Vol 1 – No. 5 – July, 1887 – Witchcraft in the North

It was once remarked by a Roman sage, that there were certain practices (sorcery, divination, and the like) which would always be prohibited and always pursued; and time has not failed to fulfil the prediction. Such impostures have their origin in the infirmities of our nature. The ignorant and the superstitious resort to charlatans who profess to forecast the future; men and women seek to know their “fortunes,” and become the prey of pretenders; and when there were believers in witchcraft (as there yet are even in the present day) there were also “witches” and “wise men” to profit by their weakness. Unhappily, also, as the annals of our country testify, many an innocent woman, to say nothing of some men, making no pretence to supernatural power or influence, has been brought under suspicion, and suffered violence and death at the hands of the fanatic and credulous. There were even mercenary “witch-finders” in former days, who traded on the belief in their skill; one of whom, at least, was overtaken by poetical justice, and found the fate in which he had involved his victims.

It may be read in local history how much repute these nefarious discoverers enjoyed in the town of Newcastle in the seventeenth century. On the 26th of March, 1649, a “petition concerning witches” having been read, it was “ordered that thanks be returned to the petitioners; and the Common Council will contribute their best assistance therein.” Two town sergeants were accordingly sent across the Borders, “to agree with a Scotchman who pretended knowledge to find out witches, by pricking them with pins, to come to Newcastle, where he should try such who should be brought to him, and to have twenty shillings apiece for all he should condemn as witches, and free passage thither and back again.” The man having arrived on his fearful errand, the town-crier was sent through the streets; and thirty poor women were brought to the Town Hall in response to the proclamation, most of whom were pronounced to be witches. The tragic end of all this miserable work came in the month of August, 1650, when, on one single day, fifteen so-called witches and a wizard, with nine mosstroopers, twenty-five men and women altogether, were hanged on the Town Moor in one fell swoop. In Northumberland, the witch finder pocketed in some cases as much as 3 apiece. But his game was now up. He was laid hold of by Henry Ogle, Esq., afterwards one of the members for the county, who required bond for his appearance at quarter-sessions. He then got away into Scotland, where he was brought to trial and execution, and confessed at the gallows that he had been the death of more than two hundred and twenty women!

The fortieth volume of the Surtees Society, comprising “Depositions from the Castle of York” (edited by the late Canon Raine), affords abundant evidence of the wide-spread prevalence of the belief in witchcraft at the time of the wholesale execution on Newcastle Moor.

The first case of witchcraft in the volume, associated with the county of Northumberland, was heard on the 15th of February, 1660, before Luke Killingworth, Esq. The charge was brought by a soldier of Tynemouth, named Michael Mason, who said that about the 20th of January, 1660, Elizabeth, wife of George Simpson, fisher, came into his house, and asked his daughter Frances for a pot of small beer. Her request being refused, she threatened to make the girl repent. Next day, she lost the use of one of her legs, and within four days the use of the other. She had then to keep her bed, and lay miserably tormented, crying out that Elizabeth Simpson did pinch her heart and pull her in pieces. But the complainant getting blood of her, his daughter had ever since continued quiet in her bed without any torture. She did not, however, recover the use of her limbs, but pined away in a most lamentable manner. The said Elizabeth was reported to be a charmer, and turned the sieve for money, and had been reported a witch. To draw the blood of a witch, was to counteract her evil influence. Such was the popular belief; and hence, when suspicion fell upon a woman, it was common to wound her, so that blood might flow.

The Tynemouth witch was, as we have seen, a repuced charmer. She practised “turning the sieve” for money: a common form of divination where property had been stolen and the culprit was to be discovered. The wise man or woman, on being consulted, invoked an answer by the riddle and shears, chanting with due gravity the mystic lines:

By St. Peter and St. Paul,

If _____ has stolen ______’s, ______

Turn about riddle and shears and all.

All was quiescent till the supposed offender was named, and then the revolving motion began!

Riddle and shears were variously adjusted. In a case heard before the Commissary for Northumberland in the month of January, 1567, it was stated of Margaret Lambert, “that, for certain things lackinge, she turned a seve upon a pair of sheres”: thus practising a form of divination resorted to among the Romans before they came into Britain, so high is the antiquity of conjuration and credulity.

In the year 1563, Alice (wife of Robert) Swan was adjudged by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to make confession after the minister, in St. Nicholas’s Church, Newcastle, on a Sunday, that “by the means and procurement of Margaret Lawson, Anne Hedworth, Elizabeth Kindleside, Agnes Rikerbye, Anne Bewike, and Jerrerd Robison,” she had “of filthy lucre, and under colour of a singuler and secret knowledge of lost thinges, used by the space of certen yeres to cast or tourne the riddle and sheares,” being “akinde of a divination or charming”; to her sorrowful repentance of which the congregation were called upon to bear witness. The form of confession is set out in the twenty-first volume of the Surtees Society, being “Depositions and other Ecclesiastical Proceedings from the Courts of Durham.”

Again, in 1573, there is mention of a “wyff in Newcastell” that “culd torne the ryddle, and tell of things that weir stolne,” thus turning a penny by the credulity of her customers. One Alison Lawe, as appears by the parish register of Hart, in the county of Durham, was sentenced in 1582, as “a notorious sorcerer and enchanter,” to do penance in the market-place of Durham, “with a papir on her head,” and also in the parish churches of Hart and Norton. She had been consulted all round about; and there was an accusation made against Janet Allenson and Janet Bainbridge, of Stockton, that they had “asked councell at witches,” and resorted to Alison Lawe, for the cure of the sick.

We now come to cases of alleged witchcraft in Newcastle, and find the Chief Magistrate gravely listening to the most marvellous charges. Thus, on the 8th of August, 1661, John Emerson, Esq., Mayor, heard Robert Phillip, labourer, depose that in the month of December, 1660, he fell sick, and was lying awake, pained at the heart, and having his head anointed for the headache, when, the door being shut, there came before him the wife of William Johnson of Sandgate, and two other women. “Wype off that on thy forehead,” cried Margaret Johnson, “for it burns me to death!” Puffing and blowing, and breathing vengeance, she stood before him; till, after a scene which he continues to describe, and in which he declared his trust in Christ, a voice commanded them to begone, and they vanished away.

Sir John Marlay, the defender of Newcastle against the Scots in 1644, succeeded to the chair at the end of September, 1661; and on the 10th of October, “Winifrid Ogle, of Winlington White House, spinster,” and “Jane Patteson, servant to Mr. John Ogle, of Winlington White House, spinster,” gave evidence before him against Jane Watson, on an accusation of witchcraft. Marvellous evidence it was! Winifrid Ogle, hearing that two of the children of Jonas Cudworth (woollen-draper) were at the house of Thomas Sherburn, watchmaker, in sore pain, being bewitched, went to the place, and found them, in great extremity. Jane Patteson was also there; and she and one of the children cried out that they saw the witch, Jane Watson. The child said the witch brought her an apple, and was very earnest (for her) to have it. Presently after, the people of the house cried “Fire fire!” upon which, Winifrid Ogle “see something like a flash of fire on the farr side of the roome, and she see a round thing like fire goe towards the chimney, and the said childe was several tymes speechles, and in great torment and pain, and halfe of the apple the child spoak of was found at the bedfoote.” Jane Patteson, when the child cried, “There is the witch! there is the witch, Jane Watson!” said, “I see the witch”; she then “seeing a woman in a red waistcoate and greene petticoate, which woman was gon under the bed presently. “Her master, Mr. John Ogle, then” came with his rapier, and thrust under the bed therewith; and she further saith that some of the people in the house told her they heard something cry like a swyne upon the said thrust under the bed.”

Heightening the absurdity of this gross charge, Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Richardson, of Blaydon, yeoman, deposed that about eight years before, being then living in Newcastle, she fell very sick, and was much tormented in her body. “She sent for a medicer called Jane Watson, who came to her, and tooke her by the hand, but doth not now remember what she said to her, but immediately after the paine left her, and a dogg which was in the said house presently dyed.”

Another Newcastle case, even more remarkable, is that of Dorothy Stranger, who sometimes appeared in her own proper person, sometimes as a cat. The presiding magistrate was Sir James Clavering, Bart., the Mayor of 1663-64, Jane, wife of William Milburne, deposed, on the 10th of November, 1663, that about a month before, she sent her maid to the house of Daniel Stranger, cooper, to get some casks cooped. His wife Dorothy inquired why her dame did not invite her to the wedding supper (there being, apparently, as will be seen by the evidence of a subsequent witness, some relationship between the two families). She said she would make the girl’s mistress repent it; it would be dear to her. On Friday se’nnight (October 30), being alone in her chamber, there appeared to Mrs. Milburne something in the shape of a cat, which “did leape at her face, and did vocally speake with a very audible voyce, and said that itt had gotten the life of one in this howse, and came for this informer life, and would have itt before Saturday night. To which she replyed, I defye thee, the devill and all his works. Upon which the catt did vanish.” Going down the cellar on Saturday last (November 7), “to drawe a quarte of beare,” she unlocked the door, and in the inside was the said Dorothy Stranger, who again threatened her life, and attempted to cast a cord over her head, but was prevented. Next day being Sunday, while dressing for church, a cat of the same shape as the former “did leape att her throat,” and vowed to overcome her yet. It bit her arm, and then let go and disappeared. One day (November 9), in the afternoon, it leaped upon her on the stairs, brought her down, and kept her there for a quarter of an hour, without power of her body and tongue. At night, “the said Dorothy did in her perfect forme appeare,” and “tookehold of her arme and pulled her, and would have pulled her out of bed if her husband had not held her fast, and did nip and bite her armes very sore, and tormented her body soe intollerably that she could nott rest all the night, and was like to teare her heart in peeces, and this morneing left her.” Her belief was that the cat which appeared to her was Dorothy Stranger; and, having a desire t see her that morning, sent for her, but she was very loth to come. When she came, “she gott blood of her, at the said Stranger’s desire, and since hath been pritye well.”

Next year (1664), on the 8th of August, there was a further examination of this case, when Mrs. Milburne said that, after getting blood, she was in good condition, and not molested for a quarter of a year; but in the night of the 16th of January, Dorothy came again, “in her own shape,” and once more in July. On this last occasion, she first appeared as a grey cat, which “did transforme itselfe into the shape of the said Dorothy Stranger, in the habitt and clothes she wears dayly, haveing an old black hatt upon her head, a greene waist-coate, and a brownish coloured petticoate.” “Thou gott blood of me,” she said, “but I will have blood of thee before I goe,” and, flying violently upon her, she cut and scratched her, and drew blood, and then vanished away.

