Morpeth

Street Map

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Morpeth is the county town of Northumberland, England. It is situated on the River Wansbeck which flows east through the town. The town is 1.25 miles (2 km) from the A1, which bypasses it. Since 1981, it has been the administrative centre of the County of Northumberland. In the 2001 census the town had a population of 13,833. Nearby villages include Mitford and Pegswood.

Morpeth grew up at an important crossing point of the River Wansbeck. Following the Norman Conquest the town came into the possession of the de Merlay family, and a motte and bailey castle had been constructed by 1095. Newminster Abbey was founded by Ranulf de Merlay, lord of Morpeth as one of the first daughter houses of Fountains in 1138. The town became a borough by prescription. King John granted a market charter for the town to Roger de Merlay in 1199. The market is still held on Wednesdays. The town was badly damaged by fire in 1215 during the First Barons’ War. In the thirteenth century a stone bridge was built over the Wansbeck, replacing the ford previously in use. Morpeth Castle was built in the fourteenth century by Ranulph de Merlay on the site of an earlier fortress: only the gatehouse and parts of the ruined castle walls remain.

For some months in 1515-16 Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister) and Queen Consort of Scotland lay ill at Morpeth, having been brought there from Harbottle Castle. She eventually reached London in May 1516.

Morpeth was described, in 1540, by the royal antiquary John Leland, as “long and metely well-builded, with low houses,” and as “a far fairer town than Alnwick.” During the 1543-50 war of the Rough Wooing, life in Morpeth was disturbed by a garrison of Italian mercenaries, who ‘pestered such a little street standing in the highway’ by killing deer and withholding payment for food.

In 1552, William Hervey, Norroy King of Arms granted the borough of Morpeth a coat of arms. The arms were identical to those of Roger de Merlay, with the addition of a gold tower. In the letters patent, Hervey noted that he had included the arms of the “noble and valyaunt knyght”“for a p’petuall memory of his good will and benevolence towardes the said towne “.

Morpeth received its first charter of incorporation from Charles II. The corporation it created was controlled by seven companies or trade guilds : the Merchant Tailors, the Tanners, the Fullers and Dyers, the Smiths, the Cordwainers, the Weavers and the Butchers. This remained the governing charter until the borough was reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

William Cobbett the famous radical journalist, author of Rural Rides stayed with Robert Blakey in 1832, during his speaking tour of the North East. Blakey enjoyed some eight hours of illuminating discussion with the great man.

Until the nineteenth century Morpeth had one of the main markets in northern England for live cattle. The opening of the railways made transport to Newcastle easier, and the market accordingly declined.

On 6 September 2008, Morpeth suffered its worst flood since 1963. The flood defences were breached after a month’s rainfall fell in 12 hours. An estimated 1,000 homes were affected. It was a very sad/bleak day in the history of such a prestigious old town but it showed the courage and love that this community has for one another and has made everyone more friendly towards each other. The floods may have been bad but they have made the community stronger.

Morpeth has two tiers of local government. The lower tier is Morpeth Town Council with 15 members. Morpeth is a civil parish with the status of a town. For the purposes of parish elections the town is divided into four wards: North Central, Kirkhill, Stobhill and South, each returning between three and five town councillors.

The upper tier of local government is Northumberland County Council. Since April 2009 the county council has been a unitary authority. Previous to this there was an intermediate tier, the non-metropolitan district of Castle Morpeth, which has been abolished along with all other districts in the county. The county council has 67 members, of whom 3 represent the electoral divisions of Morpeth Kirkhill, Morpeth North and Morpeth Stobhill.

The A1 road provides a link to Edinburgh and Newcastle. Morpeth railway station has direct trains to London taking a little over three hours. The town of Morpeth has what is reputed to be the severest curve on any main railway line in Britain. This curve has been the scene of several train crashes over the years.

