JONATHAN JONES meets former Northumberland County Archaeologist, Chris Burgess, and learns something about the passion and obsession that drives him and others in his speciality.
There can be few places as blessed as Northumberland when it comes to history and archaeology and it’s a place that has long attracted people with a passion in both these fields. Former Northumberland County archaeologist, Chris Burgess must feel special affection for the county with a privileged first hand – and often hands on – insight into the region’s history.
Interviewed by BBC Radio 4 in 2014 while working on a project to excavate the site of the Battle of Flodden (1513) Chris described how it is always the possibility of the next find that keeps him going.
“Sometimes you find nothing. sometimes you find everything” he explained back then, but found he was always driven on by the possibility of giving a voice to individuals and events from the distant past.
In 2013-14, in conjunction with his role as county archaeologist, Chris had been the manager of the Flodden 500 Project, working with a team of up to 80 people from both sides of the border attempting to uncover the secrets of the famous battle site near Branxton, a couple of miles to the south of the River Tweed.
More recently Chris had been working on a landscape partnership project focused on Holy Island when he experienced a life changing event, suffering a brain haemorrhage, early in 2016.
Chris has learnt a thing or two about obsession, since then. His time on Ward Four, at Walkergate Park Hospital, in Newcastle, gave him many moments to reflect on the workings of the mind of the archaeologist, and the subjects or objects that they often obsess about. It seems that for Chris his particular passions and obsessions take him far beyond the borders of the North East.
“Every heritage professional has one site they obsess about” says Chris “and I am no different. For me it is the mythical ‘Amber Room’ in Tsar Nicholas’ Winter Palace, near St Petersburg, which sadly disappeared into the fog of war in early summer of 1945.
“Often held to be the eighth wonder of the world, the room was decorated with panels of mosaics, formed of Baltic Amber and backed with gold leaf. The entire room was lit only by candles.
“More than eight tonnes of Amber were used in the building of the room, which was constructed in the Charlottenborg Palace in Berlin, by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, before being presented as a gift to his cousin Tsar Nicholas of Russia.”
Not only is the Amber room valued for its constituent amber and gold, but as an unparalleled piece of art. Sadly it was plundered by the Nazis during World War II, when it was stripped from its St Petersburg home by the retreating German army, ahead of rapidly advancing Russian forces.
Chris said: “Eyewitness reports have it packed onto a train, or trucks, and taken to the port of Konigsberg, where it was loaded onto the hospital ship SS Wilhelm Gustaf, which sailed from the port, only to be torpedoed and sank by Russian submarines in the Baltic Sea.”
But Chris’s obsession with this old decorated room, dismantled and lost more than 40 years before he was born, is not simply an “archaeological thing”.
He said: “It wasn’t just an archaeological thing that drove Howard Carter to search relentlessly for the Valley of the Kings, in order to gaze on the face of Tutankhamun in his burial chamber, ignoring warnings and curses, until he eventually found it.
“It’s a matter of personal obsession.
“My Dad, also an archaeologist, was fascinated by Stonehenge, how it was built, and why it was built, to such an extent that he wrote several books on the subject.
“For Howard Carter, it was an Egyptian boy prince, for my Dad it was Stonehenge, and for me, it is the missing eight tonnes of decorative amber from the Tsar’s Winter Palace.”
He added: “The wish to look upon and understand the unseen, unique and unusual, is what drives most archaeologists, which is why most have a particular artefact or site they become obsessed with.”
“I have looked into the face of Tutankhamun’s Death Mask, seen his other treasures, and think I understand Howard Carter’s obsession, and the passion that drove it.
“I live in hope of one day standing and looking on the rediscovered Amber room, but sadly do not really expect to do so.
“I have been to the Neues Museum in Berlin, and seen Schliemann’s mythical gold from Troy, and read his interesting justification of why he took ownership of it from the Ottoman Empire.
“In the same museum I have gazed in wonderment on the face of Nefertiti.
“The one thing all these artefacts have in common, is that now, following short interruptions for conflict, they are all freely available to people from all countries to enjoy, regardless of race or ideology.”
The same is true of our own region’s artefacts and archaeological finds which are here to be shared with the world at large with each and everyone giving its own insight into humanity’s past and adding ever more knowledge to our human story.
In this first blog exploring the curious and fascinating origins of North East place-names DAVID SIMPSON examines our rivers, streams and waterfalls and plots the great beck/burn divide
Alright please don’t ‘Pity Me’, but ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by place-names and especially those of the North East. I don’t know why precisely, but it’s certainly linked to my interest in history.
Across the region our place-names offer unique insights into our distant past and I find it fun to discover that a familiar place we take for granted is often not quite what it seems. Then of course we have all those strange and peculiar names: Pity Me, Witherwack, Wallish Walls, Snods Edge and Foggy Furze. How about Shiney Row, Seldom Seen, Success, Once Brewed or even No Place? These are the places that arouse much curiosity in our region but even seemingly mundane place-names also hold unexpected secrets.
The first thing to know when studying place-names is that for a period of a little over a thousand years – and that’s how old most of our place-names are – our language has changed an awful lot. This means spellings in old records can be notoriously inconsistent. So you can’t just look at a place-name today and guess what it means; you have to go back in time.
Place-name experts look for the earliest spellings, scouring ancient documents and interpreting the names according to the language of times past.
The experts are skilled linguists and historians, with an exceptional knowledge of how language evolved. They come with a good grasp of old languages like Latin, Old Welsh, Indo-European, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Middle English and a knowledge of local dialect too. They also need a good understanding of local history and know about the local topography by familiarising themselves with the landscape. It might also help to know a few folk tales connected with the place-names they study. The experts are prepared to do much detective work to reach their final conclusions and even then they may not always be sure. In the end the fruits of their labour are often nothing more than a passing curiosity for most of us.
The fun part for me is exploring and interpreting this work and looking for patterns. I enjoy puzzling over baffling contradictions and being surprised that seemingly obvious explanations are not what I had expected. I also believe, well I’m certain of it in fact, that place-names and their local features have close links to local dialect. You see, place-names and dialect are living history and often a very old part of our heritage that we can easily overlook.
Since most place-names have evolved over long periods of time, it’s best to start at the beginning. If we glance at the map we find the most ancient names are those of the rivers and larger streams. Names like Tyne, Tees, Team, Wear, Aln, Allen, Don, Derwent and Deerness go back thousands of years to the pre-Roman Celtic times or sometimes to the era when the inter-related Indo-European languages across Europe and parts of Asia were beginning to evolve.
The Tyne, for example has one such ancient name. Tyne derives from a root word ‘ti’ meaning ‘to flow’ and could simply be interpreted to mean ‘water’. One of its tributaries, the River Team, now partly culverted through Gateshead’s Team Valley has a similar root, related to river-names like the Thames in London or the Taff in Cardiff. Further east, the Don that joins the Tyne downstream at Jarrow comes from an Indo-European word ‘danu’ simply meaning ‘river’. The Don of Jarrow shares its roots with the Don at Doncaster and the Don in Russia, as well as the Danube of Austrian river fame.
The River Tees is thought to have a Celtic river-name though its roots may be earlier. It’s related to an Old Welsh word for ‘heat’ and means ‘boiling, surging river’ perhaps alluding to the waterfalls of upper Teesdale like High Force.
