January 2018 – Historical Oddities

Alnwick and District Local History Society welcomed Ian Hall, one of its own members, who spoke about “Historical Oddities – those curious places around the County”, illustrating his talk with lots of attractive photographs.  The sites Ian chose were often very isolated, but mainly accessible.

Starting with the prehistoric, Ian went first to Corby Crags, where Bronze Age pottery was found in a rock shelter, and flints from the Neolithic.  Nearby there was a hillfort.  Then to Blawearie, a Bronze Age burial mound, and to Duddo Stone Circle.  This is also known as Four Stones, although there are actually five!  Finally, three Iron Age hillforts, two at Old Bewick, adjacent to a WW2 pillbox, and another at High Knowes, where the line of the two palisades can still be followed.

From the Roman era, there is a good stretch of Roman road west of Holystone. By the side of this road near Rochester, the remains of a Roman tomb can still be seen.  The Old School House was built with stone from Bremenium (High Rochester).  A piece of projectile from a Roman catapult is incorporated in this attractive cottage.

There are, of course, many castles in Northumberland.  Ian’s favourite is Harbottle, originally a motte and bailey castle built by the Umfraville family.    A path from the road goes to the Drake Stone, from where a fine view of the castle can be seen.  Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret, lived at the castle.  Her grandson was Lord Darnley, who married Mary Queen of Scots.  Their son was destined to become James VI of Scotland, and James I of England.

There were many other “oddities”:  the remains of the White Cross, near the road running from Alnwick to Denwick, which may have marked a plague pit; a relief of the Adoration of the Magi in Kirknewton church, all dressed in kilts; the cross slab in Hartburn church decorated with the cross of the Knight’s Templar, as well as a Maltese Cross; a grotto, in Hartburn Glebe, was built by Dr Sharpe in the C18th for his daughters.  It was used by the girls to change when they went bathing.

Even more remote, the remains of an illicit whiskey still, on the slopes in the Coquet Valley.  Many illegal stills were set up just south of the Scottish Border to avoid tax.    Then there are the Cheviot goats (descendent of Neolithic goats, probably)/  Near Alnham, we walk to look at the memorial to Eleanor Heron.  She died in 1853 in bad weather when returning (against advice) from looking after a sick shepherd.

Near Bellingham, on Padon Hill, is a monument to Alexander Peden, a 17th century Scottish Covenanter, 5 metres high and shaped like a beehive.  Then two bridges: Telford’s Bridge in Morpeth and Robert Stephenson’s Border Bridge in Berwick.  In their day it was Humphrey Davy and Brunel who were fêted, but today’s remains are mostly the work of Telford and Stephenson.

Then we arrive in the 20th century: Humshaugh is the site of the first proper Scout Camp in 1908 (Brownsea Island was a “test” site); a benchmark near Belford; the airfield at Ashington – completely disappeared; WW1 training trenches near Rothbury; and pot holes in Percy Street!  Looking at old photographs, the potholes were revealed to be where girders had been placed in the road in WW2.  A pillbox at Otterburn was actually a radar station.  Nearby is an old gibbet.

Altogether a fascinating trip round the County, with quite a few places new to most members.

The next meeting of the Society will be on 27th February at 7.30pm at Bailiffgate Museum (doors open at 7pm), when Phil Huntley will be talking about “Hughes Bolckow, Shipbreakers from Blyth 1905-1980”.