Local Historical Stories

A COLLECTION OF HISTORICAL ARTICLES THAT FIRST APPEARED IN THE ALSTON MOOR NEWSLETTER

INTRODUCTION
Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - one of our local historians was asked if he would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. He thought he could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they were still going. Once, and only once, he received an unsolicited article from an outside source, this was the reminiscence of a school for wartime evacuees at Nent Hall that came from Mr. Michael Dickinson and it was gratefully included in the series.

They’re a real mixed bag, too random to put into a book, but they’re still worth keeping in a more permanent form, so the Historical Society website seemed the perfect place to have them.

Material for the articles came largely from local sources, from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, St. Augustine’s Church Records, Alston Library, the Cumbria County Records Office in Carlisle and the County Records Office Northumberland.

There has been editing in some cases that will be noted at the beginning of each item, otherwise the articles have been left as they were written, complete with occasional references to such things as cement lorries, the millennium, and foot and mouth disease, which are themselves now things of the past (?).
Read on …


Story No 21: Destructive Fire At Alston Woollen Mill

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Story No 21: Destructive Fire At Alston Woollen Mill
Alston Woollen Mill, on Monday morning last was, for the second time within a short period, the scene of a destructive fire. About thirteen or fourteen months ago, a fire broke out in the offices, which did damage to the amount of £500, but the damage done by the fire under notice will, it is estimated, amount to upwards of £13,000.

The mill is the property of Messrs. Akerigg who bought it a few years ago, and fitted it up with excellent machinery, and some forty or fifty hands, who were employed, will be thrown out of work by the disaster. Read more……..
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Story No 22: Jacob Walton and the Iron Furnaces of Alston Moor

Jacob Walton
JACOB WALTON AND THE IRON FURNACES OF ALSTON MOOR

Alston Moor is famous for its lead production, but a mineral for which it is not so famous is iron. At the height of production in the 1850’s, it only ever reached 2% of Cumberland’s total, the rest was mined around Whitehaven. But it still has its own story with Jacob Walton, of the memorial beside the Town Hall, at its centre. What follows is part of a longer study to be published at the end of the year. (An article, ‘The Iron Mines on and about Alston Moor,’ was written in conjunction with Raymond A. Fairbairn and published in British Mining Memoirs No.69, 2001.)
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Story No 23: St. Augustine, The Canons And The Black Book

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ST. AUGUSTINE, THE CANONS AND THE BLACK BOOK

Why is the church of England in Alston dedicated to St. Augustine? – I wondered.
There is the legend about Cross Fell, formerly supposed to have been called Fiend’s Fell (a name that still appears on a part of Cross Fell), that tells of “evil spirits which are said in former times to have haunted the summit of the hill, and continued their haunts and nocturnal vagaries upon it until St. Austin (St. Augustine), as it is said, erected a cross and an altar whereupon he offered the Holy Eucharist by which he counter charmed those hellish fiends and broke their haunts”. (Stirring stuff)

Read more…….
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Story No 24: Baptisms and Burials

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SOME BAPTISMS AND BURIALS OF OLD ALSTON MOOR

Sometimes the well of short, presentable bits of history dried up. At this time (autumn 2001) I was running out of inspiration for new research and there were no ready-made articles to hand, so, although this article is still very interesting, I felt that it was a bit of an opt-out from writing a proper article for the Newsletter.

This may sound a bit morbid, but old burials can often be very interesting when occupations and brief character descriptions were added, especially in the 18th century. Some entries from the burial register for Alston Moor read as follows:-
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Story No 25: John Smeaton and his influence on Alston Moor

Smeaton
In the middle to late eighteenth century, John Smeaton was a national figure, renowned in various fields of civil engineering. Today he is known mainly for his successful design of the Eddystone Lighthouse, but you might not realise but he had several engineering projects right here on Alston Moor……. read on…….
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Story No 26: Sheddding Light on Nenthead

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On 2nd January 1920, members of the Nenthead Ward met to consider, “the adoption of the Lighting and Watching Act 1833 and any other business arising therefrom”.

The Chairman, Councillor R.C. Bell, gave particulars of the Act and how the cost was to be met. After some discussion a committee was appointed, “to inquire into the cost of lighting the village either by Oil Lamps, Gas or Electricity. After this the meeting was adjourned……….. read on……..
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Story No: 27. Von Dix - Alston's Photographer

Von Dix - Alston
Richard Von Dix – Photographic Artist.

In the 1870s, Alston Moor had its first professional photographer, who was also a bit of a character. Many of his photographs survive, mostly portraits, usually taken outdoors, probably in a booth set up at fairs and other events. Fortunately, some photos are in the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives and available for public viewing. They include a group of girls barely repressing their giggles, a group of plasterers in clean work clothes, a husband and wife, where the husband looks a bit worse for drink, people who appear stiff and nervous in front of the camera, and so on.

Although this article is about Richard von Dix, it also shows how people were entertained a hundred and thirty years ago and what the sense of humour was like – at least that which reached the press.

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Story No: 28 The Police Station

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For some time in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, the law on Alston Moor was upheld by two Parish Constables, one in Alston and one in Garrigill, backed up by Justices of the Peace for the County and, ‘The Alston Moor Society for the Prosecution of Felons’. Furthermore there was a jail.
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Story No: 29 The Cumberland Hearth Tax

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This scruffy image is a copy of a page from the register of the Cumberland Hearth Tax that was levied from 1662 to 1689. The probable date is 1664, the only year to have survived in the County.

