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 32: Winter 130 years ago and Alston entertainment!

Winter and how we entertained outselves!

Alston Snow
Winter – it’s here again, with talk of the hardest one for years. Well, we’ll see. But will it be as bad as the winters of over a hundred years ago? Without central heating, house insulation, double-glazing, or modern materials for warm clothes and bedding, people took the bitterly cold temperatures in their stride. In fact, more recently, how many of us remember waking up to draw the curtains and see icy leaf patterns on the bedroom window? It just made us get dressed quicker and get downstairs to the warmth of the kitchen and a bowl of porridge.
More signs of winter are; evening classes, the clocks changing, Bonfire Nights (although not as many as a few years ago), and Ted’s musical events at the Town Hall.
Speaking of entertainment, 130 years ago there was no pantomime, but from the Alston Herald of the 5th December 1874, on microfilm at the Library, there was marvellous entertainment to be had at the Town Hall in the approach to Christmas, and what a show it was! The announcement read ;



Friday and Saturday December 11 and 12 1874

The stage will be beautifully fitted up for the occasion. The room will be perfumed by Rimmel’s Apparatus.

Admission – First Class, 2s.; Second, 1s.; Third, 6d.; Family tickets admitting Five to first class, 8s.
Tickets to be had at the usual places in the town.

Doors open at 7.30. Wonders commence at 8. Carriages at 10.

Visit of the well-known and World Renowned Professor


The Greatest Organophonic VENTRILOQUIST ever known, Hindoo Illusionist and Anti-Spiritualist, will have the honour of presenting his Extraordinary Entertainment, entitled


As given by him with the most brilliant success in London, and nearly all the principal cities of the world, before the most fashionable audiences ever assembled together. See patrons names.

The grand secrets of the ancient Egyptian Magicians, and the startling wonders of the Modern Spiritualists fully explained, and learned by him in Japan, China, Hindostan, and Arabia, in which countries he was known as
or Music Throat Man

Solo Pianiste………………………Miss Marian Hill
Agent in Advance…………………Sam Varder
Sole Proprietor…………………….Professor Cristo from Quebec.


This sounds fantastic! Bring him back for an encore! This man had toured the world to find out these secrets and had performed them for the rich and famous, and here he was in Alston! Unfortunately the show was not reviewed in the Herald, so we will never know what acts or tricks were performed or how well they were received. And what was Rimmel’s Apparatus anyway?

The weather then, as now, was a constant source of news and conversation. From the paper of the 19th December 1874,

“The weather still continues severe, though seasonable the frost is most intense, and on the hills the snow has reached a great depth; the roads across the moors have all been blocked, and snow cutters have been in great demand. It is many years since we have had such a storm at this time of year, our heaviest storms being generally after the days begin to lengthen.”
“On Tuesday morning the temperature in the neighbourhood of Alston reached the low point of 2 deg. Fahrenheit or 30 deg. below freezing. This is the lowest temperature noted here for many years past.”
A few weeks later, on January 2nd 1875, “In Christmas week the market was held at Alston on Thursday instead of the usual day Saturday. On account of the continuance of the snowstorms the market was not so well stocked with some commodities as it otherwise would have been, as on the previous Saturday communication with the neighbouring dales was cut off by the roads being blocked.”
The only vegetables on sale were potatoes, which were looked on with suspicion by shoppers who could not believe that they hadn’t been affected by the severe frosts as reported in the Herald. “The temperature near Alston at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning, was 1 degree below zero, Fahr., shewing 33 degrees of frost.”
Then, when Leadgate Cricket Club (!!!) held its annual dinner, the guests from Alston had to walk the mile and a half to the village through twelve inches of hard, frozen snow. The guests must have been extremely keen, and tough. That Leadgate should have its own Cricket Club sounds incredible, but it also had its own library, its own Lit. & Phil. Society and held its own Flower Show!
A wider picture was presented in the newspaper on January 9th, when on Alston Moor, “On New Year’s Day the storm raged with great violence, the roads again being blocked”, while down on the River Tyne west of Scotswood, the river was frozen over, and then when the thaw came the large, fast flowing floes of ice were a danger to commercial shipping lower down.

Back in Alston, entertainment by local people was reported. “At an early hour on the morning of Christmas Day, the Wesleyan Methodist and Primitive Methodist choirs, the band of the 6th Cumberland Rifle Volunteers and a troupe of local darkies went their usual rounds amongst their respective admirers. Christmas Day passed over with becoming quiet and decorum, a special full choral service was held at the Parish Church.” Quite a selection - did they ever team up for a joint performance, or was there confusion when their paths crossed. And I never knew that Alston had a community of “darkies” in those days, but then Alston has always been a hospitable place, long may it last.

Of course, at Christmas thoughts turn to food - groaning tables followed by groaning people - over indulgence of all sorts. It was noted that, “even the poorest homes were furnished with their spiced loaf and mutton pie”. (Aaah, bless them, where’s Tiny Tim?)

In Victorian times wealthy consciences were salved by thinking of the poor and performing kindnesses for them. It’s heart warming for us to know that, “The inmates of Alston with Garrigill Workhouse were liberally supplied with an excellent dinner of roast beef, ale and plum pudding on Christmas Day, by Thomas Horrocks, Esq., J.P. of Brisco Hill. In the evening a bountiful tea was provided by Joseph Dickinson, Esq., of Lovelady Shield, with each a good glass of hot punch at bedtime.”

Merry Christmas one and all and a Happy New Year!

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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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