“Strange,” as Canon Raine remarks, “that any magistrate should write down such ridiculous evidence!”. There was a further witness, Elizabeth Stranger, widow, who stated that, about six or seven years before, her daughter Jane, then wife to Oswald Milburne, baker and brewer, being on the Sandhill, met Dorothy Stranger. Dorothy told her she should never see the Sandhill again. “Comeing home imediatly, she fell sick, and lanwished above a yeare, and dyed.” In her sickness she had sad and lamentable fits, and cried out most hideously, saying, “Ah, that witch-theafe, my ant Dorithy, is like to pull out my heart. Doe not yow see her, doe not you see her, my ant Dorithy, that witch?” And so “to her very last howre did cry out of the said Dorothy Stranger.”

During the mayorality of Sir James Clavering, there was one more case of witchcraft. Anthony Hearon, baker and brewer, deposed, on the 20th of July, 1664, that, about five weeks before, his wife bought a pound of cherries of Jane Simpson, huckster, whose charge was eight-pence. Reproving her for taking more of her by two-pence than she did of others, she was scurrilous and threatening. “And, within a fewe dayes after, the saide Dorothy tooke sickness, and hath beene most strangely and wonderfully handled, and in bedd had most sad and lamentable fitts, to the admiration and astonishment of all spectators, being sometymes rageing madd, other tymes laughing and singing, other tymes dispareing and disconsolate, other tymes very solitary and mute.” On Saturday, she had a sad fit at three in the morning, crying out that one Isabel Atcheson and Jane Simpson did torment her, and were about the bed to take her away; “and he did clearly see Isable Atcheson standing att the bedd side, in her own shape, clothed with a green waist-coate. And, he calling upon the Lord to be present with him, the said Isabell did vanish.”

Still another case was heard on Friday, February 3, 1665, before the then Mayor of Newcastle, Sir Francis Liddell, Knight. The defendant was Mrs. Pepper, who practised medicine and resorted to charms in the treatment of her patients. She had been called in to Robert Pyle, a pitman, whose wife Margaret now gave evidence, deposing that he had a fit shortly after tasting some water which Mrs. Pepper gave him to drink. He was “most strangely handled”; and “the said Mrs. Pepper did take water and throwed itt upon his face, and touke this informer’s child, and another sucking child, and laid them to his mouth. And, she demanding the reason why she did soe, she replyed that the breath of the children would suck the evill spiritt out of him, for he was possessed with an evill spiritt; and she said she would prove itt either before mayor or ministers that he was bewitched.” One of Mrs. Pyle’s neighbours, Elizabeth, wife of Richard Rutherford, tailor, deposed to seeing the patient in his fit. “There was then there one Mrs. Pepper, a midwife; and she did see her call for a bottle of holy water, and tooke the same, and sprinkeld itt upon a redd hott spott which was upon the back of his right hand, and did take a silver crucifix out of her breast, and laid itt upon the said spott. And did then say that she knewe by the said spott what his disease was, and did take the said crucifix, and putt itt in his mouth.”

In 1667 (July 4), “Thomas Sherburne, Watchmaker,” occurs again in a case of witchcraft, heard “before John Emerson, Mayor.” Margaret, the wife Sherburne, deposed, that on Monday (July 1), Emma Gaskin, of Sandgate, came to her door, begging; and the servant, Elizabeth Gibson, said she had nothing for her, for she had got too much ill by her already. Witness, looking out of the window, asked Gaskin what she did there, and bade her begone; and the woman said to the maid that she hoped she would either break her neck or hang herself before night.” And the said maide hath never been well since; for the night after she tooke her fitt, which she had done many tymes before, and lay, that she could not speake for about half an houre; and when she was in that condition, there began a thing to cry like a henn among the people’s feet; and as soon as it began to cry, the said Elizabeth did begin to smile and laugh; and then the thing that cryed like a henn did, as they thought, flawter with the wings against the bords of the floor; and when it left off the said Elizabeth came out of her fitt, and asked what that was that cryed, as she thought, like a henn; for she heard it, and saw the woman that came to ask something for God’s sake goe out at the doore, and is still worse and worse.”

In the year 1673 was heard what Canon Raine describes as one of the most extraordinary cases of witchcraft that has ever been printed. “We are here introduced to a witchfinder who plays the part of Matthew Hopkins, and tells us her experiences, which are of the most peculiar description. The reader must test her depositions with his own critical acumen. He must draw his own conclusions as to the accuracy of the tale that would run like wildfire through Durham and Northumberland. I know nothing of the result of the affair. I need not say that the accused persons deny their guilt.” The proceedings occupy eleven pages of the volume. The barest outline is all that we can lay before our readers. Many days were given to the strange inquiry at Morpeth. Sir Thomas Horsley and Sir Richard Stote, Knights, and Humfrey Mitford, James Howard, John Salkeld, and Ralph Jenison, Esqrs., occur as sitting magistrates; and one session by Jennison was held in Newcastle. Ann Armstrong, of Birchen or Birks Nooke, the witchfinder, who had been servant to one Mabel Fowler, of Burtree House, gave evidence against a number of persons, men and women, and described their marvellous assemblies, over which the devil presided, “sitting at the head of the table in a gold chaire, as she thought, and a rope hanging over the roome, which every one touched three several times, and whatever was desired was sett upon the table, of several kinds of meate and drinke; and, when they had eaten, she that was last drew the table and kept the reversions.” “Lucy Thompson, of Mickley, widow, upon Thursday in the evening, being the 3rd of April” (the witchfinder was giving this evidence at Morpeth on Wednesday, the 9th of April), “att the house of John Newton, of the Riding, swinging upon a rope which went cross the balkes, she, the said Lucy, wished that a boyl’d capon with silver scrues might come down to her and the rest, which were five coveys consisting of thirteen persons in every covey; and that the said Lucy did swing thrice, and then the said capon with silver scrues did, as she thinketh, come downe, which capon the said Lucy sett before the rest off the company; whereof the divell, which they called their protector, and sometimes their blessed saviour, was their chief, sitting in a chair like unto bright gold. And the said Lucy further did swing, and demanded the plum-broth which the capon was boyled in; and thereupon it did immediately come down in a dish, and likewise a bottle of wine, which came down upon the first swing.” The company made report to the president of the harm they had done in various directions, to life and limb and property, and were commended in proportion to the mischief they had wrought. “Mary Hunter said she had killed George Taylor’s filly, and had power over his mare, and that she had power of the farre hinder legg (of the ox) of John Marche.” She (Ann Armstrong) had been ridden to these meetings with an enchanted bridle, recovering her own proper shape when it was removed. “Ann, wife of Thomas Baites, of Morpeth, tanner, hath beene severall times in the company of the rest of the witches, both at Barwick, Barrasford, and at Riding Bridge End, and once att the house of Mr. Francis Pye, in Morpeth, in the seller there. The said Ann Baites has severall times danced with the divell att the places aforesaid, rideing upon wooden dishes and egg-shells, both in the rideing house and in the close adjoyninge. She further saith that the said Ann hath been severall times in the shape of a catt and a hare, and in the shape of a greyhound and a bee, letting the divell see how many shapes she could turn herself into.”

Such is a sample of the extraordinary depositions of Ann Armstrong, who was under examination on seven several days. On the last of these days (May 14), she deposed that, “she being brought into Allandaile by the parishioners for the discovery of witches, Isabell Johnson, being under suspition, was brought before her; and she, breathing upon the said Anne, immediately the said Anne did fall down in a sound (swoon), and laid three-quarters of an houre; and, after her recovery, she said if there were any witches in England Isabell Johnson was one.”

Armstrong had deposed, on the 9th of April, that Anne Forster, Michael Ainsley, and Lucy Thompson, among other confessions made to the devil, told him that “they made all the geer goe of the mill (Hiding Mill), and that they intended to have made the stones all grind till they had flowne all in pieces.” Robert Johnson, of Riding Mill, was afterwards examined, and in the course of his depositions said that about some sixteen days before Christmas, 1672, he could not by any means get the mill set; and about the hinder end of the holidays, “being sheeling some oats about two hours before the sunn-setting, all the geer, viz., hopper and hoops, and all other things but the atones, flew down and were casten off, and he himselfe almost killed with them, they comeing down against him with such force and violence.”

John March, of Edgebridge, yeoman, who had been to Birkside Nooke to see Ann Armstrong, deposed that she, hearing him named, began to speak to him, “and askt him if he had not an ox that had the power of one of his limbs taken from him; and, he telling her he had, and enquireing how she came to know, she told him that she heard Mary Hunter, of Birkside, and another, at a meeting among diverse witches, confess to the divell that they had taken the power of that beast.” With much more evidence of the same kind.

George Taylor, of Edgebridge, yeoman, whose foal had fallen sick and died, deposed “that coming to Birkside to speak with one Ann Armstrong, whoe had oftentimes formerly desired to have seen him, and she being asleep upon a bed, her sister awakened her and raised her; and being asked if she knew him, or could name him, she answered that if he were the man that had a fole lately dead, and if he lived at Edgbrigg, his name was George Taylor. Upon his demanding on her how she came to know it, she told him that she had heard Mary Hunter, of Birkside, widdow, confesse itt before the divell at a meeting they had that she had gotten the power and the life of his fole.” She told him, moreover, of other confessions of power over his stock; and he had a grey horse, the dam of the same foal, pining away; “and he thinks that all his goods do not thrive, nor are like his neighbours’ goods, notwithstanding he feeds them as well as he can, but are like anatomyes.”

Mark Humble, of Slaley, tailor, deposed that he was walking to the high end of that place, between seven and eight years before, and met one Isabel Thompson, formerly suspected of witchcraft; and, looking over his shoulder, he saw her hold up her hands towards his back. On reaching home, he grew sick, and for three or four years he continued very ill by fits.

With the depositions of this witness, the extraordinary case comes to a termination. Incredible are the stories told by the professional witchfinder; and marvellous the credulity of the men who went after her, and gave corroborative evidence!

Sir Thomas Horsley heard a case at Morpeth on the 17th of May, 1673. Margaret Milburne, widow, was the woman accused of witchcraft. She asserted her innocence. But Dorothy Hymers, of Morpeth, who often took sick fits, “verily believed that she was the cause of her grievances” ; and Isabel Fletcher, of the same place, had a similar persuasion. “She had heard her reputed for a witch”; and, seeing her approach, “fell into a swoune.” Next day, when “dressing a room, she apprehended the said Margaret put her head in at the window; upon which she fell into her distracted condition again, and continued soe five or six houers, insomuch that she was holden by severall people.”

