This article is taken from the excellent “Villageguides” Facebook page – and we hope to be trawling in those waters for future items…
One of the most distinctive shops in Morpeth was J. Smail & Sons the hardware store on Bridge Street. It was one of the largest shops in the town, high-ceilinged and cavernous, extending across three floors but packed to the rafters with every kind of hardware items.
The shop was opened towards the end of the nineteenth century by the first John Smail. He was a Scotsman from just across the border by Kelso. He had a business selling Fishing Tackle from a horse and cart, travelling all around the border country, Wooler, Alnwick and as far south as Morpeth. He relocated his family in the town and at first rented premises in Bridge Street, next door to the Queen’s Head Hotel.
Every Wednesday the farming folk would descend on Morpeth for the weekly market and after they had sold their own produce and had cash in their pocket they would go to one of the many pubs or hotels in the town, or head to John Smail’s shop to stock up on any agricultural or general ironmongery they needed. The shop also stocked many of the new household implements that were starting to be manufactured.
The current shop dates from the 1920’s. John’s son, also called John, took over the business on the death of his father. He took a gamble in the dark days of the depression and acquired the large premises at No. 40 Bridge Street that had once been the town house of the Wards of Nunnykirk. He created the huge plate glass frontage on the first two floors that still exists today.
The second John died in 1941 aged only fifty. He had no son to succeed him in the business and many thought it would be sold off. What they had not reckoned on was the indomitable spirit of his widow and her four daughters. For the next sixty years these women ran the store. One daughter in particular stands out. Isobel Smail served in the shop well into her eighties. She was a pillar of the local community and served as mayor of the town in 1971 and 1983 and was awarded an OBE in 1996. She died in 2010 aged 89.
The shop closed in 2016 and has since been converted into an Italian restaurant – Lollo Rosso.
Tuesday September 8th 2020 marked another momentous day in the long history of one of the stand-out railway buildings along the whole length of the main East Coast line between London’s King’s Cross and Waverley Stations in Edinburgh. The day when the elegant Grade II Listed Morpeth Station which welcomed its first passengers as railway travel was being pioneered across Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria, was given a new lease of life as a modern transport hub at the same time as providing much needed new workspace for budding local businesses.
For the past 18 months work has been underway to restore and conserve the grand old station built in 1846 for the Newcastle & Berwick Railway Company, by retaining so many of its original features designed by the renowned architect Benjamin Green, at the same time as providing 21st Century rail travel facilities and that functional office space for small firms. The result is testament to the team efforts of a partnership brought together over the past seven years by Greater Morpeth Development Trust to raise the £2.3 million needed to carry out the work. The Trust is a community based organisation which has done so much valued and varied work around Morpeth over the past decade ranging from staging popular entertainment events, starting a community cinema in the town, improving access and signage to riverside and woodland walks and publishing the work of local historian authors.
Prior to the station’s restoration GMDT’s most spectacular achievement was to project manage the restoration and conservation of the 300-year-old Morpeth Town Hall, designed by Sir John Vanburgh of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard fame, whilst safeguarding its future as a modern civic building in keeping with its historic past. When the station restoration and redevelopment was first mooted, the initial hurdle GMDT had to overcome was to convince potential partners that as a small organisation with only one full time and two part-time members of staff plus a board of volunteer directors, it could plan, raise funding for and deliver such an ambitious project. A number of small grants at the feasibility and development stages of the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Northumberland County Council, the Homes & Communities Agency, CORE and the Architectural Heritage Fund, helped shape the final delivery plan. Pointing to its successful delivery of the Town Hall restoration, however, the Trust won the backing of the Railway Heritage Trust which supports the preservation, upkeep and future sustainability of buildings and structures which form part of Britain’s historic rail network. At the same time GMDT was able to secure a development grant then a full award of £790,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to set the project in motion before the two initial funders were joined in the station partnership by Northumberland County Council, the North East Rural Growth Network, and track and train operators Network Rail and Arriva North.
With the funds in place contractors STP Construction were able to move on site in the early months of 2019 to begin what the company’s site manager Carl Neasham-Gilbert likened to being a job midway between a rock and a hard place. What he meant by that was that his team would be working trackside of the busy main line between London and Edinburgh with high-speed trains thundering through Morpeth station at very regular intervals during the working day, while on the other side of the building workspace was severely constrained by a heavily trafficked road leading into the busy Coopies Lane Industrial Estate. Added to that, the construction crew had to consider as paramount, the safety of passengers walking around the station platforms quite literally under their feet!
All this had to be done without disrupting rail traffic with the only exception being when scaffolding had to be erected and dismantled – jobs which had to be undertaken during the dead of night over a couple of weekends when the power to the lines could be safely isolated. To get the work done, a team of 30 scaffolders, 8 glaziers, 12 joiners and labourers had to work through two Saturday and Sunday nights in time to finish by 4am on the Monday morning. On the first occasion the last labourer finished sweeping the platform at 4.01am, so tight was the scheduling!
