"An incredible history, some still visible"
Some of the following are extracts from 'ALNMOUTH, A Village Guide' available at Alnmouth Post Office. The webmaster thanks the writer - Mr D Waugh - for his allowing us to re-produce parts of the booklet. The Publisher of the booklet also thanks Mr F Bettess for his invaluable help in producing the guide and for allowing the publisher to use extracts from the history written and researched by his late wife Gladys.
A piece of Bronze Age pot and worked flints, found just north of the modern built up area of Alnmouth, show that in prehistoric times people were living in this area. From then on there must always have been people here, probably a small community, getting a living from the sea and the river.
The village first makes its appearance in historical records in Saxon times when it was probably called Twyford, ( the place of the two fords). At that time the only land route out of Alnmouth was by a long loop round to the north. To people who were used to more primitive conditions than we are, it would have seemed easier to ford the river than to do the long walk round. Two fords are shown on some old maps of the area but because of changes in the course of the river these must have changed their position from time to time.
Saint Bede tells us that Saint Cuthbert was chosen to be Bishop of Lindisfarne in 684 in the presence of King Ecgfrith and Archbishop Theodore, at the Synod of Twyford on the river Aln. Alnmouth is most likely to be the place described.
In the 8th. century the Vikings raided the Northumbrian coast and what could be the remains of one of their winter camps can still be seen in the Nightfold Field. Although they were pagans the Angle-Saxons soon converted them to Christianity. In 1789 fragments of a carved stone cross were found at the foot of the Church Hill dated to the time of the Vikings. These fragments are on display at the Museum of Antiquities in the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The Norman baron of Alnwick laid out the area as a new town in the early 12th century and called it Saint Waleric after the saint to whom the church was dedicated. He gave it the status of a borough, which meant that by suitable payment to a lord, a person became a burgess, with right to hold a plot of land, to build a dwelling and cultivate the plot or keep domestic animals on it. In addition they could graze the common but the main purpose of the borough was to act as a port for trading and fishing vessels.
The borough soon became known as Alnmouth because of its position at the mouth of the river Aln and prospered so well that in 1207 it was granted a charter to have a port and a market.
The Port became so successful that in 1316 the bailiff of Alnmouth was ordered by Royal Decree to provide vessels to Suffolk for the defence of the Kingdom.
During the wars with Scotland, Alnmouth along with other settlements in Northumberland, suffered considerable damage and in 1336 was burnt down and was almost completely destroyed. In 1348 the 'Black Death' struck leaving Alnmouth devastated which led to more than a century of depression and ruin.
By the end of the 15th century ships were once again exporting coal, wool and other produce but the Scots and English borderers still raided one another's territory and in 1567 the burgess were ordered to keep watch on Wallop Hill (North of the village) by day and by night and to have ready sufficient wood to light a fire for warning to the countryside.
The late 17th and 18th centuries saw the heyday of Alnmouth's prosperity there being at one time 16 granaries in the town. It is surprising to learn that during this period Alnmouth was exporting more corn than Newcastle. Fishing still remained a vital part of the towns prosperity.
A turnpike road was constructed in 1753 that ran all the way to Hexham. This greatly improved the carriage of produce into the town and for a time the main street was called 'Hexham road'. There was a tollbooth at Lesbury and from there the road into Alnmouth ran round the eastern bend of the river past Foxton.
John Wesley visited Alnmouth in 1748 and described it as 'famous for all kinds of wickedness'. As a result of his visit a Chapel was built and still stands in Chapel lane. Besides holding services on Sundays it opened a school which was used for the children of the village until a new school was built in 1876.
The great catastrophe happened on Christmas day in 1806. A great winter storm arose and the river broke through to form the channel that exists today, cutting off Church Hill from the rest of the village. During the same storm the church was blown down so that the village was left without an Anglican Church.
The Duke of Northumberland eventually took pity on the villagers and having bought the former granary which is now the Hindmarsh Hall, he converted it into a temporary church. At the time the Duke was having Alnwick Castle altered by an architect called Salvin and he commissioned him to take charge of the alterations to the Granary. This explains why the building that is now the village hall and which started life as a granary looks so much like a church. A new church was built in 1876. Many of the old granaries, being well constructed stone buildings were converted into houses.
The breakthrough of the river was to prove a disaster for the town. The new channel was not so deep as the old and the large sailing ships found it increasingly difficult to enter the harbour so the port was used less frequently and went into decline. Coupled with this the age of steam had arrived and the building of the east coast railway in the mid 19th century proved a much swifter and simpler method of transporting goods.
In 1864 a new road was built from the station into the village over a bridge named Duchess Bridge, the Duchess of Northumberland having contributed to the cost of its erection. This dispensed with the need to travel all the way through Lesbury and Foxton to reach the village from the station.
At the latter part of the 19th century Argyle street did not exist and from there to the river were fields used for grazing animals.
In the period from about 1897 to 1902 the large detached villas were built along Riverside road and occupied by wealthy people. Argyle street was built at about the same time.
The two World wars had different effects on the village as may be seen by a study of the war memorial. All those commemorated from 1914-18 were service personnel , but of those from 1939-45 almost half were civilians. This was due to an air raid at 7.45 on Saturday 8th of November 1941. A single enemy bomber dropped a stick of bombs which effectively demolished some houses at the top of Argyle street.
As we look at the
quiet village today it is difficult to imagine that in the 18th and 19th
century Alnmouth was a busy port. there would have been the hurley-burly
of carts and horses rattling up and down the cobbled streets and the busy
quayside activity as men unloaded barrels of beer, timber, etc. and then
loaded corn, pork, eggs, wool and coal.
Traffic it seems was so congested that Alnmouth Court introduced a law that carts could not stand in the street for more than one and a half hours, the forerunner of today's 'yellow lines'.
Nor can we imagine the past that we are not so aware of - that of the prehistoric times and the fact that Northumberland is covered with the remains of 'Iron Age' settlements in the hills.
From all the books there is a rich - and sometimes bloody - past that unravels itself before our eyes. From before the building of the wall by Emperor Hadrian, through the invasions from the sea, the border wars and skirmishes and then the natural disasters over the centuries.
Many of the places you visit in Alnmouth - Pubs, Hotels and the Tea rooms - have old photographs or paintings on their walls. These allow us a glimpse of the 'not too distant' past.
If you would like
a copy of the Alnmouth Guide - which also has lots of other interesting
facts, walks, features and a village map - then stop by the Alnmouth village
Post Office and buy one.
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