The story of town’s successful benefactor

Morpeth Rotary Club, Simon Foley with Alan Clark on his left.

Morpeth Rotary Club, Simon Foley with Alan Clark on his left.

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Morpeth Rotary Club

Rotarian Simon Foley is a trustee of the Hunter Memorial Homes Trust in Morpeth and was able to give the club a short history of how it started and what it does.

William Hunter was born in December 1870, the eldest son of Post Messenger James Hunter and Barbara Brown, who lived in Manchester Lane. Later there were two more sons and two daughters, and they moved to a larger house at High Stanners.

William went to work at GB Grey, a tailoring and drapery business in Bridge Street. He became a skilled cutter and even won a prize in a national competition by the Drury Lane School of Art in London.

Following the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, he joined up and became a soldier in the First Volunteer Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, sailing to South Africa.

After his service he applied to Cunard as a shipboard musician as he was a fine amateur player of violin and clarinet, and served in ships’ orchestras for a number of years.

His final voyage was New Zealand to Southampton, but he left the ship in Durban and settled in South Africa. He set up a tailoring business, and although he struggled to start with, it became very successful.

He got to know central South Africa and moved to Nataal, where he bought land and tried sugar cane farming, and again he was successful. He retired to Durban and invested in property, building several houses, including Northumberland House and Rothbury House in Gillespie Street, near the harbour. The street still exists today.

He met a Mr and Mrs Whitewood, of Gateshead, who were living there in 1899. The wife was to become a significant beneficiary of his will. William never married.

When he lived in Morpeth he was said to be cautious, considerate and far-seeing. He was a great friend of Mr Jardine, landlord of the Nags Head. He kept up a correspondence with friends in Morpeth and took an interest in people from the North East who moved to South Africa.

He died in June 1955 and was buried in Durban. Members of the ex-service association had his coffin draped in the Union flag. He had made arrangements in his will to fund almshouses for elderly people in Morpeth, in memory of his late parents.

The charity was to buy land and provide cottages. Because of international politics at the time, it was some while before his money was transferred to the UK and the charity was not approved until 1970.

Administration was carried out by Morpeth Borough Council, then Castle Morpeth. There are five trustees, with two nominated by Morpeth Town Council. Rotary has provided trustees for many years.

The first Chairman was Alfred Appleby, who founded Appleby’s Bookshop and was Mayor. When he died in 1987, his house in Castle Square was used to provide several flats for the elderly.

Today, there are houses in various parts of the town, including Gas House Lane, Oldgate and Merley Gate. People housed are not tenants, but almspeople or occupants, who pay a maintenance sum.

Administration is now carried out by Durham Aged Mineworkers Homes of Chester-le-Street, which provides services. Applicants have to live in Morpeth or have a close association with the town.

Alan Clark gave a vote of thanks.