Gadgy explains duties at town’s famous festival

Morpeth Gadgy Alex Swailes during his talk to Morpeth Rotary Club members.
Morpeth Gadgy Alex Swailes during his talk to Morpeth Rotary Club members.

Morpeth Rotary Club

THE current Morpeth Gadgy, Alex Swailes, was dressed in full regalia and carried his staff of office as he explained his amazing story to Morpeth Rotary Club members.

The staff was made by Karva Woodcraft at Stobswood and he keeps it in his wardrobe. The costume, including the coat and waistcoat made by his wife Anne, is that of a town bailiff of the 1300s.

George Green was the first Gadgy, from 1982 to 1997. He was twice Mayor of Morpeth.

Alan LeChard, a silversmith, presented the staff’s decorative silver shield with the Morpeth Coat of Arms to the Northumbrian Gathering in 1989.

Mr Swailes is the second Morpeth Gadgy and is a Rotary member, as were Mr Green and Mr LeChard.

The most important annual duty of the Gadgy is to open the Morpeth Gathering by proclaiming from the Town Hall steps, but Mr Swailes insisted he is not a town crier.

The Gathering always starts with a grand cavalcade of 20 to 30 musicians, Punch and Judy, jugglers and stories being told in dialect. It used to include horses but they are no longer allowed ‘for health and safety reasons’.

It marks the return to Morpeth of Lord Greystoke with the remains of his troops after defeat by the Scots at the battle of Otterburn. Lord Greystoke, Ron Forster this year, receives the ancient scroll and then the festivities start.

The whole history of the Morpeth Gathering and the gobbie little man who is the Gadgy is told in a poem by Janet Brown of Ulgham.

The Morpeth Clock Tower has two little gadgies on the top but one of them, Clarence, can come down and walk around Morpeth.

His mate, Cuddy, stays on the tower.

It happens on the weekend after Easter so look up during the Gathering and you will see that the one on the left is missing.

Mr Swailes explained that ‘gadgy’ was one of a number of words from North India brought by travellers in the 1100s. Gypsies and travellers were not allowed to move around during the last war and so their words became more established locally.

The Morpeth Gathering was founded by Roland Bibby in the 1960s and Mr Swailes has been to 46 of them.

It always starts with a peal of bells from Morpeth Clock Tower and the roads are closed for a full hour.

At one time, at the end of the ceremony, the Gadgy went home.

Now there is full involvement in the whole of the event with judging, concerts and cup presentations.

Many other interesting and enjoyable duties happen from year to year. He was asked to help judge the national town criers’ competition when it was held in Alnwick.

One cry had to be what his town was like and another was: ‘Where in the world should I drink my Alnwick Rum?’

He judged it by crowd reaction and asked for and was given a copy of the winning cry.

A few years ago he was asked to create a Geordie welcome for the Morpeth Gathering and perform it for a film crew.

It was the famous one he still uses, starting with: “Howay in hinny, loosen yer galluses and we’ll raise the hippin on a muckle fliggerition.”

When the crowds were waiting for Joanna Lumley to open Sanderson Arcade, he was asked to fill a 20-minute spot and entertained them all. He has had a fiddle tune written for him by Roy Hugman.

Now Mr Swailes has had his hip replacement, he should easily manage to get back on his tower. It had been getting a bit of a problem.

He has been involved with a number of other organisations over the years, including the Morpeth Operatic Society and Northumberland National Park as a volunteer warden, and he was awarded an MBE for dedicated service to the community in 2005.