Sheet 81


William Bell a miner from Seaton Delaval was one of those who succumbed, but was remembered in a printed silk epitaph, which now resides in Northumberland Archives. The silk states that he was”superinduced by his exertions to assist his fellow creatures during the attacks by this dreadful malady”. It is unclear who produced this silk or how many copies were made, but the two hands clasped together may indicate the item has a connection to a Trade Union.

In the publication, “Fynes’ History of the Northumberland and Durham Miners” published in 1873, states “The cholera having broke out at this time with great violence in the colliery districts, the attention of both employers and employed was turned towards the improvement of the sanitary condition of the villages, and union matters were laid aside for a time as great numbers of the workmen of the collieries were dying daily, struck down by the dire disease. Among those who fell victim was Mr William Bell, the secretary of the General Union whose death took place at Seaton Delaval.”

Seaton Delaval was at that time part of the Parish of Earsdon, William’s entry in the burial register has him aged 39 years old, and is buried the same day as his death, consistent with the directions for handling victims of contagious diseases, buried as soon as possible. A copy of his death certificate shows his death at Whitridge [Wheatridge] Row, Seaton Delaval, and the informant is Mable Bell, who was present at his death.


Memorial Silk to William Bell


In the 1851 census for Seaton Delaval, Mable Bell, and her family are living at 4 Whitridge [Wheatridge] Row. Mable is a widow, and the assumption is she was William’s wife. Mable is aged 37 and is claiming Parish Relief.  William the eldest son is aged 18 and is a Coal Miner, her son Christopher is 11 and is employed in the mines, daughter Mable is 8, and her youngest son Robert, is aged 3. Whitridge Row was one of the rows of tied houses for workers of the Seaton Delaval Coal Company. From this we can assume that William and Christopher are working for the Coal Company, at the time of the Census.

Reports of the disease in Seghill, Cowpen, Cramlington and other mining area throughout Northumberland seem to indicate that the disease in these areas were particularly virulent. An explanation was given by Dr John Snow, in his in his paper “On the Mode of Communication of Cholera” in 1855.


Wheatridge Row Seaton Delaval


“The mining population of Great Britain have suffered more from cholera than persons in any other occupation; a circumstance which I believe can only be explained by the mode of communication of the malady. Pitmen are differently situated from every other class of workmen in many important particulars. There are no privies in the coal pits, or as I believe in other mines, the workmen stay so long in the mines that they are obliged to take a supply of food with them, which they eat invariably with unwashed hands and without knife and fork”. “It is very evident that when a pitman is attacked with cholera whilst at work, the disease has facilities for spreading among his fellow-labourers such as occurs in no other occupation. That the men are occasionally attacked whilst at work I know, from having seen them brought up from some of the coal-pits in Northumberland in the winter of 1831-1832 after having had, profuse discharges from the stomach and bowels, and when fast approaching to a state of collapse”.


Alice Mary Carr-Ellison: In Peace & War

Jock, Alice, and Ralph Carr-Ellison, 41 Princes Gate, London,


Alice was born Alice Mary Campbell in 1866 in Glendaruel, Argyll, the youngest child of Archibald Campbell, Captain of the 42nd Highlanders, and his second wife, Christina Maclaren.  Alice’s brother, William, was an officer in the Black Watch, and had served in South Africa, alongside Ralph Henry Carr-Ellison, Alice’s future husband.  Ralph mentioned Alice in his letters home from Bechuanaland (now Botswana), Africa, where he was serving in the British Bechuanaland Police – a border police force.  When he returned home in the Autumn of 1892, their engagement was announced.

They were married at St. Peter’s Parish Church, Cranley Gardens, London, on 28 February 1893.  Ralph was stationed in York at the time of their marriage, and the couple lived there for a time, before Ralph was posted to Ireland.  Their only child, John (Jock) Campbell Carr-Ellison, was born on 25 September 1897, at 4 Walton Street, London.  Alice was to leave her son when he was two years old, to follow her husband to South Africa.  She set sail on the S.S. Norman not long after her husband sailed in 1899.