During the work programme the overriding aim of GMDT and its partners was to preserve the integrity of the station building as it was specified by Benjamin Green who with his father John was also responsible for the design of iconic North East structures such as the Theatre Royal and the landmark Grey’s Monument in Newcastle. Benjamin Green was also responsible for the design of a number of smaller stations along the East Coast line through Northumberland, some of which are still standing, but Morpeth is the only one remaining in use to passengers.
However, years of leaking roofs, generations of pigeons gaining access through holes in the roof, water damp and rot had taken a severe toll on both the external and internal fabric of the station building. All this damage had to be carefully removed, replaced or repaired wherever possible, to maintain the style and manner of Green’s original design. For example, as many as possible of the original timber window frames have been repaired or refurbished by hand, a time-consuming task but one considered to be eminently worthwhile.
An elegant Victorian portico at the front of the building has also been opened up again, to re-instate a classically stylish entrance to the building. Perhaps the most spectacular example of the determination of the partners to restore the building to Green’s specifications, however, has been the reinstatement of the 15 very tall
chimneys which gave the station its distinctive and characterful appearance.
For safety reasons they had been considerably reduced in height a number of years ago. Specialists stone masons Classic Masonry from North Shields undertook the work using ‘Blaxter’ sandstone specified by the station project conservation architect John Curtis from Napper Architects.. A total of 81 stones some weighing nearly half a tonne, were quarried from near Otterburn, and dressed ready to be hauled some 50 feet into the air using the block-and-tackle lifting method.
Now the work is done and the newly refurbished Morpeth Railway Station can start welcoming passengers to its new facilities. A café had been created The changes that have been made are brilliant and have totally transformed the station, along with a modern ticket office, new toilet facilities and a caboose guard’s van-style taxi office has been built in the corner of the station forecourt.
Internally, seven offices have been created for use by small businesses in what was previously unused workspace inside the station building. Already six of those offices are in the process of being let to local businesses while tenants have also been identified to run the café and the taxi office.
“What we see today is the successful outcome of a huge amount of work over the past seven years by our Trust and its partners,” said GMDT Chief Executive Officer David Lodge, “It has been a long – and at times difficult road – to get to where we are today but we have persevered in our determination to not only preserve what it a wonderful example of Victorian railway architecture, but to give travellers to and from Morpeth the very best facilities we could provide for them.
“At the same time, we have been enterprising in using empty office space as much-needed accommodation for small businesses in what surely must be a unique location right next to the main East Coast line
.“Greater Morpeth Development Trust has been at the forefront of giving two such historic buildings in the town a viable and sustainable future and that has been a major achievement for us. However, as a Trust we are not just about safeguarding the town’s heritage because we do so much more as a community organisation to help make Morpeth a better place to live and work.
“The station has been at the heart of life in Morpeth since the middle of the 19th Century and will remain so for many, many years to come. We believe the people of Morpeth will be rightly proud of what we have achieved at Morpeth Railway Station as a partnership team.”
A comprehensive Appraisal of the Morpeth Town Centre Conservation Area was produced at the behest of the Town Council in January 2020. Here is an extract from the Appraisal discussing buildings of the early-to-mid 18th century:
“The 18th century is a particularly well-documented period of Morpeth’s history. Following the fire in 1689, there was substantial rebuilding of the town and an opportunity to introduce the latest styles and fashions in both construction and architectural detailing. Numerous buildings survive from this period and they make a considerable contribution to the character and appearance of the town. There is commonality to buildings from this century, but there is also a subtle progression in character, an increasing sophistication and refinement, that means the contribution they make to the overall character and appearance of the conservation area is distinct and warrants independent discussion.
“The most apparent feature of buildings of the first half of this century is the almost ubiquitous use of brick. At this time bricks were still handmade, usually on site in temporary kilns and using local clay. The clays around Morpeth have resulted in bricks of soft oranges with highlights of red, and a deep almost plum coloured undertone. They give a beautifully warm and rich appearance to the buildings and are quite distinct from the mass-produced and imported bricks used from the mid-19th century onwards.
“Whilst they are made from the same clay, the process of hand-making bricks means that there is subtle variation in size and finish depending on the skill of the craftsman in charge of firing, where the brick was placed in the kiln and the builder’s personal preference. There was no standardised sizing and so this can alter from building to building, but they tend to be thinner and longer than they are today. The surface is more textured than later bricks, partly because of the wear and tear of intervening centuries, but also because the firing temperatures that could be achieved at this time were comparatively low, and so the fireskin of the brick – the surface of the brick that protects the softer inner – did not vitrify to the same extent, resulting in a rougher finish. Once the bricks were made, further variation and character was achieved through how they were laid. A variety of bonds could be used, although buildings of this period in Morpeth favoured English garden wall bond. Equally though, examples of stretcher bond and Flemish bond can be found, as well as some interesting examples that appear to be a randomly applied mixture of all. Lintels, stringcourses and eaves detailing – such as sawtooth or cogged cornices – are all in brick and animate an otherwise flat façade.
