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Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland: its history, traditions, folk-lore and scenery online

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Is seventeen hundred and seventy-two."

A few of the older inhabitants of Rothbury could remember
the ruins of the cross ; and a very old man once told the writer


that he could recollect, when a bo)-, of watching the country-
men ofoin"- into the .shelter of the cross to trv on the leather
breeches they were about to bu\- at the October fair. He also
informed us of the price of salt and tobacco at that time.
When the pig was killed, his mother sent him to Philip
Nairn, a shopkeeper in Rothbury, for "a styen o' saat, an' a
>-erd o' baccy." The salt cost five shillings, the tobacco one
penn}'. Xear the cross stood the pillor}-, and not far distant
were the village stocks; a man named "Archie Deedles " was
the last person confined in the stocks, about the \-ear 1820,
for being drunk and disorderly. Clo.se by was the bull ring,
described to us b\- an old Rothburian. who knew the spot well,
as being "a fearful big st\-en flag wi' a greet iron ring in't a.s
thick as yor airm." For man\' \-ears past this open space in
the centre of the village, commonly known as " the cross," has
been the rendezvous of all the tinkers, besom makers, muggers,
and gipsies that travel the countr)-, who, without let or
hindrance encamped upon it.

Recently, howe\er, b\' the consent of the lord of the
manor and the Urban Council of Rothbury, this piece of
ground has been enclosed, and a ver\- beautiful Anglian cross
erected to the memory of the late Lord and Lad\- Armstrong,
which, besides being an adornment to the \illage, adds greatly
to the interest of this historic spot. The cross is formed of
fine-grained freestone from the quarries on Cragside hill, and
stands on a base of five steps, its total height being 22 feet
7 inches. The fuur sides of the shaft and the limbs of the
cross are divided into exquisitcl)'-car\ed panels. The designs
on the west, north, and east sides of the shaft represent
nature in its various phases, in w hich the artist has introduced
in a charming manner a number of birds and animals amid a
flowing tracery of the oak and the \ine, interwoven with other
foliage of a conventional character; while the south side
contains the endless knot-w(*rk pattern similar to that on the
fragment of the original Rothbur)- Crcjss, which now forms the



Stem of the font in the Parish Church. The inscription on the
base reads : —

••^^■z ^yrrr^^ij!;'^'







(1810-1900), AND OF MARGARET HIS WIFE (1807-1893)."

The cross was unveiled on Saturday, August 2nd, 1902, by-
Sir Lowthian Bell, Bart., the late Lord Armstrong's oldest
frienfl, on which occasion there was a large concourse of


people to witness this most interesting ceremony. Near the
south-east angle, outside the enclosure, there was erected at the
same time a substantial lamp of three lights, a most useful
adjunct to the village, the Coronation gift of Mr. Robert
Donkin, of Haw Hill House, on which there are two shields..
One contains this inscription — " To commemorate the Corona-
tion of their Gracious Majesties King Edward VH. and
Queen Alexandra. August 9th, 1902." The other — "Erected
b\' Robert Donkin and Presented to the Town of Rothbury."

Besides the various eminent men of the past, of \\hom:
Rothbury and Coquetdale can boast, there ha\e also been
several village characters, who, in bygone times, played their
parts in the social life of Rothbury. About the middle of the
seventeenth century there flourished in Rothbury Bernard
Rumney, the village poet and musician, the author of " Ecky's-
Mare," a curious and amusing ballad, a reprint of ^\•hich is
found in " Bell's Northern Bards," Bernard Rumney was one
of the Churchwardens of the Parish in 1662, and his death is
recorded in the Parish Register of June 11, 1690. His initials
" B. R. 1660" are cut on a large stone block in the " Newcastle
House" yard. This stone was originally one of the jambs in the
old ingle nook of the "Black Bull Inn." Rothbur}' is .still happy
in the possession of a \-illage poet, in the person of Mr. Joseph
Archer, who has frcjm time to time written a number of poems
of such excellence, that it is a matter for regret that his
fugitive productions have not \et appeared in a complete
\olume. Although Mr. Archer is an octogenarian, he still
retains the poetic spark, and his effusions frequently appear in
the pages of the Parish Magazine. Contemporary with
Jiernard Rumnc\- there was also Robert Trumble, the village
pi[)er, who, in Jul)-, 1664, married l^li/abeth Urpeth. There
ma}- have been a strong friendship, or, perhaps, relationship,
between the two seventeenth century village musicians, for wc
learn from the Parish Registers that the piper's first-born son
was named Bernard. " Down to a domparativel}' recent period


a piper was attached to every Border town of note. The office
was in general considered hereditary. About the commence-
ment of spring and close of harvest it was the custom of these
miurator\' musicians, who were nearlv the sole depositories of
all the oral, musical, and poetical traditions of the north, to
make a progress through a certain district, beyond which they
must not pass, in respect of the rights and privileges of their
brethren. Their simple but stirring tales, or historic or love
ballads, sung to the accompaniment of the Northumbrian
pipes, inx'ariably was considered as a sufficient recompense
both for bed and board." i°

