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Alnwick Castle

Alnwick is the second largest inhabited castle in England and is often known as the 'Windsor of the North'.

Viewed here from the banks of the River Aln, it has been the home of the earls and dukes of Northumberland since it was bought by Henry Percy in 1309. The castle, which is still lived in by the present Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, continues to dominate the picturesque market town of Alnwick, especially since the opening of the Alnwick Garden within the castle grounds.

Already a popular tourist attraction, the castle has increased its visitor numbers since it was used for part of the filming of the Harry Potter films.


Lindisfarne Castle

Holy Island, sometimes known by its older name of Lindisfarne, is situated just off the Northumberland coast, a few miles south of the Scottish border. The island is only accessible by a three-mile long causeway at low tide.

Steeped in history, Holy Island was the site of the first Viking invasions of Britain. It is both the birthplace of Anglo-Saxon Britain and of English Christianity. Lindisfarne Castle, sits on top of a volcanic mound known as Beblowe Craig. The castle was built in the 1550’s by Henry VIII, using stones from the nearby demolished priory.


Hadrians Wall

Hadrian’s Wall is the country's most famous reminder of the 400-year Roman occupation of Britain. It marked the northern boundary of their empire from Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast, to Wallsend on the east coast. The wall, in most places 7-8 feet wide, was begun in ADl22 and of the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138) to separate the Romans from the 'Barbarians'.

The above view of Hadrian's Wall, looking east from Steel Rigg towards Crag Lough with the wall still visible in the distance as it disappears over the summit toward Hotbank Crags, shows how the Romans used the natural defences of the landscape to their full advantage. In the dip in the foreground is one of the many milecastles that can be found along the length of the wall, together with forts, temples and turrets.

There are also many museums, visitor centres and reconstructions all of which demonstrate what life was like for the Roman soldiers guarding the wall almost 2,000 years ago.


Bamburgh Castle

Once the 7th-century capital of the Kingdom of Northumbria, the small coastal village of Bamburgh is dominated by its 11th-century castle. Perched high on an outcrop of the Great Whin Sill, overlooking the North Sea, the castle has been extensively restored, first by Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, in the 1750s and then again at the end of the 19th century by Lord Armstrong.

Still owned by the Armstrong family, the castle enjoys superb coastal views over dunes and golden sands out towards Holy Island and the Farne Islands.


Captain James Cook, FRS, RN (7 November 1728-14 February 1779)was born in Marton (in present-day Middlesbrough) England, was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy.

Cook made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. He saw action in the Seven Years' War, and subsequently surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec. This helped bring Cook to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society. This notice came at a crucial moment in both Cook's career and the direction of British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages.

In three voyages Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe. He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved. As he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time.

He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.

Cook was killed in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.


The Village of Blanchland

The picturesque village of Blanchland lies close to the border with County Durham and is set among wild moorland and wooded valleys. Much of the existing village was built in the middle of the 18th century to house lead miners who worked in the neighbouring mines. The abbey's 15th-century turreted gate house, with its arched entrance, still dominates the northern end of the village and the unusual village square is thought to be the outer courtyard of the abbey dating back to the 12th century.

Charles I (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. From 1642, Charles fought the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments in the English Civil War.

After his defeat in 1645, he surrendered to a Scottish force that eventually handed him over to the English Parliament. Charles refused to accept his captors' demands for a constitutional monarchy. He temporarily escaped captivity in November 1647, he is reputed to have sought sanctuary at what is now the Lord Crewe Inn in Blanchland. Following his re-capture he was re-imprisoned on the Isle of Wight. Charles forged an alliance with Scotland, but by the end of 1648 Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army had consolidated its control over England. Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason in January 1649.

The monarchy was abolished and a republic called the Commonwealth of England was declared. The monarchy was restored to Charles's son, Charles II.


Durham Castle

Construction of the Castle began in 1072 under the orders of William the Conqueror, six years after the Norman Conquest of England, and soon after the Normans first came to the North. The construction took place under the supervision of the Earl of Northumberland, Waltheof, until he rebelled against William and was executed in 1076.

The castle then came under the control of the Bishop of Durham, Walcher, who purchased the earldom and thus became the first of the Prince-Bishops of Durham, a title that was to remain until the 19th century, and was to give Durham a unique status in England. It was under Walcher that many of the Castle’s first buildings were constructed. As was typical of Norman castles, it consisted of a motte (mound) and an inner and outer bailey (fenced or walled area). Whether the motte and inner bailey were built first is unknown.

There is also debate about whether or not Durham Castle was originally a stone or a wooden structure. Historic sources mention that its keep (fortified tower) was built of wood, but there is enough archaeological evidence to indicate that even in the late 11th century when it was first built, it had numerous stone buildings.

PRE-NORMAN HISTORY OF THE CASTLE Archaeological evidence suggests that an Anglo-Saxon defensive structure predated the Norman Castle. This was not unusual, and in fact was the case in Dover, London, Exeter, Hastings, Winchester, and Pevensey, where castles were constructed after the Norman Conquest.

THE NEED FOR DURHAM CASTLE In defensive terms, Durham Castle was of strategic importance both to defend the troublesome border with Scotland and to control local English rebellions, which were common in the years immediately following the Norman Conquest, and led to the so-called Harrying of the North by William the Conqueror in 1069. The Historia Regum, a literary work about the history of the English kings written in 1136, mentions that the Castle was constructed “to keep the bishop and his household safe from the attacks of assailants”. This makes sense – Robert de Comines (or Cumin), the first earl of Northumberland appointed by William the Conqueror, was brutally murdered along with his entourage in 1069.

