Old guide book on railway makes a fascinating read

An extract of the map in Lambert's Guide to the Blyth and Tyne Railway.
An extract of the map in Lambert's Guide to the Blyth and Tyne Railway.

I recently came across Lambert’s Handbook to Tynemouth and Guide to the Blyth & Tyne Railway at Barter Books in Alnwick. I had never heard of it before, but like all of these old guides — it came out in about 1864 — it makes a fascinating read.

The text is by Richard Welford, 1836-1919. Welford came from Buckinghamshire, came to Newcastle in 1854 as a young journalist, worked for the Tyne Steam Shipping Company from 1864, and became completely enamoured of the history of the North East. He wrote regularly for the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, and published many books, including Men of Mark twixt Tyne and Tweed.

The sale of his library in 1920 included 1,250 lots of books of local interest, perhaps 5,000 volumes in all. The sale catalogue includes an appreciation by John Oxberry, who says that he was: “A tireless worker, and aiming always at accuracy and completeness of information”.

This is no doubt true of those works for which Welford had clear and unambiguous authorities, but if not, he was prone to careless reading and journalistic licence. It never does to take a historical fact from Welford without checking it against other sources.

The Guide, however, is clearly meant for the general reader.

“What we see,” says Welford, “we shall describe as we find it; history and legend we shall freely borrow from others.”

Tynemouth and the places round about take up two-thirds of the book. I’ve often wondered about the little clock tower at the end of Front Street; it turns out to have been the gift of William Scott, Esq, of London. Mr Scott had visited many different resorts, but found that “none possessed more natural attractions than that spot”.

It is in the Venetian Gothic style, with alternating bands of brick and Peterhead granite, and at that time had two fountains, a clock with three dials, a barometer and a thermometer, and Tynemouth Water Company supplied the water free of charge.

In contrast: “Few persons would choose such a place as Walker to live in.”

But all the same, Welford finds plenty of good to say of it, and tells the story of a Rifle Volunteer from Walker who attended a review in Edinburgh: “Wey”, he said, “Edinborro is sartly a varry fine pleyce — but its nowt like Wahkor!”

“The Blyth and Tyne railway,” says Welford, “runs through the heart of the ‘steam coal’ field; it has branches to nearly every colliery in that field.” And he again makes a point of drawing out all the good things about the colliery villages.

Thus at Backworth: “In the month of August a flower show is held in the village, which usually attracts a large number of persons from Newcastle, Shields, Tynemouth, and the intermediate villages.”

But he does not hide his pleasure at seeing Hepscott Station, “with its showy beds of flowers wearing a neat and cleanly appearance not generally observable at the stations on this line”.

Morpeth was the next and last station on the line. As with the other guides, it is the advertisements and the comments on current and recent events that are the most interesting.

Thus, the gatehouse at Morpeth Castle had “within the last two or three years...been restored by Mr Salvin, the eminent architect, as a residence for one of the agents of the Earl of Carlisle.”

At the County Gaol, “are hung criminals that are convicted of capital offences within the county”. The last execution, however, had taken place almost 20 years before.

St George’s Church, “plain but elegant”, was only two or three years old, and not long before that the Chantry had been “purchased by the Corporation (as) a public room for the recreation of the inhabitants, but on the ground that the place had been consecrated, the Rector raised some objections...and since the removal of the Grammar School to new and better premises it has remained unoccupied.”

The Town Hall had: “For some years...been in a state of great dilapidation, and operations are about to be commenced for its restoration.”

Across the road, the Clock Tower housed the borough’s fire engines.

Welford then takes us to Mitford, passing the ruins of Newminster Abbey, the kennels of the Morpeth Foxhounds, and the Abbey Mills, “consisting of a woollen mill, a corn mill, a farm-house and several cottages; the woollen mill being the only manufactory of the kind in the neighbourhood.”

At Mitford: “The parsonage, the church and the old castle suddenly burst into view, presenting a scene of remarkable beauty. In the churchyard the visitor may rest awhile — that is, if the vicar’s unchained and exceedingly noisy dogs will allow him — and meditate upon the relics of departed greatness.”

He then immediately takes us all the way back to Morpeth and through Lady Chapel Wood: “Having arrived at Bothal we turn to get a rest and some refreshment, but there is not a publican — however numerous may be the sinners — in the place...we must ask at some of the neighbouring farm-houses to be supplied with a cup of tea and that indispensable girdle-cake which Northumbrian farmers’ wives and daughters make so well.”

Welford’s achievement is impressive. He covers a large area, including Tynemouth, all the stations on the Blyth and Tyne, and all the places you might visit from any of them. His account of the railway itself is authoritative (he had the help of the company’s officials) and long predates the better-known Tomlinson’s North-Eastern Railway.

Likewise, in his description of Morpeth, Mitford and Bothal, he did not have the benefit of Wilson’s Handbook, which only came out in 1876.

My copy is clearly a modern photographic reprint. There is no indication of who published it, or when. But I’m glad they did.