Durintj the eighteenth centur\- the Duke of Northumber-
land's piper was James Allan, a native of Rothbury parish, and
towards the end of the nineteenth centur}-, Tom Green was
the Duke's piper for upwards of forty years, having succeeded
his father, William Green, of Morpeth, in 1849. Tom was
proud of having played the pipes before three Dukes of North-
umberland, besides attending the fairs and courts at Corbridge,
Ovingham, Newburn, Stagshawbank, Warkworth, Harbottle,
North Shields, Tynemouth, Bellingham, Elsdon, Wark-on-
Tyne, Alnwick, and Rothbury, where the Duke of Northumber-
land is lord of the manor. Tom never once failed an appoint-
ment, and always did the journey there and back on -foot, often
a distance of fifty and sixty miles. In the great snowstorm
of March, 1888, although in his sixt\'-third year, Tom set
forth from Rothbury, amid the drifting snow, over the mcTors
on his way to Alnwick Castle, where he was due to play at
the Duke's audit the following day. On this memorable
occasion, " the lad " nearly perished in the snow on the wilds
of Rimside Moor. When through failing health he was
obliged to resign the post he had held so long, the Duke
kindly granted him a liberal pension, as well as a house and
garden at Rothbury Gate, where he spent the remainder of
his days, with the rod and the gun as his companions, for

'° Denham Tracts, p. 279.


Tom was an expert with the rod, and could fill his creel or
land a good bull trout with skill and dexterit}^ He died in
1898, seventy-three years of age.

Some fifty years ago, John Watson, the sexton of Rothbury
Church, was a well-known character, who went by the name of
*' Saxon Jack." He was also the village constable, and many
were the thrilling stories of his exploits in the apprehension
of prisoners, and the locking of them up in the "old kitty,"
which stood at the south end of Rothbur}- bridge. The writer
has in his possession the stout lock and key of this " lock up,"
which were found amongst the ruins a few years ago. On the
death of John Watson, in 1857, his widow. Mar}- Watson, also
known as " Mary the Sexton," with the assistance of her son,
the second John Watson, performed the duties of the office
for a number of years. Mary Watson was born in 1800, and
died in 1887, having lived to see five rectors of Rothbur\-, viz.,
Dr. Watson, Levison Venables Vernon, C. G. Vernon Harcourt,
Dr. Ainger, and Canon A. O. Medd. She was a keen observer,
had a most retentive memory, knew the pedigree of every
family in the parish, and was well versed in the folk-lore of
Coquetdale. She could remember the laying of the founda-
tion stone of the bridge over the Rithe, at Thropton, in 18 10.
Clem Haa,' the kilnman, was her uncle, whose name was often
associated with Cuddy Wintrip, the joiner, of Tosson, another
local celebrity, in those days of practical joking in the early
part of the ninteenth century, when the famous Donkins ruled
in Great Tosson.

Old Mark .\ynslcy, who died in 1887, in his eightieth
}-car, was a notj'.ble village character. Mark was a native of
Rothbur)' and lived all his life in the \illage. By trade a
shoemaker he was exceedingly fond of the rod and line, in
the use of which he was most proficient, aiul the old man was
wont to boast of having taught the late \j)V(\ Armstrong how
to throw the line, " when they were lads together." Lord
Armstrong in his early days spent the greater part of


