Archive for General

Ann Wilson – Widow, Pauper and Eloping Lover

The Poor and the Law

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries local parishes were made responsible for the care of paupers within their jurisdiction. This care was given in the form of poor relief legislated by a series of ‘Poor Laws;’ the most notable being the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. The concept of poor relief was a controversial one, attracting numerous critics. One its major flaws related to the notion of ‘settlement.’ Parishes naturally resented paying for paupers whom had originated beyond their jurisdiction, and would often try to forcibly return them to their ‘home’ parishes. Yet the fluid nature of society, especially during the industrial revolution, made it increasingly hard to prove where a “pauper” should be placed. Thus solicitors, such as the Dickson, Archer and Thorp firm, were often called upon to resolve settlement disputes.

This exact issue arose in September 1853 when two Overseers of the Poor from the parish of Saint Nicholas, situated within Newcastle Upon Tyne, began legal proceedings to forcibly remove two “paupers” from their jurisdiction. These Overseers signed themselves in the removal order as Sir John Fife and William Armstrong. The order directed the “paupers” to be moved into the northern parish of Bamburgh. Although it is not clear from archival documents as to why Bamburgh was chosen it is perhaps telling that Bamburgh’s own Overseers of the Poor fiercely disputed the removal order and so employed the legal aid of Dickson, Archer and Thorp.

Widowed Paupers

The two “paupers” facing removal from the parish of Saint Nicholas in September 1853 were the widow Ann Wilson, aged just 25, and her daughter Elizabeth, aged about two years. Sending widows away from a parish of settlement, previously adopted by their deceased spouses, was a common occurrence in nineteenth century Northumberland. The process often caused heart-breaking social and economic turmoil, as vulnerable women were removed from established networks of friends and family and placed in often unfamiliar areas without obvious employment or emotional support.


Order to remove Ann Wilson to Bamburgh 1853


It is therefore unsurprising that the potential move was also sternly opposed by Ann herself. Ann had already faced the stigma of possibly welcoming a child out of wedlock, braved her employer’s wrath to elope with her lover and tragically endured early widowhood – clearly she was not a woman who would be moved easily. Thus, whilst her experience of parish poor relief could be deemed atypical of a nineteenth century Northumbrian widow, her situation was far more complex and it made fighting the order a matter of survival and reputation.

Young Lovers

Ann was the daughter of a sailor, named in legal documents as Henry Pryle Gibson. He was recorded in ejectment proceedings as living near Forth Banks, close to Newcastle’s Quayside, but in Ann’s personal testimony he seems to have had little to do with her life.

Instead Ann had spent the majority of her youth working as a domestic servant. In this occupation she had spent almost 3 years living in Newton on the Moor whilst working for the publican-come-blacksmith Mr Wall. In her testimony, given to prove she had been legally married to her deceased husband, she tenderly recalled how it was during her first few weeks in Newton on the Moor that she met the colliery engine-man James Wilson.


Copy of James Wilson’s baptism certificate, produced as evidence of his existence


The young couple began a three year courtship which reached a decisive point when Ann became pregnant in the beginning of 1851. To have maintained a child out of wedlock would have put great financial pressure and reputational shame upon Ann; probably forcing her to give up domestic employment and seek the support of parish organisations. Thus, probably to avoid moral judgement, the young couple decided to elope to the Scottish borders and resolve their situation legally.

The Legality of Love

Marriages conducted by eloping couples on the border were clandestine in the eyes of the Church, this made them notoriously hard to prove in retrospect. Ann’s account of her elopement is lengthy, witty and fast-paced. It was recorded verbatim by the solicitors and had been carefully crafted to prove the legality of her marriage and, in turn, the legitimacy of Elizabeth – two facts which the Newcastle Overseers had questioned. Being a legal widow, and having a legitimate child, would have put Ann in a much stronger position to fight the parish removal order and lift the reputational slur the men of Saint Nicholas’ parish had placed on her. Ann’s account was also verified by a number of witnesses including her mother-in-law (even though her testimony infers that she may not have wholly approved of her new daughter-in-law.)


A letter containing extracts of Ann Wilson’s statement


According to these accounts Ann and James eloped to the Scottish border on the 6th June 1851, travelling via train from Newcastle to Berwick. Once at Tweedmouth Station they met with the man who was to marry them; Anderson Sommerville. Sommerville first took the lovers by horse drawn carriage to a public house in search of witnesses; here they met George Dobson and George Davison. The latter was a soldier tasked with recruiting in Berwick that day. The group then moved onto the Lamberton toll booth to conduct the ceremony.

The Lamberton toll house was a popular place for clandestine marriages. One of Lamberton’s previous toll keepers, John Foster, had even received lifetime banishment from Scotland for conducting clandestine marriages on his land in 1818. This punishment had little effect though, as Foster primarily lived in England and he would often ignore the notice anyway.

Within the toll house the Wilson’s were taken to a room with a table, bottle of whiskey and a prayer book. It was in this room where they exchanged their vows and signed the relevant documentation. After the brief ceremony all five drank a toast of whiskey to the marriage’s prosperity which was, unfortunately, to be short-lived.

Hanover Street and a New Start

Ann clearly thought she had embarked upon a whole new, exciting life following her elopement. When the couple returned to Northumberland it would appear James returned to Newton on the Moor, to tie up the loose ends left behind by their hasty departure, he then followed Ann down to Newcastle where she had found them a home in the city’s Hanover Street.

