An interesting place is rich in the unexpected

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Hodgson describes Blakemoor as “a parcel of the township of Cresswell...situated about a quarter of a mile from the sea, on a low damp plain which lies between Cresswell and Hemscott-hill. It probably had its name from the ground which forms the estate, being formerly a dark-coloured heathery moor.”

Blakemoor Farm is on the left as you come from Cresswell and is approached by a pot-holed layby. Birdwatchers park in it when visiting Cresswell Pond. Cresswell Pond is rather an odd name for it since it is actually at Blakemoor and has the Blakemoor Burn running right through it.

The pond has developed by gradual subsidence over the past 60 years because of the former coal workings underneath. It is owned by Northumberland Wildlife Trust and has a huge reed bed, which makes “perfect cover for coots, mallards, reed buntings and sedge warblers. The pond itself provides rich feeding for diving duck. More than 180 species of bird have been recorded at this reserve in one year.” (Tony Rylance and Paul G. Morrison, A Visitor’s Guide to Druridge Bay, 1989).

It is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) partly because of the birds, but also because of its unusual natural history. The water is brackish and is home to freshwater snails and sandworms. These leave little coils of sand on the beach. The vegetation is, likewise, a mixture of both. There are saltmarsh plants round the main pond and two small freshwater ponds just to the south, each with its own plant community.

The farm road leading off the layby is also a public footpath and takes you to the remains of Blakemoor House. Only one wall of the house remains, but the steading still retains its Victorian outbuildings, including a pantile-roofed pig sty. Blakemoor House has no claim to greatness in history, but is rich in those unexpected associations that make up its byways.

The estate was owned by the Radcliff family until Sir Francis Radcliff sold it to Edward Cook, of Amble, in 1663. Mr Cook had a large family, some of whom married and had families, and two married members of the Lawson family of Oldmoor. Many, however, did not marry so at any one time there would typically be two or three living together at Blakemoor House.

In 1829, the date of Hodgson’s information, a Mrs Cook was living at Blakemoor and was, in fact, a Lawson. By the 1860s the occupants were three sisters, who were guardians to two pretty nieces, the children of a relative, John Lawson, who was a sea captain and was drowned at sea.

One of the girls was Ann Margaret Lawson, who on March 26, 1869, married Walter Runciman. Walter was the Mate on a sailing ship. He qualified as a Master Mariner in 1871, and four years later went over to steam as Captain of the steamer Coanwood.

In 1885 he bought the steamer Dudley, 1,200 tonnes, for scrap value: “The first twelve or eighteen months freights were at vanishing point, but we always managed to get some employment for her that left a profit and earned a really high percentage on her low capital.”

The Dudley was impounded at Archangel for sinking a Russian ship. Walter at once bought another ship, managed her with equal success, and steadily built up his fleet. In 1889 he ordered a new steamer from Readhead’s, naming her Blakemoor after the estate where his wife had been brought up. In 1897 he changed his company’s name to the Moor Line, again in honour of Blakemoor.

The Edward Cook who bought Blakemoor in 1663 left it to his second son, also Edward, who was a barrister and Recorder of Berwick for 20 years until his death in 1731. He left it to his eldest son, another Edward, who was also a barrister and noted antiquary. He never married, but lived at Blakemoor in his later years, sharing it with his brother George and sister Isabella.

Hodgson says: “He had several law suits with the Cresswell family respecting the right to seaweed on the Broad Car...but finally failed in substantiating his claim.”

This is interesting. It is the only reference I have found to the harvesting of kelp at Cresswell. This and other seaweeds were a valuable material. Until the 1820s, when the Leblanc process came into general use, it was one of the few sources of industrial alkali.

Hodgson also says that this same Edward Cook, “had once in his possession the original copy of the Chartulary of the Abbey of Newminster, which in 1638, the possession of Lord William Howard, at Naworth Castle.”

Years later William Woodman, Town Clerk of Morpeth, followed a hunch. The Rev. J.T. Fowler, in his Introduction to the Chartulary, says: “The MS was long supposed to be lost, but Mr Woodman of Morpeth, knowing that Mr Edw. Cook of Blakemoor, a well-known antiquary and barrister, who died about the end of the last century, had a great collection of MSS, made enquiry among his descendants and found the MS in the possession of Mr Burn, of Southwick near Sunderland, who sold it to the late Lord Carlisle for £10.”

The Earl’s brother Lord Lanerton, who as Captain Howard RN had been MP for Morpeth, lent it to the Surtees Society of Durham. It was edited by Mr Fowler and published in 1878. Mr Woodman also supplied the texts of two documents relating to the suppression of Newminster and the disposal of its estates.

Interesting place, Blakemoor.