The name of the River Wear is thought to derive from ‘uis’, another Indo-European word for ‘flow’ but Uisiria and Uedra were later forms of the name. This was interpreted by Welsh speaking Celts (the Britons) to ‘Gweir’ which means ‘bending’. Look at a map and compare the whole course of the Wear from source to sea with the course of the Tyne or the Tees and you will see that ‘bending river’ is an apt description.
Other river-names with ancient origins include the Derwent which forms part of the border between Northumberland and Durham. One of a number of rivers called Derwent in England, the name comes from Old Welsh and means the ‘oak tree river’. Further south, a smaller County Durham river, the Deerness combines the Welsh element ‘dwfr’ meaning river with an Indo-European element ‘nesta’ meaning , ‘roar, rush’ that is found in names such as Loch Ness and Inverness.
Some river-names came much later in Anglo-Saxon or Viking times, suggesting their earlier names were forgotten or replaced. In County Durham, for example, the little river called the Browney (occasionally called ‘the brune’) has a name dating to Anglo-Saxon times that comes from ‘brun-ea’ meaning ‘brown river’
In Northumberland the River Wansbeck at Morpeth and Ashington has a name from the same era and is thought to derive from ‘waegens-spic’, a bridge made from logs (a spic) that was crossed by wagons. The Wansbeck is not a ‘beck’ in the usual sense of the word though. The word ‘beck’ is usually from a Viking word meaning stream but that is not the case here.
For the Germanic Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria who arrived in Britain between 500 and 600 AD from southern Scandinavia and neighbouring areas of what is now the German coast ‘burn’ was one of the terms they used for a stream. As their territory extended north beyond Edinburgh into what is now Scotland the word was introduced there and has had a lasting legacy. Its roots however are Northumbrian rather than Scottish.
North East England or more particularly County Durham is the battleground between the ‘burns’ and their later Viking counterparts the ‘becks’. The Vikings arrived from across Scandinavia from around 866AD and in areas more intensely settled or shared out by the Norsemen the Viking word ‘beck’ replaced the older Anglo-Saxon word ‘burn’ in the names of streams although ‘burn’ often survives in the names of local places associated with those streams.
So we find places like Saltburn (salty stream) on the Cleveland coast and Sherburn (shiny stream) near Durham but the local streams from which they are named are now called becks on the map as well as by the locals too. The Bowburn Beck at Bowburn near Durham, for example, flows in the shape of a bow (as in bow and arrow) and was originally simply called ‘the Bow Burn’.
Many other places in the region include the word ‘Burn’ and the names of the streams from which they derive can often be self-explanatory. Take Fishburn and Seaburn for example, one would have been noted for its plentiful supply of fish, the other simply flowed into the sea.
It’s easy to be fooled though, as we find at Whitburn near Sunderland. Not a burn at all, this was originally the ‘white barn’, a white-painted barn or one built with white stone. Then we have Sockburn near Darlington which was actually Socca’s burgh rather than a burn. It was the ‘burgh’ (a fortified place) belonging to someone called Socca. Even here further doubt is thrown on the explanation because the River Tees hereabouts quite clearly flows in a massive meander that forms the very obvious shape of a sock offering a more popular ‘folk explanation’. The fact that Sockburn was for centuries the southernmost point of County Durham and thus at the limit of the ‘soke’ of the BIshops of Durham adds further to the confusion. Both Whitburn and Sockburn by the way have fascinating links to Lewis Carroll and his Jabberwocky poem and you can read about those links here.
So enough of the burns, what about the becks? Well, the word ‘beck’ comes from the Old Norse ‘bekkr’ – ‘a stream’. It is the usual term for a stream in Viking settled Cumbria and Yorkshire but is missing from Northumberland where burn is used. In County Durham we get both becks and burns with burns in the north and becks in the south and the boundary between the two lies somewhere around Durham City and mid Weardale.
Streams north of Durham City are called burns all the way up to John O’ Groats in the far north of Scotland while south of the city they’re called becks all the way down to the Viking settled areas of the Norfolk coast. Meanwhile in much of southern England and even in Lancashire they prefer the later Dutch word ‘brook’ though burn in the form ‘bourne’ often occurs in place-names across the whole of England.
In Hamsterley Forest in Weardale we find a stream named from an Anglo-Saxon man called Bede (though probably not the famous Venerable Bede of Jarrow). It is called the Bedburn Beck. It seems superfluous when surely the name Bed Burn would suffice? It’s as if they couldn’t quite make up their mind whether to call it a beck or a burn.
To the south it’s remarkable to discover that every single stream that joins the River Tees directly is called a ‘beck’ while to the north every stream that joins the Tyne directly is a ‘burn’. Along the Wear it varies between beck and burn. In upper Weardale as far east as Wolsingham the word ‘burn’ is the choice but in the mid Wear valley around Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor where the river briefly sways towards the south, the preferred word is ‘beck’.
In Durham City it changes again with the Mill Burn beneath the city’s shopping centre on the north side of the town marking the beginning of those burns again and it is the burns that continue to feed the river from Chester-le-Street all the way to the river’s end at Sunderland, or at least they do on the map. Over in East Durham locals use the term ‘beck’ and this may be the choice of word for some people in Sunderland too. It would be interesting to know.
River-names of Viking origin in the North East are not so common but include the River Skerne (it flows from Trimdon to the Tees at Darlington) but its earlier Anglo-Saxon name was something like ‘Sherne’ (the shining river). It became Skerne under Norse influence.
Other river names that are pure Viking include the River Greta (griota – its name means stony) that joins the Tees at Greta Bridge downstream from Barnard Castle. Upstream from ‘Barney’ the Tees is joined by the River Balder – Balder is the name of a Norse God.
At Bishop Auckland the Wear is joined by the River Gaunless, yet another Viking name. Gaunless (like gormless) means useless, but why is uncertain. Perhaps it was too short of fish to feed the hungry Vikings or too sluggish to power the workings of a mill.
Waterfalls are a bit like burns and becks in that they change their names according to where in the region you look for them. High Force and Low Force in Teesdale derive from a Viking word ‘foss’ that literally means waterfall. Forces also occur in Cumbria and Yorkshire too.
In Weardale though waterfalls are called ‘Linns’ and they go by this name in Northumberland too where there are many impressive waterfalls to see. Linn was seemingly a word used by the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria but has Celtic roots deriving from ‘Hlynn’ a word for a pool – probably from the plunge pools found at the foot of a fall.
So we can see that ancient people of long ago and sometimes the slightly more recent settlers, the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings from Northern Europe have played an important part in the naming of our rivers and water features. It is those later peoples that also played a big part in the naming of our towns, villages, cities and topographical features as we will discover in the next What’s in a (North East Place-)Name?
Beer blogger PAUL White tries out a local beer inspired by a poet.
It’s nice to learn something new, especially if it’s about your own part of the world.
I hadn’t been to the Toronto Lodge, just outside of Bishop Auckland, since a revamp a couple of years back, but decided to drop in for a bite to eat. I’d also heard it was home to some real ales, as well.
It turns out that it offers a range of ales from Sonnet 43, a brewery from nearby Coxhoe, which is where the learning begins.