While Ralph was on campaign, Alice was left very much to her own devices, often for months at a time.  She would visit recent battlefields with friends, and she threw herself into the lively social scene.  Based firstly in Cape Town, she visited the sick and injured who had been sent back to the city after the battle at Magersfontein.  In January 1900, Alice made her way to Pietermaritzburg and again became involved in caring for the sick and wounded, and was asked to join the nursing staff.  Ralph did not approve, so Alice compromised; she carried on visiting the patients while acting as a voluntary nurse to those soldiers who were convalescing.

After almost three years in South Africa, on 2 July 1902, Alice set sail for Britain on the Dunottar Castle, even though she lacked the necessary permit for her passage, and brought two illegal immigrants (meerkats!) on board with her.  On 28 July, Alice landed at Callart, Invernesshire, and was reunited with her son, Jock, at Fort William.  By this time he was five years old.

Ralph had wanted to travel to Hong Kong after his return to England.  Alice was more than willing to travel with him – she was as adventurous as he was – but her health deteriorated and the plans were forgotten.  The couple moved to Guernsey in 1906, when Ralph was made Deputy Governor of the island.  Their time on the island came to an end in 1910 and they embarked on a world tour, visiting Cairo and India along the way, only returning to Hedgeley in October 1913.



During the First World War, Alice organised working parties at her home in 41 Princes Gate, London, making articles for those at the Front.  When Ralph and Alice moved to Dublin she became involved in many welfare committees to improve conditions for soldiers and their families.  She organised food and tobacco parcels to be sent to the men at the front and those in prisoner of war camps.  She also formed a workshop for disabled soldiers, where they could make artificial limbs, giving them the chance to earn a wage and support their families.

In 1917, Alice did even more for the national war effort by turning Dunston Hill House, Gateshead, into an after-care home, catering for 45 disabled soldiers and sailors at a time.  The house was in a peaceful, countryside location, but was close enough to Newcastle to make it accessible.


Photograph of Dunston Hill House.


Dunston Hill House was taken over by the Northumberland War Pensions Committee, and used especially for neurasthenic cases – men suffering from the stress they had experienced in the trenches.  Alice was elected a member of the Committee that would run the Home, and was instrumental in planning the alterations and additions that would make a home into a hospital.

During the War, Princes Gate became a gathering place for servicemen, and Hedgeley became an unofficial rest and recreation centre for disabled officers.  Both houses were for the use of overseas troops – the South African, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces.

In September 1921, at the age of fifty-five, Alice died of pneumonia at her home in London.  Her cremation took place at Golder’s Green, and the ashes were interned in Eglingham churchyard on 14 September, after a memorial service that was attended by family, friends, local dignitaries and estate tenants from Northumberland and Durham.  Mr. G. Hemming, the Head Gardener at Hedgeley, lined the burial vault with laurel and flowers from the gardens of Hedgeley Hall.

The Creevey Papers

Thomas Creevey


Thomas Creevey was born in Liverpool in 1768, allegedly the son of William Creevey, a Liverpool merchant, he is believed by some to have been the illegitimate son of Charles William, 1st Earl of Sefton. After graduating from Queens College, Cambridge in 1789 he was called to the bar in 1794. In 1802 he married Eleanor Ord, the Widow of William Ord a Northumberland Landowner and M.P. for Newcastle, and daughter of Charles Brandling of Gosforth. Eleanor was also a distant cousin of Charles Grey and a friend of the Prince of Wales. A socially and politically advantageous match, it was no coincidence that in the year of his marriage, Creevey also became M.P. for Thetford.

Creevey was a Whig and a follower of Charles James Fox. In 1806, when the brief “All the Talents” ministry was formed, he was given the office of secretary to the Board of Control. In 1830, when next his party came into power, Creevey, who had lost his seat in Parliament, was appointed treasurer of the ordnance; and subsequently Lord Melbourne made him treasurer of Greenwich Hospital (1834).

