Wallington Hall, about nine miles west of Morpeth is one of the finest old houses in Northumberland. It was built in 1688, around the foundations of an old Pele Tower belonging to the Fenwicks, who were the principal Border clan of south east Northumberland.
When the hall was built in 1688 for Sir Williiam Blackett, a man with coal mining and shipbuilding interests, the old pele tower was incorporated into the new building.
In 1777 Wallington Hall passed into the hands of the Trevelyan family and through them it became associated with three famous British historians: G.M Trevelyan, George Otto Trevelyan and George Macaulay. The desk at which Macaulay wrote his ‘History of England’ is in the Wallington study.
Wallington Hall has been in the care of the National Trust, since 1942 and is most notable for its interesting furniture, pictures and fine plaster work.
For many the biggest attractions at Wallington are the eight large wall paintings by Sir William Bell Scott, which depict scenes from Northumbrian history. Beautifully painted with fascinating details, the painting subjects are: The Building of Hadrian’s Wall; St Cuthbert on Farne Island; The Viking invasion of Tynemouth; The Death of the Venerable Bede; The Spur in the Dish; Bernard Gilpin at Rothbury church; Grace Darling’s sea rescue and a Tyneside industrial scene.
The subject of the ‘Spur in the Dish’ depicts the Charlton Border Reiving clan assembled for lunch at their home of Hesleyside Hall, in North Tynedale. The lady of the house has brought in a salver and dish for her hungry husband and his retainers, but the salver has been lifted to reveal not the expected Sunday joint, but instead the dish contains a riding spur.
This is an illustration of an old border custom, most strongly associated with the Charltons. The lady is giving a subtle hint to the men of the household that the larder is almost empty and that they must ride, reive and steal some cattle if they want to be fed.
Within the estate grounds of Wallington Hall, which were partly laid out by Capability Brown, are four curious stone gargoyle or griffin heads. They originate from Old Aldersgate, one of the city gates in London that was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666. It is thought they were brought north as ballast in one of Sir Wiliam Blackett’s ships which worked between London and Newcastle.
A mile to the north of Wallington Hall is the village of Cambo, built in 1740 as a model village for Wallington estate workers, though one building is a medieval tower house. Capability Brown went to school in Cambo and walked daily from Kirkharle to the south. One particularly attractive feature of the village is an ornate drinking fountain in the shape of a fish.
The name Cambo is thought to come from Camp-Hoe, a hill on which there was an ancient camp. There’s certainly an abundance of ancient sites associated with the ancient Britons in this part of Northumberland. The name Wallington is thought to signify a settlement of the Wealas – the Welsh speaking ancient Britons.
Kirkwhelpington lies by the Wansbeck river, close to the A696 Newcastle to Jedburgh road to the west of Wallington and Cambo. Intriguingly, the name was apparently the farm or settlement of the kinship (‘ing’) of someone who was nicknamed ‘the puppy, whelper or cub’ with the addition of ‘kirk’ to signify a prominent church.
The present church at Kirkwhelpington dates from the thirteenth century. During the reign of King John, Richard De Umfraville held court at Kikwhelpington at which he granted certain lands to the monks of Kelso. In 1435 and 1438 a Robert De Whelpington was Mayor of Newcastle.
The vicarage at St Bartholomew’s church at Kirkwhelpington, was the place where the Reverend John Hodgson wrote the greater part of his classic seven volume History of Northumberland between 1823 and 1832. The village is also noted as the burial place of Charles Algernon Parsons, (1854 – 1931), the inventor of the steam turbine engine.
Kirkharle: Capability Brown Country
To the south of Kirkwhelpington is Kirkharle, the birthplace of Lancelot Brown (1716-1783), the famed landscape gardener known as ‘Capability’ Brown. He acquired this name from his usual saying when presented with a new plot of land that ‘it has capabilities’.
Brown began his career as a gardener on the Kirkharle estates, where he learned his trade before leaving Northumberland in 1739. He went on to become the head gardener at Windsor and at Hampton Court and was responsible for laying out the famous gardens at Kew and at Blenheim Palace.