I hadn’t been aware of this particular brewery, but it has an ale for all tastes. Personally, I decided to go for the bourbon milk stout, The Raven. After all, this last week did feature Stout Day.
Now, the brewery name and that of the beer itself are no coincidence, as I also learned that Coxhoe was home to a rather famous poet – most of you will at least be familiar with one of her lines.
For it was Elizabeth Barrett Browning who, in her Sonnet 43, wrote “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”.
I’ve driven past Coxhoe thousands of times, but I had no idea that it was home to Browning, or that she had inspired a brewery.
The beer is likewise poetically-inspired, taking its name from Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic classic.
Likewise, I have driven past the Toronto Lodge countless times since the revamp and it has been remiss of me not to have called in before now. What a great place with reasonably priced, but very good, food and drink.
But what of the beer itself?
Well, it’s a pleasant discovery, with a full flavour that is at once bitter and also smooth; a proper milk stout. It’s not an overly heavy drink, so could easily be one to settle into for an evening, should the opportunity arise.
With a lot of my beer reviews, I’ve highlighted those ales that are a natural progression for a lager drinker coming into the realms of beer. This is not one, but Sonnet 43 have plenty that would fit that bill.
Overall, it was an outing of discovery for the brain and the taste buds and I will be returning to sample more of the food and drink in the very near future.
As Halloween approaches, ALEX ILES explores some gory and grisly events from the history of Newcastle and North East England
Well, there’s no getting away from it – Halloween does have a bit of a focus on death. Hallowe’en (All Hallows’ eve) comes from the evening before All Saints Day – a Christian festival on November 1st. It remembers the saints who are sleeping and waiting to rise with Christ. Saints often suffered for their faith, many losing their lives in martyrdom and so a macabre connection with death developed during the time of the Black Death.
So, with this in mind, lets look at some depictions of death in Newcastle and what happened after death! The best place to start is with Bishop Walcher (the Bishop of Durham) who was cut to pieces outside the church of St. Mary in Gateshead in 1080 while much of his entourage burnt inside the building behind him. As it highlighted the need to defend the area with the building of a castle, this was the start of Newcastle’s story and in some ways, was just the very first gory story connected with the city.
A couple of centuries later, during the Scottish wars the Scots warlord William Wallace – heroically depicted by Mel Gibson in Braveheart – came south to attack the English and met with a brutal end.
Though betrayed as a Scottish hero he had been pillaging against the Scots the year before he started his major attacks on England! Interestingly Wallace may have been of Norman decent because Wallace is a corruption of the word ‘foreigner’ and perhaps less ‘Scottish’ than people think.
When Wallace came down to Newcastle, the town and castle had prepared in advance and he looked upon the defences and realised he would lose far too many men and resources attacking such a well-defended town. He gave up and went to Corbridge instead, sacked it and crossed south towards County Durham and Yorkshire.
Wallace made a great deal of mischief further south before he was captured and taken to London where he was hung, drawn and quartered. This medieval punishment involved the individual being hung to near death and then their limbs were dislocated by pulling. It was then that disembowelling took place while the victim was kept alive and finally they were beheaded and cut into quarters. The film Braveheart missed most of this.
It was a death for traitors of the worst sort and Wallace’s body parts were sent off to the various parts of the county. His head was ‘affixed upon London Bridge’ while his body was divided amongst Berwick, Stirling, Perth and Newcastle, which received his right arm.
It was meant to cause ‘fear and chastisement of all going past and looking upon these things’ as a report on his execution stated. Imagine walking across the swing bridge and looking up to see a rotting arm hanging there. Alongside this, some of the accounts say Newcastle received parts of his ‘organs’ – read this as you will.
It would not be the last time Newcastle was graced with body parts.
Northumberland is a great distance from London and the Lords and landed peoples have at times been a law unto themselves. One noted family were the Lisles who lived at Felton in Northumberland.
The Lisles were infamous for having a bad relationship with the Church, having on several occasions physical altercations with the local priors. In 1526 it came to a boil: William Lisle and Humprhey Lisle came into confrontation with the Prior of Brinkburn and vicar of Felton because they were occupying fields that belonged to the church and had started to harvest the grain for themselves.
When the Prior challenged the Lisles for their behaviour and asked them to leave, Humphrey killed him with a sword. This resulted in William Lisle, John Ogle, William Schafthowe and Thomas Fenwick being taken to Newcastle to be hung, drawn and quartered for treason against the King.
Their body parts were then hung from Newcastle castle and around various parts of the town. It was because of this heritage, that the Wylam Brewery launched a beer in 2015 at Newcastle castle called ‘Hung, Drawn and Quartered’ to commemorate this particularly grim event.
From the accounts of the time, though, outside of their family no one particularly missed the executed men as they were reivers and attacked people on both sides of the borders to supplement their incomes.
When it comes to Man’s inhumanity to Man, one of the great examples I personally think about are the witch trials in England after the English Civil War. This period is famous for being one of great upheaval.
Friends and families were often split in two as they supported the Royalist and Parliamentarian factions. As in all wars, the loss of life affected people’s lives and the economy. Disease was spread by armies and disposed peoples. All in all, people were looking for someone to blame. Witches were a perfect target.
During the middle ages – contrary to modern belief – magic was not believed to be an actual force. Monks, priests and the authorities pointed out the sovereignty of God and ridiculed the idea of magic – much like modern scientists. Most ‘witch trials’ were conducted by secular courts. During times of fear such as the civil war this increased dramatically.
Ralph Gardner, who was a merchant, wrote the book ‘England’s Grievance’ (1655) that reported on the Newcastle Witch trials of 1649/50. Twenty-seven people in the town were accused of being witches and eventually after ‘interrogation’ 18 women – supposed witches, and one man, supposedly a warlock were hung. Ralph writes with disgust:
“These poor souls never confessed anything but pleaded innocence and one of them, by name Margaret Brown, beseeched God that some remarkable sign might be seen at the time of her execution …. as soon as she was turned off the ladder her blood gushed upon the people to the admiration of the beholders.”
I imagine the crowd being left with a sense of security and peace after this horrific occurrence. These ‘witches’ who had plagued them with disunity, disease and being servants of the devil were now dead. Their bodies were dumped into a mass grave in St. Andrews Churchyard at Gallowgate, without ceremony.
The Scots witch hunter, Cuthbert Nicholson, who had been paid 20 shillings per witch had been using a retractable needle with a long handle so it appeared that the accused did not bleed – a sign they were in league with the devil. He was eventually caught and confessed to the false execution of 220 women throughout the entire North. He was executed by hanging just as his victims had been.
In the Victorian period, the care for the human body after death had still not improved. With the expansion of the British Empire and the interest in the classics there was a fascination about Egyptology. Mummies would be bought on mass and delivered to locations to be unwrapped in front of audiences.
The Mummy Irtyru who can be seen in the Great North Museum (then the Hancock Museum) was brought to Newcastle to be unwrapped. She was unwrapped in two hours.
With 22.5kg of bandages on her body this shows that they were rushing! Her organs which were kept in Coptic jars were rushed to the Royal Victoria infirmary only to be ‘lost’ – one theory is that they ended up in a private collection.