This is almost the last case of supposed witchcraft found by Canon Raine in the county of Northumberland. “I am happy to say,” he observes in his preface, “that in no instance have I discovered the record of the conviction of a reputed witch. All honour to the northern juries for discrediting these absurd tales! And yet some of these weak and silly women had themselves only to thank for the position they were placed in. They made a trade of their evil reputation. They were the wise women of the day. They professed some knowledge of medicine, and could recover stolen property. People gave them money for their services. Their very threats brought silver into their coffers. It was to their interest to gain the ill name for which they suffered. They were certainly uniformly acquitted at the assizes; but no judge, or jury, or minister, could make the people generally believe that they were innocent. The superstition was too deeply rooted to be easily eradicated.” Nor is it rooted out yet. Every now and then we are reminded that it lingers still. But no magistrate would in the present day listen for a moment to such tales as were told by Winifrid Ogle and Jane Milburne in the seventeenth century; nor would anyone be denounced for discountenancing the cry of witchcraft.


Vol 2 – No. 21 – November, 1888 – North Country Vampires

William, Canon of Newburgh, a priory of Black or Augustine Friars, near Goxwold, in the. East Riding of Yorkshire, is one of the most veracious and highly-esteemed of English Church historians. Speaking of his history, compiled in the reign of Richard I., or immediately after, the Rev. Joseph Stevenson, M.A., of University College, Durham, who translated this and other works of the kind, says: – “Both in design and execution, it is worthy of the approbation which has generally been awarded to it. In criticism, William of Newburgh was in advance of his age.” He tells a good many stories, however, in perfect good faith, as literally true, which we more sceptical moderns can only regard as old wives’ fables.

Among the prodigious things recorded by Canon William are accounts of several dead men who wandered about after burial. One of the cases occurred at Berwick-upon-Tweed. In this town a certain man, very wealthy, but, as it afterwards appeared, a great rogue, fell sick, died, and was buried. Whether he died under the ban of excommunication, and was consequently refused burial in consecrated ground, we are not told, but the probability is that that was the case. For “after his death he sallied forth (by the contrivance, as was believed, of Satan) out of his grave by night, and was borne hither and thither, pursued by a pack of dogs with loud barkings.” It was natural that this hideous apparition should strike terror into the neighbours. Night after night, the hell-hounds hunted the poor defunct sinner up and down the deserted streets, running him aground in his tomb as soon as daylight peeped out, but only to renew the chase again after dark. The consequence was that no one dared to be found out of doors after dark, for each dreaded an encounter with this “deadly monster” — this vampire, werewolf, ghoul, lemur, or lycanthrope, who was doubtless cursed, like all his kind, with a ravenous appetite for human flesh, bent upon doing every manner of mischief to the living, biting every person that came in his way, and either worrying them to death or driving them stark mad. The historian goes on to say that “the higher and middle classes of the people held a necessary investigation into what was requisite to be done, the more simple among them fearing, in the event of negligence, to be soundly beaten by this prodigy of the grave, but the wiser shrewdly concluding that, were a remedy further delayed, the atmosphere, infected and corrupted by the constant whirlings through it of the pestiferous corpse, would engender disease and death to a great extent, the necessity of providing against which was shown by frequent examples in similar cases. “They, therefore, resolved that the horrible carcase” should forthwith be dug up, cut limb from limb, and reduced into “food and fuel for the flames.” Ten young men, “renowned for boldness,” either volunteered or were hired to perform the disgusting task. As soon as this bad been done, says William, “the commotion ceased.” He adds that a statement was currently believed in the place, that” while the monster was being borne about (as it was said) by Satan, it told certain persons whom it had by chance encountered, that as long as it remained un-burnt the people should have no peace.” But a pestilence arose soon afterwards, in consequence as our historian thinks, of this vampire affair; and it carried off the greater portion of the inhabitants of Berwick. “Never did it so furiously rage elsewhere,” says William, “though it was at that time general throughout all the borders of England.”

Another vampire case that came under William of Newburgh’s notice occurred at Melrose, on the south bank of the Tweed. The chaplain of a certain illustrious lady, whose name he does not give, “casting off mortality, was consigned to the tomb in that noble monastery.” He had been a very worldly man, excessively secular in his pursuits, and so addicted to the vanity of the chase as to be designated by the infamous title of “Hundeprest,” or the Dog-Priest. His small respect for the sacred order to which he belonged, was signally punished on his passing into the other world. For, issuing from the grave at night-time, and being prevented by the holy inmates from injuring or terrifying anyone within the monastery, he wandered beyond the walls, and hovered chiefly, with loud groans and horrible murmurs, round the bed-chamber of his former mistress. The lady, driven nearly frantic by his repeated nocturnal visits, demanded with tears that prayers more earnest than usual should be poured out to the Lord in her behalf. As she was a liberal donor to the Church, the holy fathers felt it their bounden duty to do all they could to relieve her. And so two stout-hearted friars and two powerful young laymen were deputed to mount guard at night over the cemetery where the miserable priest lay buried. They were well furnished with arms, and animated with courage, “safe in the assistance which each afforded to the other.” Midnight passed by, and no monster appeared; whereupon three of the party went away to the nearest house for the purpose of warming themselves, as the night was cold. We must tell the rest of the story in the ingenuous old Austin Friar’s own words : –

As soon as the fourth man was left alone, the devil, imagining that he had found the right moment for breaking his courage, incontinently roused up his own chosen vassal, who appeared to have reposed longer than usual. Having beheld them from afar, the monk grew stiff with terror, by reason of his being alone; but, soon recovering his courage, and no place of refuge being at hand, he valiantly withstood the onset of the fiend, who came rushing upon him with a terrible noise; and he struck the axe which he wielded in his hand deep into the monster’s body. On receiving this wound the monster groaned aloud, and, turning his back, fled with a rapidity not at all inferior to that with which he had advanced, while the admirable man (the friar) urged his flying foe from behind, and compelled him to seek his own tomb again; which, opening of its own accord, and receiving its guest from the advance of the pursuer, immediately appeared to close again with the same facility. In the meantime, they who, impatient of the coldness of the night, had retreated to the fire, ran up though somewhat too late, and, having heard what had happened, rendered needful assistance in digging up and removing from the midst of the tomb the accursed corpse at the earliest dawn. When they had divested it of the clay cast forth with it, they found the huge wound it had received, and a great quantity of gore which had flowed from it in the sepulchre. And so, having carried it away beyond the walls of the monastery, and burnt it, they scattered the ashes to the winds.

The belief in vampires has been long current in many parts of the world, and still is entertained in several nominally Christian countries, particularly among the nations of Sclavonian race, and such as are in immediate contact with them, like the Bulgarians.

Vol 5 – No. 50 – April, 1891 – North-Country Ghost Stories

Notwithstanding the manifest growth of popular enlightenment, there is still a vast amount of superstition in the North Country. Almost every neighbourhood has its wise woman, to whom credulous fools resort to have their fortunes told, or for the recovery of lost goods, or to find out who are their enemies, and learn how to circumvent and punish them. The fairy people, it is true, now only linger in childish tradition; but ghosts are still not uncommon, as witness the scare at Chollerford in the early days of the present year, on account of the alleged apparition of a murdered pedlar at the house of the railway station-master.

An old farmer on the Borders, of the name of Bell, said to have been a monstrous glutton, who required to have a round of beef set by his bedside every night, used to come back after death, and ride up and down about his “onstead,” even in daylight, if common report was to be believed. This was about eighty years ago. We had the particulars of the case from an honest woman, named Kirsty Weatherstone, who had been a servant at the place, and who had seen the apparition many and many a time, as, indeed, all the people thereabouts had. The old fellow was as fat and “ugsome,” she said, as when alive, while he sat in what seemed to be his accustomed gig, drawn by what seemed to be his favourite black horse; but never a word did the ghost utter, whatever he might see very different from Bell’s habit when a denizen of the earth, for he had been an awfully profane man. The ghost’s visits were so frequent, Kirsty added, that the people at last got familiarised with them, and would merely say, when they saw him riding his rounds, “There’s the old thief again!”

Another Border farmer, named Dunlop, having quarrelled with his wife, kept her for years shut up in a room in his house, where no one was allowed to have access to her but a certain comely maid servant, who took in her meals and otherwise attended to her, and who, after the poor woman’s death, married the widower. Common report ran to the effect that the unhappy prisoner was starved; but, however this may have been, her ghost certainly came back, unless the most knowing among the neighbours were under a gross delusion. One night a woman named Katy Winchester, whom we were well acquainted with in our youth, distinctly saw her standing, stock-still, at the farm-house end, when she was going home at a late hour to the village where she lived, she being an expert and well-employed midwife. Besides, Mr. Dunlop himself, after death had bereaved him of his second wife, was haunted by the ghost of his first, whom he used to see sitting opposite him at the parlour fireside, “mowing” at him like the foul fiend.

The keeper of a bumble ale-house in a small Border town gave lodging, on the night before the annual fair of St. James, sometime in the first decade of the present century, to a South-Country traveller, who had heavy saddle-bags. The man was seen to go in, but was never seen to come out; and the ale-house keeper, who had been notoriously poor before, became afterwards “passing rich.” Murder, said the neighbours, must be the explanation of the secret. And when the son of the alleged guilty publican rose to be a wealthy man, and lived in good style in a grand house, all the bells in it were said to begin a-ringing on each anniversary night of the traveller’s mysterious disappearance, though the ghost never appeared in bodily shape. A clever bell-hanger suggested that it was the rats which did this ringing, as they crept through a hole in the wall where the wires from the different rooms converged; but if that were so, the thing was still more wonderful, it being quite incomprehensible how these nimble rodents should have known how to play the pranks they did on “the glorious Fifth of August,” and on no other day of the year.

