Hidden history sheds light on curiosities

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THE hidden history of Morpeth’s alleyways is brought into the spotlight in a new book by one of the town’s residents.

Bridget Gubbins, who has lived in Old Bakehouse Yard for 35 years, has penned The Curious Yards and Alleyways of Morpeth to bring more attention to the sometimes forgotten areas of the town.

The book tells the history behind the features that criss-cross the town centre, linking their origins to Norman barons who set the pattern for development along the lines of the furrows ploughed by their oxen.

It describes life in the middle ages as the armies of English and Scottish kings marched through Morpeth, and shows the crowded and often unsanitary living and working conditions of the people who populated the alleys and yards in the 17th and 18th centuries.

There were dark and dingy rows of homes, workshops, stables and coach-houses, with open drains and sink stones. A mix of people lived and worked there, from auctioneers and blacksmiths to bakers, tailors and twine makers.

By the mid 19th Century the newly-elected municipal corporation began to get a grip of the health and hygiene problems and slum clearance in the 20th Century saw many of the old buildings demolished.

Today many of the old alleyways and yards have almost gone. Many are short-cuts from the main streets of Oldgate, Newgate Street and Bridge Street to car parks, some remain as residential areas, while others still house businesses.

The book also contains stories from people who lived or worked in the now demolished yards, or remember them from their childhood.

Mrs Gubbins said: “I wanted to draw attention to an aspect of the history of our old town just to remind us of what we have and what we could value more.

“Over the centuries, we have learned about ploughmen and burgesses, guild members and shopkeepers, marketers and modern day shoppers, who have all made their way through the old yards and alleyways of Morpeth.”

The book has been published by the Greater Morpeth Development Trust, with backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It costs £5.