It was here that Ann gave birth to their daughter Elizabeth, on the 28th September 1851. But sadly, around the same time, James died following a short illness.

James’ death left Ann with a young child to feed and care for. It was during this painful, and probably traumatic, experience she found herself seeking poor relief from parish officials. Evidence also suggests she was possibly forced out of her new home. These circumstances therefore assembled to bring her to the attention of senior parish officials, whom questioned her marriage and associated right to remain in the area, and set in motion the removal order.

A Legal Success

Proving Ann Wilson’s right to settle in Saint Nicholas’ parish was dependent upon her having been legally married to her husband, however this was difficult to evidence due to the secret nature of their union. Nonetheless, through tireless county and cross-border investigation, solicitors at the Dickson, Archer and Thorp practice were able to successfully evidence an appeal against the removal order on behalf of Bamburgh’s Overseers of the Poor and prove the authenticity of a small marriage certificate, given to Ann on her wedding day. Officials from the parish of Saint Nicholas eventually revoked their removal order and Ann and Elizabeth appear to have found somewhere within Newcastle to stay.


Letter adjoining the Appeal notice accepted by all parties


Ann had asserted her right to remain within the Newcastle Parish, but it is unlikely she would have had the tools to fight the removal order on her own had she not also had the support of Bamburgh’s parish officials. Hence this is a story of two parties working simultaneously with the solicitors – if only for their own gains.

A final triumph for the unyielding Ann, and an appropriate end to this blog, potentially occurred on the 7th October 1854. When an Elizabeth Wilson, recorded as being the daughter of an ‘Ann Wilson” and born towards the end of 1851, was christened at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle.


Warring Neighbours

On the 23rd October 1829 a neighbourhood dispute brought two brothers, George and James Mather, before the law at the Alnwick Quarter Sessions. The brothers were presented on the following nuisance charge;

“On the first day of July in the tenth year of the reign of our own Sovereign Lord George the fourth ….. in and upon a certain street and King’s common Highway there, called Bondgate, unlawfully and injuriously did erect and build, and cause and procure to be erected and built, a certain wall made of stone, mortar and other materials of great height, … the height of fifty feet of the length of sixty feet and the breadth of three feet.”

The wall had been erected as part of a bigger building project to renovate an ancient property, which the Mather brothers had recently acquired on Bondgate Street. But neighbours and local residents resented the street’s new addition, labelling it unlawful and dangerous.

Using Quarter Session records, lifted from the Dickson, Archer and Thorp collection, as well as electoral rolls and contemporary maps one can trace seventy years of property history in the Bondgate area, and understand why a simple home renovation could cause extreme neighbourhood strife and personal tragedy.


The prosecution’s case notes


Bondgate’s Burgages

Using anecdotes from the testimony of court room witnesses, one can began to build a vivid picture of early nineteenth century Bondgate. The area was a vibrant and creative one, filled with artisan residents practising occupational crafts such as hat and breech-making.  Its main street was a busy common highway, and court witness James Simpson reminisced about how local residents Aaron Shanks and Nicholas Dune would sit and chat in it. The properties which lined Bondgate Street were referred to in court documents as “old burgages” essentially meaning they had been, at some point, rental properties.

The Mather’s controversial property, atypical to others on the row, was described in the prosecution’s brief as an “ancient” building boasting a traditional thatched roof and mud walls. James Mather was listed in electoral rolls as possessing an “undivided moiety of a freehold house,” thus it is likely the Mather brothers shared in the property’s ownership. We can also trace the property’s previous occupants using a list produced specifically for the October court case;

“[the building] formerly belonged to Aaron Shanks (Cooper), afterwards his two daughters, then Robert Patterson of Alnwick a draper, and then to James and George Mathers.”

When the Mather brother’s acquired their new property they set about demolishing its old external walls and erecting new ones. They were not the first amongst their neighbours to renovate the traditional street front. The Nesbit and Landell families had each altered their properties by removing the external walls, which appeared to be of a “temporary nature, to make the buildings sturdier. These necessary, yet subtle, changes were largely accepted by the community, so long as they respected public access to the street and complied with the row’s existing uniform design.

Yet the Mather’s renovation differed hugely, as the brothers had decided to demolish the whole front-facing external wall and rebuild it jutting out into the street. This new design blocked the public’s right of way to Bondgate Street, and broke the perpendicular line which had traditionally existed along the property row.


A court sketch of the Landell, Nesbit and Mather properties


Neighbours and community members were outraged at the new wall and the property’s new position; and reading their testimonies has highlighted similarities between this case and modern examples regarding the demolition or refurbishment of traditionally established buildings. While some neighbours called for nuisance charges to be brought others viewed the wall as being an outright public danger. This concern was especially illustrated in the testimony of Samuel Fairburn who;

“Had reason to complain for, in going up to his sisters, … about 3 weeks ago he knocked the side of his face against it [the new exterior wall], there was no moon and his eye sight is not good.”

The physical injury and inconvenience to local residents ultimately led to legal complaints and action. But, despite being issued with various indictments and warnings, the brothers refused to amend or remove the wall and thus presented themselves before the court on October 23rd 1829 to defend their boundary rights.


The Court Case – Memory Lane

The Mather’s radical act to move their external wall out into the street had thrown into question the land rights of all Bondgate residents, as well as the public’s right to access. The brothers sternly defended their actions by maintaining that the new wall still fell within their land boundary. They perceived this boundary to be marked out by several large rocks, from the property’s original foundations, which had surfaced in the street only metres beyond the original external wall.