When Irtyru was unwrapped, they wished for an easy way to display her and she was stapled to the back board of her sarcophagus and a hook was screwed into her skull. The final insult to her remains was that when they used varnish to seal her body against decay they trapped carpet beetles in her body.
Today Newcastle does not display the body parts of traitors or criminals (no matter how much fans of Newcastle United would likely enjoy this idea) around our city, nor do we have kangaroo courts where the prosecution is paid per person they get convicted.
This having been said, let us not look at the past and brand it as barbaric. Each of the events listed here happened within the context of their day and age – what will our descendants write of us in future Halloweens to prove our darker nature and consider the darker stories of our day and age?
To discover more why not join Iles Tours on our Gory Tour of the city?
With ITV set to broadcast a two-part drama ‘Dark Angel’, featuring the story of Mary Ann Cotton at Halloween, DAVID SIMPSON recalls the tale of this notorious County Durham serial killer, who claimed the lives of at least 17 people
MARY ANN’S EARLY LIFE
Low Moorsley on the south western outskirts of Hetton-le-Hole was the birthplace on October 31, 1832 of Mary Ann Robson (later Mary Ann Cotton) , one of the most notorious figures in the history of murderous crime.
During her 40 year life span she was responsible for the deaths, by poisoning, of 17 people, perhaps even more. Many of her victims were members of her own family including her own children. They were poisoned with arsenic though the victims would at first display signs of what was thought to be gastric fever. Her motives, if she really had any, are unknown, but she would often collect insurance money following the deaths of those closest to her.
Mary Ann’s childhood started out ordinarily enough in Low Moorsley. Her parents were staunch Methodists and her father, Michael Robson was a sinker involved in the horrible, itinerant and often dangerous, water-logged job of sinking shafts for new collieries. As an adult Mary too would live an itinerant lifestyle moving from place to place at regular intervals and this probably contributed to her being able to, quite literally, get away with murder.
MARY ANN AT MURTON
Around 1839 when Mary Ann was six years old her family moved from Moorsley to the nearby pit village of Murton. With a population of 98 in 1831 that would rise rapidly into the thousands as the century progressed, Murton was one of many emerging colliery villages that came into being in eastern Durham following the establishment of Hetton Colliery in 1822. The colliery marked the beginning of the deep mining in east Durham and Wearside where the coal lay deep beneath the magnesian limestone escarpment.
Only a couple of years after the move to Murton, Mary Ann’s father tragically fell to his death down a colliery shaft. He was only 30 years of age.
Whether this event affected Mary mentally in some profoundly damaging way is impossible to say but deaths in the mine were a common aspect of life that many families had to deal with. In fact deaths within families in the mining community were common all round as infant mortality was particularly high during this period. All of these factors created a climate in which death was common place and death by murder might easily go unnoticed.
Mary Ann’s mother, Margaret, stayed in Murton following the death of her husband and kept lodgers that helped her support her daughter. At the age of 16, Mary Ann left home as it is thought that she did not get along with her mother’s new husband, a miner called George Scott.
Mary Ann went to work as a nurse for a local man at South Hetton and then returned to her mother’s house in Murton after three years, to train as a dressmaker.
THE MOVE TO CORNWALL AND THE DEATH OF HER FIRST CHILDREN
When Mary Ann was 20 years old she fell pregnant and married a colliery labourer called William Mowbray in Newcastle. The couple then moved to Cornwall residing close to the River Tamar not far from Plymouth in the neighbouring county of Devon.
They resided with Irish navies, with Mowbray working on the railway as a shop steward. The work involved constant uprooting from place to place as the railway advanced across Cornwall.
Why Mary ‘s husband had chosen to move to Cornwall for work was not certain. They may have learned of prospects there from one of their neighbouring Murton neighbours back in County Durham. Murton was noted for being home to a very significant number of Cornish miners who had settled there after there were unwittingly brought in to work as strike breakers.
During their time in Cornwall, Mary Ann gave birth to either “four or five children” (Mary Ann was not certain) of which only one, a girl named Margaret, seems to have survived beyond the first few days. Such early deaths in children at that time were not unusual and there is no implication that Mary Ann was involved in their deaths. In fact perhaps it was these events that damaged her psychologically.
Eventually, Mary Ann and William Mowbray were persuaded to return from Cornwall by Mary Ann’s mother where sadly their baby girl, Margaret succumbed to Scarlet Fever in 1860.
SUNDERLAND, SEAHAM AND MARY’S AFFAIR
On return to the North East, Mary Ann’s husband, William Mowbray, found work as a foreman at South Hetton Colliery and then went on to work as a stoker on a steam vessel.
The work brought William and Mary Ann to the rough and tough dockland area of Hendon and the East End in Sunderland, an area noted for its pubs, sailors and houses of ill-repute.
Here Mary and William would have two further children, both girls. The children were named Isabella and Margaret and both survived, for the time being at least. In the meantime with her husband frequently away from home, Mary Ann formed a relationship with a red-headed coal miner called Joseph Nattress of Seaham Harbour.
She fell pregnant – very likely to Nattress – and the infant, named John Mowbray, born at Hendon and baptised at South Hetton died a couple of days after baptism, apparently from ‘gastric fever’ in September, 1864.
It would only be around a year later that William Mowbray, Mary Ann’s first husband died – of Typhus . Interestingly, Mary Ann received insurance of £35 following his death. It was the equivalent to half a year’s wage.
Mary Ann moved to Seaham Harbour with her two daughters, one of whom, Margaret, died soon after. The remaining daughter, Isabella, went to live with Mary Ann’s mother.
Mary Ann’s relationship with Nattress may have continued for a while but he was engaged to someone else and following his marriage Mary Ann left Seaham and found work as a nurse in Sunderland.
Here, Mary Ann formed a relationship with a patient called George Ward who, like Mowbray, was a stoker. They married in August 1865 at Monkwearmouth. Ward subsequently became ill and died in 1866.
Once again, Mary Ann collected the insurance money.
A certificate gave cholera and typhoid as the cause of George Ward’s death although doctors had been confused by some of the symptoms he had displayed.
MARY ANN ROBINSON
Next, in December 1866, Mary Ann found work as a housekeeper after replying to a job advertisement posted by a recently widowed shipyard worker in the Pallion area of Sunderland called James Robinson.
Robinson was the father of five children and needed female assistance. Only a day after Mary Ann started working for him his recent baby, by his late wife, died of gastric fever.
During 1867 Mary Ann heard news that her 54 year old mother, who was still the guardian of Mary Ann’s daughter, Isabella, was feeling unwell. Mary Ann went to visit her mother at Seaham.
Her mother started to make a recovery but the recovery was soon accompanied by stomach pains and she lost her life only nine days after Mary Ann had come to visit. When Mary Ann left Seaham, her step-father, George Scott told her to take Isabella with her.
At this time, around February 1867, Mary Ann, was already pregnant by James Robinson when she returned to the Robinson household in Sunderland with Isabella.
Within the space of four days in April 1867, another two children of James Robinson died – the six-year old James and eight year old Elizabeth. Another six days would pass and then on April 30, 1867 Mary Ann’s own daughter, Isabella Mowbray, by then aged around seven years old, would also die.
This must have been an exceptionally difficult time for Robinson but in August, to avoid illegitimacy of their forthcoming child, Mary Ann and James were married at Bishopwearmouth. Their child was born in November 1867 and was named Mary Isabella.
