Robert Surtees, Antiquarian 

Robert Surtees was born in Durham in 1773. He was educated at Kepier School in Houghton – le – Spring (founded by Bernard Gilpin in 1574 and still going strong although in more modern premises!) before attending Christ Church, Oxford. He studied law but never went on to practice law instead opting to become a celebrated English historian and antiquary of his native County Durham. He spent most of his adult life at Mainforth Hall, near Sedgefield (the building was demolished in 1964 – He married Anne Robinson or Herrington in 1807 and had no children.He will be most remembered for his encyclopaedic work The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham, published in 1816. The four volume tome is a descriptive history of most of the historic County Durham compiled from original record preserved in public repositories and private collections. He began this gargantuan labour in 1804 and the final volume was published, posthumously in 1840.

Robert suffered from sustained ill health throughout much of his life. He complained of a cold in January 1834 and following complications he died on 13th February 1834 with his wife by his side. He was buried at Bishop Middleham churchyard.

I managed to get an early edition of the first volume a few years ago and I’ve shared a few photographs below which give a flavour of its contents (totally biased towards Sunderland!). The full four volumes can be read online here along with many other digitised historical publications. Well worth a look!

The Siege and Capture of Newcastle

At this time 372 years a Covenanter army from Scotland under the command of Lord General Alexander Leslie, 1st Earl of Leven (spelt Lesley in the account below)and Lieutenant General James Livingstone, 1st Earl of Callander were storming Newcastle.  The City had been under siege since 15th August 1644.  The western half fell on 19th October and the commander of the Royalist garrison, Governor Sir John Marlay negotiated the surrender of the city on 21st October after retreating to the Castle Keep.  The fall of Newcastle to the forces of Parliament signalled the end of Royalist resistance in the North during the first phase of the English Civil War.

The following account of the siege and capture of Newcastle was published in March 1891 in the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend.

If you want to find out more about the siege check out some of the events which are being held at Newcastle Castle to mark the anniversary.



One of the most important incidents in the great Civil War was the siege and sack of Newcastle by the Scots in 1644. The town was conspicuously loyal. The Scots Covenanters, who had been the first to declare openly against the unfortunate Charles, were the objects of mingled hatred and contempt there. The bulk of the gentlemen of Northumberland and Durham shared heartily in these feelings. When Charles visited Newcastle in May, 1639, on his march northward against the Scots, he was magnificently entertained by the Mayor and magistrates. “All the town,” writes Rushworth, “seemed but as one man against the Scots in case of an invasion.” The Mayor, Mr. Alexander Davidson, and the Town Clerk, Mr. Thomas Riddell (son of Sir Thomas Riddell, the Recorder), were knighted by his Majesty. The town had previously been fortified at the charge of the inhabitants, according to the practice of former times. There were 1,500 men able to bear arms in the town and suburbs, besides the trained bands, and it was expected that at least a thousand more would come from the outlying districts for their own safety. Further, there were a troop of 100 horse, consisting of Northumbrian gentlemen of good estates and fortunes, who, all gallantly mounted, went to warfare at their own charges, not putting the King to any expense for their maintenance.

Never on earth, perhaps, since the days of Gideon and Judas Maccabeus, did so pious an army take the field as that of the Scots Covenanters when they invaded England, under Alexander Lesley, afterwards Earl of Leven, in the month of August, 1640. At every captain’s tent-door colours were flying, with the Scots arms upon them, and this motto in golden letters, “For Christ’s Crown and Covenant.” There were daily sermons from their ministers, and prayers morning and evening, under the canopy of heaven, to which the men were called by tuck of drum; and, besides this, reading the Scriptures aloud, praying and psalm-singing were to be heard in every tent. Both in numbers and discipline the Scots were likewise superior to the English. The battle of Newburn, in which the Covenanters defeated and routed the Royalists, spread panic among the English soldiers. In a council of war held at Newcastle, at twelve o’clock the night after the defeat, it was determined that the place was untenable, and Lord Conway accordingly forth-with abandoned it, and marched south into Yorkshire, leaving all the royal stores and magazines collected there as a prize to the victors. The occupation of the town, which the Scots entered the next day, gave them military possession of both the two North-Eastern Counties. The inhabitants were panic-struck, and offered no sort of opposition; and the magistrates seem to have merely considered how to make the bast terms they could. At this time, writes Rushworth:

Newcastle and the coal mines, that has wont to employ 10,000 people all the year long, some working under ground, some above, and others upon the water in keels or lighters, now not a man to be seen, not a coal wrought, all absconding, being possessed with a fear that the Scots would give no quarter; 400 ships using to be here at a time in the river, not a ship durst come in; an hundred and odd coming to the mouth of the haven the day after the fight, and hearing the Scots had possessed Newcastle, returned all empty, and tradesmen in the town for some days kept their shops shut; many families gone, leaving their goods to the mercy of the Scots, who possessed themselves of such corn, cheese, beer, &c., as they found, giving the owners thereof, or some in their stead, some money in band and security for the rest, to be paid at four or six months’ end in money or corn; and if they refuse, said the Scots, such is the necessity of their army that they must take it without security rather than starve.

Durham was in like manner deserted and occupied. The bishop forsook his flock and fled. For four days After the fighting not one shop in the city was open. Not one house in ten had either man, woman, or child in it. And not one bit of bread was to be had for money, for the King’s army had eaten and drunk all up in their march into Yorkshire. At Darlington much the same state of things existed. His Majesty’s troops swept the whole land north of the Tees of comestibles before they left it to its fate. They also ordered all the upper mill-stones to be broken or buried, everything of a movable nature to be removed, and the cattle and sheep to be driven off. It was to little purpose that the inhabitants petitioned the King for relief, and represented that they and their posterity were likely to be “ruinated and undone.” The King could not help them, and the Scots might harry them to their heart’s content, without let or hindrance. And so it was that the Scots compelled Durham to pay them £350 a day, Northumberland £300 a day, and Newcastle £200 a day, besides furnishing them with great quantities of hay and straw. Between the two contending parties, then, the people were woefully tested.

Early in August, 1641, the Scots, having received from the English Parliament a large sum of money, or the promise of it, quitted Newcastle. A few days after their departure, the King passed through the town, journeying North to pacify the malcontents across the Border, whence (having neither pleased his friends nor conciliated his enemies) he returned by the same route in November. By this time civil war was seen to be inevitable, and both parties were anxious to secure possession of Newcastle. An order to this effect was issued by the House of Commons; but the Royalist party were in the ascendant upon Tyneside, and the order was disobeyed. William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle, being appointed governor of the town by the King, was warmly welcomed, and generously helped to put the district in an efficient state of defence. So highly gratified were the burgesses with both King and Earl that they lent his Majesty £700, and gave the Earl their honorary freedom.

In the month of January, 1644, another Scottish army, consisting of 18,000 foot and 3,000 horse, commanded by the same experienced general as before, crossed the Tweed to the assistance of Parliament in the midst of a severe storm. The King’s forces in Northumberland, under Sir Thomas Glenham, were very inferior in number, and their leaders laboured under the disadvantage of being of various ways of thinking. The Yorkshire gentlemen voted for devastating the country before the invaders, while the Northumbrians were naturally averse to seeing their estates laid waste, and proposed to return a conciliatory answer to the propositions of the Scots Commissioners. All agreed that it was impossible to meet the Soots in the field, and the result was that the King’s troops fell back, first over the Aln, and then over the Coquet, after some desultory skirmishes; and the Scots experienced no serious difficulty till they arrived under the walls of Newcastle, except such as bad roads and wretched weather occasioned.