Kirkharle is now a popular place to visit with lovely landscaped grounds including a recently constructed serpentine lake recreated from plans that Capability Brown had intended to instigate for his one-time home. A cosy coffee house eating establishment is now a focal point at Kirkharle and the courtyard here includes a number of appealing independent shops. There are pleasant family trails in the local countryside.
A nearby medieval church dedicated to St Wilfrid dates from around the 1330s. The church was historically linked to the abbey at Blanchland and the canons from that abbey provided services at the church up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s.
Capheaton Hall, two miles south of Wallington and Kirkharle was built in 1668 in the Baroque style by the Newcastle architect Robert Trollope, who was known for building the Guildhall on Newcastle Quayside. Capheaton’s grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown who was born at nearby Kirkharle.
Capheaton is the ancestral home of the Swinburne family (the name comes from the nearby Swin Burn near Barrasford in North Tynedale). The eccentric poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) who always considered himself a Northumbrian despite being born in London was a frequent visitor. Today the hall or at least the eastern wing of the hall is still resided in by the Swinburnes, though part of the hall now operates as an exclusive wedding venue.
The attractive neighbouring village of Capheaton is a model village that was rebuilt in the eighteenth century. The name Capheaton was originally Great Heaton to distinguish it from a place called Little Heaton. It was Latinized, ‘cap’ meaning the head or greater Heaton – which of course means ‘high farm’.
Sweethope Loughs and the Wild Hills o’ Wannie
Much of the countryside along the Wansbeck and neighbouring valleys to the west of Morpeth is a beautiful but sparsely populated landscape with scattered villages and country estates while further west still we have increasingly wilder upland country out towards Redesdale and North Tynedale.
The Wild Hills O’ Wannie around Sweethope Loughs are about 11 miles west of Morpeth and form the remoter upper reaches of the Wansbeck valley. These hills either took their name from or gave their name to the river and are the subject of a haunting Northumbrian pipe tune.
The ‘beck’ in Wansbeck has nothing to do with the Viking word ‘beck’ meaning a stream which is not used in Northumberland. Place-name experts say the name Wansbeck derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Waeganspick’ meaning ‘waggon bridge built of logs’ though where this bridge was located is uncertain – perhaps it was an old name for a bridge at Morpeth. Another view is that the name comes from the birthplace of the river which begins as a series of streams at ‘the back of the Wanny’ which it could quite possibly be if the name of the hills came first.
Great Wanny Crag to the west is the site of one of Northumberland’s many ancient Iron Age forts and is just to the north of the Sweeethope Loughs – lakes that partly form the source of the Wansbeck. To the west is the A68 road from Corbridge to Carter Bar and to the east is a scattering of villages and hamlets of interest. In the hamlet category, but little more than farmsteads are Throckrington and Great and Little Bavington to the south.
Bavington and Thockrington
Thockrington, merely a farm or hamlet is reached along a quiet back road just off the B6342 near Little Bavington. It was seemingly once a village that has shrunken in times past and is the home to a church situated on a whin sill outcrop. Thockrington’s depopulation is reputedly attributed to a cholera outbreak of 1847 that virtually wiped out the village. The church, dedicated to St Aidan, is Norman inside though much of the exterior is thought to date from the 1600s. Its graveyard is the burial place of Lord William Beveridge (1879-1963) who was the author of the Beveridge Report that established the British Welfare State.
Beveridge, who was an economist and one-time Liberal MP for Berwick upon Tweed died at Oxford but was brought to Northumberland – a place that he loved – for burial. He was titled Baron Beveridge of Tuggal in the County of Northumberland. Tuggal or Tughall is a place near Beadnell on the Northumberland coast. Beveridge is buried alongside his wife, Lady Beveridge.
