THERE’S nowt so queer as folk, and a new booklet on Morpeth’s colourful characters has examples in abundance.
Author and journalist Gordon Wilkinson penned Morpeth’s Finest Muckle Bari Morts and Gadgies as a sideline as he was researching information for a historical county quiz book.
What followed was a collection of humorous, often irreverent, anecdotes about the good folk of Morpeth and beyond, including a Medieval wizard, music stars, sportsmen and even Rudyard Kipling.
Mr Wilkinson, who has lived in the town for 36 years, said: “I was in the middle of doing an historical quiz book about the whole county and I just got a bit bored with it so I went off and did a little anecdotal thing on the people of Morpeth.
“There are so many stories it could have been four times the size, but it was just something to amuse myself at the time. You could do loads of volumes, there is any amount you could write about Morpeth and its environs.
“I’ve been around Morpeth for a lot of years now and you just pick up the anecdotes.
“A lot of it is about the boys in bands I know and a lot of it is about people you just meet in everyday life. I’ve been a member of Morpeth Rugby Club since 1967 and I’ve known Jim Alder since I was a young lad so on the sports side I know a lot of people as well.”
The former Fleet Street man was able to write much of the booklet from his own knowledge, but some sections required a little more research.
One such piece was when Morpeth provoked the wrath of Nobel Prize winning author Rudyard Kipling.
The writer was on holiday at Biddlestone Hall when he passed through Morpeth on a trip from Rothbury to Newcastle. His car suffered a blown tyre and Kipling was incensed by the attitude of the locals, who gathered around to watch. He even wrote a poem about the ‘godless loons of Morpeth’.
Mr Wilkinson said: “When I was a young lad I’d read somewhere about the Kipling incident, that he had been abused by the people of Morpeth, so about five years ago when I was in the library I asked the librarian if there was any record of it. She said there wasn’t, but an old man used to come in claiming to be a descendant of Kipling.
“A year later, the librarian contacted me to say the man had been in so she’d asked him about it and he provided that poem.”
Other tales include the time when the town’s aldermen summoned acclaimed warlock Michael Scott to help out. They were jealous of Newcastle, where ships could sail up the Tyne, bringing prosperity, so they asked Mr Scott to make the Wansbeck tidal to the centre of town.
Sadly the attempt failed when local running champion Alan Percy broke the spell that had been cast on him to do the job.
The booklet also contains nods to local pubs, gentry and a killer elephant, as well as Morpeth sportsmen who were prisoners at Stalag XX-A and Colditz.
“This booklet is just a little bit of nonsense to give people a laugh,” said Mr Wilkinson.
It is on sale in Morpeth Chantry. Mr Wilkinson has also turned his attention to the Morpeth Herald for a piece to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Northumbrian magazine.
The first edition of the magazine was published in October 1987 and its articles covering Northumberland’s culture and countryside have attracted readers across the globe ever since.
This month’s anniversary edition features a light-hearted look at what was in the news at the time of its launch, including excerpts from the Herald and its sister papers the Northumberland Gazette and Berwick Advertiser, compiled by Mr Wilkinson.
Highlights included the Duchess of Northumberland driving a bulldozer at Druridge Bay, the National Ploughing Championships at Alcan Farm and an emergency landing by a light aircraft at Glororum.
Editor Stewart Bonney said: “When we started The Northumbrian all those years ago it was something quite unusual for a county magazine. We’re pleased it has proved so popular with readers and although we don’t have the pedigree of the Morpeth Herald we are delighted to be celebrating our first 25 years and hope in time that like the Herald we will be celebrating our 150th anniversary.”
Four of The Northumbrian’s team have also produced a commemorative book called Wild Northumberland to mark its quarter century. It combines stunning shots of the county’s landscapes and wildlife captured by award-winning photographers Allan Potts and Rob Jordan, with the writing talents and knowledge of expert birdwatcher Ian Kerr and retired National Park conservation officer John Steele.
Wild Northumberland is now on sale, priced £9.99.