General Lesley came before the town on Saturday, the 3rd of February, and summoned the place the same day. The Mayor and Corporation returned a resolute answer. In the evening the suburb of Sandgate, a poor place without the walls on the east side of the town, was set on fire to prevent the enemy from making his advances under cover. This was on Saturday night, and the suburb continued burning all Sunday and Monday. After three weeks’ waiting, seeing that the siege, or rather blockade, was likely to be a long and wearisome affair, Lesley determined to waste no more time. So he broke up his camp and marched to Heddon-on-the-Wall, leaving behind him only six regiments of foot and some troops of horse to hold the garrison in check. On the 28th of February the Scots crossed the Tyne, without opposition, at the three several fords of Ovingham, Bywell, and Eltringham. The next day they passed the Derwent at Ebchester, their foot crossing the river, which was both deep and rapid, being greatly flooded, in single file, over a bridge of trees. Two days afterwards they crossed the Wear, at the new bridge near Lumley, and on Monday, the 4th of March, they entered Sunderland. Marching and counter-marching up and down North Durham, with skirmishes at South Shields, Hylton, and other places filled up the time till the second week in August. Meanwhile, the battle of Marston Moor had completed the ruin of the King’s affairs in the North; and the surrender of York to the Parliamentarians left Newcastle the last bulwark of the Royal cause in this part of the kingdom. The Earl of Crawford and other Royalists had thrown themselves into the town. But General Lesley, having been joined by the Earl of Callendar, with a reserve army of 10,000 Scots, determined to make himself master of the place, and accordingly sat down before it on the 13th of August, beleaguering it on all sides.

The chief Scottish engineer, William Hunter, had formed a new kind of great guns, never before discovered, which were made purposely for this design, “above three-quarters of a yard long, or some a yard, that would carry a twelve-pound bullet, to do good execution at a good distance, and yet so formed that a horse might carry one of them.” The Scots also brought with them one hundred and twenty other great guns, and a train of ammunition, “very full and large.” We learn from “A True Impartial Relation of the Taking of Newcastle,” published by authority in 1644, and reprinted in 1825 as one of the Newcastle Typographical Society’s Tracts, that no fair means were unessayed to invite the townspeople for their own safety to surrender themselves “unto the Obedience of King and Parliament.” In a letter from “the Committee of both Kingdomes” to “the Mayor, Aldermen, Burgesses, and Common Councell of the towne,” the latter were adjured not to trust to rotten reeds and broken staves, which would suddenly bring the town to ruin, but to acquit themselves like rational men. Numerous copies of a letter from “a well-wisher to the Town” were cast over the walls, in order that they might come into the hands of the inhabitants, who were therein told that it was “no more wisdome, nor Honour, but extreame madnesse, any longer to hold out, when the danger was “present and certain,” and when all hopes of relief had failed them. But when all thece waves could nothing prevaile against the obstinacy of the Enemy, the Army having endured much hardship with patience, and the Mines and Batteries being in readinesse, it was resolved without loss of time to send in a peremptory summons. A courteous correspondence followed, in which the parties designated each other as “loving friends,” and both professed the utmost anxiety to shun the effusion off Christian blood. The result was the appointment, “after many shiftings and delays,” of three gentlemen, besides a secretary, to arrange with the Earl of Leven the terms of a treaty. Sir John Marley (the Mayor), Sir Nicholas Cole and Sir George Baker, Colonel Charles Brandling, Lieut-Colonel Thomas Davidson, and Captain Cuthbert Carr, late Sheriff of Newcastle, were named as hostages on the part of the town for the safety of the Scots Commissioners who went in to treat; and the trio accordingly went out to the Sandgate. But, as the “true and impartial relater” says, “the time appointed for Treaty was very improfitably spent.” The Newcastle gentlemen “would not suffer any propositions to be put in writ, but used high and intollerable expressions against the power of Parliament, and their own power to stand out, and nothing appertaining to the businesse of that meeting. And after three or foure houres’ debate, all they would resolve upon was to send out Propositions to the Lord General within two or three dayes, and in the meantime they declared that whatever should be the conditions of their agreement, they would onely give Hostages to render the Towne after twenty days, if reliefe came not.” Whereupon the Scottish Commissioners, finding themselves deluded and delayed by the governor, who was “void of all candor, and tyrannized so absolutely over the mindes and fortunes of the people that none durst expresse their inclinations to peace and happinesse,” were “forced to part and desert the Treaty, the Governor refusing to doe so much as seeke a continuation thereof while to-morrow.” He “evanished so farre in his owne conceit, that be thought the Army would have taken a summe of money, and have beene gone, and himselfe have been desired to be a Mediator betwixt the King and Parliament. But all hopes of accommodation failing, the Commissioners and the hostages were mutually returned; and thereupon orders were given to the whole Army, and at the sevarall Batteries, to be in a posture ready for action the next day, early in the morning, seeing all fair meanes were ineffectuall.”

Further delay was desired by the besieged, but Lesley refused to give it. Then Sir John Marley, in his own name alone, sent this imprudent message to the Scottish camp, addressed to Lord Sinclair:

My Lord, I have received divers Letters and Warrants subscribed by the name of Leven, but of late can hear of none that have seen such a man; besides, there is strong report he is dead; therefore, to remove all scruples, I desire our Drummer may deliver one letter to himself; thus wishing you could think on some other course to compose the differences of these sad distracted Kingdomes than by battering Newcastle, and annoying us who never wronged any of you; for if you seriously consider, you will find that these courses will aggravate and not moderate distempers; but I will referre all to your owne consciences, and rest Your friend, John Marley.

Sir John Marley’s foolish epistle bears date the 19th, and was probably written shortly after midnight on Friday, the 18th of October. Barely had the drummer who bore it returned to his place within the walls, when the final assault began.

During the siege, Lord Leven, with the forces immediately under him, beleaguering the west and north-west parts of the town, was quartered at Elswick, then a village about a mile west of Newcastle. Lord Sinclair’s regiment lay to the east, separated from the main body by Shieldfield Fort belonging to the town. The Earl of Callendar, with his division, was stationed at Gateshead, on the bridge, and at the glass-houses, below which he had thrown a bridge of “keill boats” over the river, for the passing and repassing of his forces, to both sides, and also for the use of the country people, who brought in daily provisions for the army. The bridge itself, being duly guarded by Lord Kenmoor’s regiment at both ends, and a strong sentry set at each of them, with two redoubts, had also there a “watery guard” of “keill boats,” tied with cable ropes from bank to bank, to secure it from any sudden surprise. The besiegers were domiciled on the Town Moor, Leazes, and elsewhere in huts composed of turf, clay, straw, and wattles. On the other hand, a round tower in the Castle Garth, called the Half-Moon Battery (on the site of which the Assize Courts were long afterwards built) was used by Sir John Marley to secure the Close and the Quayside; and the Castle, which had been suffered to fall into a very ruinous state since the union of the crowns, he put into good repair. The walls are described by William Lithgow, an eye-witness of the siege on the Scottish side, as being a great deal stronger than those of York, and “not unlike the walls of Avignon, but especially Jerusalem.” As for the inhabitants, he says, “the richest or better sort of them, as seven or eight common knights; aldermen, coal merchants, puddlers, and the like creatures,” were “altogether malignants, most of them being Papists, and the greater part of all irreligious Atheists; the vulgar condition being a mass of silly ignorants, living rather like to the Berdoans in Libya (wanting knowledge, conscience, and honesty) than like to well-disposed Christians, pliable to religion, civil order, or church discipline.”