The prosecution’s case therefore rested on being able to prove that these stones did not mark any land boundary but that it was the perpendicular line, which had existed for generations between houses, which decided boundary rights. Proving the Mather brothers had subverted these traditional property lines required strong witness testimony. Thus the prosecution’s witnesses were carefully selected from the community for both their knowledge of the area and their ability to remember the property’s state prior to 1795.


Notes from the prosecution on witnesses


Most of the witnesses were in their 70s when they stood before the court. Some of whom had been builders in their youth, and believed the Mather brothers were correct in their assertion that the surfacing rocks had been part of the property’s original foundations. These witnesses claimed that the rocks had surfaced beyond the property, and into the road, as;

“the original builder had sunk the foundation stones so deep they had crumbled and tumbled below the surface so when they re-emerged they were beyond the boundary”

These rocks therefore held no sway over property rights or boundaries; instead it was the original positioning of the Bondgate row burgages which marked land rights and property lines. This concept was described for the court using a small architectural model, presented by William Smith:

“The old burgage of Mathers was bordered by a burgage belonging to Mr Nesbit on the west, by a burgage belonging to Walter Landells on the east and by Bondgate Street on the north. The front wall of the Mathers old burgage into Bondgate Street was even both with the line of Landells old and new erected houses, and it sloped generally towards Nesbits….. but before Nesbits house was rebuilt as had just been stated, all these three houses were in their old state in a line with each other.”


The Mather Family – Triumph and Tragedy

Unfortunately documents from the Dickson, Archer and Thorp collection do not tell us the court’s decision on the case, although research into both census and electoral records has told us that George and James continued to live in the controversial property for at least two more decades.

In the 1840s the brothers can be found living in the Bondgate property along with their sister Margaret Mather and a second woman; Hannah Mather. It is thought that Hannah may have been James’ wife, or perhaps another sister. Research also revealed a boy was born into the Mather family around 1827 and, although his exact parentage is uncertain, he was named George and certainly grew up in the Bondgate property.

Twenty-two years after the court case, in 1851, Margaret and George are still listed as living in Bondgate, whilst Hannah and George Jn cannot be traced. However, in the same year, James Mather is tragically recorded as residing in the Alnwick Workhouse within St Paul’s Parish.

One can only guess as to why the family split up but, in perhaps the most tragic of twists, a map depicting 1820s Alnwick shows the Mather’s Bondgate property was adjoined to a poorhouse. This was a tragic end for James; a man who had fought the law to retain his property rights barely twenty years before and yet ended his life at the other end of the property spectrum.


A map showing Alnwick in 1827. If you double-click on the image, and zoom in, the Mather property can be found to the south of the map at the bottom of Bondgate Street 

Norah Balls



Recorded in 1975, Northumberland Archives holds a fascinating oral history recording of Suffragette Norah Balls. In the recording Norah discloses that she was just a young teenager when her mother first took her to a suffrage meeting. Her mother was a very strong-minded woman but not a keen suffragist so Norah was unsure why they both attended. Many years later in Tynemouth, Norah heard a small group of ladies talking about Women’s Suffrage. They were part of a new organisation which was going to be much livelier and insist on votes for women, as the previous attempts had no success.  Norah signed her name to say she would be willing to become a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. She began to take a very keen interest in it, and after some time, she was induced to go to a by-election.  The Women’s Social and Political Union used to go to by-elections to talk to the people and to oppose the Liberal candidate, as the Liberals only paid lip-service to the movement.  Norah went to Hawick Boroughs with several other women and their waggon and took the chair for the first time. She was very nervous standing up on the wagon in front of three or four hundred men but after her first appearance she attended quite a few by-elections.


In the north there were several very ardent suffragettes, who although they wouldn’t come out into the open and stand on street corners, were always behind the movement helping and encouraging.  One was Lady Parsons, the wife of Sir Charles Parsons, and also Mrs Taylor of Chipchase Castle.  Norah worked with her daughter Violet Taylor.  At the South Shields by-election, she remembers that the Women’s Social and Political Union was made-up of a very interesting mix of people – rich and poor, and she found it quite remarkable how they worked together with one special aim.  She remembered Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, both coming to this by-election and Norah felt embarrassed as she was asked by Mrs Pankhurst to take the chair.  She was terrified but no-one ever said no to that lady! Norah commented that two of Mrs Pankhurst’s daughters, Sylvia and Adela were very plain girls but good speakers.  Her other daughter Christabel was much more alive and very ‘bonny’, always beautifully dressed and was an excellent speaker. Norah also stated that Mrs Pankhurst had wonderful eyes and a beautiful voice which she was able to easily project over a long distance. She recalled one incident when a man threw a cabbage at Mrs Pankhurst and she said ‘Oh the gentleman has lost his head!’.  Normally when they went to the meetings, for example at Armstrong’s Works, the men would heckle them and they were very unoriginal with their comments. They would usually shout things such as ‘Go home and darn your husband’s socks!’ or ‘Go and mind the baby!’. On occasions missiles would be thrown and some things were quite heavy. There were however, many men who were in favour of suffrage for women.


