Alnwick

Street MapOur Photos

Alnwick (/ˈænɨk/ an-ik) is a small market town in north Northumberland, England. The town’s population was just over 8000 at the time of the 2001 census and Alnwick’s district population was 31,029.

According to Country Life, October 2002, “Alnwick is the most picturesque market town in Northumberland, and the best place to live in Britain”. The town is situated 32 miles (51 km) south of Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Scottish border, and 5 miles (8 km) inland from the North Sea at Alnmouth.

The town dates back to approximately AD 600, and over the centuries has thrived as an agricultural centre; as the location of Alnwick Castle and home of what were in mediaeval times the most powerful northern barons, the Earls of Northumberland; as a staging post on the Great North Road between Edinburgh and London, and latterly as a modern rural centre cum dormitory town. The fabric of the town centre has changed relatively little and still retains much of its original character; however there has been appreciable growth in size over the last ten years, with a number of housing estates covering what had been pasture, and new factory and trading estate developments along the roads to the south of the town.

The history of Alnwick is the history of the castle and its lords, from the days of Gilbert Tyson, variously known as Tison, Tisson, and De Tesson, one of the Conqueror’s standardbearers, upon whom this northern estate was bestowed, until the present time. After being held by the family of De Vesci (of which the modern rendering is Vasey – a name found all over south-east Northumberland) for over two hundred years, it passed into the hands of the house of Percy in 1309.

At various points in the town are memorials of the constant wars between Percys and Scots in which so many Percys spent the greater part of their lives. A cross near Broomhouse Hill across the river from the castle marks the spot where Malcolm III of Scotland was killed in 1093, during the first Battle of Alnwick. At the side of the broad shady road called Rotten Row, leading from the West Lodge to Bailiffgate, a tablet of stone marks the spot where William the Lion of Scotland was captured in 1174, during the second Battle of Alnwick by a party of about four hundred mounted knights, led by Ranulf de Glanvill; and there are many others of similar interest.

Hulne Priory, outside the town walls and within Hulne Park, the Duke’s walled estate, was a monastery founded in the 13th century by the Carmelites; it is said that the site was chosen for some slight resemblance to Mount Carmel where the order originated. Substantial ruins remain.

In 1314, Sir John Felton was governor of Alnwick.  In the winter of 1424, much of the town was burnt by a Scottish raiding party. Again, in 1448, the town was burnt by a Scottish Army led by William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas, and George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus.

In 1968 work started on the Alnwick by-pass, intended to remove the A1 London – Edinburgh trunk road from the heart of the town to its outer edge. This bypass is now complete.

The River Aln forms the town’s unofficial northern boundary.

Formerly a largely rural and agrarian community, the town now lies well within the “travel to work” radius of Morpeth and Newcastle Upon Tyne and has a sizeable commuter population. Some major or noteworthy employers in the town include:

  • Eclipse Translations Ltd., a European translation company.
  • A World of Difference, a fair trade retailer and importer with a unique store in Alnwick specialising in gifts, wholefoods and all things ethical.
  • Metrology Software Products Ltd, Developers and suppliers of coordinate measuring machine and machine tool software
  • House of Hardy, makers of fly-fishing tackle.
  • Greys of Alnwick, makers of fly-fishing tackle.
  • Northumberland Estates, which manages the Duke of Northumberland’s agricultural, forestry and property interests.
  • Barter Books, one of the largest second-hand book shops in England, set in the town’s former railway station.
  • Sanofi Alnwick Research Centre, a very large pharmaceutical research and testing centre.
  • Tagish Ltd, an independent company specialising in the delivery of ICT solutions and consultancy.
  • Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc
  • Sainsbury’s Plc
  • George F White, North East based company with its head office in the centre of Alnwick since 1979
  • Proudlock House & Home, retailer of gifts, cookware, home furnishings, gardening, housewares and hardware.
  • NFU Mutual, provider of insurance, pensions, investments.
  • DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs).

The town’s greatest building is Alnwick Castle, one of the homes the Duke of Northumberland, and site of The Alnwick Garden; it dominates the west of the town, above the River Aln. The Castle is the hub of a number of commercial, educational and tourism operations. From 1945 to 1975, it was the location of a teacher training college for young women and “mature students” (persons of more than 21 years in age). Currently, it houses American students studying in Europe through a partnership with Saint Cloud State University; is the base of Northumberland Estates, the Duke’s commercial enterprise; and is in its own right a tourist attraction. The castle is open from April to September, and the Gardens all year around. It is the second largest inhabited castle in England, after Windsor. Benjamin Disraeli describes Alnwick as ‘Montacute’ in his novel Tancred.

The centre of town is the marketplace, with its market cross, and the relatively modern Northumberland Hall, used as a meeting place. Surrounding the marketplace are the main shopping streets, Narrowgate, Fenkle Street, and Bondgate Within. The last of these is a wide, spacious road fronted by attractive commercial buildings. In mediaeval times, Alnwick was a walled town (although fluctuating economic situations in the Middle Ages meant the walls were never completed), and one remain—Hotspur Tower, a mediaeval gate—is extant, dividing Bondgate Within from Bondgate Without, and restricting vehicles to a single lane used alternately in each direction. Pottergate Tower, at the other side of the town, also stands on the site of an ancient gate, but the tower itself was rebuilt in the 18th century. Its ornate spire was destroyed in a storm in 1812. Outside the line of the walls, the old railway station building is relatively ostentatious for such a small town, arising out of its frequent use by royal travellers visiting the Duke and Alnwick Castle. It is now a large secondhand bookshop.