On the morning of the 19th of October Lord Leven ordered his batteries to be opened all round the town. The besieged made a gallant defence, and the Scots suffered considerable loss, yet still they pressed on. After some hours’ desperate fighting at breaches which they had made near the White Friar’s Tower, and in the neighbourhood of Sandgate, the Scots forced an entry, made themselves masters of the gates of Newgate and Pilgrim Street, and, being joined by comrades who had entered at other breaches in the walls, effected the capture of the town.

The Milbank Manuscript adds several particulars of the defence from the Royalist side. “The Newgate Ward, which was under Captain Cuthbert Carr, was taken by the enemy, who entered at the White Fryer Tower and Sandgate, and encompassed (hem before and behind; and Pilgrim Street Gate was maintained by Captain George Errington, Lieutenant William Robson, and Ensign Thomas Swan, who fought and killed very many, they themselves not having one hurt, until they were encompassed by the enemy before and behind; and even then would not parley with the Scots who fought against them from without, but did capitulate with “Lieutenant-Colonel Sinclair, who loved and honoured them, and kept his agreement well with them, that not one of them was robbed of his clothes or money, nor were any of his men suffered to give any evil word; and it was the great blessing of God that all that time there was not one man slaine nor hurt, although that company consisted of nine score men, all tradesmen; and there were divers sallies made out at that gate, for it was the largest of all the gates of the town, it being barrocaded and shut up. And after they had surrendered, and the enemy was called over at that breach, they durst not approach, but shot at their friends that called them, and would not believe that the town was taken.”

Edward Man, Merchant Adventurer of Newcastle, was on the side of the Parliament, and was made Town Clerk after the capture (an office which he retained down to his death in 1654). On the day that the town was stormed and taken, he wrote off to a Member of Parliament, informing him of the fact. “The storm lasted,” said he, “two hours or thereabouts. It was very hott, and managed bravely on both parts, till the towne was over-mastered. I am happie God made me a spectator of the fall of those wicked men who were born to vacuate so famous a towne. The Maiors house, or some other adjoyning, are burning; yet my Lord Generall hath given order for the staying off the fire, if possible.”

The Scots wondered at their own moderation in the hour of their triumph. If there was some pillage, there might have been more. There would have been less if the ruling authorities could have had their own way. “Then began the whole armie,” writes Lithgow, “commanded and uncommanded (observing King David’s ancient rule that they who stayd with the baggage and they who fought in the field should share the booties alike) to plunder, I say, for twenty-foure houres time, being an act of parmission, although to no great purpose. And why? Because the common souldiers, being only able to plunder the common people (although they might have justly stretched their hands further), had for the greatest part of them small benefite,” getting little “excepting only household stuff, such as bedclothes, linens, tanned leather, calve skins, men and women’s apparel, pots, pans, and such like common things.” The store of victuals and ammunition within the town was found to be almost spent, so that they could not have holden out ten days longer, “unless the one half had devoured the other.” After the lapse of a day, further plundering was prohibited under pain of death; but the Scots are said in the meanwhile to have rifled the town’s hutch, and destroyed most of the deeds and documents belonging to the Corporation.

A news-sheet, entitled “Perfect Occurrences,” bears witness to the religious discretion observed by the soldiery: “They have not taken anything’ from any godly persons, men or women, that they finde never acted or carried themselves against the Parliament; and they do so piously that they show them all the respect that maybe.” Still, saints and sinners all suffered. “Looting” fell not only on the ungodly, but pretty impartially on all who had anything to lose. Even the globes of the Trinity House, terrestrial and celestial, were seized by warriors who would “make the best of both worlds,” and turned them into ten shillings the sum accepted for their ransom.

The ballad mongers were not behind in turning a penny by the sack of the town; and their candid rhymes confess that the pillagers were no respecters of persons.

Straightway to plundering we did fall,

Of great and small, for we were all

Most valiant that day;

And Jenny in her silken gown,

The best in town from foot to crown,

Was bonny and gay.

While Jenny flaunted in ill-gotten silk, there was Te Deums sung. Both sides claimed the favour of God. Lord Leven and his comrades went to church “to give thanks to God that He was pleased, even according to the words and wishes of their enemies, to prosper and bless His people, according to the justness of their cause.” Sir John Marley, the defeated commander, who had now cause to believe in Lord Leven’s presence without the evidence of a drummer, addressed his lordship on the 21st from the Castle, of which he still held possession. He desired that he and chose with him might have liberty to stay, or go out of the town, with His Excellency’s safe pass, to His Majesty’s next garrison not beleaguered, with their horses, pistols, and swords, and have fourteen days’ time to dispatch their journey, so many as pleased to go. “And truly, my Lord,” says he, “I am yet confident to receive so much favour from you as that you will take such care of me as that I shall receive no wrong from the ignoble spirits of the vulgar sort; for I doubt no other. I must confesse, I cannot keep it [the Castle] long from you; yet I am resolved, rather than to be a spectacle of misery and disgrace to any, I will bequeathe my soul to Him that gave it, and then referre my body to be a spectacle to your severity. But, upon the tearmes above-said, I will deliver it to you.” Upon his surrendering himself, he was almost torn to pieces by the mob; was committed to his house, under a strong guard, to protect him from the fury of the people; and, not being considered safe there, was cast, writes Lithgow, “into a dungeon within the Castle, where now that presumptuous Governor remaineth, till the hangman salute his neck with a blow of Strafford’s courtesy.” Parliament and Army were, however, more lenient. His life was spared, and he shared the exile of Charles and Clarendon, and lived to enjoy their Restoration.

Many were the companions-in-arms of Sir John Marley who suffered death in the defence of the town. Conspicuous among the fallen was Sir Alexander Davison, whose mansion was on the Sandhill, opposite the Exchange. Under its roof, in all probability, he received from the King, during his second mayoralty, the honour conferred upon him in 1639. At the siege, he fought on the walls as a lieutenant-colonel, with his son Joseph by his side as captain. Father and son were borne away wounded, and did not long survive the defeat of their cause. They died, and were buried in the church of St. Nicholas, the former being laid in his tomb on the 25th, and the latter on the 29th of October. On the llth of November, the eldest son of the fallen knight placed in St. Mary’s Porch a mural monument recording the manner of their death.

There is a tradition that the Scottish general threatened the Mayor, during the siege, that if the town was not instantly delivered up, he would direct his cannon so as to demolish the beautiful steeple of St. Nicholas. Sir John Marley thereupon promptly ordered the chief of the Scotch prisoners to be taken to the top of the tower, below the lantern, and returned Lord Leven an answer, that if the structure fell, it should not fall alone, as his countrymen were placed in it. And so St. Nicholas’ Church was saved.

Pandon Dene, Newcastle

The following is a description of Pandon Dene, published in the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore & Legend in February 1890.  In Medieval times, Newcastle was divided by several streams or burns flowing towards the River Tyne. Several of the roads have the term bridge in their names although no water is visible today. Examples are Barras Bridge, New Bridge Street, High Bridge and Low Bridge. They were often important sites for industry and settlement but hampered communications and development. As the town expanded they were filled in and now flow in culverts buried deep below the surface.



To write of Pandon Dene is like writing of some departed friend. There is a tender melancholy associated with the place like that associated with the memory of the dead. And when we think of it as it once was gay with foliage and blossom and look upon its condition of today, buried far beneath a mass of ever accumulating rubbish, our melancholy is not unmingled with regret that so splendid a site for a public park should have been lost the city.

