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Keeping dry

Keeping dry

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We are so used to good waterproof clothing being readily available that it is difficult to imagine life without them. Trying to keep dry was essential for the well being of workers. Linseed oil was used to waterproof cloth which could then be turned into capes, coats and sou'wester type headgear. This was still being done in the remote Cheviot valleys into the 1930s. After WWII and improved roads and transport through the 50s and 60s there was much greater access to shops and goods of all kinds. Another method for keeping dry was to push one corner of a sack into the opposite corner to make a 'poke' which would go over the head and the rest of the sack would protect the back and shoulders. I wonder if there was a name for these?  Another way of keeping dry and clean before the advent of the wellington boot was to wrap straw ropes around the tops of boots and lower leg. These could then be discarded. There are photographs of the bondager farm workers wearing these. After the First World War puttees were used for the same purpose. Wellingtons became more common through the 1940s and the log book of 1944 for Southernknowe school records that 'seven pairs of wellingtons were brought in for the children'. The traditional shepherd's boot reigned supreme as the footwear of choice by the hill shepherds. Its design gave much more support to the foot and ankle thana wellington. With its upturn at the toe it also helped the movement of the foot when walking up hill or on rough ground. Getting his first pair of shepherd's boots made a young lad feel very grown up. One shepherd told me that the boots seem very heavy when you first lift them to put them on but they are so good when on that you hardly notice them.

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R.S. (Bob) Fraser - a Legend in His Own Life Time

R.S. (Bob) Fraser - a Legend in His Own Life Time

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Bob Fraser was born at Bowmont Hill not far from Kirknewton into a shepherding family.  He had great succes as a shepherd winning many prizes at local shows. He bred Border Collies from an early age and had his own line of Mindrum Collies. His dogs were much sought after by others as strong working dogs and also as trial dogs. Bob, himself, had huge success on the trial field over many years with dogs he had bred himself. He was much respected and an inspiration for One Man and His Dog. He continued well after retirement to achieve on the trial field and at the same time being a kindly mentor to the young shepherds learning their craft.

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Walking on the West Hill

Walking on the West Hill

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Chris Jones, Historic Environment Officer with Northumberland National Park, takes us on a walk back in time to the top of West Hill. Starting from the corner of the churchyard the walk proceeds on to the Long Back lane where Colin Martin gives some insights into the present day farming which takes place on West Kirknewton Farm and includes West Hill.. There is some speculation later about the older Kirknewton village of the early 19th century and the use of the now derelict smithy. Evidence of habitation and agricultural activity from the medieval period are pointed out as the walk circles around the hill. The hill fort at the summit forms the focus for the final part of the walk and throughout there are wonderful views and glimpses of wild life.

A guide to this walk is available in the village hall foyer

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The schools at Southernknowe and Kirknewton

The schools at Southernknowe and Kirknewton

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There was a purpose built school, for all children,in Kirknewton from 1794. The Vestry Minutes for the 4th June that year record the decision to build it. This was a very forward thinking descision and perhaps is partly due to Mrs Grey, a member of the liberal Grey family and grandmother of Josephine Butler, together with Mr culley, the noted agricultural innovator, being Church Wardens in the Parish at that time. A fascimile of these minutes is available to view in the village hall foyer. The school at Southernknowe has an interesting history. It was opened in 1854 and had periods of closure during the late 19th century as pupil numbers fluctuated. It always had a very small number of pupils owing to its remoteness and sometimes not enough to keep the school open. It was always linked to Kirknewton as pupils were expected to go there when the school at Southernknowe was closed. The log books of Kirknewton school from 1909 mention pupils from the College Valley who have no school to go to:

10th May 'One child admitted from Trowupburn, aged seven and half, never been to school, distance to walk 5 miles'

and:

17th May 'A child from Whitehall, aged 8, never been to school, distance to walk 4 miles'

In 1911 the school at Southernknowe finally re-opened and remained open until its final closure in 1968. Even in its last days it was different, remaining an all age school with pupils up to 15 long after all the other schools in the area had sent pupils at 11 to the Secondary School in Wooler. Huge efforts were made to keep the curriculum broad for the older pupils with trips out as the roads were improved, films after the supply of electricity in the 1960s and speaking to pupils at other schools by telephone after that was installed. As the only telephone in the valley messages were often taken for other people in the community.  Teachers from Kirknewton and Southernknowe would exchange for the supervision of external exams and back in the 1930s the pupils would go down to Kirfknewton to sit the 11+. The school day at both schools followed a similar pattern and ended with the hymn 'Now the Day is Over'.