his holida}-s in fishing in the Coquet at Rothbury. In later
years Lord Armstn-nLi" was exceedingly kind to Mark, and it
was amusing to hear the old man talking to his lordship of
their fishing exploits in days gone by. Mark was much given
to ornithological jnu'suits, and during the winter months
devoted his leisure hours to the capture of goldfinches,,
or as he would say "a've been catchin' gooldspinks, hinney.'"
George Humble, the person with whom Mark served his time,
had a tame otter, "Ben." The otter became much attached to
Mark the apprentice, would follow him like a dog. and was-
most obedient to his call. " Ben " was the terror of all the
dogs in the village, and if a strange dog entered the shop, the
otter, who generally lay in a corner amongst the leather,,
seized him in a moment and it was with difficulty he could
be drawn off. The freaks of this curious animal were often
the theme of conversation with Mark and visitors to Rothbury,
as he sat on his shop stool, or when fishing by the banks of
the Coquet. One of the most amusing episodes was when
fishing with a heavy salmon rod and a long line in the Coquet,,
opposite to the Crag End, Mark hooked a sheep that was
grazing on the bank behind him, which gave the old angler
a run of nearly a mile over the moor, away from the river, ere
he could free his tackle from amongst the wool of this rather
unweildy catch, His language during the race consisted of a
string of adjectives not found in modern dictionaries.

Probably one of the best known characters in Rothbury
during the nineteenth century was Walter Mavin, the cele-
brated Coquet angler. Walter died in Sept., 1899, at the
patriarchial age of eighty-five, and was the last connecting
link between the older and younger generations of Rothbury.
Old Walter was a delightful companion, of a genial disposition,
and a universal favourite, not only amongst the villagers but
with the numerous visitors annually resorting to Rothbury
during the summer months, who were accustomed to purchase
fishing tackle and obtain advice on piscatorial matters from


the old man, whose abilit}' as an angler was well known in the
north of England. Like his contemporary, Mark A}-nsle\-, he
had been the companion of the late Lord Armstrong on man\'
a fishing excursion ; and the writer has frequently heard the
village angler and the peer discussing, in a friendly chat, those
happy days on the Coquet. Walter was full of Coquetdale
folk-lore, and to him the writer is indebted for man}- an old
Rothbury stor}\ In his early days, like other youths, Walter
was fond of a cock-fight and a little bit of salmon poaching,
otherwise his was a character without guile — one of nature's
gentlemen ; and to us the memory of Walter Mavin is still
very dear.

An eminent writer on Angling thus speaks of W'alter : —
" On my return I found Mr. Mavin, a fisherman — and a real
one too — who had been sent to me by an acquaintance to
show me the water. He advised me to go down below the
town in the evening and try the fly, as the river would then
be clear enough for it.

" The next day, with ]\Ir. Mavin to cicisbeo me, I went
down the water about three miles ; we got away too late,
however, and, although I began well, the fish soon went off.
1 thought myself a pretty good performer for trout with the
single-handed rod, but I soon found out that m\' attendant
was a better one. He was wading, and I was fishing from the
bank, and, of course, he had all the advantage of knowing the
stream, and fishing with the most killing flies, &c. Jiut he was
picking up fish after they had done rising at me ; and on
looking at his flies for the cause, I found he was fishing with
fine single hair, and with a light, long double-handed rod,
which he worked to perfection. I was no longer surprised. ""
A monument is shortly to be erected to the memory of Walter
Mavin, in R<jthbury Churchyard, by his old friends and

Mr. James Cowans, another iAi\ Rothbury angler, yet

" River and Lake, — Francis.



survives, who was as famous for his skill in worm-fishing as his
friend, Walter Mavin, was for his fly-fishing. During the season,
)ames was the constant companion of several gentlemen
anglers from TvMieside, when it was a well-known fact that he
could always land bigger fish than an\' of his patrons. For
some years past, James has been unable, through ill-health,
to follow his favourite pursuit; but he and his wife still occupy
the old house of the Cowans at Knocklaw, where they often
receive kindly visits from their former friends and patrons.

Rothbur)' is a parish and union town, in the Hexham
division of the county, west division of Coquetdale Ward,
rural deanery of Rothbury, archdeaconry of Lindisfarne, and
in the diocese of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It is also a Petty
Sessional division, and magistrates' meetings are held every
month in the Court-room at the Police Station. Cattle fairs
are held on Whit-Monday and November ist. An auction
sale for cattle is held every second Monday — besides other
special sales — in the commodious mart of Messrs. R. Donkin
and Son, conveniently situated near to the station of the
North British Railway Company. This mart, the largest in
the county, was established in 1871, and thousands of sheep
and cattle annuall}' pass under the hammer of this eminent
firm. There are also two handsome bank premises in Rothbury,
branches of Messrs. Lloyds (formerly Messrs. Hodgkin, Barnett,
Pease, Spence and Co.), opened in 1869, agent Mr. J. P. Ridley;
and the North-Eastern Banking Co. (formerly the Alnwick and
County), opened in 1 871, agent Mr. L. C. Davy. Less than forty
years ago, when farmers and others residing in Upper Coquet-
dale had any special banking business to transact, it meant a
journey of many miles to Morpeth, Alnwick, or Jedburgh.
During the last thirty years the business of the little town has
increased a hundredfold, which may be attributed to various
causes, notably, the coming of the late Lord Armstrong to
Cragside in 1863, the opening of the Northumberland Central
Railway in 1870, and the establishment of Messrs. Donkin