One of the old features of Newcastle, in which it differed from the flat monotony of many towns, was the number of its little valleys, each with its streamlet flowing down the midst, which graced it with so pleasing a variety of hill and dale, and added to the picturesqueness of its situation on the bold sloping banks of the Tyne. Of these little valleys one of the most lovely was that whose blotting out we now deplore. Through it flowed the Pandon or Bailey Burn rising near Chimney Mills, running between the Leazes and the Moor down to Barras Bridge then, after receiving its little tributary, Magdalene Burn, about opposite the end of Vine Lane, merrily turning the wheels of the various water mills which nestled down by its side amongst gardens and trees, until it flowed under the Stock Bridge and Burn Bank, and so joined old Father Tyne.


Barras Bridge, Newcastle, about 1810 


It would take a very big book to contain the history of this little valley and its associations, and its historian might linger long and lovingly over many a spot within its watershed, of deepest interest to lovers of old Newcastle lore. He would have much to say of its two bridges now bridges only in name: of the Barras Bridge and of the contiguous hospitals of St. James and Mary Magdalene of the New Bridge and its building. We show in one of our illustrations a view of the former bridge when it was in reality a bridge. The picture is from a drawing made by the elder T. M. Richardson about 1810; and, rude as it is, a sufficiently good idea of the former beauty of the spot may be gathered from it. Two of our views show the other, the New Bridge, gracefully spanning the Pandon valley. One is from the north, taken from near the foot of the steps which used to lead down from Shieldfield at the end of the lane called “the Garden Tops.” It was painted by John Lumsden in 1821, and shows the old water corn mill, afterwards the Pear Tree Inn, the town in the middle distance, and the Windmill Hills at Gateshead beyond. The other (from a painting by James Dewar about 1833) is from the south, from near what was afterwards “New Pandon,” and gives us a view of the well-known Mustard Mill in the foreground. The roof of Picton House (now the Blyth and Tyne Railway Station) is seen, on the left, peeping over the parapet of the bridge.


Pandon Dene, Newcastle, 1821



The account of the mills of Pandon Dene would of itself form a goodly chapter in our imaginary historian’s book, and would carry the reader far back into the mists of antiquity; for the waters of the burn have turned mill wheels from time immemorial. As far back as 1460 we have recorded the proposed erection of one of these mills. On July 10th of the year named we find the Mayor and community of Newcastle devising to John Ward (formerly Mayor of the town, and founder of the Charity in Manor Chare known afterwards as Ward’s Almshouses), along with other lands, “a certain other parcel of waste land, of the trenches called the King’s Dykes outside the (Town) Wall, and land within the wall to the extent of forty-two ells in length, from the aforesaid gate (Pandon Gate) and along the wall, and in width the same as the King’s Dykes, to hold, etc., for the building and construction upon the said parcel of land, outside the wall, a dam for the mill, &c.” (Welford’s “Newcastle and Gateshead.”).


View in Pandon Dene from drawing by R. Jobling


With this part of Pandon Dene is associated the memory of one of the old worthies of Newcastle, the opulent and munificent Roger Thornton, whose memorial brass is still extant and to be seen in All Saints’ Church. After his death in 1430, an inquisition was held to take account of his property, and in the record the name of Pandon frequently occurs in connection with gardens and orchards possessed by him in the vicinity of the Stock Bridge.


In our own times, besides the two mills already mentioned, there was the Oatmeal Mill, higher up the valley on the left bank of the burn. It is seen in Mr. Jobling’s view on this page, which shows some of the old gardens in front of Lovaine Crescent, with the little houses in which many of the occupants lived, the mill house in the middle distance, and St. Thomas’s Church behind. Close by the mill was the cottage of Julia St. George, the famous actress, whose career is sketched elsewhere. We give also another very interesting view, showing Julia St. George’s house in the distance, with the footpath leading down by the burn side from near the end of Vine Lane. It is from a pencil drawing made by Mr. Ralph Hedley, after T. M. Richardson, and gives some idea of the old-time rural beauty of the Dene.

Some further idea of the charms of Pandon Dene may be gathered from the following verses which they inspired, and which appeared over the signature of Rosalinda in the Newcastle Magazine, Sept. 18th, 1776:

When cooling zephyrs wanton play,

Then off to Pandon Dene I stray;

When sore depressed with grief and woe,

Then from a busy world I go;

My mind is calm, my soul serene,

Beneath the bank in Pandon Dene.


The feather’d race around me sing,

They make the hills and valleys ring;

My sorrow flies, my grief is gone,

I warble with the tuneful throng:


All, all things wear a pleasing mien

Beneath the’bank in Pandon Dene.


At distance stands an ancient tower,

Which ruin threatens every hour;

I’m struck with reverence at the sight,

I pause and gaze in fond delight.

The antique walls do join the scene

And make more lovely Pandon Dene.


Above me stand the towering trees,

While here I feel the gentle breeze;

The water flows by chance around,

And green enamels all the ground,

Which gives new splendour to the scene

And adds a grace to Pandon Dene.


And when I mount the rising hill,

And then survey the purling rill,

My eye’s delighted; but I mourn

To think of winter’s quick return,

With withering winds and frost so keen,

I, sighing, leave the Pandon Dene.


O, spare for onre a female pen,

And lash licentious, wicked men,

Your conscious cheek need never glow

If you your talents thus bestow;

Scare fifteen summers have I seen,

Yet dare to sing of Pandon Dene.

Alas, poor Rosalinda! both you and the carping critics of your generation, whose wrath you so modestly deprecate, and whose “conscious cheek” you so tenderly seek to spare, are now laid low in the dust. Not you only, but even the sweet scenes which inspired your muse. Henceforth, all thoughts and memories of Pandon Dene shall be but as echoes from the depths of a buried past, gradually, on each repetition, growing fainter and more faint, until they die away into the utter silence of forgetfulness.


Northeastlore is One Year Old Today!

Hi!  Northeastlore is one year old today so I thought I’d reflect a little on what has happened over the last twelve months.  As I said in my first blog, I can’t claim any credit for the content of this blog but I really enjoy sharing these stories and I am thrilled that so many people like reading them.  They give such a human perspective to the history of the North East of England.  Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to have a look, like and share.  Doing this blog has also put me in touch with some amazing people and opened doors to exciting new things to come (announcements soon I hope)!

As someone who is a self confessed and unashamed geek I am fond of the odd statistic, so  I thought I would share a few of the facts and figures to let you know how Northeastlore has gotten on this year.

  • We’ve posted 91 blogs covering everything from fatal balloon crashes to the streets of Newcastle
  • 3,764 people have visited
  • The blogs have attracted 10,511 views
  • We have 726 followers through Facebook (, Twitter () and WordPress
  • We have had visitors from 42 countries (which blows my mind a little bit!).  See the map below.


So after that, I’d just like to say a huge THANK YOU again.  I’ll keep blogging as much as I can and we’ll see what stories there are to tell in the next year.