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Peat and Coal

Peat and Coal

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Keeping warm, lighting the home and cooking all required much more time and effort, particularly in the remote valleys, until well past the middle of the 20th century. Gathering of the peat from the hills was part of the payment 'in kind' for the shepherds and later an allowance of coal would take its place. Collecting of peat was laborious as contributors to the video describe. It is also fondly remembered for its wonderful smell. Coal for the College Valley had to be collected from Kirknewton Station and brought up by horse and cart. Interestingly, the selling of coal by the station masters on the Alnwick to Cornhill line was part of their work and it was a good supplement to their wages. So much so that they sometimes did not go for promotion if coal supplying was not part of the agreement as they would be worse off. Cooking was on a range with the oven beside the open fire and managing this to produce the constant supply of food needed by the household (no quick nip to the shops! and no travelling shops either for many until well after WWII) was no mean feat. Also not without dangers. One person remembered that as a little girl she had been sitting near the fire and managed to overturn rising dough. What a mess she was in and no harm done. But it could have been a scalding kettle. Tending the oil lamps was yet another chore for the housewife during this time though many youngsters remember helping. When electric lights finally came, although appreciated for convenience, many remembered the cosiness of the old fashioned lamps and also remembered the smell. The electricity supply was only sufficient for lighting to begin with but would later allow for more amenities and influence the work of the shepherds themselves when electric shears supeceded the hand held shears.

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A Fine Musical tradition

A Fine Musical tradition

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winter in the Valleys

Winter in the Valleys

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Winter weather

In the first half of the twentieth century the farms and remote shepherd's houses were served by tracks not roads. People walked, rode or sometimes bicycled. After WWII young men often had motor bikes bought with demob money but generally everyday  journeys were slow and difficult and bad weather brought problems. This is reflected in the school log books - not always sympathetically.   On April 19th 1906 a snowstorm prevents the Hethpool children from walking the three miles to school. The headmaster Mr Neesom remarks that 'it was all gone by dinnertime'. In fact it could well have been still lying three miles up the valley. On May 17th he writes: 'Great floods. Two days of rain. The hills are 1 foot deep in snow' and on May 21st 'Only 20 children present out of 32. Roads impassable. Railway washed away'.  By November 20th in 1927 the roads are knee deep in snow and there are 19 children absent most of them the infants. On December 3rd the log records 'the written work is very poor as the children's hands were so cold they could not control their pens'. In 1928, on March 12th there were deep drifts and the 'boys had to cut a road from the school door to the girls' offices (toilets) into which snow had entered. There are references to 'hill children' not being able to get to school. In February 1929 the temperature in the schoolroom was between 34-44degrees F (1 -6 C.)  through the day. Elizabeth Tunnah who lived in the hills behind Kirknewton remebers that in snowy conditions her father would walk with them in the morning and then meet them with the horse and cart in the afternoon. The school at Southernknowe was affected by snow in 1945 when only 2 pupils could get to school because they lived next door! Those from Mounthooly, Goldscleugh, Dunsdale and Trowupburn could not. The winter of 1947 was particularly harsh and remembered by many. Margaret Blair (Ormston) said the snow drifted to the tops of the telegraph poles at Westnewton, where she was dairymaid, and Mr Brown one of the estate workers drove a caterpillar tractor to Milfield to bring back provisions for everyone. The sheep were brought in and she remembers them 'tucked into every corner of the sheds'. John Dixon, the shepherd there,  recalls 'drifts to the height of houses and that  you could walk across the fields and not know where the hedges were'.The lambing was in the farm buildings and 'lambs and their mothers were everywhere we could find room'. They lost no ewes or lambs that year. Two and more miles further into the hills the conditions were worse. The school at Southernknowe was closed  and the log entries reveal the severity of the conditions up there. On 11th Feb. the snow is 4 to 6 feet deep and the teacher( Mrs North) records she 'had to walk on top of 4 foot walls and crawl over drifts'. She had come the half mile from Coldburn. Only Southernknowe children could attend.  On February 28th a terrible blizzard stopped even the Southernknowe children.  And it went on with more terrible blizzards through March.  One of the pupils living at Southernknowe, Barbara  McGuffie, said Mrs North had got to school by 'hook or by crook'  and believes she 'skated to school with her feet in baking tins'. On March 26th the postman gets through to Southernknowe for the first time since  the 1st February!  1962/3 was another harsh winter. John Dixon, now head shepherd at Westnewton and living at The Staw, remembers that 18 sheep were lost. The second shepherd was out looking for them on horseback and prodding the snow on the south side of Longknowe Hill to find them. He came off his horse and it wandered home. John  followed its tracks back and found where Colin Armstrong was. Colin was lucky as he was a long way from the farm in atrociuos conditions. The same conditions cost the lives of three shepherds on the other side of Cheviot. When the snow began to melt the 18 sheep turned up walking down the road in Kilham in the valley on the north side of Longknowe Hill.They had been sheltering under gorse bushes whers masses of tangled wool was found.  They had pushed underneath and survived huddled together and with sufficient air. The school at Southernknowe was closed from January 8th  until March and the teacher wrote 'conditions worse through drifting and hay and groceries have been dropped at Goldscleugh and Dunsdale by helicopter'.  Later in the 1965 winter the headteacher records on March 3rd ' weather worsening, boys sent home to Mounthooly and seen  to arrive safely through binocculars'. However beguiling the image this was a potentially serious situation.  A final word is from Sir  Arthur Munro Sutherland, Bart. who owned the College Valley estate up to 1953. He had his country home at Hethpool House . Not a countryman himself, he seems to have had a keen appreciation of the differences between the urban and rural. He wrote 'In town we clrear the snow from our doorsteps and hope the buses are running. Among the hills the snow engulfs you and you fight your way out'.  He might well have added that survival itself of man and beast depends on those efforts.