No actual dates were given in the recording but Norah stated that it was decided that the Union should carry a petition to the House of Commons. This was to be delivered to Mr Asquith, who was a very hard man and against suffragettes.  A number of people travelled from Newcastle and marched together to the Houses of Parliament. Norah remembered that she clasped her hands around the railings. The women refused to budge unless they saw Mr Asquith and he, of course, absolutely refused to see them and they were eventually arrested and taken to the police station.  Norah recalled falling asleep in the station with her head in a coal bucket. They had to wait until Mr Pevick-Lawrence came to bail them out.  (He later became Lord Pevick-Lawrence).  They were given bail receipts and had to go to court the next morning but no charges were brought against them. They tried to deliver the petition on two further occasions and the third occasion resulted in Norah and a lady called Mrs Brown being pushed up against the railings. Apparently, a policeman was ‘rather rough’ with Mrs Brown so Norah battered his arm and was subsequently arrested for assault.  In court the Magistrate looked at Norah as she stood in the dock and said, ‘This is a most dangerous woman’! Churchill who was Home Secretary at the time refused to let the women make themselves martyrs and so they were all released.


With the arrival of WW1, many suffragettes set the fight for the vote aside and took up war work.  Norah started a canteen for the soldiers at Whitley Bay.  She recalls that in the end the vote came quietly in the night and after that the suffragettes all went their separate ways.

Turnpike Tolls and Lone Rebels


On the 29th December 1854, at about 9 o’clock in the evening, Mr John Moffat threw down and leveled a “certain rail” belonging to the Alnwick Abbey toll gate situated on the Alnwick and Eglingham turnpike road. Documents from the Dickson, Archer and Thorp collection allow us to follow this case through the courts, and can help us to unpick Moffat’s localised actions and national motives. It is thought these documents were kept as Mr William Dickson, a generational partner in the firm, had been heavily involved in the establishment and maintenance of Alnwick’s turnpike road.


Turnpike Roads and Trusts

The establishment of turnpike roads had been first encouraged by central government during the eighteenth century. To use these roads travellers were required to pay a set toll at the turnpike gate. The term “turnpike” derived from the spiked barriers placed on these toll booth gates.  The levied toll would then be re-invested into the road’s maintenance and repair. This system of re-investment created a better road network; allowing for the more efficient movement of goods and the furtherance of industry.

Turnpike roads were managed by “turnpike trusts” consisting of local business owners and industrialists. To create a turnpike road the trust would request permission from central government.  Once permission had been granted the trust was free to set a toll. They would then retain control over the road for 21 years, although this time could be extended by Parliament. By the passing of the last turnpike act in 1836 there had been 942 acts for new turnpike trusts across England and Wales, and turnpike roads covered roughly ⅕ of the total road network.





A series of toll booth adverts placed in the Newcastle Courant referring to the letting of turnpike toll gates and master positions. The gates referred to here would have been similar to the one Moffat leveled in 1854.







The turnpike toll gate Moffat damaged had been established after a meeting between the Alnwick turnpike trustees in 1826. This was evidenced in court by Joseph Archer, whom produced the trustees’ minute book obtained from the office of their clerk A. Lambert Esq. Archer also produced various other pieces of evidence to prove the gate’s legality. This included a minute book entry referring to the letting of the Toll Master position to William Patterson and a copy of the Newcastle Courant containing the original letting advert.


Queen vs Moffat

The aforementioned evidence was used against Moffat at the Northumberland Adjoined Epiphany Sessions, held on the 22nd July 1855, where Moffat faced two accusations. The first being that he had leveled the toll gate in a “malicious manner,” and the second that his actions had prevented subsequent travellers from paying the due toll.

William Patterson had only been the Alnwick gate toll master since the 13th May 1854. Prior to this he had been living in the area with his wife Margaret and their four young children.







Agreement to let the Alnwick turnpike toll to William Patterson. Also note Mr Dickson’s name included amongst the trustees, further evidence of his close involvement with the case. 











Yet, despite being in the position only a short while, he admitted to the court that he did;

“not collect the tolls myself generally but I authorise my daughter Alice Patterson to do so in my absence and she had principally collected them since the tenth of June last.”

Alice was his eldest child, born around 1838, and the principle witness to Moffat’s damage. She testified that Moffat had rode into Alnwick with his brother Arthur and refused to pay the designated toll. He had told Alice she could tell her father to put him before the magistrates, but that the toll was unlawful and he therefore would not pay. Upon trying to leave Alnwick hours later the Moffat brothers found themselves locked within the city. Mr Patterson still hadn’t returned to the toll gate, and Alice refused to grant them exit without receiving the outstanding payments. The men refused once more and, as also witnessed by Miss Isabella Williamson, John got down from his horse and began to level the offending gate in the following manner:

“He then started to pull down the rails between the Gate and the Gate House. These rails were in line with the gate across the road and are to prevent any one passing without paying the toll. He broke a piece off the top of one of the rails and she (Alice) told him she would rather open the gate then watch him break it.”






Alice Patterson’s witness statement, accompanied by a small sketch of the turnpike gate







Turnpike Riots

Mr Moffat’s defence, both at the time of the act and in court, had been that the “the gate was not legal.” This opinion fed into a larger national feeling, with over a century of toll riots having occurred across England and Wales targeted at the swift spread of turnpike gates.

During the 1720s and 1730s some inhabitants of Kingswood near Bristol resented the payment of newly set tolls, which they perceived as being unfair on coal traffic. They subsequently tore down the newly erected turnpike gates and eventually won the exemption of coal traffic in the area. But, with local farmers yet to be pacified, the Bristol riots continued across the latter half of the century. In 1753 riots began in the West Riding of Yorkshire, again because coal traffic had been forced to pay heavy toll duties which had a ripple effect upon the area’s textile production.