J P Morton

Help, the Railway Dog

The following is a nice little article published in July 1889 in the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend.  It is concerned with the story of Help the railway dog who was used to collect money for the Railway Servants Orphan Fund.  The railways were a dangerous occupation to be in during the Victorian era and many charitable funds were set up to look after the families of those railwaymen who were killed at work.  You can read more about the railway dogs here



The Scotch collie, on account of his intelligence and tractability, is a general favourite. But although he is frequently put to uses for which he was never intended, he soon adapts himself to his changed circumstances, and proves himself the friend of mankind. Help, the railway dog, an interesting specimen of the collie breed, is the property of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. He will follow, without leading, any railwayman with whom he has had a few hours’ acquaintance. The idea of keeping and training a dog to act as a medium for the collection of money in aid of the Railway Servants’ Orphan Fund originated with Mr. John Climpson, the guard of the “night boat train” on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway a position which he has filled for over twenty-seven years. Mr. William Riddell, of Hailes, Haddington, having become acquainted with the fact that such a dog was required, presented the subject of this notice to the Orphan Fund. Help has been the means of adding about a thousand pounds to the funds of the society. When he visited Newcastle in October, 1887, the local contribution amounted to £2 4s. 9d. He has not been trained to perform any antics, so that his mission is known only by a handsome silver collar, to which is appended a silver medal bearing the following inscription: “I am Help, the railway dog of England, and travelling agent for the orphans of railwaymen who are killed on duty. My office is at 55, Colebrooke Row, London, where subscriptions will be thankfully received and duly acknowledged.”

Our drawing of Help is reproduced from a capital lithograph executed by the Newcastle artist, Mr. Wilson Hepple.

The Explosion on the Town Moor, Newcastle

The following is an account published in April 1888 which tells the tale of a tragic accident which occurred on the Town Moor in Newcastle in December 1867.



Twenty years ago, a terrible accident occurred on the Town Moor, resulting in the deaths of eight persons, two of them esteemed and prominent citizens of Newcastle. Not since the Gateshead explosion had anything happened which startled and shocked the town so much as this singular and remarkable fatality. The story will not take long in the telling.

In December, 1867, the attention of the police was called to the fact that a quantity of explosive material was stored in a cellar in the White Hart Yard, Newcastle. On examination this proved to be nitro-glycerine, a compound produced by the action of a mixture of strong nitric and sulphuric acids on glycerine at low temperatures. The material was contained in nine large tins or canisters, each holding 24lbs.; and the police were told that it was intended for blasting purposes in mines and quarries, and for this purpose it was doubtless useful, as exposure to flame did not cause it to explode, though explosion instantly followed a strong blow or concussion. The police-superintendent having conferred with the authorities, an order was given that the nitro-glycerine should be at once removed from the town or destroyed. The railway company, however, would have nothing to do with it, and it was ultimately resolved that it should be taken to the Moor, and there poured into the depressions caused by the workings of the Spital Tongues Colliery. The Sheriff of Newcastle, Mr. John Mawson, and the Town Surveyor, Mr. Thomas Bryson, determined to accompany the material to its destination. Accordingly, on the 17th December, 1867, Thomas Appleby, cartman, a labourer named James Shotton, Constable Donald Bain, and Sub-Inspector Wallace, set out with the canisters in a cart, Messrs. Mawson and Bryson following in a cab.

When the party reached the Town Moor, the tins were taken out of the cart, and the contents of some of them poured into the depressions mentioned, which were situated at no great distance from the Grand Stand, and close to a wooden building that had been erected for use as a temporary hospital in the event of a visit of cholera. It was then found that a portion of the nitro-glycerine in three of the canisters had crystallised and was adhering to the sides. Mr. Mawson expressed a wish to have a sample of the compound to take away for further examination. A piece of the crystal was accordingly broken off, and Mr. Mawson put it into the pocket of his overcoat. He then said to the men, “Bring these three tins away, and we will bury them under the other hill” — referring to a part of the Moor distant a few yards away. Mr. Mawson, Mr. Bryson, the policeman Bain, and Appleby and Shotton then went over to the hill indicated, leaving Sub-Inspector Wallace engaged in covering up the liquid compound with soil. What followed after this will never be rightly known.

Just as Mr. Wallace had finished his task, and was about to join the others, a terrible explosion occurred. Fragments of clothing and human remains were sent flying high into the air. Though dreadfully startled and alarmed, Wallace was uninjured, having been sheltered by a bank which lay between him and his unfortunate companions. On hurrying to the scene, the first thing he found was the mutilated and shattered remains of poor Bain, portions of the body having been actually blown away. He next came to the cartman, Appleby, fearfully disfigured and lifeless; and near to him was the mutilated body of the labourer, Shotton, likewise dead. In a hole of the ground above was found a boy, named Waddley, who, as well as another lad named Stonehouse, had followed the cart to the Moor from curiosity. Close to this poor lad was found the body of a man, apparently about forty, whose name was unknown, and who had also followed the cart to the Moor. Lying on the side of the bank was Mr. Bryson, and on the top of the same place was Mr. Mawson, both gentlemen being alive, but fearfully injured.


Mr. Wallace hurried with all speed into the town, where he informed Dr. Fife and Dr. Heath of the terrible affair. These two gentlemen set out at once for the scene of the accident. It happened that, just as the explosion occurred, a young surgeon named Walpole was walking on the Moor only a short distance from the spot. Dust, stones, fragments of clothing, &c, suddenly fell all around him. About three hundred yards from whore the catastrophe had occurred, he found the foot of a human being, supposed to be that of poor Bain. Hunting forward, Dr. Walpole next discovered Mr. Bryson in one of the excavations, and to all appearance dead. Stimulants having been administered, however, he began to show some signs of life. Dr. Walpole then placed Mr. Mawson, Mr. Bryson, and the boy Waddley in the cart which had brought the terrible explosive to the ground, and they were conveyed to the Infirmary. Two hours after his admission, the boy succumbed; and at half-past one o’clock next morning Mr. Bryson died, Mr. Mawson surviving him an hour and twenty minutes.

It is really impossible to adequately describe the excitement and consternation which this awful accident caused in Newcastle. Mingled with the sorrow and sympathy felt for the victims there was a great amount of indignation against those who had stored the fatal agent in the very centre of a large town. A Mr. Spark, an auctioneer, commission agent, &c, had settled in the town a few months before, and had taken an agency for nitro-glycerine from a Mr. Burrell, who had resigned it. Some little time before, Burrell had prevailed upon the ostler of the White Hart inn to allow him to store several tins of the explosive in the cellars of that hostelry. This fact coming to the knowledge of the police, they seized the tins, with the terrible result that we have recounted. The day after the explosion Mr. Spark presented himself before the magistrates in order to explain his possession of the material. Little blame seems really to have attached to him, since at the time of the occurrence he was not the regularly appointed agent, and was still negotiating with the firm to which the nitro-glycerine belonged. A great deal of evidence was given at the inquest which was subsequently held, and the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death.” In all eight persons perished in the explosion — the Sheriff, the Town Surveyor, P.C. Bain, Thomas Appleby, James Shotton, the boys Stanley Waddley and James Stonehouse, and a man whose name was never ascertained.

The terrible nature of the accident was discussed all over the country. It was about the time of the Clerkenwell outrage, and, of course, till the full particulars were explained, the Fenians were suspected of causing the calamity.


John Mawson, a native of Penrith, was apprenticed to a chemist and druggist in Sunderland. When he had finished his apprenticeship, he began business on his own account in that borough, but was not successful. He shortly afterwards removed to Newcastle, where he opened a shop, and here he also failed. This failure, however, was due to his having stood bond to a large amount for a friend, who left Mr. Mawson to pay the money. Nothing daunted, he tried business once more, this time in Mosley Street, where he remained till his death. Here he was more fortunate, and began to make fight against his debts, having resolved to pay everybody to the last farthing. He stoutly refused to take “the benefit of the Act,” and, like most men who stick to a good resolution, he ultimately achieved his purpose. And he deserved to succeed, for he worked with great energy and determination. His first successful venture was the introduction into Newcastle of Rothwell’s Fire Fuel, which he afterwards got a patent to manufacture. With this material he did a very large trade. His next venture was in German yeast, which was first imported into the North of England by Mr. Mawson. The writer remembers the crowds of people who used to go to his shop for this indispensable commodity, as that was the only place in the town where it could then be purchased. Mr. Mawson, in partnership with his relative, Mr. Joseph Wilson Swan, famous a few years later for the invention of the electric appliance known as the Swan Lamp, produced a series of very great improvements in photography.