Although he had a distinguished political career, Creevey is better remembered for the time he spent away from Britain. In 1814 he and his then very unwell wife, left England for Brussels where they were to spend the next five years. It was during this time that Creevey was to come to know the Duke of Wellington, and to have the distinction of being the first civilian to interview him after the Battle of Waterloo. It was during that interview that Wellington made his famous assessment of the battle “It has been a damned nice thing. The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”




Creevey had intended to write a history of the times he lived in, and apparently to that end collected and saved his own voluminous correspondence. He was a man of some considerable charm and this along with his intellect, meant many of the leading political figures of the day valued his company. As such he was afforded an uncommon degree of intimacy with them. His wife died in 1818 leaving Creevey with very scant means of his own. However, his popularity meant that his friends often looked after him although it was noted by Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville in 1829 “old Creevey is a living proof that a man may be perfectly happy and exceedingly poor. I think he is the only man I know in society who possesses nothing.”


Creevey’s “Execrable” handwriting.


Creevey died in 1838 and was largely forgotten to history. His papers were consigned to the attic of Whitfield Hall in Northumberland, after having passed to his stepdaughter Elizabeth Ord. As well as his correspondence, the papers include his journals, many were faithfully kept by Elizabeth, indeed she saw fit to transcribe many of them in her own hand. An act that has been much praised by those who have studied Creevey’s papers who describe his own writing, without exception, as “simply execrable”. However, Creevey is also known to have kept a copious diary covering 36 years of his life, but it was apparently destroyed sometime after his death by friends fearing exposure of the contents.

A chance enquiry during a tour of the house in 1900 led to the publication of ‘The Creevey Papers’. These two volumes captured the late Georgian era with sparkling political and social gossip and an almost Pepysian outspokenness, and they took London by storm. No one described more graphically the appearance, or recorded more faithfully the looks and the talk, of the royal personages and major politicians of the time. Not least among his humorous touches is the extensive use of nicknames for many of the major personages of the day, “Prinney” for George IV; “Beelzebub” for Henry Brougham; “Madagascar” for Lady Holland and “the beau” for the Duke of Wellington. Others include “Og of Bashan” “King Jog” “King Tom” “Niffy Naffy” “Slice” “Snip” and “Clunch,”.


A summary of royalties for the publication of The Creevey Papers.


The Creevey Papers are held by Northumberland Archives as part of the Blackett-Ord Family of Whitfield Collection. Due to its large size there is a huge amount of material not included in the original ‘The Creevey Papers’ publication, or its subsequent iterations. It’s likely that further exploration of the material could yield even more from this extraordinary record of a man’s life through a turbulent time in history.

The Murder of Joe the Quilter

On 3 January 1826 a 76 year old man named Joseph Hedley was brutally murdered in his cottage in the parish of Warden. Joseph’s throat and face were slashed and multiple stab wounds were inflicted upon his body. He was commonly known as Joe the Quilter due to his skill with needlework. He was a quilter by trade and travelled around the country seeking employment. Joe’s skills in quilting were celebrated, and his handiwork was known in various parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and America.

On the evening of the murder, Joe obtained a pitcher of milk, a pound of sugar, a sheep’s head and pluck (offal) from farmer’s wife Mrs Colbeck of Warwick Grange. At approximately 6pm William Herdman, a labourer living in Wall called in on Joe on his way home from work at the local paper mill and sat with him for a short time. Joe had a good fire going and was busy preparing some potatoes for his supper.  Around 7pm Mrs Biggs, a female pedlar from Stamfordham knocked at the cottage to ask directions to Fourstones having missed the turning due to the excessive darkness of the night. Joe came to the door and gave her the necessary directions. Apart from the murderer(s), Mrs Biggs is said to be the last person to have seen him alive.


Plan of Joe’s cottage where the murder took place


At approximately 8pm a Mr Smith of Haughton Castle rode past the cottage on his way home from Warden and all at the cottage was silent and dark. It is suspected that the deed took place between 7-8pm. Concern for Joe’s safety grew after his neighbours didn’t see the elderly man for a few days. It was reported that there appeared to be marks of blood in the snow outside the cottage and marks to indicate that a struggle had taken place. His neighbours found the cottage door locked and after knocking several times with no reply proceeded to break into the property. They were faced with a chilling sight as parts of the walls of the cottage were stained with blood and a quilt spread on a frame bore a distinct mark of a bloody handprint. The pitcher of milk, sheep’s head and pound of sugar which he had recently purchased were found lying on a table. A search of the house was conducted and nothing was found. An old outhouse which stored wood and coals was then searched and Joe’s body was discovered. Both cheeks were cut widely open with deep wounds. A garden hoe was found laid across his chest. A coal rake was also found with its shank bent. As two weapons were discovered it then raised a suspicion that there were 2 murderers. Joe was found with knife wounds on his hands so had obviously fought with the attacker(s).