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Kirknewton School from 1948 to 1964

Kirknewton School from 1948 to 1964

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Kirknewton school from 1948 to 1964

In 1948 the school got a kitchen to provide the midday meal. Previous to that the children took their 'bait' of sandwiches together with a bottle of tea which was put to warm before the stove or fire. Earlier in the 1940s there were occasions when hot chocolate was made at lunchtime. Elizabeth Tunnah (nee Oliver) , born in 1943, remembers the first school dinners soon after she started school. She said that all the children loved the school dinners. Her older brother Charles once asked the school cook, Tibbie Simpson, if she would make chips for them. She said she couldn't because she didn't have the fat. (supplies to school kitchens and menus were carefully monitored ) So Charlie begged his mother for a large jar of fat from a recent pig killing and he carried it down from Torleehouse (the Tors)) to the school. The children got their chips which was 'a big treat for us all'. A Mr and Mrs Kirsopp were the teachers in the early 1950s and they were remembered by Douglas Willis, who lived at Crookhouse, as being very interesting and patient. The school was still an all age school as the Secondary Modern school had not yet been built in Wooler. To help to extend the curriculum for the older children there was a half day of schooling in a building where Hope's garage, in Wooler, now is. The girls did cooking and the boys did woodwork. By 1953 the Modern school opened in wooler and took all the children from 11 years to 15 from the surrounding little village schools. Back in Kirknewton there was still no electricity in the school until 1952 and even then not all the houses got electricity. Douglas couldn't remember doing any science lessons until he got to the Modern school. Better, and more available, transport became a feature of the 50s and Douglas remembers what was possibly the first school educational trip. (Many villages had annual seaside trips but they were for adults and children as a 'holiday'.) It was to a woollen mill in Galashiels and he can remember having to write about it afterwards. He recalled the excitement when a train engine overturned near Kirknewton and a huge steam crane had to be brought in to lift it back onto the track.