“There is less variety to be found with roof materials, which on the whole would have been a regional slate – such as Cumbrian or Westmorland – although most have been replaced over the years with Welsh slate. Another tell-tale feature of this period of building is the window. By this date the use of sash windows is absolute, but advancing technologies, changing fashions and legislative directions on design mean that an early 18th century sash is quite distinct from an early 19th century one. A healthy proportion of buildings from this period in Morpeth retain their original windows, or replacements that accurately replicate them, and they do much to reinforce the character of the building. Those from the early 18th century are rectangular but modest in size. The frame is visible – giving the windows a thick border – and they are placed flush with the façade of the building. The lights are small and numerous – 8 over 8 or 6 over 6 – and the glazing bars that hold them in place are moulded but thickset. There is appreciation that the arrangement of windows should be more regular, but the symmetry that underpins classical design is not always successfully applied: the internal layout of these buildings dictates the need for four bays, which necessarily pushes the door off-centre.
“These buildings often display a slightly naïve application of classical detailing; that is, they apply classical elements but not always in the established proportions or arrangements. This results in some quirky effects, most notable in Morpeth in door surrounds, where you can find any combination of ogee arches, triangular pediments and engaged columns that sometimes, most curiously, have pilasters sat atop them.”
Key words for the character of 18th century buildings in Morpeth: charming, spirited, aspirational
The full Conservation Area Appraisal can be found on this Morpeth Heritage website or downloaded from the Town Council website. Also available is a Gazetteer listing all the buildings in the Conservation Area and highlighting their significant heritage traits individually.
The Town Council has now commissioned a formal review of the Conservation Area boundaries which is due to start later this year.
This is a fascinating piece of Morpeth history regarding the presentation of the current Mayor’s Chain in 1890.
Discovered in the Morpeth Herald archives and transcribed by Cllr Andrew Tebbutt (with interpolations by Cllr Alison Byard).
Morpeth Herald Saturday 26 April 1890
Morpeth Town Council held a special meeting on 22nd April 1890 to present a new Mayoral Chain. Present were the Mayor (Councillor F E Schofield); ex-Mayor, Councillor W Clarkson; Aldermen G B Grey; W J Atkinson; W Burn & W Duncan; Councillors G Young; T Gillespie; S P Bates; J Swinney; R Summers; W C Wilkinson; J W Chirney; J Richardson; J W B Anderson; & W Webb; Town Clerk; F Brumell. The report says the Hall was filled with a large number of ladies and gentlemen.
Prior to the presentation of the chain, the Council paid tribute to the recently deceased Rector of Morpeth, Reverend Canon Grey. Then the Council let the contract to ring the Town Bells. 4 applicants – from £25 a year to £10 a year. Awarded to J Brown at £15 a year.
Transcript made 15th June 2020
PRESENTING THE MAYORAL CHAIN
The Sergeant’s Mace, the punch bowl, the town halberds, and chain were then placed in front of the platform, and the Town Clerk was deputed to make the presentation, and he addressed the meeting as follows:
“Mr Mayor, ladies and gentlemen, fellow burgesses of the old town – for the ladies are burgesses as well as the gentleman – I have been deputed to perform an important and pleasing duty this evening, and however unequal I might feel to discharge that duty with satisfaction to myself, I could not with propriety decline to undertake it. The duty thus imposed upon me, is no less than to present, on behalf of the subscribers, a new and handsome chain of office to be worn by you, sir, on official occasions, and to be handed on by you at the termination of your year of office to your successor and from Mayor to Mayor in perpetuity. (applause)
The practice of adorning the Mayor and chief officials of our ancient cities and towns is not at all a novel one and perhaps the town of Morpeth, was in former years an exception to the general rule in this respect. I am not aware the Bailiffs of Morpeth, who were the chief officers of this borough prior to 1836, were ever graced by the use of any gold chain or other insignia or emblems of office. But besides the Bailiffs there were in Morpeth in the olden times other officers, each of whom appears to have had some badge of office for use on public occasions. There were two fish and flesh lookers whose duties were to examine the quality of those articles, but if the butchers of Morpeth were as good and honest in former days, as they are now, their duty must have been of a light description. Each of them had a badge or emblem of his office, consisting, I believe, of spears or halberds, still in existence. Then there were 2 ale tasters. One can conceive what an appreciable duty theirs must have been to taste and adjudicate upon the ale and beer used within the Borough, and their emblems of office were two small silver cups which they used in the discharge of their tasting duties.
Each of the 4 constables carried a small baton or tip-staff as a menace to evildoers, and the Sergeant bore that splendid silver mace, the gift of Belted Will Howard to the town in 1604, which is now so ably wielded by our worthy and respected, vigilant and ancient friend, Mr Bolton, who has just completed his 63rd year, and is still mercifully spared in good health and strength. (applause.)
Thus the Bailiffs, the chief officers of the old Borough, were the only ones who had no badges or insignia of their office, unless the two handsome silver punch bowls which were relegated to their custody could be considered as such. Though they could scarcely be used on the occasion of processions, or suchlike ceremonies, they would naturally come into use on the festive occasions after dinner, when we may be sure, many a good flowing bowl of punch – that generous liquor – has been drained out of them.