Now that the tide had turned, Mr. Mawson saw his way to the great object he had always held in view — the discharge of every farthing of his debts. Such were the honour and probity of the man, that he seemed to work for this sole object. But he had his moments of despair. “I shall be eighty before I can pay all I owe,” he once said to an old friend. Before he was forty, however, he had succeeded in his laudable purpose. A splendid bookcase, filled with valuable books, was presented to him on the occasion by his gratified creditors. This took place, we believe, in 1849. Thereafter, till his sad and tragical death in 1867, Mr. Mawson’s career was one of unbroken prosperity and public usefulness.

Mr. Mawson was twice married. His first wife, to whom he was united in 1838, was Miss Jane Cameron, of Sunderland. This lady, after a long and severe illness, died in 1844. She was a singularly amiable and exemplary woman; and two years after her death, Mr. Brown, of Barnard Castle, and the well-known Dr. F. R. Lees, compiled from her diary and correspondence a “Memoir of Mrs. Jane Mawson.” Some years after her untimely death, Mr. Mawson married the niece of his first wife, and the sister of his partner, Mr. Swan. Of this marriage there was a family of five or six children.

Elected to the Newcastle Town Council for West All Saints’ Ward in 1858, Mr. Mawson was allowed on all hands to be a faithful and zealous representative. It was during his absence on the Continent that he was elected to the office of Sheriff, on the 9th of November preceding his death.

From a very early age Mr. Mawson was a zealous reformer. In Newcastle he always supported the Radical candidates for Parliament, and he seconded Sir Joseph Cowen at that gentleman’s first election. Those who are old enough to remember the Old Lecture Room meetings, where there was always so much public spirit and heartiness displayed, will also recollect that John Mawson’s pleasant smiling face was seldom absent. He was a hard working temperance reformer, too, and frequently travelled with other zealous teetotallers amongst the North-Country pitmen, doing his best to make converts to the cause. As a member of the Peace Society, he attended several of the international conferences which were held from time to time in different parts of Europe. But perhaps, after all, it was as the friend of the slave that he was best known. He was for many years the earnest and willing helper of George Thompson, William Lloyd Garrison, William Wells Brown, and other eloquent advocates of negro redemption. During the terrible war between the Northern and Southern States, when the slaveholders found so many friends in England, and even great statesmen prophesied the ultimate success of the South, John Mawson remained a constant adherent of the Northern cause, and never wavered in the opinion that slavery would be blotted out for ever. When the war was at length at an end, his life-long friend, Mr. Garrison, came to Newcastle, where he was entertained at a soiree in the Assembly Rooms.

For this sketch of the career of Mr. Mawson, we have been much indebted to an article which appeared in the Daily Chronicle at the time of his death. We cannot do better than quote here the few concluding lines of the biography, which form a summary, as it were, of the deceased gentleman’s many good qualities: — “Honest in business, intelligent as a politician, earnest in public matters, faithful at all times to his convictions, Mr. Mawson was certainly one of the most esteemed citizens of Newcastle. The integrity of his conduct, the excellence of his public, the spotless purity of his private, life, and the tragic manner of his death, all conspire to claim for John Mawson a distinguished place in the catalogue of Newcastle worthies.”


Mr. Bryson was a native of Tweedmouth, and was Apprenticed as a stonemason in that town. While still a very young man, he left the little Border town, and was employed for some time at Howick Hall, the seat of Earl Grey. Subsequently he was engaged by Mr. Richard Grainger, who was then carrying out his great improvements in Newcastle. Mr. Bryson showing great practical ability, Mr. Grainger appointed him to a place of trust and responsibility. While engaged on some work at the Exchange Buildings, Grey Street, he slipped from the scaffold on which he was standing, and fell a distance of 38 feet. He was dreadfully injured, and lay for some time unconscious. It was several months before he recovered from the effects of this serious accident; but when his health was sufficiently restored, he entered into the service of the Newcastle Corporation as Superintendent of Works under Mr. Wallace. This position he occupied until 1854, when important changes were made in the duties of the officials. Mr. Wallace was appointed Corporation Property Surveyor, and Mr. Bryson was promoted to the position of Town Surveyor. In the performance of his duties he displayed the most zealous care for the interests of the town. Many incidents which occurred during his useful life illustrate his kind and benevolent disposition. Mr. Bryson was interred in Jesmond Old Cemetery on December 21, 1867. A very large number of friends, as well as members of the Council and other influential inhabitants, followed his remains to the grave. Dr. Rutherford (with whose congregation the deceased gentleman had been connected for many years) conducted the service. Mr. Bryson was 62 years of age at the time of his untoward death.

The Mouth of the Tyne & The Battle of the Low Lights

The following article was published in November 1891.  It provides a nice description of the Mouth of the Tyne between North and South Shields.  There is also a vivid account of rather intense Napoleonic war games!


Most conspicuous amongst the objects shown in the engraving of the mouth of the Tyne are the two towers known as the High and Low Lights of North Shields. These lights guide the mariner into the harbour. Numerous fishing boats will be seen anchored near the little quay of the town. South Shields lies on the opposite side of the river. Connected with the land there is a narrow sand bank which is shown to the right of the picture, with a wooden structure at the end of it. The light which is placed in this structure is to warn mariners entering the Tyne from approaching too near the dreaded Herd Sands. Opposite the Herd Sands, but not seen in our view, are the equally dreaded Black Middens, on which many a gallant craft has gone to pieces. The two arms that are seen projecting into the sea are the North and South Piers, chief among the wonderful works of the Tyne Commissioners. There was a time when the bar at the mouth of the Tyne was so shallow that foolhardy sailors were said to have waded across it. But the bar itself has now practically been removed, since vessels of the largest tonnage can now enter the river at almost any time of tide.

The Battle of the Low Lights

An episode of the great invasion scare of the beginning of the century the attempt to capture Clifford’s Fort at North Shields is well-nigh forgotten, but is still worth placing on record here.


North Shields 1828 (by Robert Salmon). From left-right: Shipping on the Tyne, New Low Light, Old Low Light, Clifford’s Fort – Wikipedia


On October 2, 1801, a line of keels was moored across the Tyne, near Clifford’s Fort, and deals were laid over them from shore to shore. After carefully inspecting this extraordinary highway, Lord Mulgrave mounted his charger, and, accompanied by General Murray, Major Heron, and other officers, rode over from the county of Durham to Northumberland. Major Heron then galloped back again. Soon after, Lord Mulgrave marched the 1st Regiment of Royal Lancashire Militia (accompanied by their field pieces and ammunition waggons) from Tynemouth Barracks across this bridge to the Herd Sands, when an action took place against a supposed enemy. At the same time, several shells were fired from the Spanish Battery on the north side, which had a fine effect. The troops were afterwards led back again, and Major Heron, after firing three close volleys, marched the South Shields volunteers across the bridge into Northumberland. The adjacent banks and hills were covered with spectators to witness this novel sight, and the experiment succeeded beyond the most sanguine expectations. A large flat-bottomed boat, called by the watermen Buonaparte, was originally used for conveying troops or military carriages over the river; but the bridge of keels was found infinitely superior, as it enabled any required movements to be made with as much facility as by land.

