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 31: Inauguration Of The Jacob Walton Memorial, 2004


Walton Memorial

(This article was originally titled ‘Jacob Walton (1809-1863), Mining Adventurer’ in the Alston Moor Newsletter of Autumn 2004, issue 52. It has been slightly edited for this online edition)


The Jacob Walton Memorial was well and truly re-inaugurated on Tuesday 6th July 2004. The event was a great success with fine weather as a bonus; it was covered by press and radio, there were many people in attendance, including four generations of the Walton family and the HLF Project Officer, and with the Stanhope Silver Band for entertainment.

As the project manager, Alastair Robertson confessed later that his opening address overstated the importance of the Walton family by comparing them to the London Lead Company, which of course was a much, much bigger concern, but he felt justified because the Waltons were a local family with personalities rather than a faceless outside corporation, and they did play a key part in the lead industry of the region, particularly Jacob Walton who, as well as being held in high esteem in the industry, had the respect of his workers.

Speech given at the unveiling ceremony of the Jacob Walton Memorial

Ladies and gentlemen this monument here in Alston is unique in Britain because it is a memorial to a lead mine owner.

Now, anyone who is interested in the history of lead mining in the northern Pennines will have heard of the London Lead Company, and perhaps the Blackett Beaumont Company, but how many people have heard of Jacob Walton? In an area full of mine owners and mine adventurers what was it that set Jacob Walton apart? If you compare him to the London Lead Company, you find he was unique in the region.
The London Lead Company was responsible for employing hundreds of men – so was Jacob Walton.
The London Lead Company owned many lead mines – so did Jacob Walton and his family.
The London Lead Company owned two smelt mills – Jacob Walton and his family owned four smelt mills.
The London Lead Company mined lead – Jacob Walton not only mined lead, he mined coal, copper, zinc, witherite, and iron ore. (Incidentally in the 1840s, Alston Moor nearly had its own blast furnaces for iron.)
The London Lead Company operated in Alston Moor, Weardale and Teesdale – so did Jacob Walton – and he went further, to south west Scotland and to the west of Cumbria.

But how is it that, apart from an inscribed stone tucked away in a wall next to the Town Hall, there was no evidence of Jacob Walton and no one, even the Walton Memorial Restoration Group, knew anything about him? The answer is quite simple, the family left few records for public research. Again, compare this with the London Lead Company that was a huge concern with a large administrative system that kept records, most of which have survived. These have been researched and written about many times. The Blackett Beaumont Company of Allendale and Weardale was a large, wealthy landowning family estate, which also left records in public record offices.
Jacob Waltons Signature
When Alastair first became involved with the restoration project he was cynical. He’s not a big fan of monuments to people who are full of their own importance, so he wanted to find out whether Jacob Walton actually deserved a memorial. In the end it turned out that he did.

But where to start looking? Luckily he was able to contact Malcolm Milne, Jacob Walton’s great-grandson and he very kindly, and trustingly it has to be said, lent a box of about 300 family documents, which helped to build a picture of Jacob Walton.

Jacob Walton was born and bred on Alston Moor, when he was a toddler his family moved to Greenends near Nenthead, where he lived for the rest of his life.

As he grew up, Jacob had a great enthusiasm for work and a great talent to spot a good lead vein. In time he took leases on many mines, with his knowledge and experience he was continually asked for advice by other companies and his name on the list of shareholders of any mine was a mark of credibility. This consultation was even, on one occasion, at national level when a government commission needed an impartial adviser. This was in addition to managing his own mines, and there were eventually twenty-four of those. As early as the 1840s Jacob could claim that he had more to do with the agents of the Greenwich Hospital (the Lords of the Manor of Alston Moor) than any man in the region, and every time they placed unlimited confidence in him.

Jacob was what we now call a workaholic and it is probable that his many activities led to a decline in his health. In the autumn of 1861 he suffered an illness from which he did not make a full recovery; he made his will in September 1862.

Jacob Walton died in March 1863 and the Carlisle Journal reported,
“The deceased was an extensive mining proprietor of considerable ability, and will be deeply regretted, both by the working classes and by all who knew him. His remains were interred at Alston Cemetery on 6th March, when, as a mark of respect, the shops were all closed.”
(The impact on the town would have been greater then than now, as there were many more people living here and far more shops than there are today.)

The workmen who were employed by Jacob at his Fallowfield Mine, in the Tyne valley near Hexham, thought so highly of him that they started a collection for some personal testimonial to his memory. The scheme became known to the public and they asked to be allowed to take part, so the testimonial became the memorial.

The Walton Memorial was built the next year, situated about where the road signs at Townfoot are now. The inauguration ceremony took place on the 18th November 1864 and, in spite of the miserable weather, a large number of residents of Alston Moor and the surrounding districts gathered in Alston Market Square. The crowd included about 120 of Jacob’s workmen from Fallowfield who had travelled up from the Tyne valley. At one o’clock the crowd was arranged in rows four deep and they marched in procession to Townfoot where the unveiling ceremony was held, just as we are doing now, 140 years later.

The memorial stood for almost a hundred years until 1960 when it was removed by the County Council to make way for a road-widening scheme. At the time the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald reported that “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”.
And, forty-four years later, here we are.

The mining interests of this particular branch of the Walton family, of whom Jacob was the leading representative, stretched from the Lake District to the lower Wear valley and from the Tyne valley to the Tees valley, and Jacob Walton was so influential that he was consulted at government level. In a way, the monument is a tribute not only to Jacob Walton, who was the embodiment of Victorian enterprise, but to several generations of the Walton family, and to the spirit of the lead mining industry of the north of England.
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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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