Yet, with respect to the timing of Moffat’s stand, the most recent turnpike riots had been the “Rebecca and her Daughters” movement in rural Wales. Between 1839 and 1843 men disguised themselves as women to pull down toll gates in their areas. They referred to themselves as Rebecca’s daughters in reference to a biblical passage about the need to “possess the gates of those who hate them.”

Hence, although industrialists and entrepreneurs may have viewed turnpike gates and trusts as a positive development, small holders or independent artisans saw them as an unnecessary blight on their income and business dealings. Occupational information about the Moffat brothers places them into this latter category, with John being named as a Beanley-based farmer in Alice’s testimony and Arthur Moffat having worked as a farmer in Eglingham on the Turnpike road. It is therefore likely that John would have empathised with the concerns of his national counterparts regarding the heavy payment of tolls, and this allows us a potential insight into Moffat’s belief that the gate was unlawful.



Irrespective of Moffat’s motivation or inspiration he was found guilty before the court of committing a misdemeanour. Whilst the collection’s documents do not specify the court’s punishment there is a letter between Mr Dickson and a clerk working for the Duke of Northumberland which ambiguously suggests an out-of-court agreement was drawn up between Moffat and the trust.

Ultimately the event does not seem to have inspired further opposition against the toll gate and, as the Duke of Northumberland assured Mr Dickson in correspondence, there was no intention to close the toll booth in the wake of the court case and the turnpike road operated as usual.



Northumberland’s Hidden Treasures


The story of how the Dickson, Archer and Thorp collection came to be acquired by Northumberland Archives is almost as rich and compelling as its 200 year contents. Often described as a ‘time capsule’ due to the detail it can offer us about Northumberland’s social, political and economic story, this value had been left largely unexplored until its recent acquisition by the Northumberland Archives.


Personal papers relating to the Thorp family held within the collection


The Dickson, Archer and Thorp collection is the culmination of work from a 200 year old Alnwick legal practice. Items within the collection can be dated beyond the practice’s establishment in the 18th century right through to the death of its last partner, Mr Reginald Thorp, in 2003. It is the only legal collection in the care of Northumberland Archives to have this level of historical volume and scope.


Notable names peppered the clientele of Dickson, Archer and Thorp; including Grace Darling and her family, The Duke of Northumberland, the Armstrong family and the Liddell (Ravensworth) family. The wills and testimonies of these individuals can be found within the collection, nestled alongside those of ‘ordinary’ locals. This mixed bag enables us to paint a captivating picture of Northumberland using the collection’s marriage, death and criminal records, as well its contemporary stamp duties and manorial papers. The collection also follows the furtherance of industry in Northumberland, by containing records relaying to notable companies such as the Amble Timber and Saw Mill Company and the Hardy’s Fishing Company of Alnwick and Warkworth Harbour.


Liddell family papers found within the collection


A Hidden Treasure


However, although the collection possesses massive local and national significance, its secrets had lain mostly untouched for the vast majority of the 20th century. With the collection kept privately within Dickson, Archer and Thorp’s three-story office in Narrowgate, Alnwick.


The office was described by those who entered as ‘Dickensian,’ on account of the floor to ceiling papers and legal materials. These papers, decades old, were neatly labelled and bundled together creating a treasure trove for the enthusiastic researcher.


A first-floor bookcase in the Dickson, Archer and Thorp office


The second-floor landing in the Dickson, Archer and Thorp office


Northumberland Archives staff were first able to explore this exciting world during the 1970s when Mr Thorp approached them to assess the collection. This initial work was carried out over a ten year period, stretching through the 70’s and 80’s. But the collection’s sheer scope and scale made creating a complete inventory an almost impossible task. Archives staff were hindered further due to a lack of artificial light within the building, meaning they could only work during the summer months. Due to these obstacles less than 10% of the whole collection was actually catalogued during this period, but its historical importance had already become glowingly apparent to archivists.


Public Auction and Benefactors


Upon the aforementioned Mr Thorp’s death the collection became the property of his heirs, whom decided to pass it on through auction. In 2005 a public auction threatened the integrity of the collection by potentially dividing it piecemeal. Some papers fell into private hands whilst others, such as some of the practice’s own business records, were secured for Northumberland Archives through the generosity of a private benefactors.


Auction pamphlet, circa 1878, found within the collection


The bulk of the collection remained in situ at the Narrowgate office, before being purchased by a postal historian who subsequently offered a significant part of the collection to Northumberland Archives. The collection was, at this time, independently assessed as being the most significant collection relating to the history of Northumberland remaining in private hands.’


From Barn to Archive


From 2005 onwards the then owner kept the collection in a barn on his property, whilst passing between 10 – 15% onto interested parties across the world. Some of these items were eventually deposited with Northumberland Archives by public spirited purchasers. The items is his care that were eventually offered to Northumberland Archives comprised  approximately 240 large banker boxes, 20 smaller boxes and a selection of plans.


This period in the collection’s journey indicated two things; firstly there was a growing, global interest in the collection and secondly there was a serious need to preserve its authentic integrity as a whole or risk its dissemination across the world.