THE THREAT OF FOREIGN INVASIONS The threat to Durham was not simply from locals who resented the Normans’s presence – there was also the looming threat of invasions from the Scots and the Danes.


Catherine Cookson

Born on 27th June 1906 as Catherine Ann McMullen (registered as Catherine Ann Davies) at 5 Leam Lane in Tyne Dock, South Shields (pictured above left), County Durham and known as "Kate" as a child. She moved to East Jarrow, County Durham which would become the setting for one of her best-known novels, The Fifteen Streets.

The illegitimate child of an alcoholic named Kate Fawcett, she grew up thinking her unmarried mother was her sister, as she was brought up by her grandparents, Rose and John McMullen. Biographer Kathleen Jones tracked down her father, whose name was Alexander Davies, a bigamist and gambler from Lanarkshire.

She left school at 13 and, after a period of domestic service, took a laundry job at Harton Workhouse in South Shields. In 1929, she moved south to run the laundry at Hastings Workhouse, saving every penny to buy a large Victorian house, and then taking in lodgers to supplement her income. In June 1940, at the age of 34, she married Tom Cookson, a teacher at Hastings Grammar School.

After experiencing four miscarriages late in pregnancy, it was discovered she was suffering from a rare vascular disease, telangiectasia, which causes bleeding from the nose, fingers and stomach and results in anemia. A mental breakdown followed the miscarriages, from which it took her a decade to recover.

She took up writing as a form of therapy to tackle her depression, and joined Hastings Writers' Group. Her first novel, Kate Hannigan, was published in 1950. Though it was labelled a romance, she expressed discontent with the stereotype. Her books were, she said, historical novels about people and conditions she knew. Cookson had little connection with the London literary circus. She was always more interested in practising the art of writing.

Her research could be uncomfortable going down a mine, for instance, because her heroine came from a mining area. Having in her youth wanted to write about 'above stairs' in grand houses, she later and successfully concentrated on people ground down by circumstances, taking care to know them well.

She was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1985 and was elevated to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993. Catherine Cookson received the Freedom of the Borough of South Tyneside, and an honorary degree from the University of Newcastle. The Variety Club of Great Britain named her Writer of the Year, and she was voted Personality of the North East.

Catherine was one of the North East's most iconic figures, she wrote almost 100 books, which sold more than 123 million copies, her novels being translated into at least 20 languages. She also wrote books under the pseudonyms Catherine Marchant and a name derived from her childhood name, Katie McMullen. . She died on 11th June 1998 at the age of 91, sixteen days before her 92nd birthday, at her home in Newcastle. She remained the most borrowed author from public libraries in the UK for 17 years, losing the title only in 2002, four years after her death.


The Collingwood Monument

Location: Pier Road, Tynemouth. Materials: Marble and Sandstone. Status: Listed Grade II.

The Collingwood Monument celebrates the life and achievements of Admiral Lord Collingwood. Born the son of a Newcastle merchant in 1748, Cuthbert Collingwood first went to sea in 1761 and rose swiftley through the naval ranks as first the American War of Independence and then the Napoleonic War pitched him into a number of victorious encounters. His connection with Lord Nelson began in the 1770's and it was as Nelson's second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar that Collingwood achieved his greatest notoriety, both of master of his ship the Royal Sovereign and by taking command of the battle on the death of Nelson.

Following Trafalgar he was awarded a peerage but died at sea in 1810 and was later buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. His statue was sculpted by John Graham Lough and stands atop a pedestal designed by John Dobson.

The position of the monument marked Collingwood's family connection with North Shields, allowed the statue to be seen from the sea and the river, and let the great man stare out to sea his hand resting on a rope wrapped bollard. The four cannon on the walls flanking the steps at its base came from his flagship and were added to the monument in 1849, four years after its original completion.


Tynemouth Priory & Castle

High on the jutting headland above the River Tyne, bounded by impressive cliffs, stand the ruins of Tynemouth Priory and Castle. There has been a monastic settlement here since the early 7th century, but repeatedly attacked by the Danes, it was not until the Normans arrived that the Priory was rebuilt by the Benedictines of Durham. St.Oswin was buried here after his murder in 651 A.D. and in later years miracles were reported at his shrine which attracted large numbers of pilgrims, themselves bringing great fame and wealth to the monastery. Orsed, who suffered a similar fate to Oswin, was buried beside the saint in 792 A.D.

The priory was strongly reinforced during the Border Wars when a fortified gatehouse was added, built by Prior John de Whethamstede. Richard II and John of Gaunt contributed towards the cost of the work. After the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII was persuaded to retain Tynemouth as a royal castle and a fortress for the defence of the realm.

The 14th century Gatehouse and Wall, approached by a road winding round a very steeply banked dry moat, guard the entrance to the site. Stormed by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, but later restored, both the Castle and the Priory are now in the care of the English Heritage Commission and open to the public. Of particular note is the 15th century Percy Chantry, still complete, at the east end of the church, with its marvellous vaulted ceiling containing over thirty magnificently carved roof bosses. At the foot of the cliffs is the well sheltered Prior's Haven, a small sandy bay which makes an ideal base for fishing and sailing enthusiasts. Nearby, dominating the mouth of the river, is the statue erected to Admiral Lord Collingwood, who took over at the Battle of Trafalgar after Nelson's death.