Also buried in the churchyard are prominent members of Bavington’s Shafto family who additionally had County Durham links. Here too are buried the ashes of the novelist, Tom Sharpe (Thomas Ridley Sharpe 1929-2013). Sharpe, whose family had Northumbrian roots, was a prolific and popular writer, whose comic novels such as Blott on the Landscape and Indecent Exposure often placed his characters in crude, vulgar and outrageously violent scenarios. Sharpe’s father had been the vicar of St Aidan’s at Thockrington.
To the west of Thockrington is the Colt Crag Reservoir and to the south the farm-hamlet of Little Swinburne with the diminutive Little Swinburne Reservoir nearby. Beyond the A68 further to the west towards the North Tyne is Great Swinburne.
To the east of Thockrington are Great Bavington and Little Bavington. An intriguing dovecot built in the style of a castle stands on a hill near Little Bavington. Just over a mile south west of Little Bavington are the two, linked Hallington Reservoirs (east and west) that are separated by a central dam. Historically, Hallington was the northernmost part of the LIberty of Hexhamshire, a district that did not become part of Northumberland until 1572.
Another feature near Little Bavington is Bavington Hall, built on the site of an earlier hall that is in turn on the site of a tower house. Bavington Hall was long associated with the Shafto family who took their name from the Shafto crags (the shaft-shaped crags between Bolam and Wallington). One later Shafto family member was Robert Shafto, a County Durham MP who lived at Whitworth Hall near Spennymoor who inspired the famous song Bonny Bobby Shafto though it is possible that the song has earlier Northumberland roots.
The Shaftos lived at Bavington from the 1400s when they acquired the land through marriage and in the late 1600s they replaced the earlier tower house with a hall. Following their part in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 the hall was confiscated from the Shaftos and acquired by Admiral George Delaval who built the new hall around the 1730s. The hall is a private house though there are holiday cottages located within the estate. The Shafto family returned to Bavington in the 1950s.
Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens
About three miles south east of Capheaton, Belsay is the home of Belsay Hall, Beslay Castle and the Belsay gardens which form a popular historic attraction in the care of English Heritage.
Belsay was historically associated with the Middleton family who take their name from the village of Middleton to the north. Middleton is about four miles to the north west and is situated between the Hart Burn and River Wansbeck half way between Wallington and Meldon Park.
Belsay – from ‘Belesho’ the ridge hill belonging to an Anglo-Saxon called Bell or Billa or something similar – was in the possession of the Middletons from the 1200s. They are first recorded here in 1270 when a Sir Richard Middleton was Lord Chancellor to King Henry III.
In the 1300s the Middletons working in league with the Selbys rebelled against King Edward II and took possession of many Northumbrian castles. A Sir Gilbert Middleton kidnapped the Bishop of Durham at Rushyford in that county and imprisoned him at Mitford Castle and although Middleton received the ransom payment for the Bishop’s release, Middleton was later captured and executed at London. Selby remained at large.
Belsay was seized and given to a John Striveling though a John de Middleton married Striveling’s daughter and heiress, thus reclaiming the estate for the Middleton family.
The castle at Belsay was built by the Middletons and dates from the early to mid 1300s. It is an impressive building with an L-shaped plan that incorporates a defensive pele tower of the fourteenth century with an attached house developed from 1603 to complete the castle.
Nearby the impressive Belsay Hall was built by the architect Charles Monck between 1810 and 1817 in a Grecian style.
Monck was the owner of Belsay Castle and had changed his name from Middleton to Monck in 1799. The architecture of the hall was inspired by what Charles had seen on his honeymoon in Greece. The family moved into their hall on Christmas Day 1217, relocating from the nearby castle.
The beautiful gardens including the Romantic ‘Quarry Garden’ were also laid out by Monck. In 1980 the hall passed into the care of the state and along with the gardens and castle form a delightful visitor attraction.
Bolam Lake Country Park
Country estates, historic gardens, parks, historic sites and visitor attractions seem to abound in this part of Northumberland and a couple of miles north of Belsay we find yet another place of interest in the form of Bolam Lake Country Park. The name Bolam comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Bol-um’ meaning ‘at the tree trunks’.