And as the old Bailiffs went out of office without their insignia, so the new Mayor came in without any gold chain or any similar decoration, and so they continued without decoration during the reign of several of the early Mayors, until at length about 1846, Dr Trotter came into office as Mayor. The doctor was an old Morpethian. His father, the Reverend Robert Trotter, was the Presbyterian Minister of Morpeth for 50 years, and the doctor had spent all or most of his lifetime here, and was a man of great wealth and importance in the town, and it was thought fitting that the doctor should be decorated with a gold chain. How the money was raised for the purchase of it I cannot exactly say. Perhaps the doctor may have contributed part of it. I have also heard, and believe it was the case, that one of the old punch bowls was cast into the melting-pot to raise part of the money. Fortunately, the more handsome of the two is still preserved. There it is (pointing to the bowl). It was made by Richard Hobbs of Newcastle in 1712 and is called a Monteith. As you will see it is an ample and handsome vessel. It is also said that the emblems of the Ale Tasters were consigned to the name the same ignominious fate. But the money was raised and the chain procured, and has been in existence for the use of the successive Mayor from that time to this, and may now be seen gracing the shoulders of our present worthy Mayor.
Well, the old chain was sufficient for its purpose for a great number of years, but of late years a conviction has been springing up that it was not sufficient for the use of the Mayor of this ancient and respectable Borough. It looks well enough at a distance, but when examined closely is found to be very light and flimsy and the question of procuring a new chain of more adequate proportions was frequently discussed, but that mighty obstacle to fulfilment of many a good and laudable object – the want of funds – stood in the way. At length, on 5 November last, after the Hollon Tea, most of the members of the Corporation were met together, and the project was renewed, and at length the cry was “Put the names down of those who will subscribe”, and the result was most satisfactory.
Before the meeting separated the larger portion of money was actually booked, and little difficulty was experienced in procuring the remainder. A committee was formed, and offers were received from the jewellers in this town, as well as from others at a distance, and ultimately the order was given to Messrs. Bragg, an eminent firm in Birmingham, which appears to be the headquarters of that kind of business – the manufacture of gold chains. The chain has now been supplied, and it has been pronounced by all who have seen it as eminently satisfactory. There is no tinsel about it, and it presents no gaudy display, but it is a good, plain, solid article, weighing about a pound and a half of troy weight, and is of solid 18-carat gold or, to be precise, 18ozs 2dwt 18gr – of gold (applause) And I may inform you, Mr Mayor, you need feel no scruples in assuming the chain. It is burdened by no debt. The money is paid, and I have it exactly a shilling left of the subscription money. Moreover, it is eminently satisfactory to you, sir, as well as to the public of Morpeth in general, to know that no burden has been cast upon the public revenues of the town by the purchase. The whole of the money has been subscribed by individuals out of their private resources. These individuals, consisting entirely of members of the Council and some of their officials – none of it out of public money, and no one outside of the Council was even asked to contribute to the cost. (applause) The chain is paid for and I hold the contractor’s receipt for the price – all except the old discarded chain, which is to be surrendered, and a small sum of money allowed in part payment. All the rest is paid in cash.
(the Town Clerk, having placed the chain upon the Mayor)
And now, Mr Mayor, I have the honour and pleasure, on behalf of the subscribers, to place the chain round your shoulders and I ask your acceptance of it during the remainder of your office, and that the termination thereof, to be handed over by you to your successor in office and so on from Mayor to Mayor in perpetuity to be held as the property of the Council, but to be used by the Mayor of Morpeth for the time being, and I staunchly (unreadable) wish you health and happiness during the remainder of your term, and hope you will use it on all suitable occasions, and more frequently than it has been customary to use the old one of late – for there is no reason to be ashamed of it, and I have no fear, but that at the termination of your year you will hand it over to your successor unsullied and untarnished. (loud applause)
The Mayor, on rising, said:
Mr Town Clerk and Gentlemen, – As Chairman of this Council and the representative of the Burgess of this Borough, I have much pleasure in accepting your beautiful gift. It will be idle of me to attempt to conceal the fact – and I certainly have no wish to do so – that I am just a little proud that such a magnificent emblem of office should be first placed upon my unworthy shoulders. You have just told me that the first wearer of the old chain was Dr Trotter. After that the “Northenders” may take heart. For I believe I am correct in saying that Dr Trotter was a “Northender”, and very near a “Bools-greener”, born and reared above the Copper Chair. To me it is rather an interesting coincidence that his more humble successor nearly half a century afterwards should be able to lay a similar claim to the same illustrious quarter. And if Dr Trotter waxed fat in earthly goods upon Calvinism and Physic, his obscure successor also was, at all events, able to keep himself from starving upon the same pasture. (laughter and cheers)
But, so it is my duty, on behalf of those whom I represent, to thank you and those who have been associated with you, for your great generosity in this matter. I wish for the moment to disassociate myself from the gentleman by whom I am surrounded and speaking as a native of this town. I say it is a very handsome thing on the part of its representatives to make such a valuable and beautiful present. It is only another proof that whatever errors of head – and so long as Morpeth Town Council, like other Town Councils is composed of human beings there will be errors – there is making no mistake as to the heart being in the right place. (applause)
But I have to do more than thank you, I have to congratulate you upon which a successful termination of your labours. I know something of the ins and outs connected with this chain. And I know how you and many of those with you whom you have been so long and so honourably connected have felt that the old chain was not equal to the times. If the truth must be told I had a lurking suspicion myself that two and a half ounces of fifteen carat gold was not quite the thing to adorn the manly bosom of the Mayor of Morpeth! (loud laughter) But this new 18 carat one, stamped on every link, will stand examination, and I’m quite sure there will be but one opinion as to its beauty and the taste displayed in it. (applause) I have to congratulate you also on the time of procuring it – though by luck and not by merit I chance to be the wearer of it.