Sadly, little Mary Isabella became ill and died in March of the following year. In June 1869, a second child was born to the couple, a baby boy called George.
Robinson then discovered that Mary Ann was stealing from his bank account and that she was encouraging his surviving children to pawn his belongings to pay off her debts.
It is not known what Mary was spending the money on, as there was no sign that she had purchased anything around the house. It still remains a mystery why she needed the money so desperately and we can only speculate. Perhaps someone with knowledge of her murderous activities, was bribing her.
Robinson threw Mary Ann out of his house which was a very fortunate decision for him to make. He would be the only one of Mary’s husbands to outlive her.
Worryingly, Mary Ann took the baby, George with her, keeping him for a short while. She later handed George over to a friend while she went to ‘post a letter’ but Mary didn’t return. George was returned to his father who maintained in custody of the child.
BIGAMY : FREDERICK COTTON
For a while Mary Ann was destitute and it is not clear what she did with her life at this stage before making contact with an old friend called Margaret Cotton, a spinster in South Hetton.
Margaret told Mary Ann about her brother, Frederick Cotton, a recently widowed miner who lived at Walbottle near Newcastle. Frederick had suffered much tragedy having lost his wife and two of his children.
Mary Ann, presumably sensing that here was another potential victim wanted to meet him. Soon Mary Ann struck up a friendship with Frederick Cotton and after offering him comfort in her usual way moved in with him. Mary Ann then learned that Frederick would receive the sum of £60 upon the death of his sister Margaret – Mary Ann’s friend .
It was only within four weeks of Mary Ann moving in with the Cottons that the spinster Margaret Cotton, who was caring for her brother’s children, was dead.
A few more weeks passed and Mary Ann fell pregnant again this time with Frederick Cotton’s child. In September 1870 the two were married at St. Andrews church in Newcastle.
Of course, Frederick Cotton did not know that Mary Ann was already married.
THE MOVE TO WEST AUCKLAND
In 1871 the couple left Walbottle with their new baby boy, Robert along with Frederick’s two children – boys named Frederick (Junior) and Charles.
The couple moved to West Auckland in south Durham which is said to have been Mary Ann’s choice. There they found themselves living in the same street as Mary Ann’s old flame, Joseph Nattress, with whom Mary Ann once again rekindled her affair.
In September 1871, Mary Ann’s husband, Frederick Cotton became ill and died two weeks later. Did he ever learn that he had been in a bigamous marriage? We will never know.
Mary Ann was left to look after the three boys.
She received relief payment for two of the boys – Frederick Junior and Charles as they were not her children. Further financial help came in the form of a lodger – Joseph Nattress, who moved in with them. During his stay Nattress seemingly became committed in his relationship to Mary Ann as he was persuaded to alter his will in Mary Ann’s favour.
It was around this time that Mary Ann had started working as a nurse for an excise man called Mr Quick-Manning. There is some dispute about his name but he seems to have worked for a local brewery. He was recovering from small pox and she began nursing him back to health.
He was a much wealthier prospect than Joseph Nattress.
In the spring of 1872, seven-year old Frederick Cotton, along with the new baby, Robert Cotton and the lodger Joseph Nattress all died within the space of twenty or so days. Of the three children in her care, only the seven year old boy, Charles Cotton, survived.
Mary had an insurance policy on Charles which she could claim if he died but in the meantime a parish official and local assistant coroner called Thomas Riley asked Mary Ann if she could nurse a woman who was suffering from small pox.
Strangely, Mary Ann complained that she would if Charles could be accommodated in the workhouse so that he was out of the way. It was explained that this would only be possible if she entered the workhouse with Charles. Her response to this was that Charles was sickly and would soon be dead. “I won’t be troubled long. He’ll go like the rest of the Cottons” she said.
Five days later Charles was dead, it was yet another of the many tragic deaths that followed Mary Ann Cotton like a dark and sinister cloud. This time, however, things would be very different.
Riley was told the news of Charles’ death and immediately became suspicious. It had occurred to him that Charles had not appeared sickly and he alerted the police, persuading the doctor who was about to carry out a post mortem to delay issuing the ’cause of death’ certificate.
An inquest was then held in the Rose and Crown Inn on West Auckland’s Front Street next door to Mary Ann Cotton’s home but proved inconclusive. The Doctor however, had retained samples of Charles Cotton’s stomach after he was buried and upon examination discovered that it contained arsenic.
THE TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF MARY ANN COTTON
Mary Ann was arrested on July 18, 1872 for the murder of Charles Cotton. She kept a wall of silence but investigations soon started to unravel some of the events of her life and suspicions rapidly grew regarding the scale of her evil activities.
The bodies of Nattress, and Charles Cotton, Frederick Cotton Junior and the baby Robert were all exhumed and found to contain arsenic.
Mary Ann’s trial was delayed due to her pregnancy and her child was born on January 7, 1873 and named Edith Quick Manning Cotton. This was an embarrassment for Mr Quick-Manning, who appears to have changed his name and fled. The baby itself was taken into care and its name was changed. It was the only one of her children to survive besides George Robinson.
In the meantime the press had covered every sensational aspect of Mary Ann’s life with a little help from the police who leaked many details.
Mary Ann had no chance whatsoever of a fair trial as the jury had no doubt studied all of these details. She was tried only for the murders that had taken place at West Auckland and was found conclusively guilty on the murder of the boy, Charles Cotton.
On March 24, 1873 she was hanged in the open at Durham Prison in front of an assembled crowd. The executioner, William Calcraft had not left a high enough drop and instead of dying instantly Mary Ann was strangled to death over several minutes.
Mary Ann Cotton’s name soon entered the folklore of the region’s history and as the decades past she was best remembered in a children’s skipping rhyme:
Mary Ann Cotton, she’s dead and she’s rotten,
Lying in bed with her eyes wide open.
Sing, sing, oh what should I sing?
Mary Ann Cotton, she’s tied up with string.
Where, where? Up in the air.
Selling black puddings, a penny a pair.
Mary Ann Cotton, she’s dead and forgotten,
Lying in bed with her bones all rotten.
Sing, sing, what can I sing?
Mary Ann Cotton, tied up with string.
Above: a folk version of the Mary Ann Cotton song performed by Peg Powler
The first episode of Dark Angel, the new two-art drama about the story of Mary Ann Cotton will air on Monday October 31st at 9pm on ITV It features Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt in the lead role and North East actor Alun Armstrong
As Hillary Clinton continues her campaign to become the next President of the United States, DAVID SIMPSON examines her family connections to the North East and our region’s historic links to people of power and influence.
Hillary Clinton’s North East Links
It was not until relatively recent times that Hillary Rodham developed a preference for publicly using her marital surname as she pursued her high-flying political career. Despite her marriage to the man who would one day be President, Hillary would often go by the name Hillary Rodham. Whether she was aware of it or not, she was preserving a family name that has links to North East England going back perhaps more than a thousand years.
Hillary’s father, Hugh Rodham, was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1911 but his father, Hugh Simpson Rodham, came from a family of coal miners and was born in the County Durham mining village of Kyo, near Annfield Plain in the year 1879.