Pat Robinson (nee Trotter) lived in the row of cottages  near the War Memorial. She wasn't quite so enthusiastic about the school dinners as she couldn't cope with fatty meat.  The children had to show a clean plate and Pat was a bit frightened of the teacher because she couldn't eat everything. Miss Cronin put her behind the piano to finish her food and there she found a convenient mouse hole!  Her probelms stopped when her mother became school cook. Pat remembers the good Christmas parties with every child getting a gift from Santa. She also remembers Professor Lambton who sometimes helped her father John who was a forester in West Newton. She was a Persian  scholar and cousin of Captain Lambton who was a school governor and farmed at Westnewton. Professor Lambton would entertain children to tea and Pat can remember bread and cake and jam all homemade by the Professor. The children were taken much further away on trips and journeys by bus to Edinburgh Zoo and to Whitely Bay are recorded. Evelyn Balai's children attended Kirknewton at this time and she remembers a trip to Tyne Tees studio and also a trip to York, by train, from Alnmouth station. They visited the Minster and the Museum. John and Margie Dixon came to live at Westnewton in 1950, when they married. They were in two different cottages in the 'square' and then moved to The Staw and the children walked to school from there. The children were all born in Castle Hills in Berwick and this followed the increasing pattern of a change from home births. Pat Malone came to live in Westnewton in 1963 and attended Kirknewton for one term. He had come from Stamfordham which was a very big school and then in Kirknewton he found there was only one other person in his 'year'. This was Alan Lyall who lived next door to him in the Westnewton square. Pat remembers the school as one big room with a glass and wood partition between the infants and the bigger children. It was opened for communal activities like assemblies but closed most of the time. He can remember making a doormat and 'singing lustily' to the radio broadcasts of 'Singing Together' and 'Rhythm and Melody'. There were lots of visits by the Vicar, Reverend Rendell,who was a big jolly chap in a black cassock who used to 'stub out his cigarette under an enormous black shoe' before entering the classroom. He also recalls the smell of school dinners cooking, the oil cloths to cover the desks, the primitive toilets and the fascinating coke boiler which John Trotter used to stoke. His biggest impression is one of discipline and he was rather frightened of the teacher, Miss Cronin, who, unfortunately for him, lived next door to him in Westnewton during the week! He said 'she rarley came out in the evenings but knowing she was in there made me very circumspect in my behaviour!'. Seventeen men were employed on the Westnewton estate  in the 1950s and 60s. These included shepherds and stockmen, milkmaids, foresters, rabbit catchers and gamekeepers as well as the household staff. Captain Lambton was very patriarchal. He took a great interest in the village. Pat Malone's parents thought the world of him and after several moves before coming to Westnewton they settled and remained for the rest of their lives.  There was a party for the children at Christmas and Captain Lambton gave each child half a crown. he would also give them threepence if they ran ahead to open a gate for his motor car. There was one  bus a week, on a Saturday, to Wooler and the housekeeper from Westnewton House always used that.  All the children going to Kirknewton school helped with household chores. They carried in coal and logs and water from pumps. They fed dogs and pigs and helped clean out byres and stables. They could earn a bit of money by potato picking and maybe spend a little on the travelling  shop which was a new feature of village life, and for the outlying places too, as roads up the valleys improved in the 1950s. The school children were encouraged to gather rosehips, for the making of syrup. With high vitamin C it was a good substitute for oranges. Pat remembers taking sacks of rosehips to Milfield, (4 miles away), with his sister Trudi on their bikes.  They got paid 4d a pound for them. It doesn't sound much wnen coverted to somewhat less than 2p but a  quarter of sweets was 6d in those days and some nice treats could be bought for 1d. The rosehips were picked mostly from the railway track sides and its closure in 1965 is also a vivid memory. When the track was dismantled after the Beeching cuts some of the children got rides on the engine which accompanied the gangs taking up the track. There were signs of much greater affluence in the community with radios in the homes, televisions by the 1960s and more cars. During this time a new school building was planned and finally built in 1964. It had its official opening in December of that year and so the 'old school era' , which had lasted for 170 years, had come to an end. What to do with the old school building was much debated as recorded in the Managers' minutes. There were suggestions of it becoming a house, a youth club or a community centre. There had been a youth club in the old stable block belonging to the vicarage. This stood on the present car park and was demolished to make way for the new school. In the event the old school became the village hall and remained so for another 35 years. 

