Kirknewton's fascinating history
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A Fine Musical Tradition
Many of the local shepherds played the violin (fiddle) or accordion and one local resident, now in her nineties, said that if someone could play then others would set on and dance. In the College Valley there was a monthly dance during the winter in the old Sutherland Hall in the fields near the burn. The present Cuddystone Hall is higher up and was built in 1962. The dances were lit by rows of Tilly lamps hanging round the walls. The big annual kirns at the end of harvest were in the form of a ceilidh with a lot of dancing, singing of songs and reciting poetry. Back in 1900 William Ainslie ran The Ainslie Band and lived at The Hagg farm. They played for the Kilham Kirn on November 15th 1912 and are commemorated in a song sung on that night. Kilham is about two miles from Kirknewton. Here is one verse:
'Near the Bonnie Beaumont Water.
At Kilham Farm one night,
The men wore stripped waistcoats
And the ladies dressed in white,
Jimmie Dixon on the fiddle
And Ainslie of the Hagg,
They played the Drops of Brandy
Till their heads could hardly wag.'
The band end up rather drunk and fall off their bikes on the way home. Not getting in until 6am. So good fun seems to have been had by all!
William Ainslie taught Andrew Newlands to play the fiddle and then he encouraged John Dixon to join a band with his accordion when they were working together in Westnewton and Kirknewton in the 1940s. John went on to have his own band and be very popular. In the 1950s Sylvia Burden (nee Middlemiss) remembers her father having 'The Eddie Middlemiss Band '. It was just acccepted that people could play. As a small boy John Dagg came to live at Dunsdale one of the most remote shepherd's houses up the College Valley. His father, also John, was a great player of the fiddle, Northumbrian pipes and Scottish bagpipes. John junior would listen to the others and wish that he could play like them, never thinking he would, but he went on to play accordion in his own band 'The Tillside Trio'. People would walk a long way to have a musical evening with the Daggs. A young shepherd called Willie Taylor used to come over from Commonburn House to Dunsdale, a tough walk over rough ground. John would look out and when Willie was on the skyline John could see it was him because of the fiddle strapped to his back! Willie Taylor composed wonderful music and became famous nationally, after retirement, along with a group of musicians all following the Northgumbrian tradition. He was an inspiration for Kathryn Tickell and Alistair Anderson. It was not unusual for young musicians to walk miles to play at a dance or gathering, sleep in a barn on the way home and then 'look' their sheep before breakfast! Helen Oliver (nee Rogerson0 remembers long walks over from Commonburn House, above Wooler, to the Sutherland hall in the College Valley for dances and then long walks back in the small hours. Northumbrian music thrives with gatherings in Morpeth and Rothbury and is worth checking out if you are not familiar with it.