There is an historic church at Bolam dedicated to St Andrew which has a Saxon tower, a Norman apse and other parts dating to the thirteenth and fourteenth century. A wealthy Suffolk merchant called Robert de Reymes who built Aydon Castle near Corbridge is buried here. The nearby house called Bolam Hall was built for the Horsley family in 1810.
Bolam Lake is the main feature of the country park and is noted for its waterfowl. Swans can be fed by hand but more surprisingly smaller song birds in the park are not unknown to feed straight from the hand, much to the delight and surprise of visitors. The lake was created in a swampy area in 1816 by the architect John Dobson for the Bolam estate owner, the Reverend John Beresford, who wanted to create something for the local poor in a time of agricucltural decline
The area is popular with walkers, cyclists and canoeists and there is a pleasant cafe at the site. Nearby there are lovely walks west towards the Shaftoe Crags and there is an ancient standing stone in the area called ‘Poind and His Man’. The countryside around Bolam is certainly an ancient landscape and the course of the Roman Road called the Devil’s Causeway passes through the area to the west.
Historically Bolam was a barony that belonged to a family called the De Bolams which is presumably the origin of the North East surname Bolam (though there is also a Bolam in County Durham).
A Gilbert De Bolham was in possession of Bolam during the reign of King John but Bolam later came to be the property of the De Reymes family and then much later the Horsleys.
To the north of Bolam is Meldon Park on the banks of the Wansbeck while to the south of Bolam is the tiny village of Harnham where there’s a medieval house (privately owned) with a neighbouring garden in which a rebellious woman called Katharine Babington was buried around 1670. Babington, who was the daughter of the Roundhead General Sir Arthur Haselrigg was refused burial in the local church for plotting against the vicar. Nearby close to the uppermost tiny trickles of the River Blyth is Shortflatt Tower, a pele tower dating back to 1305 but much altered.
Whalton village and the Baal Fire
A couple of miles respectively east of Bolam and Belsay are the villages of Whalton and Ogle. Whalton is a handsome village of stone houses with a broad street.
The church at Whalton is dedicated to St Mary and is of the twelfth and thirteenth century. Several members of the Ogle family are buried here. A manor house at the east end of the village was converted into its present form by the renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1909.
Medieval owners of Whalton included the Fitz-Williams, Fitz-Rogers and Fitz Roberts and then the Scropes but from the Stuart era Whalton was dominated by the Megginsons.
The village of Whalton is famed for its annual ‘baal’ fire ceremony which is rooted in ancient pagan times. The fire is lit in the centre of the village just east of the Beresford Arms each July and people dance around the fire in celebration of the summer as morris dancers entertain the gathered crowd.
The village of Ogle to the south of Whalton is thought to mean ‘Ocga’s Hill’ perhaps from Ocga, the son of Ida, King of Bernicia – who ruled from Bamburgh. Ogle lies between the River Blyth (here nothing more than a tiny stream) and the Ogle Burn to the south. The village was associated with the Ogle family who were named from the place apparently, it is claimed, some time before the Norman Conquest. The privileges of a Humphrey Ogle at Ogle were initially confirmed by Walter Fitz-William the baron of Whalton.
A Sir Robert De Ogle was granted a licence by King Edward III to turn the manor house at Ogle into a castle in 1341 and a tower house called Ogle Castle still remains at the east of the village, though the castle was originally much more substantial. King David II of Scotland (David Bruce) was briefly imprisoned at this castle by a Northumbrian knight John Copeland who had captured him at the Battle of Neville’s Cross near Durham in 1346.
Ogle village is tiny, but was once larger as it is a shrunken medieval village. The earthworks of the larger original village can be seen either side of the main road and are especially noticeable on the northern side of the road. They are particularly apparent on aerial photographs.
A mile south of Ogle on the way to Ponteland is Kirkley Hall near the banks of what is here a slightly less tiny River Blyth. Kirkley was called ‘Cirkelaw’ in Norman times but the name is thought to derive from an old Celtic word meaning ‘hill’ rather than ‘kirk’ meaning church.