and Son's mart in 1871. In 1888 the Jubilee Hall, a fine
large building in Bridge Street, was erected by public sub-
scription, and within the last year an extensive Union
Workhouse has been built on a health}^ elevated site, about
half-a-mile out of the village to the south. Hirings for
" hinds " or farm servants are held on the first Friday in
March, and for single servants on the Frida\- in Easter week
and on the first Friday in Xoxember. The Coquetdale
Steeplechase meeting is held here annually, on what is con-
sidered to be the finest racecourse in the north of England.
The Rothbury Floral and Horticultural Society holds its
annual exhibitions of fruits, flowers, and vegetables within the
magnificent grounds of Lord Armstrong, at Cragside.

Modern Rothbury consists of one long wide street, running
east and west, generally called High Street or Front Street,
the centre part bearing the name " Market Place ; " and
Church Street, which leads round b}' the church to the bridge,
while another short street at right angles to the main street,
leading direct south to the bridge and railway station, is
known as liridge Street or " Ratten Row." The fine (jld
bridge which now spans the river, with its four arches-^three
of which are ribbed and are part of the original structure — is
thought to be sixteenth century work. Originally it was only
a narrow pack-horse bridge, but it was widened for vehicular
traffic in the year 1759, by a Rothbury mason, named William
Oliphant. The initials " W. O.," and the date, 1759, are cut
on one of the lower courses on the east side of the bridge.

The old village fire-engine, the gift of Geo. Farquhar, Esq.,
in 1788, is still in existence. It was probabl\- those frequent
disastrous fires that occurred in the village, when the houses
were mostly covered with thatch, that prompted the generous
donor to present this fire-engine to the village. In December,
1738, several hou.ses and shops, with all the furniture they
contained, had been consumed to ashes ; again, in October,
J781. a brewhouse and sixteen houses had been burnt to the


•ground. The engine bears this inscription : — " For the Town
of Rothbur)-, from Geo. Farquhar, Esq., 1788." The original
document, containing the bequest of the fire-engine, consisting
of a piece of parchment about six inches square, is found in
tlie Parish Vestry Book, signed by the donor and a witness,
which reads thus : —

" Mense Augusti Anno Domini, 1788,
Georgius Farquhar Armiger,
Enginam igneam, Villre et Parochiie
Rothbury in Com" North^ donavit.
Sub Conservatione et Potestate
Rectoris et Ecclesiiie-Custodiiim
Pro tempore ejusdem Parochije
in PerpeUuim.

Test. (Signed) Oeo. Farquhar.

(Signed) Tlios. Adams."

[August, 1788. George Farquhar, Esq., presented to the
town and parish of Rothbury, in the county of Northumber-
land, a fire-engine, under the care and control of the Rector
and Churchwardens for the time being, of the same parish for
ever. Geo. Farquhar. Witness, Thos. Adams.]

I'^or many years the fire-engine stood in the Old Church
Porch, in charge of John Watson, the Sexton. If properly
worked, this ancient fire extinguisher can render very good
service in time of need. We have ourselves seen the veteran
engine at work at several fires, both in village and country \
on these occasions the stream of water from its leathern hose
prevented the flames from spreading, and eventually subdued
the fire.

The " Rifleman Inn," the " Fox and Hounds," the " Malt
Shovel," the "Golden Fleece," and the " Fighting Cocks" have
long since disappeared, whilst the old " Three Half Moons,"
once the principal inn of the village, is now a shapeless ruin.
From its door, in days gone by, the mail coach .started daily
for Morpeth, intending passengers having their names entered
on the "Coach Slate" at least three days in advance to secure
their .seat; where, in the "stone parlour" or the "big room"'



upstairs, justice meetings and court leets where held, and
Inland Revenue offices sat and collected the king's taxes;
where bachelors' balls, dukes' dinners, and other convivial
gatherings took place ; and under whose hospitable roof many
an angler spent his happiest evening hours, ofttimes catching
over again his biggest fish. These and similar scenes are now
only memories of the past.