It is –
“Ever again old decay The greenest mosses cling” *
and I think you must have proceeded upon this poetic principle. As far as I can make out the old chain had no special epoch to mark its birth; the new one has a very distinctive one. Last year we were to all intents and purposes, a decaying institution; but we have risen to life again with a larger area, with increased powers and duties, and correspondingly increased responsibilities. And if this is true of the council generally, it is especially true with regard to the wearer of the chain. I take it, sir, that you wish to mark this change, and know quite well that both the present wearer and its successors will find that it has many labours and many responsibilities attached to it which the old one had not. (applause) I hope, sir, the whole ceremony will be viewed in its proper light, especially by the young men and boys of the town. I hope many of them will count it amongst the noblest of their ambitions to wear this chain. It is a proper and commendable ambition for every lad and young man to have – to become the wearer of it. It is something worth struggling for and striving after, something worth looking forward to as a reward for an honest discharge of duty. (applause and cheers) In conclusion, sir, I have only again to thank you very heartily on behalf of the Council and constituency for this beautiful chain, and to repeat the lines of good old Whittier: **
Our fathers to their graves have gone,
Their strife is past, their triumphs won,
But sterner trials wait the race,
Which rises in their honoured place
A moral conflict with the crime
And folly of an evil time.
The Mayor, then moved that the Town Clerk be instructed to enter a record on the minutes of the Council of the proceedings that night. Councillor Young moved that the Mayor be authorised to dispose of the old chain. Alderman Burn seconded this and the motion was carried.
The public were then allowed to come up and inspect the chain and other articles of Corporation plate. The new chain is of neat and exquisite workmanship, and is of the double-link pattern, and presents an imposing and massive appearance, and reflects the highest credit upon the makers, Messrs. Bragg of Birmingham. A very pretty oak casket, lined with blue velvet and mounted with a brass handle, and a plate in centre bearing the following inscription;
“This chain was presented to the Corporation of Morpeth, on 22 April 1890, for the use of the Mayor for the time being, by the members of the Council and officials. The badge was portion of the old chain. Fred E Schofield, Mayor.”
– was made by Alderman W Burn cabinet maker and upholsterer of Bridge Street, to hold the chain.
* Thanks to Alison Byard, this extract (misquoted) comes from “A Dream of Summer” by John Whittier.
** John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – 1892) – Moral Warfare (1836) NB: in the actual poem the word “conflict” is replaced by “warfare”)
This article is culled from the Foods of England website but posted here due to the close links with Northumberland and specifically Morpeth
The Earl Grey in question is usually assumed to be Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl, the 1830’s Prime Minister whose Reform Act greatly widened the voting franchise and who succeed in breaking the East India Company’s monopoly on tea imports, thus reducing the price and making tea popular. But it seems very unlikely that the tea originated with him, and it is unclear how his name came to be attached to it.
In a 1994 interview for ‘The Daily Telegraph‘ the then Earl Grey is reported to have said that; “The story I tell is this: during his period as Prime Minister, the first Earl Grey sent an envoy to China, who supposedly saved the life of a mandarin’s son. In gratitude, the mandarin shipped a special blend of tea, plus the recipe to make it. Earl Grey must have taken the tea and purported recipe to his tea merchant and asked him to copy it” … “Unfortunately”, he added, “we don’t know who the first Earl Grey’s tea merchant was and we don’t know what the original blend tasted like.”
But is this story plausible? Apart from a confusion between the 1st and 2nd Earls Grey, China was completely diplomatically isolated in the 1830’s and bergamot as an added flavouring is unknown there. So where did bergamot tea originate?
One of the most highly prized of Chinese teas is the Fo Shou, a green tea from Yongchun in Fujian Province. It is said to have a taste reminiscent of the bergamot orange used in perfumery, and is sometimes called ‘bergamot tea’, though it does not contain any sort of added flavouring. Other teas, such as the black Keemun (or Qimen) present a similar natural flavour. It appears to have been the case that some English tea dealers took to adding bergamot flavouring to fairly ordinary tea in order to increase its value;
“To render Tea at 5s. a Pound equal to Tea at 12s. – The cheapest and most expensive teas are all the leaves of the same tree, at least they should be so. The high flavour, therefore, of some of the sorts of tea and the want of flavour in others, must arise from the manner of preparing them, and must, consequently be in some measure artificial. It follows if we can discover any fine flavoured substance and add it to the tea in a proper manner, we shall be able to improve low-priced and flavourless tea into a high-priced article of fine flavour. The flavouring substance found to agree best with the original flavour of tea is the oil of bergamot, by the proper management of which you may produce from the cheapest teas the finest flavoured Bloom, Hyson, Gunpowder and Cowslip. … When it is thus improved, it is often sold at 18s and a guinea a pound. Cowslip tea has been as high as 32s.” (‘Lancaster Gazette‘, Saturday 22 May 1824, p3)
… which was fine, if you were open about what you were doing. Otherwise, you could get caught out, as when Brocksop & Co. found themselves in court in May 1837 accused of supplying what was said to be ‘Howqua’ black tea which had been “artificially scented, and appeared to have been drugged with bergamot in this country”.