The author of “Rambles in Northumberland” tells his readers that, in passing a cottage, in which he remembered that an old woman had dwelt, who was suspected of having caused the death of one of her children, he inquired of a native of the village if he knew anything of the circumstance, and received from him the following account: –

I knew the woman, who is now where the Lord pleases, very well. She was the wife of a “day-tale ” man, and they had more small bairns than they could well provide for; and in harvest she used to go out a-shearing. One year, about the harvest time, she had a young bairn at the breast, which she thought was one too many; and that she might not be hindered of the shearing by staying at home with it, and that she might get rid of it altogether, she smothered it in the cradle. There was no public inquiry made, nor inquest held, but all her neighbours, especially the women folk, believed that the bairn was wilfully made away with, for she had the character of being a cold hearted mother. She never did well, though she lived for nearly forty years afterwards. She fell into a low way, and was, at times, almost clean past herself. She was always at the worst about the time of the harvest moon; and would then often walk about the house, and sometimes go out and wander about the common, all night, moaning and greeting in a painful way. I have many a time seen her holding her head atween her hands, rocking herself backwards and forwards on a low chair, groaning and sighing, and every now and then giving an awful sort of shriek, which folken who knew her best said was her way when she fancied she heard the bairn cry out in the same way as it did when she was smooring it. About the harvest time, she often used to see the spirit of the innocent that she had put to death; and her neighbours often heard her talking to it, bidding it to be gone, and not to torment her longer with its cries. She is now dead, and in her grave, and has been many years; and whatever may be her punishment in the next world for taking away the life of a harmless bairn of her own flesh and blood, she certainly dreed a heavy penance in this.

The same gentleman relates another story, concerning a pedlar who, according to popular report, was murdered in a lone farm-house above Rothbury about eighty years before he wrote. The pedlar had the character of being possessed of a large sum of money, which he always carried about with him. In his regular visits to that part of the country, he had been accustomed to call at this house; and from the hour he was last observed to enter it he was never seen alive. The farmer’s wife was the only person at home when the pedlar called; and tradition ascribed his murder to her. As he was sitting in the kitchen, with his back to the door, eating some food which she had set out, she came suddenly behind him, and felled him to the ground with a blow from a churn-staff. Then, after taking his purse out of his pocket, she threw him into a deep well in the yard. On her husband’s return from the field, she informed him of what she had done; and the next day, when the servants were absent, husband and wife drew the body from the well and buried it. The writer goes on to say that, though the neighbours noticed that their worldly circumstances were much improved, and that they had much more money at command than formerly, yet they were never “suspected of having murdered the pedlar. But their ill-got gain, as in all such cases, brought them no happiness. The husband, a few years afterwards, fell from his horse and broke his neck; and at times the widow was seized with fits of terror which appeared to deprive her of reason. She survived her husband several years, and on her death-bed communicated to a person who attended her the circumstances of the pedlar’s murder and the cause of her terror. She confessed that frequently, when she entered the kitchen where the deed was done, she fancied that she saw the pedlar sitting at the table; and after she had removed to another house, he used sometimes to seat himself opposite to her, with his hair wet and hanging down over his face, as he appeared when she and her husband drew him from the well.

It is universally agreed among ghost-seers that, when the murderer changes his abode, the spectre of his victim shifts along with him. But when a perturbed spirit, “revisiting the glimpses of the moon,” appears to a third party, it usually does so at or near the spot where the deed was committed, which becomes known as a haunted place.

Some half century since, a farmer named Wilson, who had been attending Stockton market, and left that town at a late hour, rather the worse for drink, to ride home to Middlesbrough, lost his way in the dark, and rode into the Tees, where he was drowned. His body was recovered soon after, but his hat, as was natural, had disappeared. His ghost was said to appear, causing terror to belated travellers. A Methodist local preacher, named John Orton, who had been at Middlesbrough, conducting divine service, was returning alone one night to Stockton, when, about the locality where the farmer was lost, he met a man without any hat, to whom he bade “Good night, “but received no answer. It being near midnight and the place quite solitary, Orton wondered what the man could be doing at that untimely hour. He therefore turned round and followed him, to see, if possible, where he went, for he suspected, from his appearance, that he was upon no good errand. But after retracing a few steps, he lost sight of him all of a sudden, the man disappearing, or rather vanishing, into a bush on the left-hand side of the road; and when Orton went cautiously forward and peered into the bush, there was no living creature there or near about. When he reached home, and told his wife what he had seen, she instantly exclaimed, “Why, man, it’s been aad Wilson!”

Orton’s son-in-law, who told us this anecdote, gave us also the following account of a ghost which he himself once saw:  –

One night, a few days after my father died, I was sitting in the back yard getting my pipe, when, all on a sudden, a great black dog, as large as an elephant, came and stood right before me, as motionless as a rock. I was suffering from the effects of drink at the time, and terribly out of sorts, with a head ready to split, and some feeling not unlike the horrors; but still I was in full possession of all my senses. So I determined to find out whether what I seemed to see really existed outside of me, or was within my own brain; and therefore I sat watching it for about five minutes. It stood motionless all the time my eye was steadily fixed on it. But at last, in order to satisfy myself, I moved my eye sideways, first to the left and then to the right, and finding that the dog moved either way, each time I tried the experiment, I was convinced that it existed only in my own disordered brain.  

The late Mr. Christie, land surveyor, who was employed by the Duke of Buccleuch to survey and make a plan of the country hunted by his grace’s foxhounds, related to us a tale of a certain Northumbrian gentleman, who, it seems, had been guilty of a secret murder, and who was ever after haunted by the ghost of the murdered man, dressed in the costume he had worn when alive. This unwelcome visitor was in the habit of coming at all hours, without any formal announcement, just opening the room door and walking in. If the gentleman had returned his salute, it might have disclosed his secret, and so have led to disagreeable consequences. So, whenever the door opened, it was his habit to look round and put his finger to his eye, in such a way as to cause himself to see double if the entrant was composed of flesh and blood, while, if it was only his disembodied friend, materialised for the nonce, the vision remained single, and he took no notice.

W. B.

Vol 4 – No. 41 – July, 1890 – The Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade

Firing the Rockets

It is needless to remind those who, twenty-five years ago, witnessed scenes of shipwreck and death at the mouth of the Tyne, of the motives and feelings that induced a party of compassionate gentlemen to band themselves together just after the lamentable wreck of the steamship Stanley, to obtain a knowledge of the use of the rocket apparatus, and thus be enabled to render efficient assistance to the coastguard in their praiseworthy, but often powerless, efforts to save life. Of the original members one hundred and forty only fifteen yet remain who are able and willing to work and muster for duty in stormy weather. It is gratifying to find, however, that, as from various causes the original members have fallen away, their places have been filled by young and active men, and the work which the brigade seek to accomplish seems likely to go on so long as gallant ships nail the seas and men’s lives are in jeopardy. The philanthropic work is one of the most popular institutions in the borough of Tynemouth. All along the coast similar brigades have been established, but Tynemouth was the first to unfurl the flag of humanity to our seafarers. The loss of life previously had been appalling, as may readily be conceived when it is placed on record that at one time no fewer than thirty vessels were to be seen ashore at the mouth of the Tyne as the result of a single gale.

Mr. John Morrison would appear to have been the first, through the medium of the press, to put suggestions for the benefit of our seafaring community into tangible form. He at once found willing coadjutors in Mr. John Foster Spence and the late Mr. Joseph Spence. two most estimable Quaker gentlemen, who took kindly to the scheme, expressing the opinion that “this was a sort of volunteering which even they might encourage.” Public meetings followed, and in the end, as the result of the agitation, Mr. J. F. Spence, under date November 30, 1864, intimated in the local newspapers that names of intending volunteer life-brigadesmen would be received by Mr. Kilgour, Custom House; Mr. Greenhow, Shipping Office; Mr. Messent, Tyne Piers Office; Mr. John Morrison, 54, Front Street, Tynemouth; and Mr. George Hewitt, police superintendent. North Shields. Mr. Joseph Spence was appointed treasurer (a position which he filled with indefatigable energy and much credit up to the time of his regrettable death, which occurred at Tynemouth on December 17, 1889, after an honoured and active public life extending over seventy years); Mr. J. F. Spence was appointed secretary, and the first committee consisted of Messrs. James Gilbert, James Blackburn, Edward Fry, John Morrison, James Hindmarsh, H. A. Adamson, Joseph Menzies, Stanley Kewney, Michael Detchon, Thomas Taylor, and the Rev. H. S. Hicks. A code of rules was drawn up, and submitted to the Board of Trade by Mr. John Morrison, and that authority instructed Captain Robertson, R.N., inspecting commander of the district, to take the matter up. From this time Alderman John Foster Spence conducted all the correspondence with the Board of Trade, whilst Mr. John Morrison carried on an active and successful canvass for members. The code of rules was soon after-wards approved by the Board of Trade, who, indeed, thought them so admirable that even to the present day they are annually printed and circulated in all the Life Saving Apparatus Reports of the Board as a guide to similar bodies.

For long the members of the brigade experienced much difficulty in successfully carrying on their work, owing to the want of knowledge regarding the apparatus among the crews of stranded vessels; but this difficulty has since been met by the “instruction boards” which are now placed on all vessels by the Board of Trade.

Mr John Morrison

Alderman John Foster Spence

Our portrait of Mr. J. F. Spence is copied from an oil painting by Mr. F. S. Ogilvie, of North Shields, while that of Mr. John Morrison is reproduced from a photograph by Messrs. Auty and Ruddock, of Tynemouth.  The other sketches which accompany this article show how the rocket apparatus is worked. When the apparatus which is transported in a waggon specially provided for the purpose has arrived at the scene of action and is got into position, a rocket, with a thin line attached, is fired over the wreck. This line is secured by the crew on board, who, at a given signal, make fast a block to the highest secure part of the wreck. Another signal is then made, and the coastguard, by means of an endless line, haul off a hawser, which is made fast on board about eighteen inches above the block. If the wreck is stationary, and circumstances permit, the shore end of the hawser is passed over a crutch, and set taut with a tackle, which is generally hooked into an anchor buried in the beach for the purpose. A breeches-buoy, which travels suspended from the hawser, is then hauled backwards and forwards between the vessel and the shore until all the passengers and crew are landed, the persons to be saved sitting in the buoy with legs thrust through the breeches.

Coming Ashore in Breeches Buoy

Vol 4 – No. 40 – June, 1890 – Newcastle and its Bridges

Tyne Bridge - Newcastle-on-Tyne - 1859The High Level Bridge - Newcastle-on-Tyne - A Boat Race SceneNewcastle from GatesheadThe Swing Bridge - Newcastle-on-TyneNewcastle is celebrated for its two bridges the High Level Bridge and the Swing Bridge. Both are enduring monuments of North-Country genius and skill.

