Kirknewton's fascinating history
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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.