Precisely when it was that adding bergamot to tea became respectable is not clear, nor how the “Earl” name came to be associated with it. The UK Tea Council (tea.co.uk) neatly describe it as a ‘grey‘ area.
It may be that the name originates from a tea dealer called Grey, the ‘Earl’ bit being added by later copyists to both differentiate their version, and make it seem posher. The likely candidate is William Grey & Co, whose ‘Grey’s Tea’ was very widely advertised from at least 1852, sometimes with the rhyme;
If your pockets and palates you both want to please, Buy William Grey’s finest of Teas, His, at Four Shillings, is unequale’d they say, Then come with your money, and purchase of Grey.
… and Grey’s ‘Red Canister Tea Warehouse’ at Morpeth  was only a few miles from the family seat of the Earls Grey at Howick as featured in the Morpeth Herald (16th April 1864):
Shortly after this, Grey’s of Morpeth seem to disappear from the record, and ‘The Celebrated Grey Mixture’ Tea then turns up in advertisements for the London blenders Charlton & Co:
‘John Bull‘, Saturday, September 7, 1867
… who, by the 1880’s, are offering a tea with the same ‘The Celebrated…’ slogan, but now with the ‘Earl’ attached, and with Charlton’s claiming to be the “introducers and sole proprietors” of this, “the celebrated tea, Earl Grey’s Mixture.” This is the first-known usage of the name.
‘Morning Post‘, Thursday 19 June 1884
Earl Grey acquired a royal tinge after a mention in the book ‘Revelation of High Life Within Royal Palaces‘, supposedly by the ‘Marquise de Fontenoy’, but very likely a fiction by the novelist Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen, published in the USA around 1891, but widely quoted-from elsewhere.
It is only from the early 20th Century, and not before, that the London tea merchants Twinings in The Strand and Jackson’s of Piccadilly have both claimed the product as their own. It is Twinings who have obtained the endorsement of Richard, the sixth Earl Grey, (b.1939), whose signature appears on their packages. We have never found any evidence that either company was connected with the origin of the Earl Grey brand or blend, but would welcome further information.
Twinings also offer a tea variety branded as ‘Lady Grey’ made with lemon and Seville orange in addition to bergamot. There are dozens of other variants, including lavender, green and floral.
Earl Grey seems to be a favourite drink of fictional heroes, including Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek, Batman, Artemis Fowl, Piglet, Sir Leigh Teabing from the Da Vinci Code and Ducky Mallard of NCIS.
1 William Grey’s shop was at 32 Bridge Street [now TUI travel agents] from at least 1853. In 1871 he employed seven men and one boy at the shop and was a Town Councillor. In 1887 Robert Donkin was managing the shop for him.
GMDT completed the refurbishment of Morpeth Rail Station in February this year, and will be bringing the building back into use once #lockdown is over. So – it seems timely to post this article from the SENRUG website by John Earl relating the history of the railways in Morpeth.
If the North East is the cradle of the railways, South East Northumberland could certainly be considered the feeding-bottle, since it was at Killingworth Colliery, the site of which you can see as you travel into Newcastle from Morpeth, that George Stephenson developed the engines that he knew could pull both freight and passengers and make a national railway network possible. The whole area is criss-crossed with the tracks left by that era: from the wagonway at Plessey which is said to date back to the sixteenth century, and of which there is nothing left but a grassy mound across a field – to the remains of the Blyth and Tyne railway which at one time was set to be an alternative route to the North, and which is still in working order as a freight line.
Morpeth was always geographically well placed to be at the centre of this hub of railways, and at one time it was a major junction. The substantial range of stone buildings on the site testifies to a time when there were two major stations here, one the grand “through” station designed in ‘Scottish Baronial’ style, and the other the terminus for the Blyth and Tyne railway, which was the last of the old independent railways to be absorbed into the North Eastern Railway (in 1874). #
A third railway, the North British used to enter the town from the west. The course of this old railway can be traced west from the golf course, and eastwards through the town on old stone abutments that used to carry it into the Blyth and Tyne terminus. The North British wanted their own route through to Scotland rather than sharing with the York, Newcastle and Berwick which went straight through Morpeth up to Edinburgh. The idea of a main line across the moors to Hawick proved to be a bit of wishful thinking when the North British were faced with the actual receipts from passengers and freight, but that did not stop the line from staying open until the mid 1960’s.
Along the same route, until it diverged at Scots Gap, went the “Wannie Line” of local legend, a branch line that was again started as an alternative route to Scotland but which eventually only got as far as Rothbury. The trains on this picturesque route, which ran through one of the most sparsely populated areas of the country used to terminate behind the down platform on the west side of the station. You can still see the lines on this side, and the wider part of the bridge over the road that used to accommodate the branch line.