Offshore are the dangerous 'Black Middens', a group of rocks that have brought disaster to many ships, and because of this the area has long associations with sea rescue. The Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade formed in 1865 is still in force under the command of H.M. Coastguard. A new Coastguard Station was officially opened by Prince Charles in 1985.


Emily Wilding Davison (11 October 1872 – 8 June 1913) (pictured above left) was a militant activist who fought for women's suffrage in Britain. She was jailed on nine occasions and force-fed 49 times. She stepped in front of King George V's horse Anmer at the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913, suffering fatal injuries. Her funeral on 14 June 1913 was organised by the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Thousands of suffragettes accompanied the coffin and tens of thousands of people lined the streets of London. After a service in Bloomsbury, her coffin was taken by train to the family grave in Morpeth, Northumberland.

Modern historians agree that Davison was trying to disturb the Derby to draw attention to her cause, rather than to commit suicide, and 2013 analysis of newsreel has supported the idea that Davison was reaching up to attach a scarf to the bridle of the King's horse. Analysis of newsreel also indicated that her position before she stepped out onto the track would have given her a clear view of the oncoming race, further countering the belief that she ran out in a haphazard way to kill herself.

Emily is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, Morpeth, Northumberland, in a family plot where her father was buried in 1893 (pictured above right. The cemetery is about 7 miles south of Longhorsley, where she had lived with her mother and family. A memorial service, which attracted a great crowd, was held at St. George's church in London on 14 June 1913. Her coffin was brought by train to Morpeth for burial on 15 June. Her gravestone bears the WSPU slogan, "Deeds not words."

On 18 April 2013, a plaque was unveiled at Epsom racecourse to mark the centenary of the death. An Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign was also established ahead of the centenary to campaign for a minute's silence at the 2013 Epsom Derby. However, the campaign failed after the racecourse said that this would be "logistically impossible".

Like other acts of suffragette militancy, Davison's actions divided public opinion, some admiring her courage, others decrying the disruption of sport, the injury to jockey Herbert Jones, and the slight to the King. But the direct consequence was to galvanise male political support for suffrage, in the form of the Northern Men's Federation for Women's Suffrage. This initially took the form of a deputation to the Prime Minister Asquith; when this was rebuffed, it became a standing organisation. Its president was the former actress Maud Arncliffe-Sennett. It was mainly composed of town councillors, ministers, lawyers and similar civic figures from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and had little following beyond central Scotland, even in Davison's Northumberland.

Beyond the Federation it is difficult to distinguish Davison's effect from that of the broader militant tradition in Britain, which continued until the political landscape was changed by the outbreak of World War I.

Emily Davison is the subject of an opera, Emily (2013), by the British composer Tim Benjamin. She is also the subject of a song by American rock singer Greg Kihn, whose elegy "Emily Davison" is included on his first album, 1976's Greg Kihn.


Prudhoe Castle is a ruined medieval English castle situated on the south bank of the River Tyne at Prudhoe, Northumberland, England. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade I listed building.

The Umfravilles Archaeological excavations have shown that the first castle on the site was a Norman motte and bailey, built sometime in the mid 11th century. Following the Norman Conquest, the Umfraville family took over control of the castle. Robert d’Umfraville was formally granted the barony of Prudhoe by Henry I but it is likely that the Umfravilles had already been granted Prudhoe in the closing years of the 11th century.

The Umfravilles (probably Robert) initially replaced the wooden palisade with a massive rampart of clay and stones and subsequently constructed a stone curtain wall and gatehouse. In 1173 William the Lion of Scotland invaded the North East to claim the earldom of Northumberland. The head of the Umfraville family, Odinel II, refused to support him and as a result the Scottish army tried to take Prudhoe Castle. The attempt failed as the Scots were not prepared to undertake a lengthy siege.

The following year William attacked the castle again but found that Odinel had strengthened the garrison, and after a siege of just three days the Scottish army left. Following the siege, Odinel further improved the defences of the castle by adding a stone keep and a great hall.

Odinel died in 1182 and was succeeded by his son Richard. Richard became one of the barons who stood against King John, and as a result forfeited his estates to the crown. They remained forfeited until 1217, the year after King John’s death. Richard died in 1226 and was succeeded by his son, Gilbert, who was himself succeeded in 1245 by his son Gilbert. Through his mother, Gilbert II inherited the title of Earl of Angus, with vast estates in Scotland, but he continued to spend some of his time at Prudhoe. It is believed that he carried out further improvements to the castle. Gilbert took part in the fighting between Henry III of England and his barons, and in the Scottish expeditions of Edward I. He died in 1308 and was succeeded by his son, Robert D’Umfraville IV. In 1314, Robert was taken prisoner by the Scots at Bannockburn, but was soon released, though he was deprived of the earldom of Angus and of his Scottish estates. In 1316 King Edward granted Robert 700 marks to maintain a garrison of 40 men-at-arms and 80 light horsemen at Prudhoe.

In 1381 the last of the line, Gilbert III, died without issue and his widow married Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland. On her death in 1398, the castle passed to the Percy family.