" More big of our conquests ihan great Alexander,

We'll rise to our sport with the morning's first beam ;
Our creels shall grow heavier as onward we wander,
And leNy large tribute from pool and from stream.
We'll plunder the deeps, and the shallows we'll tax well,

Till Sharperton, Ilepple, and Thropton are past;
We'll halt near the Thrum for a dinner \sith Maxwell,
But land at our old home of Weldon at last."

— Cocjiieidale Fishing Song, 1822.





Rothbiiry Church Ijefore Restoration of 1850 — Its Early English Chancel— Modern
Tower and Nave — Chancel Screen — Pulpit and Choir Stalls, 1900 — Coats (jf
Arms — Cartington Chantry in Ruins, 165S — Restored in 1886 — Ancient
Piscina — Sherburne Tombstone, 1697 — The Eont, 1664 — Shaft of Pre-
Conquest Cross — Sculptured Remains — Thomlinson Monument — Stained
Windows — Bells, 1893 — Clock, 1897 — Ancient Sundials— Sundial, 1714 —
Old Church Clock, 1740 — Advowson, 1 120-1872 — ^'alue of Living, 1291,
1535, 1650, 1S28, 1873, 1903 — Bernard (Jilpin, 1578-9— The Parish, 1793 —
Tithe Maps, 1840 — Ancient Tithes — The Rectors — Parish Registers, 1653 —
Extracts from Parish Book, 1659— Vestrymen, 1659— -Curious Minutes —
Ambrose Jones Ejected, 1653 — Thomas Cotes, Minister during Common-
wealth — Rothbury Church, its Clergy and Church Officials, 1903.

ROTHBURY Parish Church, dedicated to " All Saints," is
a spacious edifice built in the Early English style of
architecture, and stands on the west side of the ancient grave-
yard. With the exception of the chancel it is quite a modern
structure, having been entirely rebuilt in 1850. Previous to

that much-needed restoration the old church, with its dormer-
hke windows inserted in the leaden roof, its numerous door-



ways leading to the various galleries, its ancient porch and
sturdy Edwardian tower of four stages, ha\ing square-headed
window openings, presented a venerable and quaint old-woild
appearance, but was, at the same time, in a sadl\' ruinous
condition, and quite unfit for divine service. Like other
churches at that period, it had high box pews, three-decker
pulpit, with the King's Arms, and the tables of the Ten
Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Pra)-er displa\-ed
on its walls. It now consists of chancel, na\'e, north and south
aisles, and transepts, a south porch and western tower. Its
extreme length from the great west door beneath the tower
to the east wall of the chancel is 127 feet, the width at the
transepts 80 feet ; while the well-developed chancel measures
46 feet in length b}- 20 feet in breadth. The whole of the
chancel, the east wall of the south transept, and the loft\'
chancel arch — which is a plain pointed arch, \\ith single soffit
and chamfered edges, but without capitals — are portions of
the original Pearly English structure, which was probabh-
erected about 12 10 to 1220. The following mason's marks
are cut on the voussoirs of this arch : —

The three lancet windows arranged as a triplet at the east
end, and the four eastern lancets in the south wall of the
chancel, also those in the east wall of the south transept, are
ancient. They are of the simplest form, and apparently
belong to the earl)- period of this style, when w inflows of one
light, long and narrow, differing onl\- from the plain Norman
window in being pointed instcarl of rouiul-hearlcfl, and without



a dripstone or an\' other ornament, were in use. The two
western lancets in the chancel were inserted at the restoration
of 1850, replacint^ a large three-light decorated window of the
fourteenth centur>-. As seen in the illustration, the range of
lancets in the south wall of the chancel is high enough to
admit of the square-headed trefoil priest's door without
breaking their level. Immediately over this fine doorway
is a portion of the stringcoursing which had originally run

round the whole of the exterior of the chancel ; while against
its south wall are three plain buttresses, in stages, with simple
slopes as set-offs ; these are arranged at equal distances, and
divide the lancets into pairs, thus breaking the monotonous
stretch of plain masonry. Another single buttress of the
same character supports the wall of the chancel at the north-
east angle.

The square embattled tower at the west end, with its



massive buttresses, is 70 feet in heii^ht. A projecting turret
in its south-west angle contains a circular stair leading to the
belfrv. A verv crood decorated door\va\- srives access to the
church through its west front. A large porch protects the
southern doorway leading into the nave.

Online LibraryDavid Dippie DixonUpper Coquetdale, Northumberland: its history, traditions, folk-lore and scenery → online text (page 30 of 39)