The small cottage had been ransacked and bore evidence of a struggle. All of his boxes and drawers had been disturbed and it was believed that two silver tablespoons, four teaspoons and two old fashioned salt cellars of silver net-work had been stolen.The bed tester had been violently torn down and the face of the clock broken. Prints of 3 bloody fingers were distinctly visible on the chimney jamb . The plates on the dresser were also streaked with blood. Outside in the lane some clogs were found and a small piece of coat was discovered on a hedge.It was supposed that Joe had fought hard with the murderer(s) and had managed to escape about 100 yards from the cottage before he was caught. Judging by the marks in the snow it appeared that a struggle had taken place and then Joe had been overcome and dragged back and murdered. After this had taken place the cottage door had been locked on the outside and the key taken away.


Reward Poster


A one hundred guineas reward was offered to catch the perpetrator(s) of the atrocious murder . The reward was offered from the Overseers of the Poor of the parish of Warden on 17 January 1826. Home secretary Robert Peel offered his majesty’s full pardon to any accomplices who came forward with information (as long as they were not the actual murderer). A jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.  Although several people were arrested and questioned nobody was ever charged and sadly the murder of Joe the Quilter was never solved. Joe was buried in Warden churchyard on 10 January 1826. On his burial entry the word murdered can clearly be read underneath his name.



On Wednesday 29 March 1826, an auction was held to sell the household furniture belonging to the ‘late unfortunate Joseph Hedley, commonly called Joe The Quilter’.


Auction Poster


Northumberland and Durham Sword Dancing

‘Calling on’- song


The image above is one of the earliest examples of a Sword Dancing ‘calling -on‘song. Sword Dancing in Northumberland and Durham is very peculiar, for unlike the sword dances found elsewhere in the country, the sword in the Northern area is two handled.

The earliest written description of sword dancing in Northumberland is part of the seasonal festivities written by John Wallis, Curate of Simonburn in his book “The Natural History and Antiquary of Northumberland” published in 1769, he relates the dances still performed at Christmas time he states:

“Young men march from village to village, and from house to house with music before them, dressed in antic attire, and before the vestibulum or entrance of every house entertain the family with the Motus incompositus, the antic dance, or Chorus armatus, with swords or spears in their hands, erect and shining. This they call, the Sword-Dance. For their pains they are presented with a small gratuity in money, more or less, according to every householders ability, their gratitude is expressed by firing a gun. One of the company is distinguished from the rest by a more antic dress; a fox’s skin generally serving him for a covering and ornament to his head, the tail hanging down his back. This droll figure is their chief or leader he does not mingle in the dance”.

On the 7th January 1843 the Newcastle Journal published an article formerly printed in The Times of a custom called “Sword dancing”

“The sword-dancers are men entirely or chiefly composed of miners or pitmen, and of persons engaged in the various other vocations of a colliery, who during the week intervening between Christmas and New Year’s Day, perambulate the country in parties, consisting of from twelve to twenty, partly in search of money, but much more I believe, of adventure and excitement”  “on these occasions they are habited in a peculiarly gaudy dress, which, with their dancing principally attracts attention. Instead of their ordinary jackets they wear others, composed of a kind of variegated patchwork which, with their hats, are profusely decorated with ribands of the gayest hues, prepared and wrought by their sisters or sweethearts, the sword dances being usually young and unmarried men. This, with slight individual variations is the description of dress worn by all the members of a sword-dancing party, with the exception of two conspicuous characters invariably attached to the company and denominated amongst themselves respectively the “Tommy” and the “Bessy”  These two personages were the most frighteningly grotesque dresses imaginable; the former being usually clad in the skin of some wild animal, and the latter in petticoats and the costume of an old woman; it is the office of those two individuals, to go round amongst the company which collects to see them dance, and levy contributions in money; each of them being furnished for this purpose with a huge tin or iron box which they rattle in the faces of the bystanders, and perform other antics and grimaces to procure subscriptions. A fiddler also is an indispensable attaché to a company of sword dancers”….”The sword dancers are each furnished with long steel wands, which they call swords, and which they employ with a very peculiar and beautiful effect during the dance”.

