Local Historical Stories


Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - our local historian was asked if he would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. He thought he could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they were still going. Once, and only once, he received an unsolicited article from an outside source, this was the reminiscence of a school for wartime evacuees at Nent Hall that came from Mr. Michael Dickinson and it was gratefully included in the series.

They’re a real mixed bag, too random to put into a book, but they’re still worth keeping in a more permanent form, so the Historical Society website seemed the perfect place to have them.

Material for the articles came largely from local sources, from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, St. Augustine’s Church Records, Alston Library, the Cumbria County Records Office in Carlisle and the County Records Office Northumberland.

There has been editing in some cases that will be noted at the beginning of each item, otherwise the articles have been left as they were written, complete with occasional references to such things as cement lorries, the millennium, and foot and mouth disease, which are themselves now things of the past (?).
Read on …

Story No 24: Baptisms and Burials

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Sometimes the well of short, presentable bits of history dried up. At this time (autumn 2001) I was running out of inspiration for new research and there were no ready-made articles to hand, so, although this article is still very interesting, I felt that it was a bit of an opt-out from writing a proper article for the Newsletter.

This may sound a bit morbid, but old burials can often be very interesting when occupations and brief character descriptions were added, especially in the 18th century. Some entries from the burial register for Alston Moor read as follows:-

8/1/1712 Hannah Robson, “a forsaken and desolate girl who was left at Crossgill”.
2/5/1723 Peter Britaine, “a beggar who said he came from North Britaine”.
28/3/1726 Ephiphannia Waxfield, “a Vagrant”.
13/5/1729 Mr. Richard Wallasse, “School Master of Alstone”.
26/5/1729 James Kirton, “the Ingenious Clock Maker of Alstone”.
10/11/1729 Arth. Emerson, of Eshgill in Garragill, “who laid violent hands upon himself”.
13/1/1730 James Simpson, “a poor man in Galloway in Scotland”.
25/7/1735 John Buckles, “Officer of the Excise of the Vicarage of Alston”.
6/5/1751 Robert Stewart, “a traveller”.
21/1/1754 Margaret Frasier, “Traveling Woman”.
11/4/1759 Ann, daughter of Ann Walton, “a poor widow”.
11/6/1761 Jane Edger, “a poor travelling woman”.
2/1/1763 Mary Moses, “a travelling woman”.
25/5/1763 Elizabeth daughter of John Ronon, “a Traveller”.
15/10/1763 John Law, “a Travelling Person”.
17/6/1764 Thomas Richard Brunton, “Officer of Excise”.
27/8/1765 John son of George Johnson, “a Traveller from Simonburn”.
17/12/1766 William Litle, “killd in the mines”.
16/1/1768 Samuel, illegitimate child of Jane Dickinson, “a stranger”.
5/4/1771 Hannah, wife of Thomas Routledge, “schoolmaster at Leadgate”.
18/5/1772 John Pritchard, “of Alston from Wales”.
21/6/1774 James Thompson, “killd by a Blast in the mines”.
27/3/1776 Isaac Walton, “of Rookhope”.
24/4/1776 John Dockwray, “a poor traveller”.
28/3/1783 “Frances, wife of John Bell of Spencer Croft & also Nancy Bell their daughter
at the same time.”
7/12/1784 Joseph Hewatson, “Attorney at Law, Alston”.
(The last entry by Rev. Thomas Lancaster was made on 22/10/1789, and then ...)
11/12/1789 The Rev. Thos. Lancaster, Vicar of Alston, died on the 9th.
17/4/1791 William, son of Jos. Archer, “a fugitive poor”.
14/3/1795 Sarah Bridick of Nenthead, “an Ex Lex buried behind the church without any
14/1/1796 Margaret Hope, “a pauper’s Girl died at Nattrass and was buried”.
24/9/1797 Thamar, wife of John Whitfield, “skinner of Alston”.
(From January 1798 more biographical details are added.)
25/3/1798 George Bainbridge, “a Preacher at Wesley’s connection at Alston aged 23 yrs”.
12/6/1800 Isabel Richardson age 10 weeks, “illegitimate daughter of Isabel Richardson of
Gillhouse singlewoman reputed father Joshua Liddle & his own wife’s sister”.
9/1/1803 Charlotte infant daughter of John and Mary Mackaral, “itinerant players”.
22/6/1804 Ralph Hobson age 30, “an itinerant Comedian”.
24/2/1805 Maria Richardson age 9 years daughter of Joseph & Mary late Walton,
Gillhouse. “Death by Scarlet Fever”.
25/2/1805 Mary, Maria’s 4 year old sister was buried. Death by the same cause.
9/5/1805 Thomas Atkinson age 85, “an itinerant Mendicant”.
7/1/1806 “John Gibson, Alston, a natural son of Mary Gibson & Christopher Whitfield
killed at the mines age 18 years.”
7/3/1807 Ruth Lancaster age 84 Alston, widow of the Rev. Mr. Lancaster, Vicar.
19/3/1808 William Atkinson age 48, Alston, Schoolmaster.
23/8/1809 Thomas Horsley age 23, “Alston Shoemaker found dead upon Hartside”.
6/9/1811 John Errington age 62, “Alston carrier killed from his horse”.
19/4/1812 Alexander Pattinson age 2 years son of Hugh and Jane Pattinson, Galligill,
“Baptized by a Dissenter”.
(For those who are wondering about Sarah Bridick who was “Ex Lex”, she probably committed suicide.)

Baptisms are much plainer, with one or two exceptions:-
One entry is written in upper case, the Reverend vicar was obviously very proud of his achievement:-
26/1/1756 Hannah daughter of John Heartley, “a fugitive from Nenthead”, was baptised.
2/11/1775 Joseph son of Andrew Sesford Alston baptised “by Mr. Nelson the dissenting
8/12/1796 “Isabella Gilligan & Grace twin daughters of Catharine Ann Strathan & Thomas
her husband but John Strathan Brother of the sd husband is the supposed
father. The above is certainly a flagrant crime.”
9/5/1796 “John Atkinson illegitimate son of Margaret Atkinson late Ord not of this parish,
Durham. John Surtees of Alston, Mathematician, is the supposed father.”

All of these brief notes show us a way of life very different from our own in many ways. In them we see scandal, grief and impassiveness, as well as occupations long gone and ones we have never heard of. Altogether, almost every entry gives pause for reflection as to the story behind it.
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The graph was not part of the article; it’s a bonus to be able to publish it now – October 2017.
After the peak of 6,858 inhabitants in 1831 the total population of Alston Moor went into decline. And the legend is true that for many years the population of Nenthead was greater than that of Alston.
The upturn of the graph in 1851 was probably due to the presence of 97 labourers for the construction of the railway, which opened in 1852. Confidence that the railway inspired in the local economy could only have delayed the inevitable decline as people drifted away to the coal fields of the north east or emigrated to the dominions.
The downward trend was drastically slowed in the 1890’s with the arrival of the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium, who at first employed anyone and everyone they could get.
The increase in 1921 was probably a post First World War baby boom. As for the upswing in 1939, I haven’t a clue.
If anyone can supply the population figure for 1991 I’d be very grateful. But for the time being, the number of people living on Alston Moor appears to have levelled off at just over 2000.
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Alston Moor Historical Society was founded in 1973 and, due to the nature of Alston Moor, it is a member of both the Northumberland Association of Local History Societies and the Cumbria Federation of Local History Societies.
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