I was at Wark Village Fete recently, sorting through a very wet bookstall under the tree on the village green. One of the things I found was The Reedwetter Review for April, 1917.
It was published quarterly by Charles Risingham “at West Woodburn, which is in Reedwetter, Northumberland”, and printed by the Hexham Courant. Despite what must have been pressing shortages of paper and ink, the printing is of the best quality and the font size and spacing generous.
Leafing through the damp little book over tea in Wark Town Hall, I was surprised to find that it contained two advertisements for shops in Morpeth – one for Pentland & Co, 34 Newgate Street, and the other for Geo. B. Gray, 38 Bridge Street. What on earth were they doing advertising in a Redesdale magazine?
The hall began to fill up, and a lady came and sat at the same table. It transpired that she grew up in West Woodburn and had actually known the daughter of one of the advertisers, Mr Ernest Pigg, who was postmaster there in 1917. When she also said that she went to the Girls’ High School in Morpeth, it became clear as day why Morpeth businesses should be advertising in Redesdale. People who lived there, including pupils at the Morpeth grammar schools, came here on the train.
Regular passenger services ceased in 1952, but in 1917, Redesdale and the North Tyne had literally a direct line to Morpeth. The 7.56am train from Woodburn arrived in Morpeth at 8.55am, and the return journey, starting at 6.30pm, took exactly an hour. The same trains wound their way through Scots’ Gap, Middleton, Angerton and Meldon. By connections at Redesmouth they also joined Bellingham, Wark, Hexham and Corbridge to Morpeth, and further afield to Prudhoe and Stocksfield as well.
Other than what one can tell from the magazine, I can’t find out anything about Mr Risingham. An advertisement for Charles Risingham Advertising says, “I shall be pleased to write your advertisements for you”, and I should guess that in this instance he wrote all of them.
It became clear as day why Morpeth businesses should be advertising in Redesdale. People who lived there, including pupils at the Morpeth grammar schools, came here on the train.
They certainly read well, like this one for Karswood Poultry Spice: “Hoots, Nanny, woman, you don’t want to go worrying yourself about meal bills! We have sixteen hens and pullets and we’ve been keeping a record of eggs laid since the beginning of the year. I figure it out that we got at least seven and sixpence worth of eggs from that sixpenny packet of Karswood. And you can bet your clooty bonnet, Nanny, that we’re going to use it right along in future.”
An article called Scraps has the subtitle Contributed: “There are a lot of lads away nuw. Aw hear Reedwetter is gay well cleaned oot. Man, them bits o’ lads, what fine cheps they make, after a bit training. Huw they can step oot and huw grandly they carie their ‘heeds’. What a grand gloss they hev on their skins tee. What a pity, poor fellows, that see mony ‘gans under’. Aw hev them in the Army mesel, and I ken to pairt fra them is a sair job.”
Apart, however, from acknowledged quotations, almost everything is written by Mr Risingham, including, I suspect, two articles on trout fishing by ‘Wannys’.
He was clearly a free-thinker. One of his articles is a reply to the vicar of Corsenside, who had written scathingly on the ‘Uncensored Sermons, by our Local Preacher’ in the previous issue.
The sermon in the present edition is called The Fool and his Folly. It begins with a quotation from I Corinthians, Ch. 15: ‘But some man will say: How are the dead raised up and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die’.
“Paul called the man a fool who couldn’t understand the resurrection of the dead, but the man was not a fool. In spite of Paul’s doubtful botany, the resurrection of the dead is a great mystery, and you have no right to call a man a fool or peculiar or queer because he does not profess to believe in a mystery.
“So far as I can see there is no evidence anywhere that can justify a man in believing the doctrine of the resurrection. Understand me, I am not saying it is not true. My point is that there is no real evidence for it, and you can hardly call a man peculiar for not believing in something for which there is no real evidence.”
My Baptism is by Private Mat Reay, who was then in hospital recovering from nephritis: “At 12pm the process known as ‘taking over’ was complete, and we were installed in the ‘Death Trap’. The Company Officer paid us a visit, and told the Platoon Sergeant to get a wiring party out at once, as the wires were in a bad state. It was a bright moonlight night, but being in blissful ignorance of the dangers attendant upon the job, I volunteered for it.
“We worked hard and silently for about an hour without interruption, then up went a star shell. We got down quickly and I had some queer sensations as the machine-gun bullets whistled about a couple of feet over my head. We managed to get back eventually without any casualties.
“At 5.30pm the officer came along and informed us that there was to be a ‘Strafe. Precisely at 3 minutes to four o’clock the thunder of a hundred guns broke upon the still night air. Then suddenly I was thrown violently on my face whilst it seemed that tons of earth were heaped upon me. It was a disturbing position to find oneself in, but beyond a choking sensation I was not aware of any pain. This reassured me.
“I managed to free my right hand and began a bit of mowdie work with it, and very soon my hand shot out into space. It was the work of a few moments only to get my head out. I was first man out when another hand shot out at the other end of the bay. The two of us very soon removed the earth from the rest, who, we were glad to find, were very little the worse.
“Our parapet was blown clean in, and it wanted but quarter of an hour until daylight would reveal our sad plight to the watchful Hun. But we set to work with a will and when the first streaks of dawn appeared we were putting on the top layer of sand bags.
“‘Tame night!’ said an old hand to me as we were having breakfast. He gave me a searching glance for signs of ‘Wind up’, but I had determined that whatever I felt I would present an inscrutable countenance to these chaps. ‘Very tame!’ I replied in a disappointed tone, although I must admit that I had felt it very far from tame, and considered my baptism of fire a bit severe.”