In Northumberland the villages which continued the tradition into the 20th century were Amble, Bedlington, Earsdon, Monkseaton, Newbiggin by the Sea, Prudhoe and Mickley, Walbottle and Westerhope.


Sword Dancing Team



In 1910 Cecil Sharp, keen folksong and folkdance collector was invited north, by William Parker Brewis of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, and between 1910 and 1922 he collected five sword dances, and published them in the book “The Sword Dances in Northern England”, and within the first few months of publication was using the dances in the English Folk Dance Society as part of their “Advanced Certificate” course of folk dance, what the sword dancers themselves made of this we shall never know.

The term “Rapper” for the name of this kind of dancing comes from an interpretation of the poor written word which Cecil Sharp wrote in his notes as to the name of the implements the Earsdon men were holding in their hands, no earlier account of this word in combination with Sword Dancing has been found.

In Northumberland and Durham today, very few of the traditional Sword Dancing sides still perform. High Spen Blue Diamonds in County Durham, being one of the very last, passed down through the generations of the Forster family. Even though there are little traditional sides left, the dance still goes on with the likes of the Demon Barbers, from Newcastle upon Tyne bringing back the excitement of the fast dance, or the Monkseaton Morris Men who still perform every New Year’s Day at 12 noon outside the Ship Inn, Monkseaton. As traditions change and die out and everywhere becomes less magical and more mundane, it is good to support and remember the little things that make the North East a little bit different from anywhere else.


Some information kindly supplied by Phil Heaton, author of “Rapper – The Miners’ Sword Dance of North East England”.


Season’s Greetings!


Disaster on the Home Front: The Robson Family

On the evening of Wednesday 1st December 1943, tragedy struck the communities of Togston and Amble.  An RAF aircraft – a Short Stirling Mk. III – crashed into the top floor of Cliff House Farm, just outside Amble.

The bomber had taken off from RAF Mepal, Cambridgeshire, on 1st December.  Its mission, along with other aircraft, was to drop sea mines off Denmark.  On the return flight, the aircraft were diverted to RAF Acklington due to fog.  The survivor reported that the plane had experienced trouble but that the Pilot, Warrant Officer Kerr, had managed to keep the plane in the air until he was safely over Amble, but could not maintain control and crashed into the farmhouse at 10.40pm

Mr and Mrs William Robson were entertaining their friends, Mr and Mrs Rowell, at the farm that Wednesday.  Mr Rowell, a butcher in Amble, had visited the Robson’s to roll some bacon, and Mrs Rowell had been invited along for supper.  They had just finished their meal when the plane crashed into the house.  Mr Rowell described the incident in the Newcastle Journal and North Mail (in an article published on Friday 3rd December 1943),

there was a deafening roar and the house came down about our ears… Our first thoughts, naturally, were for the children.  We pulled at the wreckage in an effort to find them.  Then fire broke out and we had to throw water to keep down the flames.

The four adults were injured and in shock.  Neighbours and rescue squads arrived at the scene quickly.  The five Robson children, who were sleeping upstairs at the time of the crash, were killed on impact:

Sylvia, aged 9 years

Ethel, aged 7 years

Marjorie, aged 5 years

William, aged 3 years

Sheila, aged 19 months


The bodies of the children were found on Saturday 2nd December.  The image below is from a register, a ‘Record of Civilian Death Due to War Operations’.  All five children’s deaths are recorded within the register.  Sheila’s body is noted as being found at 1.30am.


Shelia Robson

Shelia Robson


The Stirling bomber had a crew of seven men, but only one survived the crash.  He was spotted by Mrs Rowell, running around the field on fire.  She called to her husband who ran across to the airman, rolled him on the ground, and extinguished the flames.  Mr. Rowell than rushed to the plane to help the aircrew, but could find no one else.


The aircrew were all members of 75 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve:

Warrant Officer (Pilot) George John Stewart Kerr, aged 22 years. Son of John and Georgina Kerr of High Ongar, Essex.  Buried in Chevington Cemetery, Northumberland.