Hillary’s grandfather was only a child when he left Durham for the United States along with his mother, Isabella Bell (a name that must surely have posed questions of amusement within the family). The young lad’s coal miner father, Jonathan Rodham originally of Wagtail Cottage, Holmside near Craghead had gone in search of new opportunities in the New World and with work secured there, he invited his spouse and child to join him.
Hillary Rodham’s paternal family tree and its associated branches show many links to coal mining in Durham and the North East, most notably around Tanfield and Chester-le-Street but also with links to Bishop Auckland and Wallsend. They were people of humble origin, although Hillary’s great-great-great grandfather, a Jonathan Rodham, married an Ann Parkinson at the fairly esteemed location of St Mary-le-Bow church, in the shadow of Durham Cathedral.
Other County Durham family members in Hillary Clinton’s ancestry could well be descendants of Northumberland ‘Border Reiver’ stock with a smattering of Border Reiver surnames in the family tree that include Charltons, Bells and Grahams. There are no Armstrongs in this family, though, or at least as far as we can see. That would have been an interesting link as a descendant of that particular reiver family group have made their mark on American and world history in ways that take us well beyond our skies.
Many generations of the coal mining Rodhams in Hillary Clinton’s ancestry are linked to County Durham but their true roots are just to the north in the neighbouring county of Northumberland. Here, their very name stems from a place called Roddam (its name means ‘at the forest clearings’) and today it is the site of Roddam Hall. The name Roddam is the root of the Rodham surname, despite the slightly different spelling, and Rodhams and Roddams are thought to be the oldest family in Northumberland.
Roddam is near the tiny town of Wooler about eight miles – as the crow flies – from the border with Scotland though you’d have to cross the wild terrain of the Cheviot Hills to reach the border.
According to a Scot called John Major (now I’m sure I’ve heard that name before) writing some time in the 1500s, there was a man called Pole who was granted land at Roddam by King Æthelstan way back in Anglo-Saxon times. This man became the first member of the Roddam family, though over time some members of the family adopted the spelling Rodham.
It’s also interesting to note that among the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast are rocks called Roddam and Green, though it’s not clear how or if these might relate to the family name of Roddam or the place near Wooler.
Our region’s connections to George Washington
If Hillary Clinton is successful in her quest to become US president she will find herself in esteemed company in respect to her links to North East England as the distant roots of George Washington himself can be found within our region.
The historic village of Washington, once in County Durham – we could perhaps call it ‘Washington CD’ – is now surrounded by the modern town of Washington and is a part of the City of Sunderland. It is the place from which the entire Washington family, everywhere in the world, take their name.
The name De Wessyngton (meaning ‘from Washington’) as the family were initially called, reflected the earlier spelling of the place that they acquired and of which they became lords around 1180. The family was originally called De Hartburn as they came from Hartburn near Stockton-on-Tees in the south of our region.
They changed their name upon moving location after purchasing Washington (Wessyngton) from Hugh Pudsey (c1125-1195), the powerful Prince Bishop of Durham.
Perhaps coincidentally, their family crest consisted of stars and stripes. In the 1400s one member of their family became a Prior of Durham Cathedral, an important and powerful political post whose influence was felt across the region. Prior Washington was second only in power to the Bishop in the North East.
Descendants of the Durham Washingtons held land here in the North East until the 1600s but during the 1300s some members of the family had moved on to Lancashire and then ultimately to Sulgrave in Northamptonshire. Nevertheless, they kept their Washington name and it was from this branch of the family that the very first President of the United States was descended. Ultimately though, it is from Washington in Sunderland that George Washington, Washington DC and the US state of Washington all take their name.
People of Power in Our Region’s Past
Aside from presidential connections, Durham and Northumberland are certainly no strangers to people of power in our history. We lay claim to figures of immense political influence and sometimes radical ones too, going right back to the earliest of times.
In the Anglo-Saxon era North Easterners like King Oswald (604-642AD) and King Oswiu (990-1035AD) became ‘Bretwaldas’ or overkings of all England. In later times, King Cnut, Viking ruler of Britain is said to have established a base on the site of Raby Castle in south Durham.
In medieval times the Neville and Percy families along with the Prince Bishops virtually ruled the north as a separate entity from their bases in Durham, Northumberland and Yorkshire. Just outside our region at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire was the primary home of both King Richard III and Warwick the Kingmaker (1428-1471), a Neville – whose name literally described the immensity of his power.
Our connections with royalty extend into modern times too. The present Queen’s ancestry has firm roots in County Durham through the Bowes family while, the Duchess of Cambridge along with her husband William and their children cement these links further through her family’s humble Durham mining connections that are not unlike those of Hillary Clinton.
PMs and Political Giants of the North East
We have also had our notable share of Prime Ministers hailing from the region. Most recently, Tony Blair, though born in Scotland, was raised and schooled as a child in Durham and returned to represent the region in parliament. Under his influence the county of Durham became the only place in the UK outside London to be visited by President George W. Bush. The President dropped in on the home of Blair by helicopter before calling in for a meal at a local pub. Bush was the first US president to visit the region since Jimmy Carter came to visit both Newcastle and our Washington here in the North East back in 1977.
In addition to Blair, earlier Prime Ministers who have have hailed from our region included Anthony Eden (1897-1977) of Windlestone, who came from a well-established Durham family and of course the great Northumberland-born reformer Charles the 2nd Earl Grey of Northumberland (1764-1845). Yes it is he of tea fame, who tops the monument at the very heart of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Much of Grey’s Great Reform Bill that brought about radical changes to British democracy was drafted with the assistance of his son-in-law John George ‘Radical Jack’ Lambton (1792-1840), the First Earl of Durham, a coal owner to whom Sunderland’s Penshaw Monument is dedicated. Lambton, a statesman who forged important international links, first as the Ambassador to Russia, would become Governor General and High Commissioner of British North America. He was the man who instigated the process of Canadian independence from Britain.
Women of Power and Influence in the Region
The role of women may often be callously written out of the history books but the influence of powerful females is ever present and no less so than in the North East of England.
There have been many notable female figures of power in the region going right back to Roman times when the first ever Northerner to be mentioned by name was in fact a woman, Cartimandua, who was. a formidable female opponent to the Romans in the North. When the Romans arrived she ruled over much of our region from her fort near Scotch Corner.
Then there was St Hilda, abbess of Hartlepool and Whitby in Saxon times, in her time one of the region’s most powerful figures, who shaped the religious course of Northern England in those early times and a woman by whom kings were guided.
Some of our region’s most powerful political campaigners have been females, notably Ellen Wilkinson (1891-1947), the one-time MP for Middlesbrough and MP for Jarrow who was so influential in the famed Jarrow Hunger March for jobs in 1936.
Then from earlier times we have Josephine Butler. Born Josephine Grey (1828-1906) at Milfield near Wooler not so many miles from the ancestral home of the Roddams, Butler was one of the most determined and influential ladies in Victorian Britain. Her campaigns against human trafficking and her work on behalf of female suffrage helped to change the lives and often appalling situations of women living in the Victorian era and beyond.
