Souvenir was published in 1935

Bridge Street and the Queen's Head. Notice Woolworth's, the buses, and all the pubs
Bridge Street and the Queen's Head. Notice Woolworth's, the buses, and all the pubs

Morpeth, the Valley of the Shining Water, is the title of the Official Guide and Souvenir to Morpeth published by the Corporation in 1935. The author was Norman N. Jones, about whom I have no other information.

The publisher was Laybourne and Co. Ltd, Stowell Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne, with photographs by Primrose, a well-known photographer in Morpeth then.

Morpeth Clock Tower. The man on the bicycle and side-car seems to be delivering milk.

Morpeth Clock Tower. The man on the bicycle and side-car seems to be delivering milk.

It is not as good as the earlier Mate’s Illustrated Guide, but that in itself is hardly surprising. Few could live up to the standard of James Fergusson’s luminous text. Not only so, but Mr Jones either wasn’t allowed to proof-read his text, or he was careless. The most obvious typo, but also most misleading to anybody not familiar with Morpeth, is the ‘famous Hatch’ in the Town Hall, meaning the town hutch.

Nevertheless, the whole book is beautifully produced, and still in excellent condition. The covers are in off-white paper that folds over the edges of the leaves, like a yapp prayer-book. The front cover is particularly tasteful, featuring just the town badge and the single word ‘Morpeth’.

The foreword is by E.C. Jackson, the Town Clerk. It is very much of its time; male-oriented and addressed to a middle-class audience:

“Here the busy man in search of health and peaceful recreation may regain his youth. The Carlisle Park...is open...and here parents and children may sit in trim gardens or on historic hills. Bowls, Tennis and Putting Greens are here for their delight.

Mattheson's Gardens, Gypsy caravans and the Oldgate Bridge, now at Stobsford.

Mattheson's Gardens, Gypsy caravans and the Oldgate Bridge, now at Stobsford.

“Of an evening two theatres will provide programmes of music and pictures to close the day....These and other delights this ancient Borough offers to the visitor, who, alone or with his family, seeks peaceful rest and recreation amidst historic and beautiful surroundings.”

Jones made good use of Fergusson’s guide, usually paraphrasing it in his own words, but used other standard works as well, including Tomlinson’s Comprehensive Guide, and received help from Mr Jackson, from the Rector Canon Davies, Alderman Sanderson, Messrs G.F. Howell and G. Kennedy, the Headmaster and Deputy of the Grammar School, Coun W. Grey, Mr Charles Grey, Mr John Davison, Borough Surveyor, and Canon R.C. McLeod, Rector of Mitford.

Other than the photographs, the most interesting parts are where Mr Jones describes what has happened since Fergusson’s time. Provided you overlook the bombast of the opening claim — bombast because Morpeth was sewered in the 1850s — the following is as good an example as any:

“more improvements have been made to and in Morpeth during the last eight years than the previous hundred. These commenced with the building of a new cattle market, the construction of the Elliott Bridge, connecting the new market with the park, the making of ‘Carlisle Park’, the laying out of Bowling Greens, Tennis Courts and Putting Greens, and the erection of a bandstand.”

The chapter on the Grammar School naturally consists mostly of standard material, but Mr Jones again brings the story up to date. Since the school’s removal to Cottingwood Lane: “Large additions have since been made.

“The spacious science and art departments constructed in 1897; the extensive playing fields of about seven acres, laid out in 1911; and the enlargement of the dining hall in 1925. Since the new school building was opened in 1857, the number of pupils has increased from about twenty to the present figure of two hundred and forty.”

Having similarly given the history of Newminster Abbey, and something of the 19th century archaeological digs, he says: “further historical features were brought to light during the excavations made under the late Sir George Renwick of Springhill, in his commendable personal effort to resurrect the Abbey and its story.”

He gives a graphic description of Renwick’s small private museum: “The atmosphere on entering breathes expectancy....Ageing masonry and ironwork, beautifully inscribed stone coffin lids, manual instruments of another age than ours, lead lights and portions of the stained glass windows, floor tiling in a varied assortment of sizes and colourings.”

The entire contents of Sir George’s museum have since disappeared. We have little more than this enticing cameo and a few articles in antiquarian journals to remind us of what we have lost.

The golf club began in 1906, the same year as Fergusson’s guide: “Originally of nine holes only, it was extended in 1922 to eighteen holes. The Secretary, Mr. C.B. Willis, would be happy ... (etc.)”

There is a short section on the War Memorial; this again post-dates Fergusson, who died in 1915.

A feature of the book that it would be better without is that every advertiser gets an obsequious puff in the text. The advertisements themselves, however, are interesting and informative.

They include: Oliver’s Modern Cafe and Restaurant, 17 Bridge Street; the Queens Head Hotel, resident proprietor Captain W.S. Sanderson; Thomas Waters and Son, Borough Hall Showrooms; Laybourne, the printers; and S.R. Stephenson, 3 Market Place, Newsagent, Stationer, Confectioner and Lending Library. There was no proper public library in Morpeth at that time.

At Morpeth Grammar School: “Boys are prepared for University Scholarships, Civil Service, Matriculation and Professional Examinations.”

The fees were £4 per term in the preparatory department, and £5 16s. 8d. in the senior department, for boys aged 11 or over.

A. Primrose, 31 Bridge Street “specialises in photographs for reproduction purposes in catalogues, magazines, etc....Photographs in colour a speciality.”

Lastly, John Pringle and Co. Ltd, at 51 Bridge Street, were “Foot fitters by X-Ray....Founded in the reign of William IV, by Thomas Pringle in 1830. Now supervised by the fourth generation.”

Acknowledgment: My thanks to my former colleague, Mr Peter Basnett, who gave me this book many years ago.