Local Historical Stories

A COLLECTION OF HISTORICAL ARTICLES THAT FIRST APPEARED IN THE ALSTON MOOR NEWSLETTER

Toggle for the "Back ground to the Stories"….
INTRODUCTION
Early in 1996 I was asked if I would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. I thought I could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they’re still going. Once, and only once, I 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 here they are.

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 …

Alastair Robertson

Story No 1: An Incident on Alston Moor during the Civil War

Alston Moor - Letter from the English Civil War
Alston Moor does not figure prominently in the vicissitudes of the struggle between king and parliament in the middle of the seventeenth century, but, as an undated letter of 1642 shows, the war came at least once to the area..
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Story No 2: History of the Tyne Bridge at Alston

Tyne Bridge Alston 1911
There have been bridges on the site of the present Tyne Bridge at Alston: A bridge built in the 1750s, a bridge built in the 1770s after the great flood, the present bridge completed at the second attempt in 1836. The picture above was taken in 1911.
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Story No 3: Strike a Light!– Alston's Gas Supply

Gas Light
It’s hard to credit that Alston’s streets have been lit longer by gas than by electricity - about fifty years longer, in fact; but, the gas was first lit in 1843, and even that was not the first time the town had had street lights.
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Story No 4: Emigrants From Alston Moor

Ship to Australia
Many thousands of people have left Alston Moor over the years, mainly due to recession and decline in the lead industry, and those who left in the early 1800’s must have been among the first to do so. In the archives of the Alston Moor Historical Society the fate of a few of these people can be traced.
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Story No 5: Walton's Alston Lime & Coal Company

Robin Walton
Photo: Robin Walton's drawing of a locomotive. He was approx 12 yrs old when he drew it. And thanks to him for providing most of the information in this story
A PROBLEM AND A SOLUTION

During the economic depression of the 1930s Alston was a particularly distressed area. The lead was almost completely worked out and there was no industry to replace it. Long queues of unemployed men waited outside the post office to receive their 17/- per week benefit from Bill Wilkinson, the Postmaster.
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Story No 6: The lost altar of Epiacum

Epiacum Alter
The rebuilding of the Roman fort of Epiacum was complete. The soldiers of the Sixth Legion with the Second Cohort of Nervians, the auxiliary troops who were to man the fort, were assembled ready for the ceremony of thanks and offerings to Hercules, the god of strength and defender against evil. A statue and an altar were to be dedicated in celebration of the completion of their work…………..
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Story No 7: Alston's Skating Rink

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Looks like people who lived in Alston centuries ago had great fun in the winter…… Could we do the same?
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Story No 8: ..and soe to the fells

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In the days before the fells were enclosed, which started about 120 years after the latest edition of the Drift Roll, a farmer’s grazing was as sacrosanct as it is today. To keep another man’s livestock off it without the aid of drystone walls was a difficult problem and one that required strict regulation.
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Story No 9: The Chemist's Conundrum

Red Cross Head Ointment
‘The Alston Drug Company’ Come and get your nit ointment from us. But then who were we? And where were we located?
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Story No 10: The Walton Memorial

Walton Memorial
How does a campaign or a movement start? Sometimes an individual has a bright idea that catches on and is an instant success, sweeping the nation overnight. At other times the idea is talked about and then dropped, to be talked about again and dropped, and so on until something has to be done. Such is the case with the Walton Memorial in Alston.
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Story No 11: The Alston with Garrigill Workshouse

Alston Workhouse
The Alston with Garrigill Workhouse. A place to house the elderly and poor and make the idle realise the error of their ways……… Established in 1739 by overseers of the Parish……..
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Story No 12: Lord Alston of Nenthead

Lord Alston
“Lord Alston of Nenthead in the County of Cumberland”, on account of family associations with Alston many years ago; and expressing the hope that his assumption of this title would be agreeable to the town of Alston.”
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Story No 13: Alston Moor - Or is it?

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ALSTON MOOR - OR IS IT?

Alastair Robertson writes: When I first came to live in Alston I lived at Hundy Cottage on Front Street and I was puzzled by the name ‘Hundy’. I asked my landlady, the late Gertrude Maddison, if she knew what ‘Hundy’ meant. Gertrude didn’t know for certain, but at one of the Historical Society meetings, the speaker had given a talk on place names, and she had asked him. He hadn’t known off hand, but promised to try to find out for her. Some time later, she received a letter from him, saying that the best explanation he could give was that the word ‘Hundy’ came from old Norse, and could mean “the clearing in the woods where the hounds were kept”.
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Story No 14: Priorsdale

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Alston Moor is a bit of a one-off in many respects. In administrative terms, for example, it is mainly covered by Cumbria, but two other counties, Northumberland and Durham, have a hand in it. Within this anomalous area lies another anomaly - Priorsdale: At least it was so until the eighteenth century..……..
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Story No 15: Four Dargue, Five Dargue, Six Dargue, More

Dargues
FOUR DARGUE, FIVE DARGUE, SIX DARGUE, MORE

It’s not often that the origin of a place name can be dated to within a few years, but with Four Dargue, a ruined steading above Banks Farm near Alston, we can do just that.