The Percies

The Percies added a new great hall to the castle shortly after they took possession of it. Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland fought against Henry IV and took part in the Battle of Shrewsbury, for which act he was attainted and his estates, including Prudhoe, were forfeited to the Crown in 1405. That same year it was granted to the future Duke of Bedford, (a son of Henry IV) and stayed in his hands until his death in 1435, whereupon it reverted to the Crown.

The Percies regained ownership of the Prudhoe estates in 1440, after a prolonged legal battle. However, Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland fought on the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses and was killed at theBattle of Towton in 1461. In 1462 Edward IV granted Prudhoe to his younger brother George, Duke of Clarence. The latter only possessed the castle briefly before the king granted it to Lord Montague.

The castle was restored to the fourth Earl in 1470. The principal seat of the Percys was Alnwick Castle and Prudhoe was for the most part let out to tenants. In 1528 however Henry Percy 6th Earl was resident at the castle as later was his brother Sir Thomas Percy. Both the Earl and Sir Thomas were heavily involved in thePilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and both were convicted of treason and executed. Following forfeiture of the estates the castle was reported in August 1537 to have habitable houses and towers within its walls, although they were said to be somewhat decayed and in need of repairs estimated at £20.

The castle was once again restored to Thomas Percy, the 7th Earl in about 1557. He was convicted of taking part in the Rising of the North in 1569. He escaped, but was recaptured and was executed in 1572.

The castle was thereafter let out to many and various tenants and was not used as a residence after the 1660s. In 1776 it was reported to be ruinous. Between 1808 and 1817, Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland carried out substantial repairs to the ancient fabric and replaced the old dwellings within the walls with a Georgian mansion adjoining the keep.

The Castle Today (pictured above)

In 1966 the castle was given over to the Crown and is now in the custody of English Heritage and is open to the public.The castle stands on a ridge about 150 feet (46 m) on the south bank of the River Tyne. It is partly enclosed by a deep moat. The ground to the north falls away steeply to the river. The castle entrance is on the south side and is flanked by a mill pond on the left and a ruined water mill on the right. The castle is entered by a barbican dating from the first half of the 14th century. The gatehouse, dating from the early 12th century, leads into the outer ward, which contains the remains of several buildings. At the north side, against the curtain wall, are the remains of the Great Hall, measuring 60 ft by 46 ft (18m by 14m), built by the Percies when they took over the castle. At the end of the 15th century a new hall was built to the west to replace the existing one. On the west side of the outer ward is the manor house, built in the early 19th century, and containing a visitor’s shop and exhibition rooms. At the south end of the manor house is a gateway leading into the inner ward. The main feature of the inner ward is the keep, dating from the 12th century. The keep has walls 10 feet (3.0 m) thick and its internal dimensions are 20 ft by 24 ft (7.3m by 6.1m). It originally consisted of two storeys beneath a double-pitched roof.


Harry Clasper (5 July 1812 – 12 July 1870)

Harry Clasper was born in Dunston, now part of the Metropolitan Borough of Gateshead, but then an independent village on the south bank of the River Tyne, a mile upriver from Gateshead. Later his family moved to Jarrow, also on the south bank on the Tyne, downriver from Newcastle. At the age of 15, he began to work at Jarrow Pit, which was notorious for firedamp. After a while Clasper decided that mining did not suit him and he became apprenticed as a ship's carpenter in Brown's Boatyard, Jarrow. There he learnt about woodworking and the principles of boatbuilding. This would be useful to him in later life.

After a while his family moved back to Dunston and Clasper became employed as a coke burner and wherryman for the Garesfield Coke Company at nearby Derwenthaugh. His work as a wherryman would also serve him well in later life. Clasper then worked for a while at Hawks, Crawshay and Sons Ironworks around the mid-1830s. In 1836 he married his cousin Susannah Hawks, a member of a wealthy family. Their wedding certificate shows Clasper signing with a cross, as he could not read or write, whilst Susannah signed her name.

Clasper formed a racing crew with his brother William and two other men. Harry rowed as stroke (the oarsman who sits nearest the stern, opposite the cox and who sets the stroke rate) and another brother, Robert, acted as cox. The boat was named "Swalwell". The crew started well, winning several races and became known as the Derwenthaugh crew. Clasper took over the tenancy of the Skiff Inn, Derwenthaugh, and in addition to being a pub landlord, he began to build boats on the same site. He built two skiffs for himself, the Hawk in 1840 and the Young Hawk in 1841. With the latter he won the Durham Regatta Single Sculls race in 1842.[1] In 1845 Clasper took a four-oared boat, the Lord Ravensworth, to the Thames Regatta. The crew were all Claspers, consisting of Harry at stroke, brothers William and Robert with uncle Ned, and brother Richard as cox.

The Derwenthaugh crew won the Champion Fours, beating two other crews, including one from London. They were given the title of four-oared "World Champions". The crew were given a hero's welcome on returning to Newcastle. Clasper then sold the Lord Ravensworth for £80.

Clasper, with a variety of other crew members, won the Champion Fours at the Thames Regatta several times. His crew members included his eldest son, John Hawks Clasper and Robert Chambers, later to be World Sculling Champion. His last victory was in 1859, when he was 47 years old.