 

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The School at Southernknowe

The School at Southernknowe

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The school at Southernknowe

Tucked away up the College Valley where the College Burn and the Lambden Burn meet lies Southernknowe.  It is here that a small school began in one of the shepherd's cottages in 1854. It catered for the children of the outbye shepherds of Mounthooly, Fleehope, Dunsdale, Goldscleugh, Whitehall, Hethpool and Trowupburn. It had periods of closure during its history because of a fall in number of pupils. The remaining pupils were expected to travel to Kirknewton which, from the outermost reaches of the valley, would be 7 miles. In practice the children simply couldn't attend. There was a period of closure in the early 20th century and the headmaster of Kirknewton school, Mr Neesom, records in the school logbooks the children he admits to the school from the valley:

1909 -May 10th "admitted a child from Trowupburn, aged 7 and a half, never been to school. Distance to walk 5 miles"

1909 -May 17th "admitted a child from Whitehall, aged 8 years, never been to school. Distance to walk 4 miles."

1910 -January 3rd "the child from Whitehall is not coming to school during the winter months."

After the harvest holiday in 1910 Mr Neesom records that 3 children are 'lost' from his roll as the Southernknowe school re-opens. From this time the school remains open until its final closure in 1968. There isn't much in the records about this unique school before the 1920s except for the entries in the Kirknewton logbooks. However, through the Governors' minutes of 1923, we learn that a Mrs Jessie Anderson is to become Headmistress. She to do the cleaning of the school for an additional payment and is there until 1928 when she resigns. There is a great debate  as to whether the school can be kept open but the school managers decide to treat this as a 'lean' period and the school stays open with 4 pupils plus one 'scholar' nearly 14 years old (which was the school leaving age). Another married woman, Mrs Agnes Cowe, became headmistress in 1928 and would stay until 1941. She lived at Coldburn, a short distance from Southernknowe, as did the teachers who came after her. Her daughter, Bunty Cowe, wrote an excellent booklet about life in the valley at that time which is called 'Clooty Mats and Sheep Shearing - a Cheviot Childhood'. Another booklet recalling life in the College and Coquet Valleys in the 1930s and 40s is 'Child of the Cheviots' by Margaret Dagg.  Mrs Cowe was followed by a Mrs North from 1941 to 49 and then a Mrs Norman from 1950 to 56. The employment of married women as teachers in the 1920s and 30s was unusual and it was probably the remoteness of the school which made it difficult to get staff and maybe its size was not attractive for anyone looking for promotion. Some married women had been used to fill vacancies in WWI and WWII and employment patterns were changing in the 1950s. The last headmistress was a Miss Stella Hirst who had exchanged a school in the centre of the city of Leeds for its polar opposite! She was employed in 1964 and at this time the Southernknowe school is different from all other schools in the area, and probably the rest of England, as it is still an 'all age' school. It is taking children up to the age of 15 which was the new leaving age since the 1944 Education Act. Since 1953 all other local schools have been transferring pupils at 11 years old to the Glendale Modern School in Wooler. Distance to travel is again the problem just as it was early in the century. The roads are better since the building of access roads when woodland was planed in the 1950s but there is still no transport provided. Parents did not want their children to board out which is what they would have to do. The pupils who did board out did so with relatives and one pupil was sent to the Bellingham Camp School. There were concerns about the breadth of the curriculum for the older pupils and every effort was made to do as much as possible. Electricity had come to the valley in 1961 and there was a telephone box outside the school. The pupils speak on the telephone to pupils in other schools, go on trips and there is a regular exchange of library books.There is model making with balsa wood and filmstrips. The school generally gets very good reports during these final years. Weather conditions have caused problems over the years. In the bad winter of 1947 a logbook entry on the 11th February says the teacher had to "walk over the top offour foot walls" to get to school. Only the children from Southernknowe itself could attend. On the 26th March the entry records "the postman reached school taday for the first time since February 1st.  The severe winter of 1962/3 also brought problems. The school was closed from the 8th January until March and hay and groceries had to be dropped at Dunsdale and Goldscleugh by helicopter. On March 3rd 1965, when a blizzard threatened, Miss Hirst sent the boys from Mounthooly homeearly and the boys 'were seen to arrive safely through binoculars.The school finally closed at Easter 1968 when Miss Hirst described regret at leaving 'this lovely valley and delightful school.'