Sergeant (Air Gunner) George William Thomas Lucas, aged 22 years. Son of George and Ellen Lucas of Shepherd’s Bush, London.  Buried in East Finchley Cemetery and St. Marylebone Crematorium.

Sergeant (Air Bomber) Ronald Smith, aged 20 years. Son of Basil and Sarah Ann Smith of Leeds; husband of Joan Smith of Halton, Leeds.  Buried in Leeds (Whitkirk) Cemetery.

Sergeant (Navigator) Donald Frank Wort. Son of Mr. and Mrs Frank Wort of Parkstone.  Buried in Poole (Parkstone) Cemetery.

Flight Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) Derek Arthur Holt. Son of Mr. and Mrs A. Holt of Shrewsbury, Shropshire.  Buried in St. Helen’s Cemetery.

Sergeant (Flight Engineer) Leonard George Copsey, aged 20 years. Son of George and Jessie Copsey of Hornchurch.  Buried in Hornchurch Cemetery.


G.J.S. Kerr

G.J.S. Kerr



The survivor of the crash was Sergeant (Mid Upper Gunner) Kenneth Gordon Hook of Hambledon, Surrey, who was 20 years old at the time.  Even though he sustained serious injuries, he was flying again by February 1944.  On 13 March 1944, he was in another Stirling bomber, again taking off from RAF Mepal, for a minelaying operation near Brest, when the aeroplane malfunctioned and the plane crashed, with three of its five mines exploding after impact.  Sergeant Hook survived, and by the end of the Second World War had flown 75 operational missions.  He retired from the RAF in 1977 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.  He died in 1989 in Devon.


School Log Book

School Log Book


The crash at Cliff House Farm was reported the next day in the Log Book of Amble Church of England School, which Sylvia and Ethel both attended.  It notes that a wreath was purchased, and we know (from a newspaper article which reported on the funeral) that this was laid on the grave of the children by staff and pupils, when the funeral took place on Saturday 4th December.  The service was held at Amble St. Cuthbert and the interment took place at Amble West Cemetery, where the children were all laid to rest in one grave.





Today, the children and the tragedy that befell them are still remembered.  A memorial table stands at the west end of Amble St. Cuthbert’s, and there is a housing estate named after the children, near the site of Cliff House Farm.  The estate is named Robson Way, with each of the closes named after a child.  The airmen who died are remembered on a plaque inside Acklington St. John the Divine, which was the official church for RAF Acklington.

Mr. and Mrs Robson moved to a farm at Shotley Bridge, before moving to Stannington and later, Fenrother.  They are buried in Amble West Cemetery, in the same grave as Sylvia, Ethel, Marjorie, William and Sheila.


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.



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

Of International Importance: The St. Paul & Butler Families of Ewart Park – Part Two

Horace and Anna Maria’s eldest child, Anna Maria Charlotte St. Paul [always known to the family as Charlotte], born in 1805, seems to have been the family hypochondriac.  Much of the correspondence from her to various family members discusses her various ailments, and the lack of attention and sympathy she receives from her brother and sisters.  She married into a well-known local family when she wed Reverend Leonard Shafto Orde in 1832.  Leonard was the personal vicar to the Duke of Northumberland, so much time was spent in Alnwick.

Elizabeth Katherine and Frances Agnes St. Paul, the middle daughters, are still mysteries to us.  What has been gleaned so far is that Elizabeth and Frances were deemed ‘imbeciles’.  The girls lived with Charles Maximilian and Anna Maria at Ewart Park, under constant supervision because of their so-called violent behaviour.  Letters from their sister, Anne, suggest that the girls were kept in their own private apartments at both St. Ninians and Ewart, and they were not allowed out of their rooms without attendants. An intriguing letter written in 1849 by Anne to her brother Horace about their sisters, notes that Elizabeth is cunning, prone to fits of rage, used violent language as well as violence itself, and that she was deficient in intellect.  The two sisters were also defrauded by their aunt and uncle.  Anna Maria got the girls to sign folded pieces of paper, and the girls did not know they were signing promissory notes, technically handing over their inheritances and allowances to their aunt and uncle, presumably to pay debts.  Frances died in 1862, Elizabeth not until 1881.