The possibility of crossing the River Tyne at a high level occurred to Edward Hutchinson, master mason, of Newcastle, in the year 1771, when the old Tyne Bridge which spanned the river was swept away by a flood. He brought his prospectus and plan before the Newcastle Corporation, but the members thereof could not see their way to adopt the suggestion. Still the project was only suspended for a time. In 1826 and succeeding years, proposals having the same object in view were made, and in 1839 Messrs. John and Benjamin Green published a scheme for crossing the river at a high level. None of the plans, however, met with approval, and it was not until 1846 that the matter took practical shape. A high level bridge had then become a necessity. Railways were being formed all over the country, and it was evident that, unless traffic could be conducted along the eastern route, the western lines would obtain a great advantage. Many difficulties presented themselves, but all were surmounted by Robert Stephenson, who devised the present noble structure.

The High Level Bridge is a composite viaduct, having a passage for the railway above, and a covered way for vehicles and passengers below. The bridge consists of six cast-iron arches, supported upon piers of solid masonry. The length of the viaduct is 1,337 feet; length of the waterway, 512 feet; height from high-water mark to the line of railway, 112 feet; and height from high water to the carriage way, 85 feet. The first pile of a temporary viaduct was driven on April 24, 1846; and the first permanent pile for forming the foundation was forced into position on October 1, 1846. The last key, closing the arches, was fitted into its place on June 7, 1849. On August 15, 1849, the upper roadway of the bridge was opened for use; and the lower road was thrown open to the public on February 4, 1850. The total cost was nearly half-a-million of money, made up as follows: The bridge, £243,096; approaches, £113,057; land, compensation for buildings, &c., £135,000. Into the masonry of the piers and the land arches there entered 681,609 cubic feet of ashlar, £116,396 of rubble, and £46,224 of concrete. As many as 4,728½ tons of cast iron and 321½ tons of wrought iron were consumed. An Act of Parliament permits the North-Eastern Railway Company, the owners of the bridge, to charge at the rate of three miles for carrying a passenger across the upper portion; foot passengers pay a toll of a halfpenny when crossing by the roadway; and a carriage drawn by one horse is charged threepence.

The Tyne Bridge, which succeeded the old bridge destroyed in 1771, was erected in 1781, but it was far from being a satisfactory structure, and before it had been in existence some seventy years it was showing signs of failure. In 1861 a bill was obtained for the substitution of “a bridge of a different construction.” The first pile of a temporary erection was driven on September 7, 1865, and in 1866-7 the Tyne Bridge was removed. Industrial works had extended westward to such an extent that it was absolutely necessary that the new bridge should present no difficulties in the navigation of the river by large ships. It was resolved, therefore, to construct such a bridge as would be no impediment to river traffic. The new bridge, a structure of iron of the class known as the hydraulic swing bridge, was designed by Mr. John F. Ure, then engineer to the River Commissioners. Begun in 1868 and completed in 1876, the Swing Bridge has four openings corresponding with those of the High Level Bridge. The carriage way is 24 feet wide; the two footways are each 8 feet 6 inches. The superstructure of the bridge consists of a central or swinging portion, which is made to turn on a central pier, so as to form an opening for masted vessels to pass on each side of the pier, with two spans next the land on either side. The swing is constructed of wrought iron girders of what is called bowstring form, connected by cross girders, also of wrought iron, and supported in the centre by rollers on circular roads; and a large hydraulic press or ram, which, when the bridge is swung, shares a portion of the weight with the rollers. The whole weight of the swinging portion is about 1,500 tons, and the total length about 281 feet. It is moved round by powerful hydraulic machinery. The levers for working the machinery are placed in a raised lantern tower in the centre, and above the top of the girders. The bridge is so constructed that a weight of sixty tons, on four wheels, can be safely passed over any part of the roadway; and it stood a test of this description before being opened for traffic. The whole of the ironwork of the superstructure of the side spans and the swinging portion, with the hydraulic and other machinery, was constructed by Sir William Armstrong and Company, at Elswick, Newcastle. The rest of the work, including the foundations of the piers and abutments, masonry, approaches, &c., was executed by the workmen of the River Tyne Commissioners.

Our illustrations include a drawing of the old Tyne Bridge from the Gateshead side of the river, made about 1859. In the extreme distance may be seen Grey’s Monument; nearer are the Old Castle, the tower of St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, and the Moot Hall; in the middle distance are a number of warehouses; the small erection at the end of the bridge was a toll-house; close to it was a public-house, the landlord of which was Richard Ayre, a celebrated Radical, and a friend of Mr. Feargus O’Connor; part of the Guildhall may be observed on the right. The view of the High Level Bridge is taken from the north shore of the river. Here we have a familiar scene on the Tyne. A couple of scullers are about to row a race. The starters are in their places, and all are eagerly waiting for the signal to commence the contest. Two or three steamboats are filled with excited passengers; whilst a few spectators have taken temporary possession of wherries and boats; others again are content with the view from the causeway of the bridge, and a small group has congregated on an open space on the south side of the river. The drawing by Mr. Robert Jobling also shows the Old Castle, St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, the Fish Market, and the Moot Hall, but from a higher level. Many of these buildings are likewise depicted in the sketch of the Swing Bridge, the most noticeable object seen in the bridge itself being the tower from which the machinery which turns it is worked.

Vol 1 – No.6 – August, 1887 – Durham Cathedral (part 1)

Durham Cathedral - From the South-WestDurham Cathedral - From College GreenFor picturesqueness of situation and for massive grandeur of effect there are few Cathedrals, if any, which can compare with that of Durham. An old writer (Hegge: “Legend of St. Cuthbert” Reprint of 1826, p.43) says of it : “This reverend aged Abby, advanced upon the shoulders of a mountainous Atlas, is so envyroned again with hilles, that he that hath seen the situation of this city hath seen the map of Sion, and may save a journey to the Holy Land.” A later writer (Billings, 1843) says : “It is no easy matter to give a term conveying an adequate idea of the proportions or apparent size of the Cathedral; for, though less in height and width than others, its nave in particular has a grandeur of effect, derived from the simplicity and size of its various members, not surpassed, if equalled, by any; and King James was not far from giving a proper description when he offered to wrestle it against any other in the kingdom. If we except the addition of the Galilee and Chapel of the Nine Altars, its plan differs in nothing from the Norman design; and of that style of architecture it presents the most perfect and gigantic specimen in existence.”

There are few who are unacquainted with the story of the wanderings of the monks of Lindisfarne with the body of St. Cuthbert, and of how at length they found a final resting-place for it on the lofty wooded peninsula of Dunholme, almost encircled by the waters of the winding Wear. The first shelter for the saintly remains was “an arbour rather than a church,” made by the monks, “with extemporarie devotion, “of boughs and branches of trees. It has been conjectured that the site of this erection was that now occupied by the church of St. Mary-le Bow, in the Bailey, at the east end of the Cathedral; but Hegge rejects this as fabulous. The Church of Boughs was soon after replaced by one of timber, which lasted for three years, when, in 990, Aldwinus, the last Bishop of Chester-le-Street and the first of Durham, “raised up no small building of stone work for his Cathedral!, when all the people between Coqued and Teese were at work three yeares; and were paid for their pains with expectation of treasure in heaven: a very cheap way to pay workmen for their wages.” (Hegge, p. 27.). For a hundred years this building stood. Then (1093) Bishop Carilef, “who thought that the church that Aldwin built was too little for so great a saint, “having plucked it down, laid the foundation of a more ample building. Malcolm, King of Scotland, the Bishop, and Prior Turgot laid the three first stones, August llth, 1093. The work thus commenced was carried on by the Bishop and his successors. By the year 1128, Bishop Flambard (the builder of Framwellgate Bridge) had finished the nave to the vaulting, also the walls to the aisles. About 1154 Bishop Pudsey built the Galilee Chapel. It was built especially for the use of women, who, owing to St. Cuthbert’s well-known aversion to the sex, were debarred from entering the Cathedral itself. Bishop Pudsey it was who built Elvet Bridge, and who, by clearing away the buildings between the Cathedral and the Castle, formed the beautiful open space now called Castle Green. The Chapel of the Nine Altars, at the east end of the Cathedral, was built about 1275. In our illustration, which shows the south side of the Cathedral as seen from College Green, the south gable of this chapel, with its two great pinnacles, appears on the right hand side. The pinnacles of the north gable, the tops of which can be seen in our drawing, are much plainer and heavier than the southern two, and have a top-heavy and crushing effect on the delicate work they cap, being examples of injudicious modern restoration.

Here we must take our leave of this masterpiece of architecture, which is equally beautiful, whether examined in detail or seen from a distance as one grand harmonious mass. It is said that Robert de Rhodes the worthy lawyer who gave to us the world-famous steeple of St. Nicholas in Newcastle, contemplated, and even commenced, a similar crown for the great centre tower of Durham, but died almost in its conception. It is hard to say whether it would have been an improvement, or the reverse, upon the massive four-square majesty it now presents.

R. J. 0.

Vol 3 – No. 29 – July, 1889 – Sanctuary at Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral Sanctuary Knocker

One of the first objects which arrest the attention of the visitor to Durham Cathedral is the ponderous bronze knocker on the north door. The knocker itself is a large ring, held between the teeth of a grotesque head. This is the “sanctuary” knocker. It is now never used, for the privilege of sanctuary in churches is a thing of the past. But the knocker remains, a memorial of an ancient practice, which, whilst capable of being greatly abused, was also in very many cases a source of safety and a blessing.

The development of the laws relating to sanctuary would form a curious and interesting subject for investigation. Here, however, we have only space for the briefest possible sketch. The laws of Ina, King of the West Saxons, framed in 693, provide that if any one accused of a capital offence flee to a church, his life shall be spared, and he shall make compensation according to justice; and if anyone deserving stripes take refuge in a church, his stripes shall be forgiven. Alfred the Great, in 887, enunciated a law by which the privilege of sanctuary was given for three nights to anyone fleeing to a church, during which time he might provide for his own safety, or compound for his offence. If anyone should inflict bonds, blows, or wounds on the refugee, he was compelled to pay the price awarded by law to the injury he had done, and, in addition to this, 120 shillings to the ministers of the church. If a criminal fled to a church, no one should drag him thence within the space of seven days, if he could live so long without food, and had not attempted to force his way out. If the clergy had occasion to hold service in the church whilst the refugee was there, they might keep him in some house which had no more doors than the church had.

In the ecclesiastical laws of Edward the Confessor, as confirmed by William the Conqueror, in 1070, the privilege of sanctuary is defined. Wherever an accused or guilty person had fled to a church for refuge, from the moment when lie touched its threshold he was on no account to be seized by his pursuers, except by the bishop or the bishop’s servants. If in his flight he entered the priest’s house or, its court-yard, he enjoyed the same peace and security that he would have in the church itself, provided the house and court-yard were within the glebe of the church.

