The 53rd Northumbrian Gathering is 17th April to 19th April 2020
The Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering – continuing Northumberland’s traditions – always the weekend after Easter
An exciting three-day annual festival of street entertainment, indoor events, music, dance, craft, dialect, heritage and traditional fun – held the weekend after Easter in the medieval market town of Morpeth, 14 miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The festival is a true gathering of people who come together to enjoy the traditional culture of Northumberland and the wider NE region. It features concerts, dance, crafts, battle re-enactments, dialect, stories, drama, workshops, sessions, singarounds, competitions, stalls, bellringing, orienteering, tours, walks, talks and street performances which include a young people’s pageant as part of the Saturday morning Border Cavalcade.
This re-enactment of the return of Lord Greystoke from the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 celebrates neither victory nor defeat, but rather the spirit of Borderers caught up in the web of everlasting conflict at a frontier. Led by a Border half-long piper the procession arrives at the Town Hall at 11 am to be welcomed by the costumed Morpeth Gadgy (the Town Bailiff – the word “gadgy”, a part of the local dialect, is the Romany word for “man”) along with the current Mayor of Morpeth and the Civc Head of Northumberland County Council.
The Gathering organisers are keen to let people know what a wealth of wonderful music, crafts, dance, drama and poetry there is in the area’s traditional culture. As well as filling the programme with concerts, exhibitions, talks and outdoor entertainment to reach new audiences and showcase the many aspects of Northumberland’s rich cultural heritage, they have made sure there are plenty of opportunities to join in so that the songs, stories, craft skills and the very spirit of the county are remembered – and taken up by the next generation who will put their own stamp on them.
Many performers, both professional and amateur, come back time and time again because they receive such a warm welcome from the people of Morpeth and the county of Northumberland – and the locals are often amazed to realise what’s on their doorstep. This grassroots festival, run entirely by volunteers since 1968, has evolved over the years to show that the North Eastern traditions are not stuck in aspic but are alive, continuing and developing with each generation that comes along.
Inspired by a modest concert of Northumbrian music and song held in September 1966 to raise funds for Morpeth Antiquarian Society, the first one-day Northumbrian music festival was held in the spring of 1968 to complement the autumn Gathering then held in Alnwick. The original pattern of competitions for singers, instrumentalists and composers, with a concert and barn dance, has expanded to include over 60 events lasting three days. The competitions are still a core feature of the festival, encompassing music, dance, craft, literature and even orienteering. The full list totals a hundred and includes fiddles, singing, accordions, bands, plus of course the county’s own instrument, the unique Northumbrian smallpipes, with clog dancing, storytelling, dialect reciting and writing, composing, crafts ranging from painting to shepherds’ sticks, railway models and needlework.
Each year the central events are enhanced by activities taking a special focus or marking an anniversary, with recent themes celebrating coalmining heritage, the Great North Road, railways, Admiral Collingwood, life on the land, the Lindisfarne Gospels and suffragette Emily Davison.
One of the leading figures behind the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering was Roland Bibby, a true advocate of Northumberland and its traditions. He founded the festival’s publication, ‘Northumbriana’. a magazine featuring articles on the county’s history, dialect, folklore, traditions, natural history, literature and architecture and entries to the writing and music competitions. From this developed the Northumbrian Language Society, a charity set up in conjunction with others including Sid Chaplin, Fred Reed and Robert Allen, in order to research, promote and enjoy the historic language (more than just a dialect) of Northumberland and North Durham which is the direct descendant of the Anglian tongue of Bede.