For many years he was a champion sculler on the Tyne and in Scotland, but was never successful as a sculler at the Thames Regatta. His last competitive race was a sculling race on the Tyne in 1867, when he was 55; his younger opponent beat him easily. Harry became a rowing coach using his experience of many races. He recommended rest, light and regular meals, walking and running, as well as two sessions on the water each day. He coached Robert Chambers, who became Tyne, Thames, England and World Sculling Champion.

During his time racing and coaching he continued to be a pub landlord, and ran a succession of pubs, including the Clasper Hotel on Scotswood Road, Newcastle. He moved on from there and finally settled at the Tunnel Inn, Ouseburn. He ran this until his death in 1870.

He died on 12 July 1870, probably of a stroke. For his funeral, the coffin was transported from the Tunnel Inn, Ouseburn to St Mary's Church, Whickham. Part of the journey was by paddle tug on the river, travelling over part of the course that had seen so many of his triumphs. Many thousands watched the funeral procession and burial. A memorial monument was erected over his grave in St Mary's churchyard and can still be seen there. It is strange to recall now, in an age when competitive oarsmen average 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) in height and weigh 225 lbs, that Harry Clasper was only 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) tall and weighed only 130 lbs.


Hexham Abbey

In the year 674AD Queen Etheldreda granted land in Hexham to Wilfrid, Bishop of York. Hexham originated as a monastery founded by Saint Wilfrid. The crypt of the original monastery survives, and incorporates many stones taken from nearby Roman ruins, probably Coria (Corbridge) or Hadrian's Wall.

The current Hexham Abbey dates largely from the 11th century onward, but was significantly rebuilt in the 19th century. Other notable buildings in the town include the Moot Hall, the Shambles, and the Old Gaol.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the murder of King Ælfwald by Sicga at Scythlecester (which may be modern Chesters) on 23 September 788. "This year Elwald, king of the Northumbrians, was slain by Siga, on the eleventh day before the calends of October; and a heavenly light was often seen on the spot where he was slain. He was buried in the church of Hexham."

The origin of the name of Hexham is disputed. One theory is that it derives from the Old English Hagustaldes ea and later Hagustaldes ham. Hagustald is related to the Old High German hagustalt, denoting a younger son who takes land outside the settlement, the element ea means "stream" or "river" and ham is the Old English form of the Modern English "home" (as well as the Scots and Northern English "hame").

However, the modern form would appear to drive from Hextildesham, in use from the late 12th century when the hamlets of Cockshaw, Priestpopple and Hencotes merge around the Market Place; Hextilda being a Saxon/Scots heiress of Tynedale and benefactress of the priory.

Like many towns in the North of England, Hexham suffered from the border wars with the Scots, including attacks from William Wallace who burnt the town in 1297. In 1312, Robert the Bruce demanded and received £2000 from the town and monastery in order for them to be spared a similar fate.

In 1464, the Battle of Hexham was fought somewhere to the south of the town, the actual site is disputed, in The Wars of the Roses. The defeated Lancastrian commander, the Duke of Somerset, was executed in Hexham market place.

There is a legend that Queen Margaret of Anjou took refuge after the battle in the woodlands to the south of the town, in what is now known as The Queen's Cave, where she was accosted by a robber; the legend forming the basis for an 18th century play by George Colman. Sadly, it has been established that Queen Margaret had fled to France by the time the battle took place!

Until 1572, Hexham was the administrative centre of the former Liberty or Peculiar of Hexhamshire. It remained the centre of the English Middle March until the dissolution of the March system with the unification of the two kingdoms.

In 1715 James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, raised the standard for James Francis Edward Stuart (The Old Pretender) in Hexham Market place. The rising was unsuccessful and Derwentwater was captured and beheaded after the battle of Preston.

In 1761, the Hexham Riot took place in the Market Place when a crowd protesting about changes in the criteria for serving in the militia was fired upon by troops from the North Yorkshire Militia. 51 protesters were killed, earning the Militia the soubriquet of The Hexham Butchers. One rioter, Peter Porter, was eventually hung as a ringleader of the riot.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Hexham was a centre of the leather trade, particularly renowned for making gloves known as Hexham Tans - now the name of a vegetarian restaurant in the town.


North East Heroine Grace Darling

Grace Horsley Darling (24 November 1815 – 20 October 1842) was an English lighthouse keeper's daughter, famed for participating in the rescue of survivors from the shipwrecked Forfarshire in 1838. The paddlesteamer ran aground on the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland in northeast England; nine members of her crew were saved.

In the early hours of 7 September 1838, Grace Darling, looking from an upstairs window of the Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands, spotted the wreck and survivors of the Forfarshire on Big Harcar, a nearby low rocky island. The Forfarshire had foundered on the rocks and broken in half: one of the halves had sunk during the night.

She and her father William determined that the weather was too rough for the lifeboat to put out from Seahouses (then North Sunderland), so they took a rowing boat (a 21 ft, 4-man Northumberland coble) across to the survivors, taking a long route that kept to the lee side of the islands, a distance of nearly a mile.

Grace kept the coble steady in the water while her father helped four men and the lone surviving woman, Mrs. Dawson, into the boat. Although she survived the sinking, Mrs Dawson had lost her two young children during the night. William and three of the rescued men then rowed the boat back to the lighthouse.

Grace then remained at the lighthouse while William and three of the rescued crew members rowed back and recovered four more survivors.