A bundle of papers from the collection


In 2015 Northumberland Archives was approached and asked if we would be interested in purchasing the remaining collection for the sum of £150,000. In light of the collection’s historic and cultural significance the sum was declared reasonable and the decision to proceed with the purchase was made. The eventual acquisition was made possible through internal fundraising as well as grants and charitable funding from a range of grant giving bodies including The Heritage Lottery Fund, Lord Crewe Charity, Friends of National Libraries and the V&A Purchase Fund.


The acquisition was formalised in 2017, with a week set aside for archival staff to box and roughly list this immense collection. Finally the collection’s journey had brought it to be stored in perpetuity by Northumberland Archives, allowing it to be valued by all members of the public.


A handbill referring to the Craster Harbour dispute found within the collection


The Future


The future will see the beginnings of in-depth research into the collection; facilitated by a process of comprehensive cataloging. This work will be largely conducted by volunteers, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund allowing the Northumberland Archives to engage a Volunteer Co-ordinator. You can follow this project, and the secrets it uncovers, through this blog or the Archives’ other social media platforms.

The Snowball Murder

A couple years ago I took the family to Blanchland to watch the Tour of the Reservoir, but in my usual fashion, got the time wrong so we had time to kill. We visited the churchyard to have a look around and noticed this headstone with the following wording:-

Erected in memory of Robert Snowball of Belmont aged 26 who was cruelly murdered at that place on 1st January 1880.




Jane Barron aged 27, a servant was indicted for the wilful murder of Robert Snowball at Edmondbyers. Mr Edge & Mr Granger appeared to prosecute and Mr E Ridley & Mr Mulvain defended. The prisoner appeared quite composed when asked her plea she replied “Not guilty”.

Mr Edge opened the case at considerable length reciting all the facts. The first question the jury should consider was how the murder was done. He thought the jury would come to the conclusion that it was done with the hammer that was found standing against the wall & that some person has struck him from behind and afterwards striking him on the face. The next question was by whom, as the evidence against the prisoner was circumstantial. It might be suggested that the person who committed this murder was some tramp who was passing. It appears that there was a footpath across the fell close to the house, but what was the motive – Robbery? However, nothing was stolen. Then it was said could it have been done by one of the neighbours? It was said that he was on good terms with both of his neighbours!

Thoughts were turned to someone else going there to commit murder, but surley they would take a murder weapon and not rely on finding something there to commit the crime. The conclusion was  made that the prisoner committed the crime.

Let’s look at the facts of the case and not rely on the conversation that took place between the prisoner and the deceased at dinner and tea time. The prisoner went out shortly after the deceased left the house and was away for about 10 minutes. During this time the father of the deceased heard a thud or fall from the direction of the loft where the deceased was found. According to the prisoner she found blood coming from the loft into the byre when she went milking at 6.30; therefore the decease must have been killed sometime between 5.30 & 6.30. Mr Ridley surveyed the buildings and found a gate which gave free access to the loft which would allow someone to gain access; without being seen from the house. There is no back door to the house and the view from the window at the back is obscured by a haystack.

John Snowball was called to give evidence. He was the father of the deceased. At the house, lived my sons John & Robert Snowball, myself and the prisoner. On the 1st of Jan. my son John was away to Haltwhistle. My nearest neighbours are Thomas Murray at Sandyford and the other neighbours are about 2 miles away at Peddon’s Hope. There is a footpath comes by Belmount House, which leads to Edmundbyers. That footpath is about 20 yards from the door. On the 1st Jan. the deceased, myself and the prisoner had dinner. After dinner my son said he had got to know the truth about the lad and she did not seem pleased and held her head. She did not say anything to him.

After tea my son said he thought he would go along to Sandyford. The door to the byre was closed. My son went out about 5.30. He had a cap on his head. The prisoner was in the kitchen. The prisoner reached up to the mantlepiece and pulled something down. As she closed the door between the porch and the kitchen she took a serious look at me. I heard a rattling which I thought was the lanterns. It was about quarter of an hour after my son had gone out. While she was out I heard a heavy fall after 8 – 10 minutes after the prisoner went out. She returned and sat down and put her head between her hands.

She went out to milk about 6.30. The cows were kept in the byre under the loft. She was out there about half an hour. When she returned she asked me if I had seen the blood coming down into the byre. I said it will be from the sheep I cut up in the loft the day before. I went to bed at about 10 o’clock the prisoner did not go out between seven and the time I went to bed. The prisoner used to feed the pigs in the east end of the building at about 8 o’clock every night. I said that Robert was long in returning she said nothing.

The next morning I came down the stairs about quarter after six. Not long after I came down the stairs the prisoner came in from milking. She said do you know where Robert is. I said “No”.  She said he has been lying in it all night in the old house loft; I believe he is died. I said “Lord have mercy upon us” and I told her to hold the lantern and we went in the loft. When I got to the loft it was closed.  I opened it and went in I found the deceased lying on his back with his head to the east and his feet to the west one foot in a box the other on the floor. I didn’t notice any blood when I first went in except from his mouth. The prisoner said nothing whilst in the loft. After my son left the house on the night in question I heard no other noise except the thud. That night there were three dogs shut up in the stable and they generally barked when strangers were about, but they were quiet all night.

At tea the deceased said he would go to Sandyford. The prisoner went out ten minutes or a quarter of an hour after the deceased. I was sitting when she went out and she gave a very ernest look, a look which I have never noticed before. When she came back she sat by the fireside. She set her elbows upon her knees and put her head upon her hands. Her face was highly coloured. She told me that blood was coming in the byre. I thought there was nothing extraordinary about the fact at the time. I left her sitting up and went to bed.