The number of hearths in the house was an indication the size of each house and therefore the wealth of the occupants. Those in receipt of Poor Relief, or houses worth less than 20/- per annum, were exempt.
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Story No 30: Alston Moor in the 17th Century

1687 date stone
An interesting lecture was given in the Wesleyan Schoolroom, Alston, on Saturday by Mr. William Thompson, of Alston his subject being, “Alston in the Seventeenth Century”.
Showing a map of the manor over a hundred years old, he said the names in the old Drift Roll of 1587 were practically the same as those given on the map. Newshield, Coatlith Hill, Loaning, Lowbyer, Nattrass, Annat Walls, Bleagate, Silly Hole, Flatt, Fair Hill, Craig, Snappergill, Jolly Beard House, Garrigill, Nentsbury, Nenthall, Wellgill, Gillgill, The Rake, Cocklake and Hudgill - all bore the same name in the time of Queen Elizabeth (the First) as now. (ffowlett is now known as Foulhard.) ………………..
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Story No 31: Inauguration Of The Jacob Walton Memorial, 2004

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

As the project manager, Alastair Robertson confessed later that his opening address overstated the importance of the Walton family by comparing them to the London Lead Company, which of course was a much, much bigger concern, but he felt justified because the Waltons were a local family with personalities rather than a faceless outside corporation, and they did play a key part in the lead industry of the region, particularly Jacob Walton who, as well as being held in high esteem in the industry, had the respect of his workers……………………………
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Story No 32: Winter 130 years ago and Alston entertainment!

Alston Snow
TOWN HALL ALSTON

Friday and Saturday December 11 and 12 1874

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

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

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

Visit of the well-known and World Renowned Professor

CRISTO

The Greatest Organophonic VENTRILOQUIST ever known, Hindoo Illusionist and Anti-Spiritualist, will have the honour of presenting his Extraordinary Entertainment, entitled
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Story No 33: J. Coulthard Walton - Colliery Manager

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After the collapse of the lead industry, the main export from Alston Moor was its workforce - people. A nephew of Jacob Walton, of memorial fame, is a successful example.

J. Coulthard Walton managed the Writhlington group of collieries at Radstock in West Somerset from 1883 to 1914, but he was not a native of the west country, he came from Nenthead on Alston Moor.
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Story No 34: Who was Samuel King?

Alston Primary School being built
The name of Samuel King is well known on Alston Moor because of the school named after him, but who was Samuel King? When he died in 1878 he left £2,000, a huge amount in those days, for charitable causes on Alston Moor. Why did he do this and what were his connections with the place? And - how did he acquire his wealth?

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Story No 35: Taiping Rebellion

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Historic events in far-off countries can often have repercussions, no matter how small, in places such as Alston Moor. For example a rebellion in China in 1860 had a direct impact on the James family of Clargill Hall near Alston.
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Story No 36: The Alston Mountain Rifles

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After the Crimean War of the 1850’s, diplomatic relations between Britain and France deteriorated to the point that war between the two seemed possible. In response this, on the 1st July 1859 Parliament announced the formation of volunteer corps (the forerunners of the Territorial Army) up and down the country. ………..

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Story No 37: Crossfell Mine and John Little

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Anyone who has read about the lead mines of the north Pennines will be aware of the phenomenal success of the Hudgill Burn mine at Nenthall, which, over a fairly short time from 1814, produced vast quantities of lead and silver to make huge profits for the leaseholders, the Wilson brothers. But from the scant records available it would seem that Hudgill Mine was not the first to create instant wealth, there was a predecessor. Crossfell Vein was discovered by accident by John Little in 1805, he then proceeded to work it with great success and used his wealth to the benefit of Alston Moor………….
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Story No 38: Soldier’s Body Found In Coffin On The Moors

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Soldier’s Body Found In Coffin On The Moors

So ran the local newspaper headlines of August 1921 and for several weeks the mystery grabbed the attention of the public.

The story began on the afternoon of Sunday 28th August 1921 when a farmer, Mr. Titus Harrison, was tending his sheep on Killhope near to the junction of the boundaries between Northumberland, Durham and Cumberland. As Mr. Harrison was going on his rounds he saw the end of a large wooden box sticking out of the side of an eroded peat hagg……………………..
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Story No 39: The Intriguing Stephensons of Crosslands

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Photo: from Simon Danby

The only things we know for certain are that the Stephenson family lived at Crosslands near Alston in the second quarter of the 1700s; some members died in Alston, one married here and some moved away; the father leased a colliery; and there is the proud inscription in St. Augustine’s Church:

This Market Cross
Was Erected
By
The Right Honourable
Sr. William Stephenson Kn(ight)
Born at Cross Lands
In This Parish
And Elected Lord Mayor
Of London
1764

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Story No 40: the Alston Limestone Company Limited

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A hundred years ago, right next to Alston Station there was a large quarry operated by the Alston and Nentforce Limestone Company. The company had started life about 1890 and by 1901 it had become the Alston & Nentforce Limestone Quarry Co. Its typical output was illustrated in 1906 when consignments of limestone chippings for road making totalling 426 tons were delivered by the North Eastern Railway to Slaggyford, Coanwood, Lambley Crossing and Gilsland. The railway was helping in its own demise.

The North Eastern Railway was also the company’s biggest customer for stone to be used as railway ballast. To fulfil these orders quarrying activity had to be extended to a new quarry beyond the gas works on the other side of the main road to Hexham, which involved construction of a railway siding through a new tunnel that still exists under the road from Alston Station.
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We are adding a story every few weeks, so bookmark this page to come back for more………..


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About Us
Alston Moor Historical Society was founded in 1973 and, due to the nature of Alston Moor, it is a member of both the Northumberland Association of Local History Societies and the Cumbria Federation of Local History Societies.
Alston Moor Historical Society
LOCATION
Alston Moor, Cumbria
Alston Moor Historical Society - Alston Stories