If you take the coast road north out of Cresswell, we have the dunes on our right, but on the left what looks like a long row of back yards with never a house in sight. That is, in fact, exactly what it is. Welcome to Cresswell Gardens.
Holiday bungalows and camping became matters of interest to the coastal authorities from the 1920s onwards, and Morpeth Rural District Council was no exception.
The approach of war brought further problems: hutted camps for service personnel, refugees etc., both on the coast and inland. Then during the war and after, a shortage of housing led desperate couples to set up home in anything they could find.
Under the headline, ‘Moveable Dwellings’, the Morpeth Herald of July 30, 1943, reported a meeting of Morpeth RDC’s Housing Committee. On the recommendation of the inspector, it issued a licence to Mr E.J Melden, of 124 Station Road, Ashington, authorising him “to station and use a wood bungalow at Cresswell for a further period of twelve months”.
A month later they issued a similar licence to a Mr A Grey, for a “bungalow known as ‘Belle Vista’ at Cresswell”.
At the same meeting: “The Inspector reported that a number of wood erections at Cresswell were occupied without having been licensed.”
Although there was a severe shortage of housing, makeshift dwellings were hardly a solution. They might be alright for holidays and weekends, but not for permanent occupation.
And, it goes on: “He had reported the cases to the police to be dealt with under the Camping (Restrictions) Orders.”
The most popular areas for these wooden bungalows were the links at Snab Point, and Cresswell Gardens. Nor was it only bungalows. In August 1949 the committee considered two applications for converted buses, one at Warkworth Lane, Ellington, and the other in Cresswell Gardens.
Although there was a severe shortage of housing, makeshift dwellings were hardly a solution. They might be alright for holidays and weekends, but not for permanent occupation. They often had no proper bathroom or toilet, and weren't built to last. A bungalow that was alright when built could gradually become unfit for habitation.
There are no bungalows now, but every sign of the love that people put into them — ornamental gate-posts, concrete aprons, and drifts of daffodils in season. They also had stone walls, but this was the original field boundary, before the gardens existed.
You can follow their development in old maps. In the OS 6ins map of 1850, the long narrow triangle of land behind the Crows Nest is shown as unenclosed land. By 1896 it was fully enclosed and partly divided into plots, three of which had buildings on them. By 1921 it was completely divided into plots, and there were nine buildings.
The OS 2½ins map of 1949 shows just two buildings, though no doubt some plots had caravans or converted buses on them.
Even as late as 1991, Castle Morpeth Council considered the case of Holmeside, at Cresswell Gardens. My then colleague Neil Crosby, the Chief Environmental Health Officer, reported that the property was “an unfit house...and the owners have no objections to the making of a Demolition Order”.
There were about a dozen plots in all, and you couldn’t wish for a nicer place to go on holiday. The beach was just across the road, and a picturesque village, ice cream shop and cafe were all within short walking distance. But all good things come to an end. Holiday makers at Cresswell today stay in static caravans on fully serviced sites that are altogether better equipped, both for comfort and for public health and hygiene.
And yet, there must still be people who have fond memories of spending their holidays at Cresswell Gardens.
A bit further on is the Drift Cafe. It used to be called the Drift Inn. This wasn’t just a pun on people drifting in for refreshment, there really was a drift mine not far away, but I can’t find out much about it.
Blakemoor Drift isn’t listed on the Durham Mining Museum website, normally a reliable source of information, nor is it mentioned in Leonard Leach’s History of Cresswell, but I think I can see the former entrance to the mine in a photograph I took from the grounds of St Bartholomew’s Church about half a mile away.
The Drift Cafe is a smart, bungalow-style building. It does a full range of meals, has a second-hand bookshop and is always well patronised.
Across the road from the cafe is a car park with the word ‘Cresswell’ in large wrought-iron letters over the entrance. A path leads through the dunes to the compound of Cresswell Boat Club, and after that to the beach.
Just beyond the car park is a bridge over the Blakemoor Burn, with this plaque on it: “In December 1996 Ready Mixed Concrete ceased sand extraction from the beach here after negotiations with Northumberland County Council and five years of actions by the Druridge Bay Campaign.”
The story as I was told it is almost incredible. Many years ago, the county council issued a licence to take sand from the beach (though perhaps actually from the dunes), but instead of defining the amount to be taken by statute measure, it was expressed in buckets. Meaning, of course, digger buckets.
Over the years, the buckets got bigger so that the quantity of sand taken increased. There were concerns about beach erosion and the sea inundating the land behind. But quarrying stopped in 1996, and in 2006 the Northumberland Wildlife Trust bought the entire foreshore.