After she came back from milking she told me about my son. When I saw the deceased I was not aware of the injury to the back of the head until the doctor pointed it out. The hammer produced is a hammer used for the purpose of breaking stones and constantly stood in the loft. Re-examined by Mr Edge – A sheep was killed in the loft on the 30th Dec. and cut up the 31st. There was no mutton in the loft on the 1st Jan. It was removed to the house on 31st Dec.

Joseph Murray, a farmer at Manor House near Ramshaw, I was staying at Sandyford at the time. On Friday 2nd Jan. I went to Belmount Farm about 8.30 in the morning. I saw Jane Barron there and said. “Oh hunny what a bad job”. She said “Yes”. She also said that the old man had gone to Stobbs and the deceased was in the loft. She took me to the loft and I said he may have broken a blood vessel and she said “Yes”. I went to Blanchland and brought Dr Montgomery back to the farm. When we got there John Snowball the old man and Mr Stobbs were also there. Stobbs took the watch out of the deceased’s pocket. On turning the deceased over I noticed his head injury. On looking around the loft I saw the hammer. When I picked it up I noticed dry blood on it. I saw a cap and a rusty candlestick piece of candle was on the shelf having an appearance of having fallen. I did not draw Dr Montgomery’s attention to the hammer because I was not certain whether the hammer had been used to kill a pig. I have been to the farm before and have never noticed any unpleasantness in the family.

Mr Snowball swore that the cap produced was the cap his son wore. It was very seldom that a tramp or vagrant came to the farm.  I have only seen one tramp this winter. He was a man out of work going down to Edmundbyers. Very few people came along the road.

Henry Stobbs  – Farmer at Peddon’s Hope. He had been away and had to pass Belmount farm about 8.30. He did not notice anyone near. The next morning old Snowball came for him to go to the farm. He saw the deceased lying on the floor. The cap produced was there. Witness took the watch and chain from the deceased plus 10s 6d and a purse. There was no sign of a struggle. Close to the cupboard there was a candle lying bruised at the wick and against the wall there was also an unfinished gun case with blood on it.

Bell Ann Murray wife of Thomas Murray of Sandyford – On the morning of Friday 2nd Jan. at about 7.30, the prisoner came to her door and said she had found Robert dead in the old house. She said that she has sat up till 3 o’clock in the morning and he did not come home. The next morning she went to milk and after she milked went into the house to see if he was there. She found him lying on his back blood coming from his mouth. She then asked the old man where Robert was and he said he did not know and they both went onto the old house and he said “God help us its Robert” Witness went over to Belmount Farm and was present when the body was taken upstairs. She asked Jane Barron to give some assistance, but she said nothing.

Wm. Montgomery surgeon said on the 3rd Jan. last I was called to see the body of Robert Snowball in the loft. The head of the body was lying rather to the east side of the window. I examined the body and it was cold and rigid. There was no blood on the hands. I noticed that blood had come from the mouth. On examining the body I found a large wound on the skull. I probed three fingers into the wound. The bones were separated. I made a post mortem examination and found the skull to be fractured to such an extent to cause death. I saw the hammer, which fitted the wound on the skull. Deceased would fall immediately he received the injury. The teeth in the fore part of the mouth had all gone. The palate bone was broken. The injuries were such as might have been caused by the hammer. I could not say the position of the man would be standing when struck. There was a wound on the front which might have been caused by the side of the hammer. Blood might flow from the body for 12 hours after death. I did not think it was an accident when I saw the wound. I sent a telegram to the Police at Stanhope to say that the deceased had met his death by an accident. I found out however I had made a mistake.

Andrew Ferguson a Police Constable stationed at Ramshaw. On 2nd Jan. I was taken to the loft at Belmount. On 4th I went back to the farm and examined the loft especially a closet at the south west corner. I found a gun case and piece of candle produced. I found a candlestick and cup as well. On 6th I searched Jane Barron’s room and found a dress. I showed it to her and asked how she accounted for the blood stains. She said she could not. I also found a hood and the prisoner accounted for the stain on it by blood coming through the boards while milking. On 8th I visited the loft again and found the boards on the loft floor were close. There had been blood running between the boards. The position of the board I examined and put the knife through was such that if any person passed under it and blood was running through they would be stained. I got Jane Barron’s hood and dress from her bedroom.

Richard Liddle Inspector – Durham Constabulary said on 6th Jan. he went to Belmount and searched the prisoner’s box. I found an apron and handkerchief upon which were blood stains which the prisoner could not account for. I examined the cow byre partition the same night and found three marks of blood on one of the boards. The board was at the end of the partition between where the cows stand and where the hay is kept. On 22nd Jan. I went back again to the cow byre and found some marks of blood on the partition. On the 4th board from the top I found only a small speck of blood. I did not find any considerable marks of blood. I found where the blood had gone through, a place beside a post. The whole of the flooring was taken up and examined and the only place where blood had gone through was inside the partition in the hay stall. The blood had got between the boards where the cows were but had not penetrated so as to drip. I was in the kitchen when the experiment was made in the loft.