We see, then, that in the middle ages all churches possessed the privilege of sanctuary, though some churches possessed it in a much greater degree than others. The Cathedral of Durham was one of these more favoured churches. The reason of the greater privilege was, doubtless, in the case of Durham, because it contained the shrine of St. Cuthbert. Criminals who fled hither “besought the immunity of the said church and the liberty of St. Cuthbert,” just as, at Beverley, they came “to the peace of St. John of Beverley.”

When the claimant of sanctuary reached the cathedral of Durham, he proceeded to the north door, and, raising the bronze ring which hangs from the bronze monster’s mouth, knocked loudly for admission. When the echoes died away, he listened intently. Perhaps his avengers were close upon his track, and he feared every moment to hear their footsteps. Each minute that he waited would seem to him an age. But he had not long to wait. Day and night alike there were persons within the church ready to answer his knock. “There was certain men,” says the Ancient Rites of Durham, “that did lie always in two chambers over the said north church door, for the same purpose that when any such offenders did come, and knock, straightway they were letten in, at any hour of the night.” How the refuge seeker’s heart would beat when he heard the monks drawing back the long oaken bar which secured the door, and what a sense of unspeakable relief would he feel when he had entered the sacred edifice and the door was once more bolted!

“So soon as the refugee had entered the church he did run straightway to the Galilee Bell and tolled it, to the intent that any man that heard it might know that there was some man that had taken sanctuary.” The prior was informed with all speed of the culprit’s arrival, and there upon issued an injunction that he should keep within the limits of sanctuary, which, at Durham, extended to the bounds of the churchyard. He had also, in the presence of reliable witnesses, to make a full and explicit statement of the crime he had committed, giving names, place, and date, and, in cases of murder or manslaughter, stating the character of the instrument he had used. He was then furnished with a gown made of black cloth, on the left shoulder of which a yellow cross, “called St. Cuthbert’s cross,” was set, “to the intent that every one might see that there was such a freelige granted by God unto St. Cuthbert’s shrine, for every such offender to flee unto for succour and safeguard of their lives.” The sanctuary of Durham continued for very culprit for a period of 37 days, during which he was furnished with meat, drink, and bedding at the expense of the convent. His sleeping place was on “a grate” within the church, “adjoining unto the Galilee door on the south side,” that is, at the west end of the south aisle of the nave.

During the days of sanctuary, the refugee might, if he could, compound with his adversaries. If he failed to do this, he was required to appear, clothed in sackcloth, before the coroner, confess his crime, and abjure the realm. The usual form of abjuration was as follows:

This hear thou. Sir Coroner, that I [mentioning his name] of [mentioning his previous place of residence] am a [mentioning the character of his crime], and because I have done such evils in his land I do abjure the land of our lord the king, and I shall haste me towards the port of [mentioning a port appointed by the coroner],and that I shall not go out of the highway; and if I do, I will that I be taken as a robber and a felon of our lord the king; and that at such a place I will diligently seek for passage, and that I will tarry there but one flood and ebb if I can have passage; and unless I can have it in such a place, I will go every day into the seas up to my knees assaying to pass over: and unless I can do this within forty days, I will put myself again into the church as a robber and a felon of our lord the king, so God me help and His holy judgment.  

As he travelled on his way to the port appointed for his departure, the culprit was conducted from place to place by the constables of the different parishes through which he passed.

Amongst the records of Durham Cathedral is a register of the persons who sought sanctuary there between 1464 and 1524. This register was printed more than fifty years ago by the Surtees Society. The entries, which, with one or two exceptions, are in Latin, give the name and place of abode of the claimant, the date and place of the commission of his offence, the name of the person he killed, robbed, or injured in any way, with other particulars. Each entry closes with the names of the witnesses who heard the culprit’s confession. Many incidental remarks in this register are interesting. For instance, “the ringing of bells” when the refugee urged his plea of sanctuary is frequently mentioned; showing the importance which was attached to the ancient practice. In one case the culprit desires “the immunity of the church aforesaid and the liberty of St. Cuthbert, between the Tyne and the Tees, for himself, his chatells, and all his goods.” The register to which I refer affords a most valuable picture of the state of society prior to the Reformation, and indicates the extent to which sanctuary was claimed and the nature of the crimes from the consequences of which it afforded a refuge to the perpetrators.

The instances in which persons claimed sanctuary for offences committed in Newcastle are rather numerous; but the following abstracts will not, perhaps, be quite without interest:

1477, 4th July. Christopher Holme desired sanctuary, and confessed that on the 24th April last, at Newcastle-on-Tyne, he, with Harry Stobbes and Humphrey Usher, met one William Marley, and grievously struck and wounded him with a staff called a “walshbill,” in consequence of which the said William died.  

1489-90, 13th January. Alexander Taylleyour desired sanctuary, because he, on the Wednesday after the feast of Epiphany, in the year aforesaid, in Newcastle, near Caylecrosse, had feloniously struck one Thomas Smyth, in self-defence, with a certain weapon, under the left breast, whence the said Thomas died the same day.  

1493, 4th August. Robert Grene, of South Shields, desired sanctuary, because he, on the 1st August, in the year aforesaid, in Newcastle, in a certain street called the Close, in consequence of an attack made upon him by one Robert Nicholson, of Winlaton, twice struck and feloniously wounded the aforesaid Robert in his chest, from which wounds he died.  

1495, 16th December. John Bonner, of Gateshead, desired sanctuary, because he, on the Sabbath Day next before the feast of St. Peter ad Vincula, 14 years before, attacked one Alexander Stevenson, near Dotland Park, in Hexhamshire, and feloniously wounded in him the chest with a dagger, otherwise called a “whinyard,” from which wound he immediately died.  

1502, 9th August. Roger Raw, merchant, of Newcastle, desired sanctuary, because he, on the 6th day of the month aforesaid, in the town of Newcastle, in a street commonly called the Side, with a Scotch axe, attacked one Antony Ray, and grievously wounded him in four parts of his body, viz., in the flank, and in the left breast, and in both arms.  

1503. 2nd August. Thomas Wylkynson, of Gateshead, desired sanctuary, because on account of an attack made on him by one John Rede, of Alnwick, on St. Michael’s Day, 1502, in self defence he struck the said John Rede with a whinyard, and mortally wounded him twice in the chest and also in the neck, from which wounds the said John immediately died.  

1507, 9th June. John Sharparow, of Newcastle, desired sanctuary, because he, on the 6th of the said month, in consequence of an attack made on him by Edward Gallon, of the said town, feloniously struck the said Edward with a dagger, inflicting upon him a mortal wound on the right side of his neck, from which, the day after, the said Edward died.  

1508, 7th November. Edward Robson, of Tynemouth, desired sanctuary, because on the Sabbath before Palm Sunday, in a street commonly called Cloth Market, in the town of Newcastle, he feloniously struck one Edmund Tailyour on the shoulder with a dagger, of which he immediately died.  

1509, 31st March. Robert Bynks, of Newcastle, desired sanctuary, because on the last Sunday in Lent, in the house of a certain Thomas Sanderson, near the churchyard of St. Nicholas’s Church, he feloniously and mortally struck one Robert Tailyour in the right breast with a dagger, in consequence of which he died within five days.  

1512,11th October. Robert Lee desired sanctuary, because he, with others, was present when one John Fresill, between the walls of the town of Newcastle and the water of Tyne, and below the bridge of Tyne, mortally struck one William Wright with a dagger on his back between the shoulders, on the ninth day of the month aforesaid; from which wound he died the same day. Lee also declares that he aided and helped Fresill to escape from the hands of the bystanders.  

1514, 22nd May. John Horsley, of Newcastle, desired sanctuary. On the 13th December, 1513, on the Sandhill, in Newcastle, in consequence of an attack made on him by one John Taytte, he feloniously and mortally struck the said John Taytte with a dagger en the right side of the chest, inflicting on him a mortal wound, from which he immediately died. For which felony John Horsley was taken and arrested by the officers or servants of the lord the king in that town, and put in the prison there called Newgate, which prison the same John Horsley feloniously broke and escaped.  

1515, 5th September Colt, of Alnwick, shoemaker, desired sanctuary, because he on the day of the month of in the year aforesaid, feloniously broke and escaped from a certain prison in the town of Newcastle called the Newgate, where he with others was imprisoned, and because he is afraid, on account of such prison breaking and escape, to submit himself to the secular law.  

1515, 9th September. Roland Hall, of Marley-on-the-Hill, in the parish of Whickham, desired sanctuary because, in consequence of an attack made upon him, he struck one Thomas Herysby, of Whickham, with a sword, at the Close Gate, on the feast of Our Lady’s nativity, inflicting on him a mortal wound, of which he died the same day.  

It would be very easy to extend these extracts. They have a local interest, but in other respects are by no means so remarkable as are the records of persons who came from other parts of the country to claim sanctuary. By far the largest number of fugitives are homicides. A few are thieves, cattle and horse stealers are rather numerous; a smaller number are prison breakers; about the same number are burglars; whilst some only ask sanctuary from the claims of their creditors.

Amongst the most remarkable cases of murder are the following:

Jacob Manfield, who describes himself as a “gentilman,” accuses himself of having, about a month previously, with a Welch bill, murdered Roland Mebburn, the rector of Wycliffe, at Ovington. Roland Carlyll, a yeoman of the county of Durham, at Ashby, in the county of Lancaster, murders one John Cowton of that place, with a wood axe, then steals the murdered man’s horse, and very quickly makes off. A year and a half after he comes to Durham and claims sanctuary. Thomas Spence, “esquire,” of Bowes, in Yorkshire, has commanded Hebart Conyngham, probably his servant, to hang one Thomas Meburn, “a Scotchman,” without any legal trial, and the command has been obeyed. Doubtless, Meburn’s only offence was that of having come from over the Border. The Yorkshire squire becomes alarmed about the consequences of his rash act, and seeks sanctuary.

Three canons of Eglestone Abbey, near Rookby, accompanied by one of the abbey servants, are met near Lartington by one Richard Appleby, of Cutherstone, and his accomplices and adherents. Appleby and his followers attack the canons, whose servant strikes Appleby with a Welch bill, dealing him a blow on the back of the head, from which he died within twelve days. The servant claims sanctuary for the homicide he has committed, and the canons because they defended their servant.