We could also mention Gertude Bell (1868-1926), the Tyne, Wear and Tees industrialist’s daughter born at Sunderland’s Washington ‘New Hall’ only metres away from the ‘Old Hall’ that was the ancestral home of the illustrious Washington family. Bell became a mountaineer, a political administrator, a spy and an archaeologist with a penchant for Middle Eastern culture and politics.
Her extraordinary life included her brave acts of diplomacy; meeting face to face with powerful members of often turbulent Arabian desert tribes in what was very much a male dominated culture and era, even compared to Britain of that time. Bell was of course also noted for her part in drawing up the borders of modern Iraq, working alongside T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and she was by all accounts a very formidable person.
So it can be seen that whether or not Hillary Clinton comes to be elected as the first President of the United States, North East England is likely to take its links to her family very much in its stride. As a region we are certainly no strangers to people in positions of power.
PAUL WHITE admits he’s not a museum fan but speaks in praise of the Oriental Museum, a hidden gem in Durham City
Some readers will call me a philistine, others may agree wholeheartedly, but I have a confession: it is a rare museum indeed that doesn’t have me wishing I could escape to the nearest pub.
I like culture and the arts, but not in the “shuffle along, item by item, trying to take in masses of information at a time” sense.
However, we have a gem of a museum hiding away in our region, to which I have voluntarily returned on more than one occasion. The Oriental Museum, in Durham, is full of great items for anyone who has an interest in the culture and history of the east.
Having visited China on a number of occasions and fallen in love with Japan on a trip that took in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, I find these cultures intriguing and a pleasure to learn about.
I dropped in to the Japan section of the Oriental Museum today – I’d recommend taking it in chunks – and from Manga to the Samurai and the mix of Bhuddist and Shinto religions, it’s full of items and information that I find far more exciting than the naval gazing minutiae we fill many, admittedly far from all, of our museums with.
I’m hugely proud of coming from Shildon, but it took me 20-odd years to return to the Timothy Hackworth Museum after being taken there as a child, and that was a work-related visit.
I would hasten to suggest that we are getting better, but I think I’ve been scarred from my childhood, and from being dragged to museums when I’m really not in the mood.
The Oriental Museum, alongside Beamish, show how museums can be great resources and are a massive credit to the North East. Both are done very differently, yet equally fire my imagination. On trips to the US and Canada, the museum elements of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ice Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Johnny Cash Museum, were visits I made voluntarily, despite there being an abundance of bars and other amenities I could easily have opted to escape to.
Perhaps there is something niche in each of these examples that appeals directly to me.
In any case, if, like me, you were put off such visits as a child, maybe it’s time to think again and find a museum that holds a particular interest for you. The North East is a great place to start.
Every schoolchild knows the events of 1066 but what happened next here in the North East? As the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings approaches, ALEX ILES investigates.
In Britain we are very good at taking snippets of history, short info bites, and creating a very good in depth study of them. One of the best examples I use is the school curriculum – creating in depth studies of snapshots of our history when we have a good ten to fifteen thousand years of currently well documented history on this Island! The Norman Invasion is like this.
Stop anyone on the street and they can tell you the two main combatants – William Duke of Normandy (referred to as ‘The Conquer’ most of the time) and his rival Harold Godwinson – who should be called King Harold. Just from the names we can see how much of our history is shaped by the victors!
The third element of the 1066 drama is the famous Scandinavian king Harald Hardrada (The Hard Ruler). Now, as much as the events of 1066 are fascinating I would like to tell you about what happened afterwards but before we do that, we have to look at the cause and effect of 1066.
Most students can tell you that after Edward the Confessor died in 1066 Harold Godwinson rushes to London to be crowned, though he had promised, swearing on holy relics to support William’s claim.
Harald Hardrada finds out and decides to follow in the steps of the mighty Cnute who was king of England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway and parts of Ireland and Sweden and unite his Kingdom of Norway with England again.
William of Normandy flies into a rage at Harold Godwinson’s betrayal and starts building a navy. He attains Papal support for the invasion of England. Harald Hardrada invades Yorkshire and after defeating the Northumbrian forces –a half-hearted battle at York– he has the North of England swear allegiance to him and Harold Godwinson’s brother Totsig.
Tostig wanted his old earldom back after being banished for rebelling against his brother; already the story looks like a soap opera!
Harold Godwinson then marches north and defeats Hardrada at the battle of Stamford Bridge a few miles north east of York. He then hears that William has invaded and is building a castle at Hastings.
Godwinson marches his army south, stays in London for a week and then makes his way to Hastings arriving on October 13th. Historians who favour the Saxons are bitter about this point – he would have won if he had fortified London and the nearby land and waited for William but instead he rushed to Hastings.
When Harold joined the great battle on the 14th the English took the ridge and fought in their traditional shield wall. They would have won, had they not chased the Normans who had feigned retreat. Harold and his Brothers died – cut down by Norman knights not by arrows to the eye – and William was victorious.
What happens next is the interesting part for us.
In schools it is all nice and clean. William is crowned King in London on Christmas day, the history book for the Anglo-Saxons is closed and the Norman dynasty is now ruling England.
To the English, this would not have been the end of the world. The Northern English were very used to ‘foreign’ rule – with the Danelaw (in Yorkshire and the East Midlands) and connections to Scandinavia, north Germany and even the Baltic a common part of everyday life for the North East folk.
The North West of England and the Lakes was heavily Norwegian and southern Scotland was both Scots-Irish and English. King Cnute had been half Polish by his mother and half Danish by his father,
King Edward the Confessor was half Norman himself and likely spoke Norman French as well as speaking Old English. William was seen as being king for his lifetime and then a likely English or noble dynasty would take over. The idea of hereditary kingship was not set in stone, kings’ sons could be king after them but they needed to have powerful allies and prove their worth to do so. To the Anglo-Saxon English therefore William was just another invader who had to prove his worth.
Because of this the England revolted from 1067-1068. Backed by Scots, Danes and Anglo-Saxons. Danes and Irish who were hiding in Scotland and Ireland invaded The North East, Devon rose in the South West.
Following this in 1069, King William placed Robert De Comines as the Norman Earl of Northumberland. He was staying in Durham when his Norman knights pushed the Local Anglo-Saxons too hard and committed crimes against the local populous.
The Anglo-Saxons told him that he was sitting on a tinder box, but he did not listen. The population of Durham rose and seven hundred Normans were killed including Robert – many burnt to death inside the houses in which they were staying. William, in retaliation committed genocide – harrying the North, killing civilians in Yorkshire and County Durham and salting the land. The North East then quietened for a while.
William then placed Bishop Walcher as Prince Bishop of Northumberland and Durham. Walcher worked hard to deal with his rebellious population, appointing Ligulf a descendant of the kings of Northumbria as his adviser.
This worked well until 1079 when King Malcom III of Scotland attacked Northumberland, killing, burning and enslaving. Because of this, Ligulf openly criticised the bishop for failing to protect the North East from Scots attack.
This resulted in an open feud between Ligulf and Bishop Walcher’s relation Gilbert. Ligulf’s house at Newburn was attacked by Gilbert during the night and murdered him and the majority of his family.
Ligulf’s remaining relations made their way to a peace conference in Gateshead with Walcher and demanded that Gilbert be handed over to face justice for murder. Walcher stated he could not hand over a member of his family and the meeting broke down.