John Thorburn Superintendent of Police at Stanhope said on 6th Jan. I took the prisoner into custody at 11:00 o’clock at night in the kitchen at Belmount. I took her to Stanhope the following morning and charged her with murder. She never spoke when charged. After I charged her she said she was innocent

Summing up Mr Edge addressed the jury and urged them that all the evidence though circumstantial pointed to the prisoner as the person who murdered Robert Snowball. She was the only person living on the premises who could have done it and it could not be shown that anyone else had any motive to commit such a deed. Mr Ridley in his defence said he was at a loss to know why Jane Barron had been brought before the Court as he could not see any grounds for her being placed in such a position as she was that day.  He then criticised the testimony of old John Snowball pointing out he contradicted himself each time he was called on and asked the jury to doubt his accuracy of his statements. The statement of the prisoner on the other hand was completely in accord with the evidence of the other witnesses. Her conduct throughout was that of an innocent girl and that the murder had been committed by someone else. He asked the jury to return a verdict in favour of his client.

His lordship began to sum up he said that the evidence against the prisoner was not conclusive then they should return a verdict of not guilty.  On the other hand if they came to the conclusion that she followed the man out & went onto the room after him and being in the room struck him on the head killing him they could find no other verdict than guilty.

At 7.20 the jury retired and were absent only 7 minutes. The Clerk asked the foreman for their verdict he answered “Yes” – Not Guilty (Applause, which was at once suppressed)

The prisoner then left the dock once outside she was warmly received by her friends.  A cab was waiting to convey her to the railway station. Mr Page the Station Master placed Barron and her friends in the second class waiting room. On leaving she chatted and talked and answered any questions. She took her seat on a third class carriage and remained standing at the window until the whistle was blown.

A few years later another newspaper article appeared about her – After being acquitted Jane went to live with her father in the borders of Northumberland. At the May hiring’s in Newcastle she was engaged by a farmer in the North Tyne where she had been previously engaged. Since then she had conducted herself in an extraordinary way walking about her bedroom at night and frightening the whole household with her ravings The farmer paid her a half years wages and dismissed her. Since then she has become violent and has been admitted to a lunatic asylum.  This part of the story is incorrect as Jane Barron sued the owner of the ‘Consett Guardian’ for printing this libel – She was still employed and had never been in an Asylum!

Rumours were a bound that old Snowball confessed to the murder on his death bed, but this was never confirmed. The murderer was never found!

That Magnificent Woman in her Flying Machine

Constance (Connie) Ruth Leathart was born on 7 December 1903 in Low Fell, Gateshead. In 1925 Connie started flying lessons at Newcastle Aero Club and is said to have written her name as “C. R. Leathart” on the application form in order to disguise her gender. She had her first flying lesson in the aeroplane Novocastria [G-EBLX] in September 1925 and her Pilot’s Log Book records that she was in the air for 15 minutes. On 24 February 1926 her log book states that she conducted her first solo flight but she unfortunately crashed on landing. Connie was resilient and was back in the air again on 1 March for a 30 minute flight. In 1927 she received her flying licence and became the first British female pilot outside London to achieve this, and was one of only 20 female pilots in the UK overall.


Pilot’s Licence


Connie became part of a group of flying socialites and participated successfully in many air races both in this country and throughout Europe. Her photograph albums contain numerous photographs to support this. Her talent was evident from an early stage. In June 1927 the publication ‘The Aeroplane’ reported on a Newcastle Race Meeting. It was noted that there was no race for women that day so there was no chance of seeing “Newcastle’s own Aviatress, Miss Leathart, in the air which was a pity, for good judges say that this sporting little lady looks like being really as good as a good mere-male pilot.”


Constance Leathart


In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s she set up and ran Cramlington Aircraft with her lifelong friend Walter Leslie Runciman (later Viscount Runciman). Their aircraft repair business repaired and overhauled aircrafts in order for them to pass and obtain yearly certificates of air worthiness. Connie and Walter were very close friends and her albums have numerous photographs of them together. In one of the shots she classes the pair of them as “Brothers”.



Connie had a few frightening experiences when flying. In April 1930 when landing at Cramlington she had a narrow escape when her plane crashed and overturned. The plane was badly damaged but she escaped unhurt. Witnesses reported that it had struck the ground nose first and turned a complete somersault. She had flown from London and due to foggy conditions near Cramlington, she misjudged the distance from the ground and made a bumpy landing which resulted in the accident. In 1931 she also escaped injury when her plane crashed near Munich. These experiences did not deter her and in 1939,  when working in the map department at Bristol Airport, she applied to join the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). During her time with them she achieved the ATA rank of Flight Captain, flying heavy bombers as well as fighters to airfields in many countries. Her final log book, held by Northumberland Archives covers the years 1943-1956 and states that her total flying time as a pilot to date was 1283 hours and 30 minutes.


Connie in her ATA Uniform


After the Second World War, Connie went to work with the United Nations on relief efforts in the Mediterranean. As a UN special representative she helped distribute food and medical supplies. In 1950 she received an award of merit from the International Union of Child Welfare. She reluctantly gave up flying in 1958 and retired to a farm in Little Bavington caring for rescue donkeys. Connie died on 4 November 1993 aged 89.


Ordre De Merite


Connie’s early photograph albums from 1923-1926 contain many images of friends and family enjoying holidays in the Scottish Highlands, Italy, Cornwall and France.They also highlight her love of horses and the hunt. It is in her latter albums covering the period 1927-1944 that her true passion and dedication to aviation is evident. Below are three of the aircraft that this remarkable lady owned.


Connie’s Aeroplanes


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.