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The Bondagers in Kirknewton

The Bondagers in Kirknewton

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In the 18th, 19th and early 20th century many female agricultural workers could be seen working in the fields in South East Scotland and Northumberland. They were part of the Bondage System and were known as bondagers. The workers made an agreement or bond to work for a year and this gave a stability not seen in other parts of the country where workers were often day labourers. The quality of the work they did was admired by people from other areas. Each hind (a married ploughman) was expected to provide a female worker to shear the corn at harvest and do other work on the farm. She could be his wife or daughter, another female relative or a stranger from the hirings. It was quite a burden on the hind as he had to pay her wage in advance and then recoup the cost from the work she did. The system had its roots in feudal times but the fact that it lasted so long suggests that it worked reasonably well. The growth of towns, the industrial revolution, improved education and voting rights all contributed to the questioning of the system in the mid 19th century. The work was physically very hard for everyone before mechanisation and the bondagers were particularly appreciated for their skills in reaping and in singling turnips. Above all they were memorable for the costume they wore. This included skirts of hardwearing material, blouses, shawls, wimples or head cloths and most magnificently a decorated black straw hat. Donald Scott of Caistron, after visiting Glendale in 1939, referred to the costume as 'the last remaining peasant costume in England'. Although the full system was no longer in place the costume was retained by the field workers. In Kirknewton and the surrounding area there were many women wearing the costume into the 1920s and 1930s. Bella Lockhart (nee Hall) who started school in 1924 and her sister Nancy Collins who started school in 1933 both remember the bondagers. They walked to school from Lanton Mill over a plank bridge and then through the fields to Post Office Lane and along to the school. They both said 'if there were workers in the fields there would be as many bondagers as men. They had a special sort of "funny hat" as it seemed to us children and a long skirt'.

A documentary about the Bondage System was filmed locally with West Newton farmsteading providing a stable yard and cottage settings and West Kirknewton Farm providing a quiet lane. A photograph taken at Kilham, 2 miles from Kirknewton shows the number of bondagers working on the farm there in the early part of the twentieth century. Further information can be found on www.thebondagers.com

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The Railway in Kirknewton

The Railway in Kirknewton

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After many years of negotiations, and then an Act of Parliament, the Alnwick to Cornhill railway was finally built and opened in 1887. In Kirknewton this meant the building of a fine station, a stationmaster's house and a row of three railway cottages. The house and cottages were two storey and built of brick with an outer wall of large blocks of Doddington sandstone. Compared to the older, single storey farm cottages they must have been quite impressive. The school was enlarged in 1886 most likely as a result of the Education Act of 1880 making schooling compulsory. However, the planned railway and its implications must have been discussed for years in the area as the various possible routes were debated. For example one proposal missed Kirknewton altogether and went up through Ewart. Once the decision was made it would become obvious that the line would bring extra workers and families into the area and therefore more children for the school. The baptism registers show the birth of a son on October 3rd 1885 to John Young a railway contractor and his wife Jane living at Old yeavering and in 1889, after the opening of the line, a baby daughter is born on January 9th to George Brown, a signalman, and his wife Ann. The children of porters, surfacemen, platelayers and stationmasters follow. The first family to occupy the middle railway cottage was that of John Dixon. He was a Foreman platelayer and met his wife Sarah, a Wakefield girl, in Wooler. She had travelled north to live with her aunt and her uncle who was a navvy working on the new line. We can marvel at the work these men did when we look at the cuttings and embankments along the accessible portions of the now disused line. The Dixons had several children and one photograph shows their son Jack and daughter Mame in uniform during WWI. Their other daughter Minnie remained in the same house all her life. John and Sarah and Minnie are buried in the churchyard where their gravestone can be seen. A postcard view shows the railway crossing near the cottages circa 1900. The railway is mentioned in the school log books in 1910 when some of the children have been scolded for 'shouting at the people waiting for trains'! The last crosssing keeper at Kirknewton was Evelyn Pendleton who moved to the railway Cottages in 1948. Her husband worked on the railways but later changed to farm work. Evelyn opened the gates for road traffic and can remember some people getting quite impatient. Once a train was 'on the line', i.e. it had left the previous station, the gatekeeper could not allow people through. A bell signalled the train was on line. She remembers the trains carried rabbits for fur and meat and also delivers of coal which people from outlying farms came to collect from the station. There were extra trains for the lamb sales. There was no water in the cottages and the supply came from a well with a lift pump. if that didn't work there was another well with just a rope and bucket. There was an earth closet though an elsan was offered by the 1940s. No electricity ,of course, but evelyn remembers it being very cosy with the lamps on at night. Cooking was done on a range in the main living room and there was a 'set pot' in the scullery used for boiling up all sorts of things including the clothes on washday. Evelyn remembers the closure of the line in 1965 and how it was taken up so quickly it was hard to believe it had ever been there.