The ancient Church of England parish church of Morpeth is St Mary’s at Highchurch. The oldest remaining parts of the structure belong to the Transitional Early English style of the mid to late 12th century. The church, which was the only Anglican place of worship in tha area until the 1840s, has been restored on a number of occasions.

In the graveyard of St Mary’s can be found the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who famously threw herself under the King’s horse during the Epsom Derby in 1913. Her gravestone bears the slogan of the Women’s Social and Political Union “Deeds not words”.

The need for a second church, in the centre of the town, was apparent by 1843. Accordingly, the church of St James the Great, designed by Benjamin Ferrey, was consecrated for worship on 15 October 1846. Ferrey designed the church in a “Neo Norman” style, based on the twelfth century Monreale Cathedral, Sicily.

A third church, St Aidan’s, was opened to serve the Stobhill housing estate in 1957. It is a modern red brick building with a vaulted roof.

The Roman Catholic Church, dedicated to St. Robert of Newminster, was built off Oldgate, on the grounds adjacent to Admiral Lord Collingwood’s house and opened in August 1850. Collingwood House is the residence of the priest who is attached to the church.

St George’s United Reform Church was built from 1858 to 1860 and the first service held on 12 April 1860, and stands immediately to the north of the Telford Bridge. It is notable for its octagonal spirelet.

The present Methodist church in Howard Terrace was opened as a Primitive Methodist place of worship on 24 April 1905. It was built from local quarry stone, and was designed by J Walton Taylor. Although the Primitive Methodists were united with the Wesleyan Church to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain in 1932, a separate Wesleyan church continued to function in Manchester Street until 1964, when the congregations were united at Howard Terrace.

Among historical landmarks in the town are a free-standing 17th-century clock tower, a grand town hall originally designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, Collingwood House the Georgian home of Admiral Lord Collingwood, and a 13th-century chapel called The Chantry which is now the tourist information centre and houses such cultural institutions as the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum. Today the town and the county’s history and culture is celebrated at the annual Northumbrian Gathering.

The historical layout of central Morpeth consists of Bridge Street and Newgate Street, with burgage plots leading off them. Traces of this layout remain: Old Bakehouse Yard off Newgate Street is a former burgage plot, as is Pretoria Avenue, off Oldgate. The town stands directly on what used to be the Great North Road, the old coaching route between London and Edinburgh, and several old coaching inns are still to be found in the town, including the Queen’s Head, the Waterford Lodge and the Black Bull. Morpeth’s Mafeking Park at the bottom of Station Bank at the intersection with the Great North Road was unofficially considered to be the smallest park in Britain. It was originally a triangle of land bounded by roads but after road improvements is now a small roundabout.

  • At the foot of Dogger Bank is a pathway leading to a footbridge over the River Wansbeck. A pair of whalebones nearby which form an arch mark the site of Whalebone Cottage.
  • A nuclear bunker is located underneath the former council building at Morpeth County Hall near Loansdean.
  • A gateway serving two houses on High Stanners is framed by a whale’s jawbone.
  • Down Old Bakehouse Yard, which stretches westwards off Newgate Street, is a garden wall many of whose stones were taken from the ruins of nearby Newminster Abbey. Masons’ markings can be seen on some of the stones.
  • In the cemetery of St Mary’s Church near Loansdean can be found the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who famously threw herself under the King’s horse during the Epsom Derby in 1913. Her gravestone bears the epitaph “Deeds not words”.
  • Behind St Robert’s Catholic church near the town centre is a playing-field which was formerly an orchard. The stone wall on the north side of the field contains piping through which hot air was pumped to raise the temperature of the air and assist the growth of more exotic fruits such as peaches.
  • Morpeth’s railway station is on the main east coast line which runs between London and Aberdeen. A non-passenger line still operates between Morpeth and Bedlington. Traces of various other lines remain, and many can be walked. One former line runs west from Morpeth to Scots Gap (from where there was a branch line to Rothbury), then west to Redesmouth, from where there was a northern branches to Scotland and a southern branch to Hexham.
Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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