Another sister, Jane Isabella, ran off to Ireland at a young age, where she took up with a Captain, before meeting and marrying Dr. Evans.  He died soon after and Jane married again, to another doctor, Dr. Martin Hamilton Lynch, with whom she eventually moved to France.

Horace’s youngest daughter, Anne, was quite an adventuress for her time.  She showed a wilful streak, and followed her sister Jane to Ireland.  Writing in November 1834, she notes that she fled to Jane because two people had informed her that her brother-in-law, the Reverend Leonard Shafto Orde, had declared she was,

…in a state of derangement, that a strait waistcoat was the fittest thing for me, and that he had been advising my relations at Ewart to have me taken care of as a deranged person.

Her father must have looked upon her favourably though, as she seems to have gone unpunished for her exploits.  Anne died in 1883, having never married.


Sir Horace III

Sir Horace III


Sir Horace’s son, Horace St. Paul, was his heir.  The only legitimate son, born in 1812 at St. Ninian’s, Northumberland, he served as MP for East Worcestershire from 1837-1841, and the collection includes extensive political records relating to his campaigns.  He was a Justice of the Peace, advocated teetotal principles, and served as a Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland.  A somewhat wholesome image of the man is presented when viewing his papers.  A legal document shatters this.  At the age of 50 years, Sir Horace seduced the seventeen year old Fanny Russell of Highgate, after she was sent to his abode by her mother to curry his favour for the family boarding house.  The affair continued for some years and Fanny bore him two children, both of whom died in infancy.

Sir Horace eventually married Jane Eliza Grey in 1867.  She was the daughter of George Annett Grey, and niece of Josephine Butler.  The couple had only one child, Maria (or Mia) St. Paul, born in 1868.  Jane died in 1881, and Mia and her father lived at Ewart until his death in 1891.  The baronetcy then became extinct, although Mia was still entitled to bear the title of Countess of the Holy Roman Empire.

Mia loved Ewart and Northumberland deeply.  At the age of two she had laid the foundation stone for the new nurseries at Ewart. She was an enthusiastic member of the Berwickshire Naturalist’s Club, and greatly enjoyed travelling the county, and talking to her tenants on the estate.  Her godmother was her great-aunt, Josephine Butler, and these great family ties led to the marriage of Mia to Josephine’s son, George Grey Butler, a Senior Examiner to the Civil Service, in 1893.


Mia's Wedding Photo

Mia’s Wedding Photo


George treated Mia as an equal, discussing estate business with her, as well as art and literature.  The couple had three children, Hetha, Horace and Irene Maria Butler.  Their story unfortunately does not have a happy ending.  A diary kept by George after the birth of Irene in 1901 charts Mia’s short illness and death.  It seems that she suffered from blood poisoning after childbirth, and suffered hallucinations for days before she died.

There is an oral history recording of Hetha Butler held within the archives [ref. T/20].  Recorded in 1972, Hetha reminisces about her idyllic childhood on the Ewart estate.  We also hold many of her watercolour sketches of the estate, which cast light on the privileged childhood the children had.  Irene became Private Secretary to Lord Robert Cecil in 1927, and she seems to have continued in this position until 1942, two years before her death.

Hetha and Irene’s brother, Horace was born in 1898.  He served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery during the First World War, and among the collection we have some of his trench maps for Belgium and France. After the War, he struggled to receive an army pension after suffering from “shell shock” or post-traumatic stress disorder.  He married Dorothy Torlesse and the couple moved to Canada before eventually returning to England.  During the Second World War, he served as a Captain in the 1st Battalion Northumberland Home Guard.  Because of the role he held, we have in the collection files relating to the Home Guard.

Although hardly touched upon so far, the hidden gem of the St. Paul story is Ewart Park itself.  The house is Grade II listed, and though constructed by Count Horace, does have nineteenth century additions.  The grounds and parkland in which Ewart sits were also designed by the Count.  The house was sold by the family in 1937, after the death of George Grey Butler.  His son, Horace, did not have the means for the up-keep of the house, especially after death duties.  It was occupied by the military during the Second World War, and has not been inhabited since.


Ewart Park Room c.1960

Ewart Park Room c.1960