As news of her role in the rescue reached the public, her combination of bravery and simple virtue set her out as exemplary, and led to an uneasy role as the nation's heroine. Subscriptions and donations totaling over £700 were raised for her, including £50 from Queen Victoria; more than a dozen portrait painters sailed to her island home to capture her likeness, and hundreds of gifts, letters, and even marriage proposals were delivered to her.

Her unexpected wealth and fame were such that the Duke of Northumberland took on a role as her self-appointed guardian and founder of a trust, established to look after the donations offered to her. His personal gifts to her and her family included a timepiece, and a silver teapot.

In 1842, Grace fell ill while visiting the mainland, and was in convalescence with her cousins, the MacFarlanes, in their house in Narrowgate, Alnwick. The Duchess of Northumberland heard of her situation, and arranged for her to be moved to better accommodation close to Alnwick Castle, and tended to the ailing heroine in person as well as providing Grace with the services of the ducal family physician.

Grace's condition declined, however, and in the final stages of her illness she was conveyed to the place of her birth, in Bamburgh. Grace Darling died of tuberculosis in October 1842, aged 26.

Pictured above a portrait of Grace and her grave at St Aidan's Church Bamburgh


Hylton Castle

Hylton Castle is a medieval gatehouse and tower in Hylton Dene, Sunderland. The castle stood guard over an important ferry crossing of the Wear and is most famous for its ghost called the "Cauld Lad O' Hylton", a stable boy cruelly murdered by his master.

The keep, four main walls and part of the chapel are all still standing. Over the years, the Castle and Dene had become neglected and vandalised. In 1992 a group of local residents set to work restoring the Dene and planning for its future. It is now in the care of English Heritage.


George Stephenson

The humble birthplace of great railway pioneer, George Stephenson, (pictured above), whose entire family lived in just one room. Typical of mining families, like George’s, who once crammed into this now charming little stone cottage, nestled in a pretty garden near the river Tyne at Wylam.

George Stephenson was born on 9 June 1781. His father was an engineman at a coalmine. Stephenson himself worked at the mine and learned to read and write in his spare time.

He gained a reputation for managing the primitive steam engines employed in mines, and worked in a number of different coalmines in the northeast of England and in Scotland. In 1814, Stephenson constructed his first locomotive, 'Blucher', for hauling coal at Killingworth Colliery near Newcastle. In 1815, he invented a safety lamp for use in coalmines, nicknamed the 'Geordie'.

In 1821, Stephenson was appointed engineer for the construction of the Stockton and Darlington railway. It opened in 1825 and was the first public railway.

The following year Stephenson was made engineer for the Liverpool to Manchester Railway. In October 1829, the railway's owners staged a competition at Rainhill to find the best kind of locomotive to pull heavy loads over long distances. Thousands came to watch. Stephenson's locomotive 'Rocket' was the winner, achieving a record speed of 36 miles per hour.

The opening of the Stockton to Darlington railway and the success of 'Rocket' stimulated the laying of railway lines and the construction of locomotives all over the country. Stephenson became engineer on a number of these projects and was also consulted on the development of railways in Belgium and Spain.

Stephenson died on 12 August 1848 in Chesterfield in Derbyshire. His only son Robert was also a railway engineer and worked with his father on many of his projects.


Coquet Island off the coast of Amble Northumberland

The mysterious medieval remains on Coquet Island, off the coast of Amble, have been saved and taken off the Heritage at Risk register, English Heritage announced. The site is one of 17 in Northumberland no longer at risk. Coquet Island is one of a number of remote islands off the Northumberland coast that has a long and fascinating history. The remains of a monastic cell and a medieval tower have been removed from the Heritage at Risk register this year after a repaired project and grant of £93,000 from English Heritage. Coquet Island is a RSPB reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest with populations of breeding birds including the protected Roseate Terns. The work to the scheduled monument and listed buildings included urgent stone repairs to the remains of the medieval monastic range and the medieval tower beneath the lighthouse. The team used the repairs as a chance to train students in traditional heritage skills such as working with lime mortar and masonry. The project was ‘highly commended’ in the building conservation category of the North East RICS Renaissance awards in 2014.

‘Quayside Exchange’ Sunderland viewed from the riverside

Of the three main places that developed into Sunderland (Monkwearmouth), Bishopwearmouth and Sunderland) it seems that Sunderland was, in the early stages, the least important. In truth, the present city centre of Sunderland was historically called Bishopwearmouth and was initially separate from Sunderland. The real Sunderland was a place further to the east, still on the south side of the river, but closer to the river mouth.

Today the area of the city pictured above on the right, is called the 'East End' or 'Old Sunderland' and is home to the port of Sunderland, including the old Sunderland quayside. It was in its industrial heyday one of the busiest, most bustling parts of town. Much of the area is now a relatively quiet residential zone with riverside apartments and dockside housing estates towards Hendon to the south. Sunderland was traditionally part of County Durham and was ruled in medieval times by the Prince Bishops of Durham. The development of Sunderland as a port was instigated by one of the most powerful Prince Bishops of Durham, Hugh Pudsey (Hugh Du Puiset) who reigned in Durham from 1154 to 1195. Sometime between 1180 and 1183 Pudsey issued a charter creating 'Wearmouth Borough'. The charter was based on that of Newcastle although Newcastle's charter would have been a royal charter granted by the King.