Three men from Calton, in Yorkshire, claim sanctuary, two of them, in December, 1510, and one in July of the following year, because they were present when one Richard Horsley, of Calton, was forcibly taken from his mother’s house, carried into a neighbouring field, and so seriously wounded that he died within a month.

In October, 1510, one Thomas Gy or Gye, of Wistow, near Selby, claims sanctuary for having, eleven days before, killed one William Pynchsbek, at Wymersley. The sanctuary is granted, and Gye is able to make such arrangements as permit him to remain in England. But three month later he re-appeared at Durham, this time, however, to confess both to an older and a more recent crime. In the previous May he had stolen twenty heifers and calves from the forest of Gawtress, near Easington. These he had driven off to Bridlington, selling two of them on his way, and disposing of the remaining eighteen to the Prior of Bridlington. On the last day of November, that is, shortly after his previous visit to Durham, he had gone once more to the forest of Gawtress, and had stolen four calves, which he sold at Welton to one Gilbert Gye, doubtless a relative. Yet, for his repeated offences, Durham afforded him protection from secular law.

A most singular feature of many of the cases recorded is the length of time which elapsed after a crime was committed before the criminal sought sanctuary. For instance, a man at Carlisle kills another with a Carlisle axe, and comes to Durham for sanctuary twelve years afterwards. A murder at Ripon is confessed at Durham thirteen years after the event. Four brothers named Hayden, of Whickham, attack a man with swords on the banks of the Dryburn in Allandale, and kill him. Eighteen years afterwards one of the Haydens seeks sanctuary at Durham; and his example is followed two and a half years later by one of his brothers. But the most extraordinary instance is that of a man who kills a stranger at Shoreditch, near London, “with a pitchingstaff,” and confesses his crime at Durham twenty-six years afterwards.

A considerable number of persons claimed sanctuary for crimes committed in poaching affrays of one kind or other. In one case five men, evidently poachers, four of whom came to Durham together for sanctuary, murdered a gamekeeper by striking him with a crabstaff in Huntington Park, in Cheshire.

Amongst cases of horse-stealing, the following is the most interesting: John Tod, of Swine, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, confesses that at Westminster, “near London,” nine years before, he had stolen a horse, and certain moneys, to the amount of five marks, from N. Dale, a priest, the seneschal of the Lord of Hastings.

One entry I have determined simply to translate, inasmuch as it throws considerable light on the ceremonies observed when a fugitive abjured the country:

Be it remembered that, the 13th day of the month of May, Anno Domini, 1497, one – Colson, of Wolsingham, in the county of Durham, was detected in the act of theft, and by reason of this theft was taken and thrust into prison, and detained, yet, escaping from prison, he fled to the Cathedral Church of Durham, on account of the immunity to be had there, and whilst he stood near the shrine of St. Cuthbert, he requested that a coroner might be appointed for him. John Raket, coroner of the ward of Chester-le-Street, therefore came to him, and to him the same Colson confessed the felony, he taking oath to abandon the kingdom of England, and leave it with all the speed that he conveniently could, and never to return to it; which oath he took at the shrine of St. Cuthbert, before George Cornforth, Sacristan of the Cathedral Church of Durham, Ralph Bows, knight and High Sheriff of Durham, John Rakett, Robert Thrylkett, Under Sheriff, Hugh Holland, Nicholas Dickson, and many others then present. By reason of which renunciation and oath all the ornaments of the aforesaid Colson, in due right, pertained to the aforesaid sacristan: and his office; for which reason Coleon was commanded that he should take off his garments even to his shirt, and deliver them to the aforesaid sacristan. This he did, and placed those garments at the disposal of the aforesaid sacristan, and the sacristan, when those garments had been delivered and placed in his possession, graciously returned and gave him all his ornaments in which he was at that time vested. And afterwards the said Colson retired from the church, and was delivered to the nearest constables by the aforesaid High Sheriff, and afterwards from one party of constables to another, carrying a white cross made of wood, as a fugitive, and being led to the nearest seaport, in order there to take ship, and never to return. These things were done in the year of our Lord, the month, day, and place aforesaid.

By several Acts of Parliament, passed in the reign of Henry VIII., the privileges of sanctuary were considerably abridged; and, after being further limited in 1603, they were completely abolished in 1624.


Vol 3 – No. 26 – April, 1889 – “Canny”

A word so familiar as to give the distinctive character to “canny Newcassel” seems to have little need of explanation. It is just one of those words, however, which has made its home here, but which is sadly misunderstood by outsiders. The patient John Ray heard it not; and we turn to look for it in vain among the “English words proper to the Northern Counties” in his little volume of 1691. It does not appear in the collection of Nathan Bailey, the quaint “Philologos” who thirty years later published his Dictionary, in which were included “The Dialects of our Different Countries.” When Dr. Johnson followed, in 1755, with his English Dictionary, he did not record it. We come down, therefore, to our own times before we find the modest word included in an English dictionary. If we turn up Dr. Ogilvie’s great work, “The Imperial Dictionary” of 1848, we do find the word. But this is not our own “canny.” It is “cautious; prudent; artful; crafty; wary; frugal,” &c. The Southern man accepts this rendering, and believes that our “canny man” means “cunning fellow.” This may be explained by the fact that “canny” does not appear in literature before the seventeenth century 1637 being the date of the earliest quotation of its use in Dr. Murray’s “New English Dictionary.” All the early references to it are found north of the Tweed, and the trans-Tuedian usage of the word justifies the Southern Englishman in understanding it” to denote qualities considered characteristically Scotch.”

In Northumberland, the word is of ancient currency, for it is part of the mother-tongue of the people. But the history, and the dialect which is part of the history, of this northernmost English county, show us how a folk, isolated at times from the rest of the kingdom have grown up by themselves in word and work. It is especially shown in this word, which among the people of Northumberland has developed a meaning far differing from a rendering that ascribes to it mere cunning, or craft, or wariness. Here “canny” is an embodiment of all that is kindly, good, and gentle. The highest compliment that can be paid to any person is to say that he or she is “canny.” As home expresses the English love of the fireside, so in Tyneside and Northumberland does “canny” express every home virtue. All that is good and lovable in man or woman is covered by the expression, “Eh, what a canny body!” A child appealing for help or protection always addresses his elder as “canny man.” “Please, canny man, gi’s a lift i’ yor cairt.” “O, canny man, O show me the way to Wallington.” What Northumberland bairn but has appealed, when punishment impended, “Please, canny man, it wesn’t me!” The fishwife who wishes to compliment her customer, says, “Noo, canny-hinney, see what yor buyin’.”

O, bonny Hobby Elliot,  

O, canny Hobby still,

O, bonny Hobby “Elliot,

Who lives at Harlow Hill.  

The word, says the Rev. John Hodgson, “refers as well to the beauty of form as of manners and morals, but most particularly is used to describe those mild and affectionate dispositions which render a person agreeable in the domestic state.

” Wor canny houses, duffit theek’d –

Wor canny wives within ’em,

Wor canny bairns, se chubby cheek’d,  

And sweet and clean yell find ’em;

Are a’ decked put in Sunday trim,  

To mense this great occasion.

– Thomas Wilson: “The Oilin’ o’ Dicky’s Wig,” 1826.

Gan wi’ me, like a canny lad.

– T. Wilson: “Pitman’s Pay,” 1826, pt. 1, ver. 71.

It has also the significations following:

Endeared –

How well we remember the canny bit shop!

– B. Gilchrist : “Song of Improvements,” 1835.

Modest –

To get us a canny bit leevin,  Aw kinds o’ fine sweetmeets we’ll sell.

– W. Midford : -‘Pitman’s Courtship.” 1818.

What canny little wegges we used ta ha ta pay!

– Geo. Chatt: ” Old Farmer,” 1866.

Orderly, neat –

Eh, lads, but it’s a bonny way!  

But what myest pleased wor Nanny,

Was seeing fogies, awd and gray,  

Paid just for keepin’t canny.

– T. Wilson: ” The Oilin’ o’ Dicky’s Wig.”

Careful –

“‘Be canny wi’ the sugar.”  

Canny is also used adverbially, as, “Canny, noo, canny!” or ” Gan canny!” that is, Go gently.

A, U, A, upon ma airm,  

A, U, A, thoo syun may lairn  

To say dada se canny.

– B. Nunn: “Sandgate Wife’s Nurse Song.’

This Northumberland word is just the simpler English term for what we should otherwise have to style in grandiloquent language the highest human virtues. Beneficence, benevolence, magnanimity are all summed up in the plainer word canniness. So strong is this that to say one is “no’ canny” is to say that he is simply unhuman.  When the traveller from the South experiences the congestion of traffic by which the lines to the Central Station at Newcastle are occasionally blocked, his train is suddenly pulled up, and he finds himself waiting on a viaduct. Below him there instantly gathers a promiscuous crowd of ragged bairns. From a dozen young throats is heard, in measured cadence, the chorus of a song, and from the guttural verse there comes up a constant ower-word. This, as it is heard over and over, is not an accusation of the Southern gentleman. He is not being called “a cautious, crafty fellow.” “Canny man” is really intended to convey the most touching appeal that the little hatless, shoeless, palpitating figure below can make to the better nature of his auditor, as he chaunts-

Hey, canny man, hoy a ha’penny oot!

Ye’ll see some fun, thor is ne doot;

Whorivvor ye gans, ye’ll heor ’em shoot,

Hey, canny man, hoy a ha’penny oot!


Vol 3 – No. 24 – February, 1889 – Football in the North

Out of the Game

We cannot pretend to determine at what period the game of football originated. That of hand-ball, as we learn from the “Iliad,” was practised in Ionia and the Troad before the days of Homer. We also find it alluded to in many passages of the Latin classics. Thus Plautus says: “The gods have men for their balls to play with.” Seneca speaks of “skilfully and diligently catching the ball, and aptly and quickly sending it on. And, “the ball is mine” (Mea pila est) was proverbial among the Romans for “I’ve won !”. In this country football has been a favourite winter game from a very remote date how far back neither Strutt nor any other writer on sports and pastimes can tell us. King Edward III. prohibited it by public edict in 1349, because it was supposed to impede the progress of archery, then all-important as a branch of national defence; and King James I., in his “Basilicon Doron,” fulminated against the game, as he did against the use of tobacco, in the following strain : “From this court I debar all rough and violent exercises as the football, meeter for lameing than making able the users thereof.” But, notwithstanding this interdict, confirmed as it was under the Commonwealth, merrymakers continued to play at the heroic old game, even in the narrow and crooked streets of London, which, as Sir William Davenant wrote, was “not very conveniently civil.” One of Hone’s correspondents, writing in the “Every Day Book,” says that when he was a boy football was commonly played on the Sunday mornings before church time in a village in the West of England; and he adds that, at the time when he wrote, it was played during fine weather every Sunday afternoon by a number of Irishmen in some fields near Islington.

