A variety of tales from Antiquarians

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Antiquarian Society

The January meeting of Morpeth Antiquarian Society was Members’ Night when the speakers gave interesting talks about their involvement with various voluntary organisations and community groups.

Frank Walker began the evening with a fascinating title, 70 years a Scout.

Mr Walker explained that although he was under age, his parents encouraged him to join the Wolf Cubs and abide by their rules, which along with the Scout Law and Promise, proved to be a code of life.

In his early days, the cubs met in the Infirmary of the Old Workhouse. In later years the Scouts moved to new premises at Low Stanners.

Mr Walker illustrated his talk with photographs of local scouts, many of whom were well known to members. He and one of his colleagues were the first Queen’s Scouts in Morpeth, previous Morpethians having been King’s Scouts. He showed his well worn copies of Lord Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys, and spoke with warmth and admiration for the present Chief Scout Bear Grylls, and Pope Francis who had been a Scout in Argentina.

Dressed in the current adult scouting uniform of dark fleece, long trousers and baseball cap, Mr Walker turned back the years by showing his collection of previous uniforms gathered in his 70 years of scouting, including, of course, the traditional woollen felt Baden Powell Scout Hat.

As Director of the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering, Kim Bibby-Wilson spoke of her family’s connections with the Gathering since its inception in 1968.

Mrs Bibby-Wilson’s father Roland Bibby and other members of MAS began this annual festival of regional culture as a single day of music, song and dance. Now the 49th Gathering is spread over three days, the weekend after Easter, Friday, April 1 to Sunday, April 3, consisting of concerts, workshops, street shows, craft exhibitions, tours, outdoor entertainment, dance, dialect prose and poems, and many other activities.

Events will be happening in central halls, cafes and public spaces across Morpeth. The Landmark Trust will be opening Morpeth Castle as a venue for medieval music and armed combat displays.

MAS members expressed their appreciation and acknowledged the great debt that Morpeth owes to the Bibby family and MAS members of the Gathering Committee. It is through their considerable efforts that this festival is now almost 50 years old, especially with the difficulties in obtaining the necessary funding.

A new MAS member, Phyllis McGraw, explained to members her involvement with a relatively new group in Morpeth. As a member of the choir Sing Morpeth, previously Morpeth Silver Singers, Ms McGraw described her pleasure at singing with this group. The mixed choir has almost 100 members, with at least 70 people attending each week. Led by Bridie Jackson, it has a wide “singing for pleasure” repertoire, ranging from folk songs to Mozart. Ms McGraw has found choir members to be very friendly, and she has enjoyed performing in concerts in Morpeth and at the Alnwick Garden.

To conclude her talk, Mrs McGraw was joined by three MAS members who are also in Sing Morpeth, and they invited their audience to join them in singing a rousing sea shanty.

Charlotte Houlton has recently retired from the role of MAS Programme Secretary. She entertained the meeting by recalling how she began as Programme Secretary and what the work entailed.

In her early days, there was no email and everything was organised by phone or letters. She always sent thank you letters to the speakers and often received them in return. She reminded members of some of her favourite speakers, and others, not named, who turned out to be nightmares.

Her wonderful programme of lectures and visits was greatly appreciated, and she has been appointed an MAS Honorary Life Member for her contribution to the society.

The final speaker of the evening was the Mayor, Coun Alison Byard.

She described a family holiday to Croatia, with the emphasis on their visit to Sinj, where an equestrian competition has been held every first Sunday in August since 1717.

Known as the Sinjska Alka, it commemorates a Croatian-Venetian victory over the Ottomans on August 14, 1715. Coun Byard explained that people believe the Lady of Sinj miraculously drove away the Ottomans, thus helping them to defend their town. On the national holiday of the Assumption of Mary on August 15, in honour of the Lady of Sinj, a procession is organised, during which horsemen in full regalia (“Alkari”) parade a painting of Our Lady of Sinj through the streets.

The Alka itself is an equestrian competition in which various horsemen, riding at full gallop, aim their lances at a hanging metal ring (alka), and are awarded points according to which sector of the ring they pierce. In 2010, it was inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

Throughout a busy year as Mayor, Coun Byard has been a great supporter of MAS functions. Members were very appreciative of her illustrated talk.

These informative talks by MAS members were followed by a pooled supper.

The next MAS meeting is on Friday, March 18, at 7.15pm, in St James’s Centre, Wellway, Morpeth. Visitors will be most welcome at this meeting when Lyndsay Allason-Jones OBE will be talking about Sculpture from the Roman Wall.