On April 30, 1804, the North Shields and Tynemouth Volunteers entered upon permanent duty for one month. The guards at Clifford’s Fort, Tynemouth Barracks, and the Spanish Battery were delivered up to them. The company in Clifford’s Fort had not been in possession of it more than four hours when Major Doyle, of the Light Brigade, from Sunderland, crossed the Tyne in the Buonaparte, accompanied by one company of the 61st Regiment, one company of the Northumberland Militia, and one company of the Lanark Militia. The officers, it appears, had got vain-glorious over their cups; and when disputing about the merits of their respective corps, the major had said he could easily surprise any of the forts garrisoned by the volunteers, and he was dared to make the attempt. Accordingly, at early morning on the above-mentioned date, Major Doyle’s company, whose quarters were at Whitburn, crossed the Tyne, and landed on the Lighthouse Sand. From thence they proceeded, as noiselessly as possible, with the major at their head on his gallant charger, up the narrow passage, close to the fort. But before they could reach the entrance to it, the volunteers had made preparations to receive them, their landing having been observed, in spite of their caution. One man got his arm broken during the hurry in barricading the gate. The number of volunteers within the fort being insufficient for the guarding of the embrasures and the walls, an express was sent off for the remainder of the corps, who happened to be on parade in Dockwray Square. These had already noticed what was going on, and hastened down the bank to the assistance of their comrades. When the light company, which was in the van, reached the Low Lights, they found the bridge in possession of a party of the besiegers, who, being supplied with blank cartridges, instantly com- menced a brisk fire upon them. By the point of the bayonet, they forced the pass along the narrow passage referred to above, up which only one or two could pass abreast. Capt. Hearne seized hold of the bridle of Major Doyle’s horse, and attempted to stop him. The major then swore a round volley of oaths, and, brandishing his sword in the captain’s face, asked him whether he thought they were real enemies. The captain replied that he had no reason to think otherwise, and stoutly stood his ground. But after a minute’s parley, by advice of a brother officer, he allowed the major to pass, and the latter instantly rode up to the gate. This he found to be shut and strongly barricaded, and his summons was met with open defiance. Determined not to be baffled, however, the besiegers proceeded to attempt to carry the fort by storm. As the fort was not well constructed for resisting a land attack, they would probably have succeeded; but the other volunteers, arriving from Dockwray Square and the Old Barracks (Percy Square), attacked the besiegers in the rear, and effected a diversion. Many bloody knuckles and in some instances broken arms were the injuries which the regulars and militia received in their attempts to scale the walls. After a smart conflict, in which great skill was displayed on both sides, the contending parties charging bayonets at intervals, the assailants were beaten off and forced to retreat.

When making a reconnaissance, shortly before the beginning of the fray. Captain Robert Shields was captured by a party of the Northumberland Militia, who had been placed in ambush in a saw-pit. Colonel William Linskill, who commanded the Shields and Tynemouth Volunteers, hurrying down to the scene of action with all possible speed, and finding the captain in this awkward predicament, cried out. “Shields, Shields, Shields! what are you about?” “What am I about, sir?” replied the more valiant than wary officer; “bad enough; I’m taken prisoner!” He was at once rescued from his captors, who ran the risk of being captured in turn. But at a later stage of the affair he got his revenge. Meanwhile, the doughty assailants, over- powered by numbers and pressed on all sides, retreated slowly and sullenly, and disputing every inch of ground, not, however, to their ships, but to the flat-bottomed Buonaparte, by which they made good their retreat, not without difficulty. Pushing off as they best could, they returned to the south shore, rather crestfallen at their want of success. Nor did their misfortunes end there. On arriving at The Bents, they found that a party of the volunteers, headed by Captain Shields, had slipped across in some scullerboats during their absence, and had demolished their camp and carried off all their flags. This was worse than defeat, as it involved disgrace, and it was many a long day before it was forgotten. Throughout the day, the temper of the troops was well preserved. A determined coolness and intrepidity was visible in both parties, and the volunteers proved themselves worthy of being entrusted with the fort, having so bravely defended it against excellent troops, one-third of whom were of the line.

Major Doyle was much censured for attacking Clifford’s Fort. His exploit might have led to very disagreeable and even fatal consequences, and General Grey, who commanded in the district, is represented to have said he would have put him into the black-hole had he been taken by the volunteers. The gentleman in immediate command of the fort was Captain Ramshaw, and as he happened to be indisposed that morning, the besiegers could not have chosen a better time.

The North Shields and Tynemouth Volunteers were the second volunteer corps raised in England, and among the last that were disbanded.

St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, Newcastle upon Tyne

Sorry it’s been a while!  Hoping to get a little more time to keep these old stories coming.  The following is an account of one of the great Newcastle landmarks.  Published in September 1889 it describes the magnificent St. Nicholas’ Cathedral.  It really is fascinating to read about the history of a place you see so often and maybe take for granted.  You might walk past an old building like this every day, maybe on the way to work and never think to go inside.  It really might be worth taking the time to stop and have an explore!


The Roman Station of Pons Ælii and the Saxon town of Monkchester had both gone down before the arrival in this country of William the Conqueror. When that monarch reached the banks of the Tyne, he found the Roman bridge in ruins and impassable, and provisions for his army could not be found nearer than Tynemouth.

St. Nicholas' 1
St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1889


The New Castle upon Tyne fortress and town was founded by his son, Robert Curthose. This was in the year 1080. There is every evidence that the growth of the new town was rapid, and its early prosperity great. The church of St. Nicholas, the earliest ecclesiastical establishment within the walls of Newcastle, is said to have been founded by St. Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, in 1091. Although no very satisfactory proof of this statement is attainable, it is certain that the town would, soon after its establishment, require a church, and as we know that St. John’s, the second church in Newcastle, was built whilst the twelfth century was still young, there is every reason to believe that the date ascribed to St. Nicholas’ is approximately correct. No part of the church built in those early times exists now. It probably soon became too small for the needs of the inhabitants. The builders were again at work about the year 1250. In the churchyard are three or four stones, moulded in a way which indicates that they have formed part of some structure erected about this time. They had afterwards been used up as old building material, and were taken out of the walls during the restorations of a few years ago. Then we are told that in 1216 the church was consumed by fire. Certainly about that period some rebuilding was carried out. If the reader will go into the nave of the church, and will examine the easternmost pillar on the north side, he will find that an older pillar is encased in the present one. This older pillar is clearly part of a nave, with aisles, built in the early part of the thirteenth century. The walls above the present arches of the nave and below the clerestory windows were built at the same time. The arches themselves are much later, but they have been inserted in the older walls.

St. Nicholas' 2
The Castle Garth, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1889


The nave and transepts were rebuilt in 1359. As I have just mentioned, the older nave walls were partly preserved, the new arches being pierced through them; and this accounts for what is one of the most remarkable features in this church, viz., the great width of the aisles as compared with that of the nave. Ten years later the chancel was in course of re-erection. The old chancel had been taken down, and the new one commenced, without the permission of the Bishop and Prior of Carlisle, who were rectors of the church. They sent a proctor to Newcastle on their behalf. He, on his arrival, found a priest, named Roger de Merley, sitting near the new choir, and “hammering and working on a new stone.” The proctor commanded the workmen to desist, and threw pebbles at the new work, and at what remained of the old, in evidence of his authority.

Another hundred years passed by, and Newcastle numbered amongst its people one Robert de Rodes, a lawyer, a man of wealth, and one who stood high in the esteem of the Bishop and Prior of Durham. To him we are indebted for the glorious steeple of this church. Aloft in the vault of the tower we have his coat of arms, and the legend

“Orate pro anima Roberti be Rodes.”

(Pray for the soul of Robert de Rodes.)

