January 2017 – The Great North Road

Alistair Sinton took a packed January meeting of the Alnwick and District Local History Society for a leisurely stroll along the 60 miles of the Old Great North Road (the old A1) from Newcastle to Berwick, taking in the sights on the way.

Alistair acknowledged a great debt for the contents of his talk to Ian Hall, a fellow member of the Society, who has published a short book about the history of the road.  Starting at Barras Bridge, Newcastle, the road proceeds north to Gosforth, where we admire a large building, over a number of shops.  This was the tramcar shed, used only between 1897 to 1904.

Our “walk” is punctuated by a number of pubs, many of which were old Coaching Inns.  The first is the Three Mile Inn, at Three Mile Bridge, where the Ouseburn crossed the road.  A little further on are some grand pillars, which were the entrance to Gosforth House, home to the Brandling family.  Their old house is now the hospitality and conference centre at the race course.  In the past, numerous single-decker trams travelled up the Great North Road, ferrying the race-goers.

3 miles further on we arrive at the Six Mile Bridge pub.  The bridge here crossed the Seaton Burn.  Nearby is Blagdon Hall, still home to the Ridley family, and another large pub, the Ridley Arms.

We carry on towards Morpeth.  The Great North Road went through the centre of the town, passing the parish church of St Mary, and the prison.  This became the courthouse, and is now flats.  Carlisle Park opposite was owned by the Earls of Carlisle (hence its name), and given to Morpeth Corporation.

The bridge over the Wansbeck is medieval, though little remains.  Nearby is the new Bridge by Telford, built in the late 1700’s.  Our route passes the Town Hall, and then turns right.  On the outskirts of Morpeth is a cottage, askew to the road.  This was built as a toll-house to a new road, which was never built.

The Great North Road went west of the new road, passing the Oak Inn, then turned off to Felton, and the Northumberland Arms.  This pub overlooks the Coquet river.  It has a very old bridge, now pedestrian-only.  From Felton, we cross the A1 again to Swarland to look at a monument to Nelson, then back to the east of the A1 for Hampeth.  The road here has beautifully-laid setts at each side, and a terrace of houses built for the workers at Whittle Colliery.

So we arrive at Alnwick, admiring the Tenantry Column, and the station, a magnificent building, and the medieval Hotspur Tower. The road followed Narrowgate, which was a serious bottleneck on the old A1.  It passes the Castle, and goes over the River Aln for the best view of Alnwick Castle.  Further north, we rejoin the A1, but then branch off to Belford, passing Belford Hall on the right.  This has a fine lodge at its entrance.

The road continued through Middleton, past a Hall with its ornate entrance, to rejoin the A1 again.  At Haggerston Castle Holiday Park, the tower is visible from the road, but the old house was dismantled and sold stone by stone.  Leaving the A1 again, we go through Scremerston, a pretty village now, but once a mining village with a railway line to Tweedmouth.

And so to Berwick to admire the old pantile roofs and the medieval bridge.  The bridge over the Great North Road itself is concrete, but from here we can see the fine Royal Border Railway Bridge by Robert Stephenson.  And so we end our “walk”.

The next meeting of the Society will be held on 28th February 2017 at 7.30pm at Bailiffgate Museum (doors open at 7pm), when David Dickinson will be talking about the work of a Book Binder and Restorer.