To begin with, what is this strange word, “dargue”? Is it French? Did somebody have a disagreement, a “darguement” about it in the past? The answer is neither. It is pronounced “darg” and comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘doeg-weorc’, meaning a day’s work………….
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Story No 16: Home thought from abroad

Australia
This was going to be a general article about emigration from Alston Moor, but when it came to selecting extracts from the following letter from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, I (Alastair Robertson) couldn’t do it, because the whole letter is so interesting…………….
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Story No 17: The Alston Clockmakers

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THE ALSTON CLOCKMAKERS

High up and surrounded by hills, Alston Moor could be regarded as England’s equivalent of the Swiss Alps, and the similarity does not end there, because Alston Moor was once the abode of clockmakers……………
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Story No 18: Alston's Bank Raid

Alston Market Place

ALSTON BANK RAID; 3 DEATHS



Shot manager dies: gunman kills himself in car

The Alston bank manager shot dead in a raid yesterday died shortly after the gunman killed himself in a taxi he had hired.

The three dead are Mr. A.J. Steel (59), the bank manager; Mr. Ernest Ingram of Front Street, Sacriston, the taxi-driver; and Charles Corbett Kennedy (24), of Thorp Avenue, Morpeth, the gunman…………
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Story No 19: Millennia

Stacks Image 308753
The turn of the Millenium seems so far away now; we’re quite familiar with the not-so-new century. At the time of writing in 1999 it was interesting to look back a hundred years to the previous century.

The mention of cement lorries shows an aspect of history that was once part of our own daily lives, and now banks are even a thing of the past, something which would have been unimaginable not too long ago……….
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Story No 20: Mediaeval Gravestones Of Alston Moor

medieaval gravestones
During the filming of Dicken’s Oliver Twist in Alston in 1991, Peter Ryder, a Northumberland-based archaeologist, had to be called in to oversee the digging of a false grave in St. Augustine’s churchyard. In the event, a real unmarked grave was found, so, in order to leave the bones undisturbed, only a shallow grave could be dug on that spot for the film set. The bones that were uncovered, incidentally, would have been of no one that we knew since the last interment was in 1860.
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Story No 21: Destructive Fire At Alston Woollen Mill

Stacks Image 308803
Story No 21: Destructive Fire At Alston Woollen Mill
Alston Woollen Mill, on Monday morning last was, for the second time within a short period, the scene of a destructive fire. About thirteen or fourteen months ago, a fire broke out in the offices, which did damage to the amount of £500, but the damage done by the fire under notice will, it is estimated, amount to upwards of £13,000.

The mill is the property of Messrs. Akerigg who bought it a few years ago, and fitted it up with excellent machinery, and some forty or fifty hands, who were employed, will be thrown out of work by the disaster. Read more……..
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Story No 22: Jacob Walton and the Iron Furnaces of Alston Moor

Jacob Walton
JACOB WALTON AND THE IRON FURNACES OF ALSTON MOOR

Alston Moor is famous for its lead production, but a mineral for which it is not so famous is iron. At the height of production in the 1850’s, it only ever reached 2% of Cumberland’s total, the rest was mined around Whitehaven. But it still has its own story with Jacob Walton, of the memorial beside the Town Hall, at its centre. What follows is part of a longer study to be published at the end of the year. (An article, ‘The Iron Mines on and about Alston Moor,’ was written in conjunction with Raymond A. Fairbairn and published in British Mining Memoirs No.69, 2001.)
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Story No 23: St. Augustine, The Canons And The Black Book

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ST. AUGUSTINE, THE CANONS AND THE BLACK BOOK

Why is the church of England in Alston dedicated to St. Augustine? – I wondered.
There is the legend about Cross Fell, formerly supposed to have been called Fiend’s Fell (a name that still appears on a part of Cross Fell), that tells of “evil spirits which are said in former times to have haunted the summit of the hill, and continued their haunts and nocturnal vagaries upon it until St. Austin (St. Augustine), as it is said, erected a cross and an altar whereupon he offered the Holy Eucharist by which he counter charmed those hellish fiends and broke their haunts”. (Stirring stuff)

Read more…….
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Story No 24: Baptisms and Burials

Stacks Image 308889
SOME BAPTISMS AND BURIALS OF OLD ALSTON MOOR

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:-
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Story No 25: John Smeaton and his influence on Alston Moor

Smeaton
In the middle to late eighteenth century, John Smeaton was a national figure, renowned in various fields of civil engineering. Today he is known mainly for his successful design of the Eddystone Lighthouse, but you might not realise but he had several engineering projects right here on Alston Moor……. read on…….
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Story No 26: Sheddding Light on Nenthead

Stacks Image 309087
On 2nd January 1920, members of the Nenthead Ward met to consider, “the adoption of the Lighting and Watching Act 1833 and any other business arising therefrom”.

The Chairman, Councillor R.C. Bell, gave particulars of the Act and how the cost was to be met. After some discussion a committee was appointed, “to inquire into the cost of lighting the village either by Oil Lamps, Gas or Electricity. After this the meeting was adjourned……….. read on……..
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The next story in this series will be here soon

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We are publishing a story every few days. Please come back for more.
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Line drawing of Alston Market Cross
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About Us
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.
Alston Moor Historical Society
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Alston Moor, Cumbria
Alston Moor Historical Society - Alston Stories