There is a short description of a country wake in the Spectator, wherein the writer, believed to be Addison, says that, after finding a ring of cudgel-players, “who were breaking one another’s heads in order to make some impression on their mistresses’ hearts,” he came to a football match, and afterwards to a ring of wrestlers, and also a group engaged in pitching the bar. And he concludes by saying that the squire of the parish always treated the company every year with a hogshead of ale.  Football was very common on the Borders during the long wars between England and Scotland. Whenever a foray was contemplated, as it often was, in time of truce, a match would be got up, under cover of which great numbers would assemble without exciting suspicion, and concert a plan for making a raid over to the English or Scotch side, as the case might be. At other times, persons not friendly to the existing Government would meet at football, and there talk treason without being suspected. Each district had rules of its own; but in almost every parish, and in every town or village, some particular saint’s day was set apart for “playing a gole” at camp-ball, field-ball, or football, as the game was variously named. The usual time was at Shrovetide, when sports and feasting were in full vogue all over, previous to the commencement of Lent. The regular custom was to have a cockfight as well as a football match on Shrove or Pancake Tuesday. At some places every man in the parish, gentry not excepted, was obliged to turn out and support the side to which he belonged, and any person who neglected to do so was fined; but this custom, being attended with inconvenience, has long since been abolished.

At Inveresk, in Midlothian, there used to be a standing match at football en Shrove Tuesday, there called Fastern’s Een, between the married and unmarried women, and the former, it is said, were always victorious. This was a peculiar case, however.

In most places the contest was between the bachelors and the married men. In towns where there was a market cross, the parties drew themselves up on opposite sides at a certain hour, say two o’clock p.m., when the ball was thrown up and the play went on till sunset or later, fast and furious, the combatants kicking each others’ shins without the least ceremony, though it might be against the rules.

At Scone, the old residence of the Kings of Scotland, handball and not football was the favourite game preferred; and there, though no person was allowed by the conventional law to kick the ball, but only to run away with it, and throw it from him when stopped, there was generally some scene of violence before the game was won, which caused it to be proverbial in that part of the country “All was fair at the Ball of Scone.”

The conqueror at a handball match was entitled to keep the ball till the next year, when he had the much coveted honour of being the first to throw it up. A man belonging to Hawick, named, if we mistake not, Glendinning being a crack runner, who had often come off victor in his native town in the matches there, where the opposing players are the residents east and west of the Slitrig, locally known as the Eastla’ and Westla’ Water Men was in the habit of crossing the Border every year about Shrovetide, and taking a part in the ball quisition during the day, together, of course, with lashings of drink.

Such are some of the historic features of a pastime play, sometimes in Northumberland, and at other times in Cumberland; and he generally managed to bring home the ball with him in triumph. In some places the prize for the victor was a new beaver hat, and when Glendinning knew that to be the case, he always went away with as shabby an old head-covering as he could find, confident that he would come back with a much better one after a new victory.

Brand tell us that it was once customary among the colliers and others in the North of England for a party to watch at a wedding for the bridegroom’s coming out of church, after the ceremony, in order to demand money for a football a claim that admitted of no refusal, for, if it was not complied with, the newly-married couple were liable to be grossly insulted, with loud hootings at least, if not getting bespattered with mud.

In several places, it was the custom to carry the football from door to door, and beg money to be spent in refreshments; and here likewise it was dangerous to refuse, because the recusants’ windows were very likely to be broken by the lads as soon as it was dark. Where the game was played in the High Street, people generally took the precaution to shut their shops and barricade their front windows in the course of the forenoon. The scene, when the players got fully heated, would baffle description, old and young contending as keenly as if the prize had been a kingdom. Sometimes, where a river intervened, as it does, say, at Hawick, Jedburgh, Alnwick, Wooler, Chester-le-Street, and other places, the players considered it no obstacle whatever, but rather thought it the best of the fun to plunge in tumultuously, be the water deep or shallow, and rather risk being half-drowned than interrupt the game.

On Shrove Tuesday there was always a great game at football in many parishes in the North of England. Chester-le-Street, Rothbury, Alnwick, Wooler, and other towns, were particularly famous. The game is still played with great vigour in the former place between the up-towners and the down-towners. Brand describes the ceremonial as observed at Alnwick in the year 1762. The waits belonging to the town came playing to the castle at 2 p.m., when a football was thrown over the wall to the populace congregated before the gates. Then came forth the tall and stately porter dressed in the Percy livery, blue and yellow, plentifully decorated with silver lace, and gave the ball its first kick, sending it bounding out of the barbican of the castle into Bailiffgate ;and then the young and vigorous kicked it through the principal street of the town, and afterwards into the pasture, which had been used from time immemorial for such enjoyments. Here it was kicked about until the great struggle came for the honour of making capture of the ball itself. The more vigorous combatants kicked it away from the multitude, and at last some one, stronger and fleeter than the rest, seized upon it and fled away pursued by others. To escape with the ball, the river Aln was waded through or swam across, and walls were scaled and hedges broken down. The victor was the hero of the day, and proud of his trophy.

When Lord John Russell, in the year 1835, introduced the Municipal Reform Bill into the House of Commons, its provisions created much excitement throughout the country, and numerous meetings were held all over England, either in support of or in opposition to the measure.  The Duke of Northumberland, jealous of any interference with his manorial rights, gave the most determined opposition to the bill, and left no stone unturned to prevent Alnwick from being included within its scope. As one cheap and ready means of effecting his object, he gave the sum of 10 that year to the ball players to be spent in seasonable refreshments. A man named Joe Ramsay was running down the street proclaiming the glad news, when an old woman cried aloud that it would have been wiser like if his Grace had given the money to the poor. “Damn the poor! they want everything,” was Joe’s sharp rejoinder. There were a good many Chartists at that time in Alnwick, and they managed to get up a petition in favour of the bill; but the bulk of the freemen, either of their own spontaneous accord, or seeking to curry favour with the duke and his agents, sent up petitions, much more numerously signed, for the withdrawal of the borough from the bill; and Alnwick was accordingly erased in the House of Lords, and remains to this day outside the area of reformed municipal corporations. With the money given by the duke, several barrels of strong ale were purchased, and a regular jollification took place in the Town Hall, after the ball play was over. There was “dancing and deray” to the heart’s content of the lads and lasses, and “guttling and guzzling” among the elders, till the small hours of the morning; and the solid and liquid stuffs left over were consumed next day by all who felt inclined to come. An unlucky Chartist, who had the temerity to intrude himself into the jovial company, thinking there was no reason why he should not have his share of the good things that were going, was detected as soon as he showed his face, laid violent hands upon, and would have been tossed over the outside stone stair of the hall, if some of the more sober guests had not interfered. The venturesome Chartist’s name was Will Hardy.

At Wooler, the game was played between the married and unmarried men; and after kicking the ball through the town, one party endeavoured to kick it into the hopper of Earl Mill, and the other over a tree which stood at the “crook of the Till.” In the days of yore, this contest sometimes continued for three days.

In many of the villages in North Northumberland, as well as in Yetholm, Morebattle, and other places on the Scottish Border, there was always a dance after the ball play, and a general feasting on currant dumplings, to cook which most of the kail pots were put in re-which has in our own day become more popular in all parts of the country than any other winter amusement.

W. B.

Vol 2 – No. 16 – June, 1888 – Old Bishopwearmouth

Old BishopwearmouthThe accompanying sketch (for which we are greatly indebted to Mr. J. G. Brown, of Sunderland) is from an old painting purporting to represent “the delightful vill of South Wearmouth,” as it appeared some seventy or eighty years ago. The painting was copied by a working painter named Richardson from an original picture by Thomas Milton, who was resident engineer of the River Wear Commissioners from 1817 to 1831. Mr. Milton was a clever artist, and painted other works besides the one we reproduce — Lambton Castle, Croft Bridge, &c.

Mr. Milton’s picture must have been executed subsequent to 1807, as Bishopwearmouth Church, which was rebuilt in that year, is represented precisely as it now appears. The old church which it superseded, and on the site of which it stands, is said to have existed ever since the days of Athelstan, the first who called himself “King of the English,” and who, on an expedition against Constantine, King of Scots, about the year 930, visited the shrine of St. Michael, on which occasion he restored to the church the ancient possessions of which it had been unjustly deprived, granted to it additional lands, and confirmed to it all its ancient privileges. By the end of last century the old church had become “so ruinous and uncomfortable” that it was determined to take it down; and the present edifice was raised upon its foundation, partly at the expense of the pewholders, and partly at that of the parish. The only part of the old church left was a portion of the chancel end. While the new church was being built, the bell was hung upon an adjoining tree, and divine service was held in a temporary structure.

The old rectory (seen to the left of the sketch) stood on the opposite side of the High Street, in the midst of shrubberies and gardens. A wall towards the north separated the ornamental ground from the extensive Rector’s Park, which stretched down towards the river Wear. The only part of the rectory buildings still left is what is said to have been the coach house, which was some time ago used as a slaughter house and joiner’s shop. Across the street, nearly opposite, was a flight of steps, now built up, leading to the church, and the bishop, at confirmation times, walked in procession this way from the rectory to the church.

In the foreground of the picture we have the rocky ravine known as Galley’s Gill, which was a very solitary place less than a century since, traversed by a rivulet commonly called the Howle-Eile Burn, which was arched over when part of the Gill was converted into a cemetery. The old Durham road, up which a man is seen driving some sheep, crossed this burn, formerly, by a wooden bridge; but at the date of our view it had been completely arched over, both where the road crossed it and for a good way further up; and the water is seen rushing down the steep bank from the mouth of the archway, through which the boys used to walk, by way of amusement, entering at the upper end and coming out at the lower, where they sometimes pushed each other down the slope into a filthy pool formed by the water at the foot of the fall. The name of Hind’s Bridge, still borne by that part of the street, is said to have been derived from a man of that name having occupied or owned some land in the neighbourhood. Most of the gardens which slope down to the Gill have long since been built upon. The whole appearance of the Gill, indeed, has been quite transformed since the time when the coal trimmers could come straight up through it from their labours, and sailors could walk down it to join their ships.