Epic labour of love reaches the end of the road at last

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THE end is in sight for an epic project to revamp a set of classic Morpeth history guides.

When friends Brian Harle and Alan Davison decided to re-edit and re-print the Town Trail for Morpethians guides by the late Alec Tweddle, little did they imagine the extent of the work in store.

But now, seven years after beginning their research and four after their first revised trail was published, it seems the long labour of love is finally coming to an end, with booklet number nine in the shops, and the final tenth trail due for release next month.

Mr Harle said: “We want to try to get the last one out before Christmas and then it is all finished.

“We had no idea how long this would take and how much work was involved. We thought it was going to take us four minutes, but it has ended up a four-year job from when the first trail was done.

“It has all been good fun though.”

The guides, which detail the town on a street-by-street basis, were designed by Mr Tweddle, a former King Edward VI School Deputy Head, as short walks, with maps and pictures showing how the area has changed and details about its past.

However, the original versions sold out as soon as they were printed in the 1980s, with the only public copies available in the library, prompting Messrs Harle and Davison to re-visit the booklets to make them more widely available.

They also decided to update the trails as they went along, taking more photographs, digging out archive material and learning more about local history.

Their revision of the first trail was published in 2007, with others following as the duo worked their way through. Initially 100 copies of each guide were published, but demand has led to several re-prints. However, the venture is not a commercial one as the money generated from sales is used to print the next guide in the series.

“We do have a core interest in the Trails now and when we dropped some copies of the latest one in at Appleby’s they asked when the next one is coming because they already have orders for it,” said Mr Harle.

“We have had to re-print numbers one to five of the Trails I don’t know how many times. Originally, we did 100 copies of each, but we must have done 200 or 250 copies of the first two. They are the most popular ones because they are about the centre of Morpeth.”

The latest ninth guide covers the Stobhill area, including Stobhillgate, Stobhill Farm and Estate, The Avenues, East Stobhill and Coopies Lane Industrial Estate.

There are features on well-known former residents, schools, landmarks and local buildings, as well as the sporting history of the area, from cricket and football connections to horse shows and police sports days.

Mr Harle said: “I think there will be a lot of interest in the sports side of it. There was the cricket field up there and other things were happening there. The police used to hold a sports day there, which we have only just discovered.

“There was also the turnpike at Stobhill, I think that will appeal to some people.”

As the authors near the completion of their marathon challenge they may be expected to be easing up on their research, but nothing could be further from the truth.

They have been studying the Morpeth Herald archives, courtesy of the Mackay family, with even more vigour and have plans to produce a catalogue of their findings on disc.

“We started going through the old Morpeth Heralds so that we could add more information to the Town Trails, but it is never ending,” said Mr Harle.

“We have about 12,000 images on file now and we are cataloguing them all. What we hope to do is create a search facility so that if someone is interested in a school, for example, they can put the name in and search and all the references we have found to that will come up. We could put that on a website, or produce a disc.

“That will be at a later date because we are still going through the papers. We go on a Thursday afternoon to look through them and it takes two or three weeks to get through one edition of the Morpeth Herald so it is going to be quite a long job.”

In the meantime, people can buy Town Trail for Morpethians No. 9 for £5.95 from Appleby’s, T & G Allan, Mackays, the Chantry Tourist Information Centre and The Craft Studio.