The town has a thriving playhouse, a multi-purpose arts centre, which stages a hectic programme of theatre, dance, music, cinema, and visual arts exhibitions, and supports a weekly local newspaper—the Northumberland Gazette.

In 2003, the Willowburn Sports and Leisure Centre was opened on the southern outskirts of the enlarged town (replacing the old sports centre located by the Lindisfarne Middle School and the now-demolished Youth Centre). More widely, the Alnwick district boasts a wealth of sporting and leisure facilities, including football, cricket, rugby, rambling, rock climbing, water sports, cycling and horse riding. Golfers can find thirteen golf courses within 30 minutes drive of the town.

The castle is popular with film-makers: Harry Potter; Blackadder and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves are some of the films shot here.

Alnwick has its own museum, Bailiffgate Museum whose collection is specifically dedicated to local social history. The collection includes a variety of agricultural objects, domestic items, railway items, coal mining artefacts, printing objects, a sizable photographic collection, paintings and the bound volumes of The Northumberland Gazettes. Local artist Stella Vine donated 3 of her paintings to the museum, as she had grown up in Alnwick.

Other places of interest in and near the town include:

  • Brizlee Tower, a Grade 1 listed folly tower set atop a hill in Hulne Park, the Duke’s walled estate, designed by Robert Adam in 1777 and erected in 1781 for Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland.
  • Camphill Column, an 1814 construction celebrating British victories in Europe, and possibly erected as a reaction against the French Revolution.
  • the Hotspur Tower, part of the remains of the ancient town wall, and named for Sir Henry Percy, also called Harry Hotspur, the eldest son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland and a major character in Henry IV, Part 1.
  • the Nelson Memorial, Swarland, emphasising a local link to the admired Admiral.
  • the Tenantry Column—much in the style of Nelson’s Column, 83 feet (25 m) tall and topped by the Percy Lion, symbol of the Percy family—designed by Charles Harper and erected for Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland in 1816 in gratitude to the Duke. A popular urban legend states that, in response to this display of wealth, the Duke immediately increased the tenants’ rent. In reality the later rent increase was under his successor, the 3rd Duke of Northumberland.
  • the White Swan Hotel, an 18th Century Coaching Inn that now houses the First Class Lounge and other fittings from the Titanic’s near identical sister ship RMS Olympic.
  • the Northumberland Fusiliers Museum, found within Alnwick Castle.
  • the Pinfold, a stone circular structure within the centre of the town, built to imprison stray cattle.
  • St Michael’s Church on Bailiffgate, a grade II listed building dating from the 15th century with fragments from the 12th century.
  • RAF Boulmer, which serves as the base for an air-sea rescue helicopter, and has a role in early warning radar surveillance and communications.

Major events in the Alnwick calendar include:

  • A Shrove Tuesday football match, known as Scoring the Hales is played in the Pastures (the fields below the castle) between the parishes of St. Paul and St. Michaels. The ball is fetched from Alnwick Castle in procession, preceded by the Duke of Northumberland’s piper. The game is won by whichever team is first to score two “hales” or goals.
  • the Alnwick International Music Festival
  • the Alnwick Castle Tournament – a mediaeval jousting spectacular in the grounds of Alnwick Castle

The Alnwick Fair was an annual costumed event, formerly held each summer from 1969 to 2007, recreating some of appearance of medieval trading fairs and 17th century agricultural fairs.

Alnwick town lies adjacent to the A1, the main national north/south trunk road, providing easy access to Newcastle upon Tyne (35 miles (56 km) south) and to the Scottish capital Edinburgh (80 miles (130 km) north). The town is an ‘A1 Town’, there are several such similar towns in the North of England such as (North to South), Berwick Upon Tweed (28.1 miles North), Morpeth (28.3 miles South), Newton Aycliffe (65.1 miles South) and Wetherby (116 miles South). Being such a stopping point on the A1 (particularly in such a rural area) provides Alnwick with a lot of passing trade and tourism.

The main East Coast railway link between Edinburgh (journey time approximately 1:10) and London (journey time approximately 3:45) runs via the nearby Alnmouth for Alnwick Station, with a weekday service of 15 trains per day north to Edinburgh and 13 trains per day south to London. Despite its name, Alnmouth Station is located at the western end of the village of Hipsburn, near to the hamlet of Bilton. It also serves the village of Lesbury.

Alnwick was once connected to the main line by the Alnwick branch line, but this was closed in January 1968 during the time of the Beeching Axe. Due to the efforts of the Aln Valley Railway Trust, the branch line is to be reopened in the near future as a heritage railway. The Alnwick terminus, called Lionheart station, is located near the Lionheart Enterprise Estate on the outskirts of the town rather than on the site of the original Alnwick railway station closer to the town centre. The building of the A1 bypass makes reopening the section of the line leading into the town centre unviable.

Alnwick is twinned with: Time, Norway;Lagny-sur-Marne, France; and Voerde, Germany.

No reviews yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.