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Our Very Own Laura

Our Very Own Laura

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Elizabeth Ellen Dunn was born in 1898 at number 2 Railway Cottages in Kirknewton. Her father John worked on the railway as a signalman and also looked after the railway crossing near the cottage. Her mother Mary Jane (nee Robson) was a skilled tailoress. Elizabeth Ellen, an only child, went to Kirknewton school where the headmaster was Mr Neesom. Local gentry often gave annual treats for their local school and a photograph of a tea party at Coupland Castle seems to be one of these occasions. The date would be circa 1903 as Elizabeth Ellen is a very small girl at the time. Elizabeth Ellen became a nursery maid for the vicar (Mr Piiddock) when she left school at 14. She seems to have been there a little while but then became the post girl. The post office was situated not far from where she lived at the Station Cottages. It isn't known for certain but Elizabeth may have become the post girl during the First World war because as young men left the village jobs became vacant. She was to continue this work until her marriage in 1927. She loved the outdoor work which involved walking, as she said herself, 'all over these hills'. Her routes took her to Canno Mill, Crookhouse, Yeavering, Torleehouse, West Newton and all the way up the College Valley to the remotest shepherd's houses. She lived to be 90 and although she moved from the area she had a life long love of the village and the hills around. She visited as frequently as she could until well into her 80s. There is a photograph showing her giving mail to Mrs piddock, the vicar's wife, which might have been taken shortly after becoming the post girl. She looks quite sturdy in her photographs as a post girl but in fact was petite. She carried with her a tiny spring balance for the weighting of letters which she collected as she went her rounds. So she was posting items for people and not just delivering post to them. Born in the next railway crossing cottage along the line, at Yeavering, was a boy called Henry Trotter. He was born in 1901 and also attended Kirknewton school. Henry started work on the railways at Mindrum Station when he left school. Elizabeth and Henry were married in St Gregory's Church in 1927 and they went to live in the crossing cottage at Langham, about three miles from Kirknewton. It was there that their son Wifrid was born.  In the 1930s they moved to Newcastle where Henry worked at Longbenton and Benton eventually becoming a stationmaster. The circular railway line which went from Newcastle, out to the coast at Whitley Bay and Tynemouth and back along the riverside through Wallsend to Newcastle again became the basis for the modern metro system we see today. Elizabeth and Henry's  son Wifrid married Christine Birdsall in St Bartholomew's Church in Longbenton in 1960.  It is Christine who is to be thanked for all the memorabilia relating to Elizabeth and Henry that we have been able to preserve in Kirknewton. There are school photos, Henry's school exercise books, Sunday School work books and stamps, Henry's railway safety books and a wedding gift of a 'boot hook'. Elizabeth's christening gown and bonnet together with Henry's christening gown had been kept and also sheet music and the needlework magazine subscribed to by Elizabeth before her marriage. The tiny spring balance Elizabeth carried as the post girl was among the items and also  photographs of her carrying a large post bag. Together with all these things were pictures of her parents and items from their home circa 1900. All these together gave us a wonderful snapshot of life at that time in Kirknewton and of the life of the postgirl. Kirknewton seemed the right home for these items and with Lottery help that was achieved. The collection is called 'Our Very Own Laura' and it is open at various village hall events through the year but is also open on request by contacting the booking secretary of the hall.