Sunderland was situated within Durham where Pudsey, as Prince Bishop held a right to issue charters of his own. The intention was to develop a thriving town and trading port and to encourage merchant activity by granting certain freedoms to official merchants called burgesses.

Pudsey's charter encouraged the development of a town on what may have been previously empty land near the mouth of the river. Bishopwearmouth still remained the centre of the whole parish (until 1719) but the port town of Sunderland could now develop near the mouth of the river. Confusingly the port of Sunderland was still generally called Wearmouth and the adoption of the name Sunderland may have reflected a desire to distinguish the place from Bishopwearmouth.


Flora Robson

Born Flora McKenzie Robson in South Shields, Durham, England on March 28, 1902, she was one of eight children born to a former ship's engineer and his wife. Her talent for recitation became apparent at the age of six and after attending Palmers Green High School, her father paid for Flora to study at the famed Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she won a Bronze Medal in 1921. Following graduation, she performed in the West End, making her debut in Clemence Dane's Will Shakespeare, but after two years of regional theatre, the financial instability of acting led her to take a job as a welfare officer in a Shredded Wheat factory for several years. While there, she organized theatre productions for the workers.

She returned to acting in 1929 (ironically at the start of the Great Depression) by joining the Cambridge Festival Theatre and in 1931 had secured a position at the Old Vic in London, where her career took off. Now one of England's top stage actresses, she moved to an apartment at 19 Buckingham Street, across the hall from the great American singer/actor Paul Robeson and his wife. In January 1933, Robeson approached Robson about co-starring with him in Eugene O'Neill's play about an interracial marriage, All God's Chillun'. Director Andre Van Gyseghem wrote, "Robeson was Jim and the result was terrifying in its intensity. Time and time again directing Flora and Paul I had the feeling of being on the edge of a violent explosion. I had touched it off, but the resulting conflagration was breathtaking. They literally shot sparks off each other. Seldom have I seen two performers fuse so perfectly. It was so intimate and intense that I felt, at times, I should apologize for being there. Watching it was sometimes more than one could bear at such close range. Robeson's technique was not Flora's. She was an expert actress with tremendous emotional power. She absolutely hushed audiences as she stripped the meager soul of Ella. But her technically superb performance found a perfect foil in Robeson's utter sincerity." Dame Sybil Thorndike, who attended the play, later wrote "When I saw Flora, I thought to myself, here we have the making of one of England's greatest tragic actresses. Flora was not beautiful in the conventional sense; in fact she was rather plain. But she took the role of Ella beyond racial themes and portrayed the devastating love/hate relationship between the couple to the point that it was almost too painful to watch."

Flora Robson's fame as a theatre actress brought her to the attention of British filmmakers. Her first film, A Gentleman of Paris (1931) did not make a big splash, nor did the other three films she made in 1932. It was in 1934, when she was a bona fide theatrical star, that Flora began her real film career by playing a queen. It would almost become typecasting for her. In The Rise of Catherine the Great (1934), she played the Russian Empress Elisabeth, which led to her being chosen to play Queen Elizabeth I in Alexander Korda's Fire Over England (1937), co-starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Of the role Robson wrote, "Provocative, aggressive, possessive and perhaps a bit temperamental, Elizabeth was every inch a queen. She was essentially a woman of action, and that is just the kind of women I like best to portray. Whether they are characters of actual history, or folk-lore or of pure fiction, such women – women whose lives and work were more important than their loves – are much more in tune with our modern ideals and tempo of life than many of the silken sirens who have figured as the heroines of sexy and sentimental film in the past."

Hollywood came calling after Flora's fiery portrayal of Elizabeth. Among them, Samuel Goldwyn, who wanted Flora for his Wuthering Heights (1939) once more co-starring her with Laurence Olivier. 1939 saw Robson in no less than five films, both in the United States (We Are Not Alone as Paul Muni's wife) and England (Poison Pen). The latter was Flora's only starring role, as the writer of poison pen letters who might be a murderer, and it was promoted with the following advertising copy,

Murder at the Gallop

"The name of Flora Robson at the head of the cast is a sure sign that this is something very much more than a mere recital of horror and tragedy. This is one of the few opportunities the screen gives of seeing England's finest emotional actress."

Flora found acting for the screen to be vastly different than the stage: "The slightest touch of self-consciousness on the screen shows. I've learnt from bitter experience. In the theatre one feels the audience. One overacts. But the camera, like a huge eye a yard away, snaps up everything. Famed Hollywood cameraman Hal Rosson helped me to overcome the inevitable theatrical exaggeration and to eliminate certain small mannerisms of expression which, while perfectly natural on the stage, were little short of grotesque when translated to the screen. I knew of course that the camera demanded much less emphasis of facial expression than the stage, but I had not realized that it required under-emphasis, that is, less than would be natural. Everything like this has to be entirely eliminated for the camera, and you must even speak with as little lip movement as possible."