Except to a few conventional architects, this wonderful steeple is an object of universal admiration. There is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. Scotland has two or three towers crowned in a slightly similar, but much inferior way, and the steeple of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East, London, built by Sir Christopher Wren, has a very poor imitation of this lantern at Newcastle.*

* Church bells were of service in times of old to guide the belated wayfarer to his home in the night. In Mr. North’s “Church Bells of Leicestershire,” published in 1876, there is mention of grateful bequests to parish churches by testators who had been befriended by the belfry when their road was lost in hours of darkness. The church of St. Nicholas was not only of service in this way, but also as an inland lighthouse. Pennant speaks of the pathless moors of this neighbourhood in the past century; and many a traveller who traversed them hail reason to thank the lantern of St. Nicholas in the nights of old. In the second week of November, 1567, an item of 3s. occurs in the books of the Town Chamberlain, “paid for 4 lbs. of waxe maid in candell for the lanterne of Sancce Nycholas churche, and for the workynge.” So, too, in December next, 1s. 6d. went for “waxe wrought in candell for the lanterne.”

Left: Cover of the Font

Right: Pew Standards, St. Nicholas’ Church, Temp. Charles I.

When we enter the church by its west door, the first object to strike our attention is the font, which is plain and rude in design, but is surmounted by a truly magnificent cover. The basin bears the arms of Rodes, as well as those of an old Durham county family, the Bainbriggs. Robert Rodes, who died in 1474, had no children. A niece, Alice Rodes, was his heiress. She afterwards married one Richard Bainbrigg, said to have been a member of a family of that name settled at Snotterton, in the parish of Staindrop. In right of his wife he acquired the estate of Wheatley Hill, in the parish of Kelloe, and his descendants remained there for several generations. I believe this font was erected by the niece of Robert de Rodes and her husband, as a memorial of the man to whom Newcastle owes its most splendid architectural achievement.

Turning into the south aisle, we find at its west end a remarkable slab, fixed to the wall, which has borne a now almost obliterated representation of the Crucifixion of the Saviour. On the upper part of it is a fragment of an inscription, which, with great difficulty, may be read as follows:

Our lady prest is bon to say,

At the lavatory evy day;

meaning that the priest of a chantry dedicated to the Virgin was required every day to say solemn dirge and mass at the altar for the soul of George Carr, and for his wife’s and children’s souls. The lavatory means the water drain near the altar, usually called the piscine.

Before we leave this part of the edifice we must notice the recesses in the wall of the south aisle, which, doubtless, were intended for the tombs of benefactors to the church.

The chapal in the same aisle was formerly the chantry of St. Margaret, founded in 1394 by Stephen Whitgray, who, more than once, had represented Newcastle in Parliament. It is now known as the Bewick Porch, for here, from 1636 to 1859, the Bewicks, of Close House near Heddon-on-the-Wall, were buried, and here are the monuments of some of them. But into this chapel are gathered the earliest memorials of the departed now existing in the church. Besides several fragments, there are three mediaeval grave stones of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and of beautiful designs; but, as was usual in those days, without any inscriptions. Here, too, is the recumbent effigy of a knight, clad in chain mail, cross-legged, and with his feet resting on a lion. There is every reason to believe that this is the effigy of Peter le Mareshal, who was sword-bearer to Edward I., and who was buried in this church on the 18th September, 1322. Edward II., who was then at Newcastle, paid for a cloth of gold to cover Mareshal’s body on the day of his interment.

We proceed towards the east end of the church, and turn into the south transept. Here, on our right, we have the quaint and singular monument of the Maddisons, adorned with many effigies, representing and recording three generations of the same family. On the opposite side of the transept are two windows, architecturally the best in the church.

We now enter the south aisle of the chancel, and immediately beyond the vestry door we have the monument of thn Halls, a less pretentious, but very similar one to that of the Maddisons. The Halls and the Maddisons were related by intermarriages, and were amongst the wealthy merchants of Newcastle during the first half of the seventeenth century.

Before we proceed further, we may glance at the new features which have been recently introduced into the church the reredos, the stalls, the screens, and the bishop’s throne. These all embody much excellent design, almost faultlessly executed; but they are none the less sadly out of character with the edifice into which they are introduced, and display an entire absence of that modest sense of fitness which almost invariably characterized the work of the architects of the middle ages.

If, now, we pass behind the reredos, we see a large painting by Tintoretto of “Christ washing His Disciples’ Feet.” Then, proceeding along the north aisle of the chancel, we enter the north transept, where we find an interesting monument of Thomas Surtees, the last representative of a family which owned the manor of Gosforth from the time of Henry II. Here we may descend into the crypt, formerly one of the chantry chapels, afterwards a receptacle of human bones, and now occupied by organ-blowing machinery.

Many stirring events have been witnessed in this church. Courts of justice were held here in the reign of Edward I. In 1313, penance was performed by one Nicholas le Porter at the doors of this church, he standing unshod, bareheaded, and clothed only in a linen gown, for having dragged certain persons from sanctuary in the church of the White Friars. Here, too, in 1417, Matilda Burgh and Margaret Usher did penance for having approached the shrine of St. Cuthbcrt at Durham dressed in men’s clothes. Treaties of peace between the commissioners of England and Scotland were solemnly signed and sealed here in 1451 and 1459. Here, in 1550, John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, preached before those who sat in judgment on his heresies, he undertaking to prove that the sacrifice of the mass was idolatrous. Bishop Toby Matthew preached here before James I. Here the famed Alexander Henderson preached to General Lesley and the leaders of the Scottish army the day after the battle of Newburn. And when, during the siege of Newcastle in 1644, the same Lesley threatened to fire his cannons at the steeple unless the town would capitulate, Sir John Marley sent all the Scotch prisoners into the belfry, and told the besiegers they might fire away if they desired their countrymen’s destruction. Charles I., during his imprisonment in the town, attended service here, and was insulted by the Scotch preacher’s choice of a hymn, but the people sympathised with the King, and sung another for which he called*.

*The remarkable incident of 1646 is thus related in Sir William Dugdale’s “Short View of the Late Troubles in England” (1681): “A rigid Presbyterian preacher, besides many rude and uncivil expressions in his sermon before the King, called for the 52nd Psalm to be sung by the congregation, which beginneth thus:

Why dost them, tyrant, boast abroad,

Thy wicked works to praise?

Whereupon his Majesty instantly stood up, and called

for the 56th Psalm, beginning thus:

Have mercy, Lord, on me, I pray,

For man would me devour.”

Afte the battle of Dunbar, the Scotch prisoners were lodged for a single night in this church.

No account of this famous church can be considered complete without some reference to Ben Jonson’s enigma. The poet had come this way in 1618, on the occasion of his Scottish tour. Gray quotes in his “Chorographia” the following lines as having been written by Jonson concerning the steeple of St. Nicholas’: –

My altitude high, my body foure square;

My foot in the grave, my head in the ayre;

My eyes in my sides, five tongues in my wombe:

Thirteen heads upon my body, foure images alone.

I can direct you where the winde doth stay;

And I time God’s precepts thrice a day.

I am seen where I am not, I am heard where I is not.

Tell me now what I am, and see that you misse not.

“If Jonson wrote the riddle,” says Mr. Clephan, “some other pen than his own must subsequently have made the lines to halt. They are of the ‘peculiar measure’ of the obliging rhymer who is said to have gone all lengths to please his friends; they present sundry openings for conjectural revision; and we may venture to suggest that at the close of the last line save one, the words were originally written, not ‘I is not,’ but ‘I wis not.’”