Morpeth`s station, a grand entrance to the town for visitors – recently refurbished and brought back into use by GMDT – was built in 1847 by Benjamin Green. Photographs of it in the early days show that it was built some way from the town centre at a time when there was little building in that direction. The famous ‘Morpeth curve’ to the south of the station was also forced on the railway engineers by the geographical position of the town, with a full ninety degree bend, requires an inevitable reduction in speed, much to the chagrin of railway timetablers ever since. In fact, it was a major bone of contention in the ‘Railway Races to the North’ of the 1890`s, the East Coast route complaining bitterly that they had a major disadvantage with the Morpeth curve on their line! It is certainly the severest curve on any main line in Britain. It has been the cause of three major and fatal accidents, in May 1969, March 1977 and in June 1984. And, in 1994. a mail train overturned on the curve. In the 1969 crash, the leading van of the train damaged part of the overall roof of the northbound platform. This could have been repaired, but instead was removed altogether, which is why only one platform has a canopy now.
So that is Morpeth as we see it today – though SENRUG would like to see the handsome and newly renovated station restored to become a junction serving Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth and Seaton Delaval
When visiting the station, look out especially for:
the North Eastern Railway tile map – one of the very few that still exist in situ – which shows the vast extent of the North East Railway`s network in the early 1900s;
the iron gates at the end of the subway which are pre-1923,
and the post box from the reign of Queen Victoria.
For more information on this topic, see Morpeth Antiquarian Society’s publication “Morpeth and the Railways” by Peter Carling with full detail and illustrations in its 48 pages, available now via the Society’s website and when shops reopen from Morpeth Chantry TIC.
Although Morpeth sorely lacks a social history museum, much of its civic history can be traced through the “Town Treasures” kept in the Town Hall under the auspices of the Town Council.
The Town Council took over responsibility for the Morpeth civic regalia and mayoralty in 2009 when Castle Morpeth Borough Council was abolished, but the Borough Council had in turn inherited or otherwise annexed the treasures and heritage of previous councils back to and including the old Corporation. It had also been the repository of many miscellaneous donations and longterm loans. In 1987, under one of the multiple mayoralties of Isobel Smail, the Council produced a “Civic Regalia” booklet. Then in 2014, the tercentenary year of the Town Hall, the Town Council commissioned an updated and expanded “Town Treasures” booklet, co-published by the Town Council and the Morpeth Antiquarian Society. This booklet, sponsored by Pharma Nord, edited by Kim Bibby Wilson and with new photography by Trevor Walker, gives both descriptions and brief histories of most of the “Town Treasures” and also a short history of the Town Hall itself.
The most spectacular of the “Town Treasures” are on display in the Council Chamber and the Mayor’s Parlour – and are open to the public with guided tours during the Gathering just after Easter and as part of the regular Morpeth Heritage Open Days programme in September. The public may also view the Council Chamber by attending the Town Council committee meetings which are open to the public. However, access to the Mayor’s Parlour is at the Mayor’s discretion – but if you write nicely to the Town Council, the Mayor does frequently entertain visiting organisations ranging from Brownies to the U3A in the Parlour.
We hope to include, with appropriate permissions, brief extracts from the 2014 “Town Treasures” booklet in future articles of this blog – but copies may be bought from the Antiquarian Society or the Town Council, cost £5 (ISBN 0 9533818 5 4)
 Most of the civic regalia from the old Castle Ward went to Ponteland Town Council
During the refurbishment of Appleby’s bookshop (2017-19), several framed photographs of old Morpeth were found. Some of them have been scanned by the Antiquarians and added to their Collection.
Four of the photographs were from 1923 and show the dramatic explosion and fire from a lorry carrying cans of paraffin along Newgate Street. The following description has been collated from recent discussion of the event on the Morpeth History Matters Facebook Group – with the main contributors being Stephen Lewin and Kim Bibby-Wilson.
The incident took place on 4th January 1923:
The wagon was heading up Newgate Street and the paraffin caught alight. The driver stopped and the flames took hold. Realising the damage that could be done the driver risked his life getting back onto the wagon and moving it to the middle of the road just up from the Conservative Club to try and keep the buildings either side safe.
The image shown is from the original photograph, posted on “Morpeth History Matters” Facebook group by Andrew Primrose (and also in the Antiquarian Society collection) and coloured by Stephen Lewin.
Nevertheless, the resulting explosion still sent fuel flying through the air with several shops damaged including Duncan’s Bakery and a cycle and fish shop opposite, and also sent a canister through the window of 47 Newgate St which was then the Shoulder of Mutton pub (two decades later, the property became Marie Tweedie’s woolshop).
However, thanks to the driver’s bravery and quick thinking, the fire did not spread to other surrounding buildings though several suffered considerable smoke damage, including the property which became Appleby’s but was then Bob Hood’s greengrocery and fancy goods shop.
The total cost for the damage was £7000 – a fair sum in 1923 equivalent to about £450k in 2020 value
Another picture found in Appleby’s and now in the Antiquarian Society collection shows an advert from the late 1890’s for the relocation and expansion of Elliott’s greengrocery, stationery and newsagent’s business (subsequently owned by Bob Hood) to the premises which became Appleby’s. It was later, when Alfie Appleby took over the premises, that it became a newsagent, stationery and bookshop.