Although war had broken out in Europe, Robson remained in the United States, where she accepted a role on Broadway in Ladies in Retirement (1940), with rehearsals to begin after once more portraying Queen Elizabeth on the screen. This time, she was cast opposite Errol Flynn in Michael Curtiz's The Sea Hawk (1940), beating out such competition as Gale Sondergaard, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Judith Anderson. It was to be the second of a two-picture deal with Warner Bros., but the film ran into delays and she accepted a role in the George Raft film Invisible Stripes (1939). The Sea Hawk finally went into production and despite the many stories of Flynn's bad behavior on the sets of his films, Robson remembered him fondly. "We hit if off from the beginning. He was naughty about his homework. I told him that because he couldn't remember his lines it would hold up the picture and I would be delayed going to New York to do a play. When I told him this, he was very kind and learned his lines to help me: the work went so fast we were finished by four in the afternoon on some days. I remember Mike Curtiz saying to him, 'What's the matter with you? You know all your words.'"

Robson's lifelong preference for the stage over film work puzzled movie executives. "The people [in Hollywood] find it very difficult to understand the English actor's off-hand attitude towards the film industry." That attitude led her to turn down the role of Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) because she wanted to return to the stage. Once the run of Ladies was over, she returned to London in 1941 and remained there until the end of the war, doing theater.

She returned to Hollywood in 1945 to play the role which gave her the only Academy Award nomination of her career, Saratoga Trunk (1945) opposite Ingrid Bergman. It was an odd role for Robson, that of a scheming mulatto slave and it required her to act in makeup that was close to blackface. Other films in the 1940s included Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), once more with Vivien Leigh and Michael Powell's Black Narcissus (1947). However, it was her stage work that was the most important, especially her legendary performance as Lady Macbeth in 1949 and as Paulina in John Gielgud's 1951 production of The Winter's Tale. As a Shakespearian actress, it was said she "took Shakespeare's utterances on her lips with a natural dignity and beauty."

Flora's career continued throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s with her accepting the occasional film, as in 55 Days at Peking (1963) playing the Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi ; and (1963), one of the very popular Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford. There was also television work, both in the United States and Britain. By 1969, Robson, now in her late 60s had retired from the theater, but not before being honored with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II, which was elevated to a DBE in 1960, making her "Dame Flora Robson". This last was in recognition of her many unpublicized charitable works. She also had the distinction of having a theater named after her: The Flora Robson Theatre in Newcastle, England. Her homes in Brighton were designated with plaques after her death as well as the doorway of the Church of St. Nicholas in Brighton, where she attended.

Flora Robson ended her career with television movies and mini-series including Gauguin the Savage and A Tale of Two Cities (both in 1980), with her last appearance as one of the Stygian Witches in Clash of the Titans(1981), also co-starring Laurence Olivier. She died in Brighton, England on July 7, 1984.

Her long career included appearances in 60 films and more than 100 plays. She recorded a voice over for a historical film following the path of the River Tyne, her final words in the film were, “Yes I’m a Geordie and proud of it”.

Rest assured Dame Flora, your fellow Geordie’s are very proud of you.


An important part of our Historic North East were our industries, sadly now depleted. Our largest industry Coal Mining, was widespread across our region affecting the lives of the vast majority of people. It is therefore important and appropriate that we include this article concerning Woodhorn Mining Museum who are doing so much to ensure that the coal mining industry will never be forgotten.

Woodhorn Mining Museum

For more than 80 years Woodhorn was a coal mine. Work to sink the first shaft began in 1894 and the first coal was brought to the surface in 1898. At its peak almost 2,000 men worked at the pit and 600,000 tons of coal was produced each year. Production stopped in 1981 but the shafts continued to be used for neighbouring Ashington Colliery until 1986.

It began its life as a museum in 1989 and following major redevelopment, reopened in October 2006. Today, the yellow Ashington brick buildings have protected, listed status. The site is recognised as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and it is the best surviving example of a late 19th/early 20th century colliery in the North East tradition.

The new Cutter building (pictured above right) is stunning - inspired by monster coal cutting machines, and with the original colliery buildings it tells the story of Northumberland through fascinating, emotive displays, miners' paintings, an exciting changing exhibition programme, and Northumberland's amazing archival "treasures".

The Northumberland Archives cover over 800 years of the county's history and provide an amazing record of the past. The Workshop Galleries hosts our big blockbuster exhibitions and in recents years has welcomed Wallace & Gromit, famous movie cars and even Dinosaurs. Keep an eye out for details of the next event.

Woodhorn is a great attraction for the whole family with hands-on activities, an events programme and that all important cup of tea! And don't forget the country park with its cycle route around the lake.

The Poppies Memorial

The Woodhorn Mining Museum staff have created a wonderful display of poppies which have been viewed by thousands of people country wide.

Susan MacKellar, from Stakeford, was one of the volunteers – or ‘creative connectors’ hired by local arts initiative bait – to install the sculpture. This was not as easy as you might think.

“All the poppies were in pieces in boxes and we had to squat on our hands and knees sorting out all the stems and putting each one together with a ceramic poppy head and two sets of rubber washers. “We had to sort the stems into different sizes and it was quite hard work. Some of the stems were quite rusty. “But it was great. This is part of history because it represents the First World War and because this is the first time this sculpture has been seen.”

No-one was more delighted than Woodhorn director Keith Merrin to see the sculpture. There had been intense competition to host one of the two touring artworks, he said “We put forward three arguments. Firstly that it would look beautiful against this industrial backdrop; secondly that our communities in the North East wouldn’t necessarily have had the chance to see it in London; and thirdly the historical links.

“Two and a half thousand men from the Ashington Coal Company fought in the war but many more worked underground to fuel the war effort.”