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The Beginnings of the school in Kirknewton

The Beginnings of the school in Kirknewton

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Kirknewton School was a very early purpose built school for the attendance of all local children. It is possibly the first school of its kind in Northumberland being built in 1794. There was schooling before this date but 1794 marks the building of a new school. It was built because of a group of very forward thinking people living in, or associated with, Kirknewton Parish at that time. During research an amazing document came to light which was the Vestry Minutes for 4th June 1794. (see gallery for a fascimile) At this the new school was discussed in detail giving its dimensions and how the money was to be raised.  The vestry minutes for the few next decades mention the school room as a meeting place and there is a mention of repairs being needed in 1818. We know from the Parson and White Trade Directory of 1827 that the schoolmaster and Parish Clerk is a John Johnstone Robinson. The school appears on the Tithe Award Plan of 1843 and is described in 1855 as a 'neat small building' attended by 40 children. William Balmer is schoolmaster and parish clerk. On a later map of 1860 the school is shown again but this time with the addition of a porch area to its east side. The 1881 census shows the schoolmaster was a Thomas Pegg and residing in the school master's house now known as The Old School House. A house was built for the schoolmaster in the 1860s. In the intervening years the names of the schoolmasters can be gleaned from the baptism records of St Gregory's Church. For e.g. 'April 7th 1869, George Arthur, son of John Henry Ballan, schoolmaster of Kirknewton, and his wife Mary Ann'.  In the mid 1880s the railway came to Kirknewton. This increased the number of children on the school roll as a station master's house and three railway cottages were built and occupied. The school was enlarged in 1886/87 because of this and we are lucky to have a photograph which shows the unenlarged school taken in the early 1880s (see gallery). I think the reason for the photograph to be taken was that St Gregory's Church had a tower built in 1880 and a new north aisle added a few years previously. That would be an event worth recording. You can see the new slates of the north aisle clearlyand the tower looks 'new'. The school, in the background, has three windows only. Another view of the old school taken in the 1990s shows the full 6 windows dating from the 1886/7 extension(see gallery). The sepia photograph taken in the early 1880s is notable for the fact that a bondager and hind (farm workers) can be seen in a corner of the field. Her distinctive hat is visible. Of interest too is the picture (see gallery) of St Gregory's prior to the Tower when the church had a small bell turret. The cost of the tower was £500. The cost of the school enlargement was £100.

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Memories of Kirknewton School from the 1920s

Memories of Kirknewton School from the 1920s

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Isabella (Bella) Lockhart (nee Hall) was born in 1919 and started school in 1924. At that time she lived in the end cottage near the War Memorial. In a photograph taken of the school in 1924/25 Bella is the fourth girl from the right in the row of girls second from the front.(see gallery)  In a 1927 photograph she is fifth from the right in the second row. (see gallery) The schoolteachers at this time were Miss Smart - the headteacher - and Miss Anderson. Miss Anderson, the assistant teacher lodged in the cottage next to where Bella lived. Later the Hall family moved to Lanton. Bella remembers Miss Anderson as being very strict and 'she used a ruler to rap you over the knuckles even when you were just five'.  She remembers that the school was one big room with a curtain separating the infants from the older children. By the 1930s this curtain would be replaced by a folding screen partition of wood with glazed windows. Bella remembers the 'dippy in' pens which were hard to write with particuarly if you were left handed. Bella was not but she recalls that 'Oh, yes, we made lots of blots and got into trouble sometimes. It was difficult to do nice work with a dippy pen so we practised a lot. Children now are very lucky to have felt pens and easy colouring things'. 

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The Earliest Memories of Kirknewton School

The Earliest Memories of Kirknewton School

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The oldest ex-pupil to share memories of the school was Elizabeth Elsie Hall (nee Thompson) who was born in 1910 at Berryhill Farm near Wooler and lived at Lanton Farm cottages when she started school. This was in May 1916 when she must have been about five and half years old. She remembered the Schoolmaster Mr Neesom and recognised him when shown a photograph taken in 1906 (see gallery picture) Mr Neesom had been the schoolmaster since 1888 and would continue to be until 1923. She was present at the celebration of schooling in Kirknewton which took place in 2003. (see gallery picture) She remembered that the days seemed very long and she had her hand smacked for getting a sum wrong when she was about 6.  She took jam sandwiches to school for lunch and 'a tin bottle of tea in a sock' which was put to warm near the fire in the schoolroom. One thing she must have heard from older children or her parents was that Mr Neesom went to Milfield on his bike every Saturday night and that he was 'going for a drink at the Red Lion'.

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