Also amongst the photographs are some adverts for shops selling tea and coffee as well as a cafe at 16 Newgate Street named Jobson’s Cocoa Rooms – “What Morpeth Wanted”
As part of the Heritage Open Days 2016 programme – a couple of recently restored Town Treasures were placed back on display in the Council Chamber.
The first is an 18th century oil painting said to be the oldest picture in existence of the main part of the town. The recently updated Town Treasures  guide says:
“It had been on exhibition in the Laing Gallery, Newcastle, where it was seen by the late Colonel J.J. Gillespie. He recommended the Town Council of the day to purchase it for its historic and artistic merit. The Curator of the Laing though it might have been painted by Paul Sandby (born 1728) and certainly, as the 1738 part of the Chantry is clearly discernible, this would give weight to this suggestion. It was considered to be a very early and rare example of a landscape done in oils. Though it was expected to realise £250, the Corporation bought it for £60. It was then exhibited in G.B. Grey’s shop in Bridge Street before it was hung in the Town Hall“.
The painting was very dirty, with areas of flaking painting and sagging in its frame. It has now been cleaned and the flaking areas stabilised using a reversible process (to make future restoration easier). The conservator also chose to remove some areas which had been heavily overpainted at a later date, such as the river weir and some of the town buildings and retouch them to restore their original appearance.
Some interesting little details have emerged from the grime, such as a little red fox on the top of Ha’ Hill and various 18th century Morpethians walking and riding on the road in the foreground!
The second item is a framed silk poster, entitled ‘Programme of Rejoicings at Morpeth’, and listing the events taking place in the town to celebrate the Marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria, the Princess Royal, to Prince Frederick William of Prussia on 25th January 1858.
The marriage was unpopular due to Prussia’s neutrality in the recent Crimean War, but this is not apparent from the planned ‘rejoicings’ which included three separate dinners, one of which was for the inmates of the Union Workhouse and the County Gaol who were regaled with a substantial dinner of roast beef and plum pudding. Indeed, it must have been a noisy day in Morpeth as the bells were rung all day and guns were fired at frequent intervals.
At 6.30pm the town was illuminated with ‘Greek fire’ (a flammable substance which burns on water) after which there was a grand display of fireworks and a ‘monster’ bonfire in the market place.
This was followed by ‘the Capture and total destruction of Nena Sahib!” – presumably a theatrical re-enactment of the defeat in 1857 of Nana Sahib, an Indian aristocrat who rebelled against British rule and captured the city of Cawnpore.
The celebrations ended with a public ball at 9pm. A busy day for the Mayor!
A skilled restorer specialising in textiles had to take great care to remove an old ‘repair’ to the poster, done very inappropriately using sellotape! While some marks can still be seen, the poster has now been stabilised, cleaned and reframed, and looks much better.
Why a poster on silk? We can only guess that since silk lasts much longer than paper and was expensive, the poster was intended to be kept as a royal souvenir.
 The “Town Treasures” guide referred to is a revised edition produced in 2014 available from both the Town Council and the Antiquarian Society. The Guide itself probably merits a blog article so watch this space!
Morpeth’s last remaining sewer gas lamp has been conserved and was re-erected on the High Stanners close to the Skinnery footbridge in June.
Sewer gas lamps were invented in the 1890s by a Birmingham man, Joseph Webb, primarily to destroy sewer smells and germs. They were a great success as their rate of extraction is still regarded as fantastic, each lamp capable of ventilating ¾ mile of sewers. Some of these lamps even ventilated the septic tanks and post mortem rooms of large hospitals. The Morpeth gas lamp was placed to vent sewer gases from the sewer siphon that runs under the river from the Mitford Rd side to the High Stanners. Places such as Sheffield, Hereford, Winchester, Poole, Hampstead and Weymouth all installed Webb sewer gas lamps but one of the last strongholds is nearby Whitley Bay where the lamps have been converted to run on electricity. A sewer gas lamp in Seaton Sluice is Grade 2 Listed.
The Morpeth lamp isn’t Listed but, as the only remaining sewer gas lamp in Morpeth, it was considered worthy of conserving. Fortunately, the flood defence works proved an excellent catalyst for the project. The lamp was located on the line of one the proposed flood defence banks and therefore had to be moved. Barry Mead from GMDT liaised with the Environment Agency who generously agreed to lift the lamp and put it on a lorry which took the lamp down to a specialist conservator in Oldham. When the lamp was returned, the EA arranged to concrete the lamp into the agreed location (as close as possible to its original position). On top of all this the EA also contributed £1,500 towards the conservation cost. NCC’s Conservation Team also contributed a similar amount for which we are extremely grateful.
It has not been possible to convert Morpeth’s lamp to run on electricity but at least we have saved a small but significant part of the town’s heritage.
Addendum April 2020: In fact there is a second sewer gas lamp in Morpeth, at the foot of Cottingwood Lane. This was also disconnected and restored – but has recently (within the last three months) suffered destructive “making safe” procedures at the hands of an uninformed utility company.