Because it was on holy land the Anglo-Saxons could not attack directly but as Walcher, Gilbert and their hundred Norman nights had dinner, the church in Gateshead was set fire to. The Normans fled from the burning building and were ambushed by the Anglo-Saxons resulting in the death of Walcher, Gilbert and the majority of their entourage.
King William once more returned to Northumberland and ravaged this time, from the Tyne to the Scots border. This therefore resulted in the harrowing being an unspoken part of the North East’s History.
Some scholars state that a total of one hundred thousand people died in the ‘Harrowing’, though the number may be far less, it still had a large impact on the North East with many villages being abandoned or massacred.
In all it shows you why the Normans were such a force in England and why the Norman and Plantagenet Dynasties were established in England ruling over the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish population.
William was truly a conqueror and ruled by the Sword.
ALEX ILES delves into the history of Newcastle and is inspired by three notable entrepreneurs
This is my first blog for England’s North East, so it’s best to introduce myself. I own and manage a tourism company in Newcastle called Iles Tours, established in 2012.
I do a number of different tours and one thing that fascinates me is the region’s entrepreneurs who have inspired me in my own business.
Here I look at three such entrepreneurs from different eras in the history of Newcastle: Rodger Thornton (died 1430), Ralph Carr (1711-1806) and William Armstrong (1810-1900).
According to legend, Rodger Thornton’s entrance into Newcastle’s story has highly romantic beginnings:
‘West-Gate came Thornton in,
With a hap and a halfpenny and a lambskin’.
In fact as the son of a minor noble Thornton’s father helped him start up in business in Newcastle. Membership of the trading guilds and involvement with the Right Honourable Company of Merchant Adventurers set up this young man well. The Adventurers met in the top of St. Thomas’s Hospital on the Sandhill where the modern guildhall stands today.
There Thornton became involved in Newcastle’s most important trade during his lifetime – wool and hides. Wool was the petroleum of the Middle Ages and Newcastle’s wool was sold to the Low Countries where the major fabric producers were based.
It was the trade in wool that made Thornton successful, as a young man, although it was not an easy start. On some occasions during trade disputes his cargoes would spoil on the quayside while waiting to be sold or transported but bit by bit Thornton rose in power and wealth.
It enabled him to expand his business and invest in Weardale lead and local coal – two growing and very profitable trades in the North East of England. The investments paid off as the construction of churches in England and abroad meant there was much need for lead.
As his wealth increased Thornton was able to give to charitable causes – including vast quantities of lead for Durham Cathedral’s roof as well as great sums of money for St. Nicholas Church and St. Johns church in Newcastle. These donations were often written off as Rodger looked to ensure his place in heaven or perhaps it is better to see this as an ingrained understanding of the responsibility of the wealthy to care for the poor in the Middle Ages.
Thornton also invested heavily in monasteries which were the schools and hospitals of the Middle Ages, providing education and healthcare for all in society. Medieval merchants were also involved in politics as they were “between worlds” – not landed elite, not clerics or priests and not workers of the land.
Because of this Rodger became the MP for Newcastle for five years and was Mayor of Newcastle nine times. He sided with the King when the Percys of Northumberland rose against Henry IV and his wealth made him an important ally.
Thornton invested in the town watch, established a professional army and rebuilt the town walls. He held Newcastle against one of the most powerful lords in England and a grateful King Henry gave him the Percy lands in Yorkshire – making him a member of the landed elite. When I look at Rodger Thornton I learn that to fight for what you care about and invest in a location creates opportunities and opens doors in the future!
Ralph Carr is our second entrepreneur. As a young man Ralph’s father allowed his son’s membership of the Right Honourable Company of Newcastle’s Merchant Adventurers to slip, meaning that Ralph had to take an apprenticeship with the company to earn membership. During this term he took a break to visit all the ports that Newcastle traded with and learned about their needs, gaining a detailed knowledge of the North Sea and Baltic ports.
In the late 1700s there was an established oligarchy of merchants in the coal trade and breaking into this elite group was both hard and expensive – so Ralph branched out, investing in shipping, naval equipment, whaling, lead, insurance and millstones from Gateshead. He then went on to build alum factories, glass factories, lead works and linen mills.
In later life he was so wealthy he was approached to become one of the first members of Newcastle’s first provincial bank.
The lesson I take from Ralph Carr is that when your path is blocked by groups with vested interests, take a step to the side and build areas that are not developed. You can do a better job in those areas and eventually get invited into new and exciting deals.
When he died Carr was worth £200,000 in old money or £300 million today – a highly successful man who started on an apprenticeship.
Our third entrepreneur is Lord Armstrong. From a young age William Armstrong was fascinated with engineering and mathematics but honoured his father and studied law. He practiced law for over twenty years, teaching himself engineering in his spare time.
Eventually he designed the Armstrong crane and approached his father and Godfather with the new business opportunity. They backed the project and the crane revolutionised the way ports functioned. This created a great amount of wealth for Armstrong and he became established in the business community.
Following this – for better or worse – he was moved by the loss of life for British troops during the Crimean War which he put down to ineffectual artillery.
This brought about the invention of the Armstrong Gun which required eleven patents because of its revolutionary design. Armstrong continued to produce these revolutionary guns and partnered Mitchell’s Shipyards to create warships on the Tyne. He eventually produced ships for eleven great powers and in some ways prepared the world for the First World War.
Armstrong’s works at Elswick employed twenty five thousand people in Newcastle and were one of the largest employers in Britain. Alongside this, Armstrong was a huge supporter of renewable energies and saw a future where they would replace coal as the main form of energy.
In Armstrong I see that educating yourself, being dependable and ready for an opportunity may enable you to launch the business you always wanted to do.
I hope we have captured your minds and inspired you with these Newcastle Entrepreneurs. If you have enjoyed this blog, Iles Tours offers a tour focused on the entrepreneurs whose businesses and inventions have shaped Newcastle.
DAVID SIMPSON considers the size and importance of Northern England and its place in the world and argues that the whole of the North should have a much bigger voice
Right let’s be clear, right from the very start, when it comes to people, the North of England is a pretty BIG place to be:
Scotland’s population is around 5.3 million by the way.
Now, I’m not suggesting for one moment that the North of England – or any part of the North of England for that matter – should break away from the United Kingdom.
I mean, for a start, we wouldn’t have won quite as many medals in the Olympics.
However, the three regions that make up the north – and not just the cities – do need a stronger and bigger voice that’s in keeping with their place in the world. In fact part of the problem is that they need to have a place in the world. Too often they’re seen as the fringes of England.
They’re more than that, in fact in many ways they are the real England.
Yet somehow, somewhere along the line, we’ve been conditioned to think small and the truth is we are very far from that. We have our own distinct history and a population that many nations in the world don’t come close too.
The North has a story all of its own – and it’s a big story and with deep roots.
And we played no small part in what made our nation so powerful and successful in the past. In fact we played a major role in changing the world:
Even the North’s smallest region could have a much bigger voice:
Whenever we think about the North, we need to remember to think big and ensure that we get our fair share of investment and a bigger say in our affairs.
Great Britain is not just all about London.
Without the North, it would be Not So Great Britain.
So, always speak up for the NORTH and let’s start by making sure that we are properly empowered to do so.
If you like this post you might like this follow up post more maps: