Local Historical Stories


Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - one of our local historians 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 12: Lord Alston of Nenthead

Lord Alston

Trawling through minutes of old council meetings can be deadly dull, but, like panning for gold, occasionally one comes across a rare nugget like this one. On the 4th July 1908, the clerk to Alston-with-Garrigill Rural District Council made the following entry in the Minute Book:

Read a letter from Sir Angus Holden that his Majesty the King had been graciously pleased to confer a peerage on him, and that he proposed to assume the name of “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.”

The Council resolved to convey its congratulations and stated that it was indeed an honour for the town, but in a later letter, dated 29th August, Sir Angus informed the Council that due to an administrative error, the name of Nenthead had unfortunately been omitted and therefore would not be included in the title.
Sir Angus Holden, Lord Alston, four-times Mayor of Bradford, painted in 1880

Of course the question is, “What were the family associations with Alston Moor?” On the internet I found that Angus’s father was Isaac Holden (no relation to Isaac Haldon of the Tea Trail), a wool magnate, the son of Isaac and Mary Holden of Alston Moor. (Aha!) Then, in the local Congregationalist Chapel registers, I found part of the story.

Isaac senior was born in 1770, the second son of Benjamin Holden who had married Hannah Nicholson in Garrigill in 1762. The family lived first at Ashgillside, near Garrigill, and then at Nattrass, not far from Alston, where Isaac was born. As a matter of course, Isaac grew up to become a lead miner, he married Mally Forist, or Forrest, in 1790 and lived at Nenthead before moving to Sillyhole near Garrigill where, like a lot of miners, he also had a small farm holding. The couple had already had two daughters before they took the huge step of moving to Glasgow in 1801, a move that could well have been prompted by economic circumstances. The end of the eighteenth century, coincident with the French and Napoleonic Wars, was a time of rapidly rising food prices that led to extreme hardship for the lead miners of Alston Moor, who at times came near to starvation. In Scotland Isaac went to work at the Wellington coal mine at Nitshill, between Paisley and Glasgow. Here he rose to become ‘headman’ and he and Mally had further children, including Isaac junior, before Isaac’s death in 1826, aged 56.

The second Isaac Holden, the father of Angus, was born at Hurlet, near Glasgow on 7th May 1807. As a boy he did not follow his father into the mines, but worked for handloom-weavers before going into a cotton mill. Isaac must have had a natural talent and aptitude for learning that his father recognised, he was encouraged to acquire an education and at one time he was employed as an assistant teacher. Isaac went to work in a woollen mil and invented a machine for carding and woolcombing as well as one for the manufacture of yarns. In the end, Isaac took out a total of twelve patents for machines and processes that improved wool manufacturing. His inventions brought him wealth and the confidence to set up in business for himself, he moved from Glasgow to Reading, then back to Glasgow, before finally settling in Yorkshire. He married twice, first to Marion Love of Paisley, by whom he had Angus, his first son, then, after Marion’s death in 1847, he married Sarah Sugden of Keighley, by whom he had another son and two daughters. From Yorkshire Isaac set up another successful factory near Paris in 1848, but later he concentrated his efforts in the town of Bradford. He became a Liberal MP for Knaresborough and later, in 1893, the first Baronet Holden. He lived with his family in at Oakworth in Yorkshire, where he died in August 1897 at the grand old age of 90.

Angus Holden was born in 1833 and named after his maternal grandfather, Angus Love. In 1849, at the age of 16, he joined his father’s weaving company where he soon became a partner. Like Isaac, Angus must have had an inventive turn of mind because he is named his father with as co-inventor in the patents register. He was elected mayor of Bradford four times and, again like his father, became a Liberal MP. In 1880, when he was 47, he had his portrait painted by Albert Sachs. He was awarded a baronetcy by King Edward VII on 4th July 1908, when he chose the title of Lord Alston of Nenthead.

Although the connection between the Holden family and Alston Moor was by this time over 100 years in the distant past, and Angus may never have actually visited the place, the district must have still meant a lot to him and especially to his father, because Isaac had named his business ‘Isaac Holden & Sons, Woolcombers, of Alston Works, Bradford’.

Alston-with-Garrigill Rural District Council Minute Book (CRO, SRDA 1/1/3. p.383, 4th July & p.392, 29th August)
London Gazette 7/8/1908, issue 28165, page 5809
Wikipedia and internet sites

15/5/1762 Garrigill
Nattrass Benjamin – m - Hannah Nicholson
- 22/10/1778 Nenthall
John Isaac Hannah Mary
9/7/1763 18 & 26/1/1770 13 & 20/1/1772 18/12/1775
p.29 d.1826

Nenthead/Sillyhole Isaac (1770-1826) – m – Mally or Mary Forist (Forrest)
Nenthead Sillyhole
Hannah Mally Isaac John
13/5 & 9/6/1793 2/3 & 10/4/1795 7/5/1807-13/8/1897
m.1 Marion Love of Paisley (d.1847)
son, Angus (16/3/1833 - 25/3/1912) - m - Margaret Illingworth
m.2 Sarah Sugden of Keighley (d.1890)
son, Edward, dau’s. Margaret and Mary

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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.
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