THE WALTON MEMORIAL
(This article itself is a piece of history. As we all know, the Walton Memorial once again stands proudly at Townfoot.)
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.
At present there is a small group of people in Alston aiming towards the restoration of the memorial. They are working on a proposal to submit to various funding bodies to raise the approximate £25,000 that the restoration will cost (including landscaping, it has to be said). A great-great-great nephew is actively concerned, and a great-grandson of Jacob Walton has very generously - and trustingly - lent several hundred family documents which are an invaluable help in the search for the man and his activities, and, in the wider field, his family and their activities.
Permission has been freely given for the documents, which cover many mines in the area, to be photocopied, so they will at some time in the near future be available for public research (!) at the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives. But who was this Jacob Walton? Was he some puffed up windbag who thought so much of himself that he decided in his great goodness that Alston would benefit from a stone memento of himself? Not so. Jacob Walton was a hard working local lad who made good and served his birthplace in many ways. He was born in 1809, one of eight sons and six daughters of Jacob and Mary Walton who lived at Greenends, Nentsberry near Alston. Almost inevitably Jacob the son was part of a mining family. His father Jacob, in partnership with Thomas Shaw, leased the Brownley Hill mine from the Greenwich Hospital in 1816. In 1829 the Walton family were involved either as lessees or agents at Stow Crag, Nentsberry Green and Leehousewell mines.
For some time as a young man Jacob lived and worked in Allendale, perhaps at Allenheads or Coalcleugh. In 1836 at Ninebanks, he married Phoebe Pears, who was an Allendale lass, and their first daughter, Mary, was born in 1837. Within the year they moved to the Nent valley, to what had become the family home at Greenends. Their first son, John Pears Walton, was born there in 1838. The couple went on to have five more daughters and another son, their youngest child, Jacob, born in 1851. The trades directory for 1847 lists Adam, Isaac, Jacob, two Johns, Joseph and Jonathan Walton as mining agents. Who were brothers, uncles, cousins, etc., has yet to be sorted out (if possible). Jacob seems to have been the most enterprising, for at that time, as well as being active in the lead mines, he was prospecting for ironstone in partnership with the Attwood brothers (Jacob seems to have got his fingers burnt over this in the late 1840s). The ironstone reserves “had lately been explored to a considerable extent by Mr. Jacob Walton, who, together with Messrs. Attwood, is one of the principal lessees of all the ironstone belonging to the Commissioners of the Greenwich Hospital in the manor of Alston”.
Of twenty-six lead mines listed in the 1847 directory, Jacob Walton & Co. leased eight, but at the same time some of the Waltons hedged their bets by keeping their end up as farmers. Although pretty well occupied as a successful lead mining ‘adventurer’, responsible for opening up many lead mines, Jacob farmed twenty acres and had a further thirty acres of common.
It has been claimed that Jacob Walton was instrumental in bringing the railway to Alston in 1852, although discussions had been under way since 1845, with a railway link to the Wear Valley and the new town of Middlesborough. In the 1840s it was fully expected that Alston would have its own iron foundry, with Jacob Walton and the Attwoods at the helm.
Perhaps Jacob’s many activities led to a decline in his health and consequently a decrease in his range of activity, for, about 1860, amongst seven Waltons listed as mine agents, Jacob Walton is agent only for the Brownley Hill Company. He died in 1863 and the Carlisle Journal reported in its ‘Deaths’ column on Friday March 13th: “At Greenends, near Alston, on 2nd inst. Jacob Walton, Esq., aged 53 years. Deceased was an extensive mining proprietor of considerable ability, and will be deeply regretted, both by the working class and by all who knew him. His remains were interred at Alston Cemetery on 6th inst., when, as a mark of respect, the shops were all closed”.
The influence of the Walton family, of whom Jacob was a representative, stretched from the Lake District to Teesside and from the Tyne Valley to the Tees Valley. Jacob’s descendants remained in mining until the final collapse of the industry in the 1920s. The monument to Jacob Walton is a tribute to the whole family.
The Walton Memorial was erected near the Town Hall in Alston in the autumn of the following year, with the inscription, “Jacob Walton, Green Ends, who died on 2nd March 1863, aged 53 years. Erected by public subscription”. The memorial was an ornate structure that complemented the Victorian Gothic style of the Town Hall. It also added a touch of civic formality in an otherwise structurally very informal town.
The memorial stood for all to see for almost a hundred years, until it was removed by the County Council in a road-widening scheme at Townfoot in 1960. The Cumberland Herald at the time reported, “whether the whole of this displaced monument should be replaced, or just the portion bearing the inscription, will be a matter for the authorities concerned to decide, but certainly there ought to be some permanent reminder of a man who, in his day, was considered so deserving of honour”.
Well, the cheaper option was taken and the inscribed plaque was placed in the retaining wall near to the Town Hall. But how many people know that it is there? How many stop and read it when they do spot it? In fact, how many people know who Jacob Walton was?
If the monument were to be replaced it would make a very dignified attraction, a focal point for the open space at Townfoot. But more importantly, it would be a fitting reminder of the entrepreneurial spirit of Alston Moor and the North Pennines in Victorian times. The Walton Memorial Restoration Group, as it is appropriately known, is appealing for support wherever it can. Support of a moral and/or financial nature is welcome. With so many funding applications public support for a project is one of the main gauges of its worth. Further information on the Walton family is also sought, with a view to publishing a booklet to accompany the restoration of the monument.