Historically Kirkley was the Northumbrian seat of the Eure family who held it from around 1267 after they married into the local Bertam family (see Mitford). The Eures were Lords of Kirkley and also of Witton Castle in County Durham. A number of later Eures associated with Kirkley were High Sheriffs of Northumberland.
Often involved with the border wars some heads of the family such as Sir Ralph Eure in the 1500s were Wardens of the East March. This particular Sir Ralph Eure sacked and burned the Scottish town of Jedburgh in 1544 but the following year he was slain at Halidon Hill near Berwick.
In 1612 the Eures sold Kirkley manor to the Ogles of Kirkley (who had recently become tenants) and in 1632 a Cuthbert Ogle built a new manor house at Kirkley. This remained in use until replaced by a new hall in 1764 built by the Reverend Newton Ogle, a Prebendary of Durham Cathedral. It was the Reverend Ogle who in 1788 erected the obelisk in the Kirkley Hall grounds to commemorate the centenary of the landing of King William of Orange in England during the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.
In the 1920s the Ogles leased out Kirkley and by 1928 the whole of the Kirkley estate had been purchased from the Ogles by Sir William Noble, a Newcastle ship owner who later became Lord Kirkley. Sadly, the hall burned down in 1928 and was rebuilt with only the stable block of 1764 remaining. From the 1950s the hall was developed as an agricultural college that became a campus of Northumberland College in 1999.
Still part of the college campus Kirkley Hall now serves a role as an elegant venue for weddings and wedding fairs, conferences and meetings as well as hosting office space and being the home to a tea room. There are pleasant woodland walks hereabouts and nearby is the Kirkley Hall gardens and zoo where residents include lemurs, monkeys and meerkats. The prominent obelisk to the west of Kirkley Hall was erected by Newton Ogle in 1788 and inscribed ‘vindicata libertas publica’.
Just over a mile east of Kirkley Hall, the River Pont joins the Blyth from the south at Carter Moor. Further east are Blagdon Hall and the busy A1 with Cramlington beyond and Stannington and Morpeth to the north. On the River Pont two miles south of the confluence with the Blyth, is the large village of Ponteland.
The Pont rises just north of Hadrian’s Wall near Stagshaw and Corbridge and passes close to Little Whittington and Great Whittington, making its way through the grounds of Matfen Hall onward to Stamfordham and Cheeseburn. From there two miles on it reaches Dissington and Dalton and then after another two miles or so reaches Ponteland. The name Ponteland means ‘Pont-island’ – an island water meadow on the River Pont.
Ponteland was a little rural village until the later twentieth century and has a long history. It grew in particular with the addition of the exclusive adjoining estate of Darras Hall. Historic features of the old part of Ponteland include the church, a vicar’s pele tower and the Blackbird Inn.
Located on the busy A696 which was once the old Turnpike Road to Carter Bar and Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, it is a familiar place to pass through on a journey from Newcastle into Northumberland and its proximity to the city of Newcastle has made it an attractive executive commuter location.
The church of St Mary in North Road dates back to Norman times on a probable Anglo-Saxon site. It has a chancel of 1330 and there are monuments inside to the Ogle family of Kirkley Hall. In the garden near the church there is an endearing sculpture called ‘The Teaching’ by David Edwick dating from 2003.
Close by and also in North Road is the beautiful Blackbird Inn which is made up from a seventeenth century manor house that belonged to the Errington family and part of a medieval tower house of the fourteenth century that was sometimes known as Ponteland Castle.
The history of this spot dates back further as it was here that a peace agreement (called the Treaty of Newcastle) was signed in 1244 between England and Scotland. In 1388 the castle was burned by a Scots army under Douglas prior to the Battle of Otterburn.
To the west in Main Street is the Ponteland Vicar’s Pele Tower which is thought to have been developed between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries from a single storey hall. The tower was incorporated into a larger vicarage in the eighteenth century, however much of this was later demolished but fortunately the original pele tower was preserved.