A potted history of Cresswell

St Bartholomew's Church, Cresswell.
St Bartholomew's Church, Cresswell.

Addison John Cresswell, the heir to a respectable estate centred on the Medieval Cresswell Tower, married Elizabeth Mary Reed, the daughter of a gentleman in Surrey.

She was heiress to her cousin, John Baker, whose principal residence was in Gloucestershire, and when she came into this inheritance, Mr Cresswell took the additional surname of Baker.

East Lodge, typical of the estate cottages belonging to Cresswell Hall.

East Lodge, typical of the estate cottages belonging to Cresswell Hall.

With his newly acquired fortune, he purchased the estates of Link House, Old Moor and Hadston, as well as properties in other parts of Northumberland. The total came to over £60,000. He likewise bought all of the township of Cresswell that he didn’t already own, Blakemoor only excepted, and built the magnificent Cresswell Hall.

He provided liberally for his servants, tenants and the inhabitants of Cresswell and Ellington generally. He or his successors provided a school and school-house, the church of St Bartholomew and its vicarage, and several estate cottages, which still survive, with distinctive low-pitched roofs and tall chimneys.

The distinguished naval officer, Capt. Joe Baker-Cresswell, 1901-1997, grew up at Cresswell. In 1941 he captured the German submarine U-110, recovering its Enigma machine, code-books and other valuable material.

The capture of U-110 remained a secret for almost 20 years. A detailed description of it can be found in Leonard Leach’s History of Cresswell, available for a little while longer at Appleby’s Bookshop.

Leach’s source, however, was Capt. Stephen Roskill’s The Secret Capture, 1959. Information on Ultra was still classified then so that Capt. Baker-Cresswell’s role in the breaking of the German Naval Enigma codes is referred to only in general terms as “documents and equipment” and “items of technical interest”. The last owner to reside was Capt. Baker-Cresswell’s father. He died in 1921 and the Cresswell estate, including properties in Ellington and Ulgham, was broken up into more than 50 lots and sold in 1924.

Sir Walter Runciman, the shipping magnate, who grew up at Cresswell, considered buying the estate, but withdrew because of the risks from coal mining.

Many of the lots, including Cresswell Home Farm, the coastguard station, the Tower, and the Plough Inn at Ellington, were bought by the Morpeth businessman, Capt. W.S. Sanderson. Other buyers were Mr W. Grey and Mr W.A. Grey junior, both of whom, judging by their names, were also Morpeth business people.

The Hall was bought by Northumberland County Council, but it began to show signs of structural damage and was never put to use. It was then bought by the Ashington Coal Company, whose traffic manager lived there for a time, and was demolished in 1934.

At the same time that Cresswell Hall was being built, a dreadful tragedy was working itself out. This report is from the Newcastle Chronicle of January 10, 1824:

“On Monday last, a Coroner’s inquest was held on the body of Jane Wintrip, of Morpeth, a young woman, who terminated her existence by cutting her throat with a razor, on the Saturday morning; she was not quite dead when her sister found her, but she died in the course of twenty minutes.— Verdict — Insanity.” Two weeks later, someone who did not wish to reveal his name gave a fuller account of what happened:

“To the Editor of the Newcastle Chronicle,

“Sir,—In your paper of the 10th of January you gave an account of an unfortunate young woman of the name of Jane Wintrip, having put a period to her existence by cutting her throat at Morpeth. This certainly, as far as it goes, is perfectly true; but, Sir, there are other circumstances connected with this melancholy affair which, in the opinion of several, ought to be made known to the public, if not as some extenuation of her guilt, at least that her lamentable fate may operate as a warning to others.

“About four years and a half ago, the deceased engaged herself as housekeeper to a farmer residing near Cresswell; but she had not remained long in his service before she became pregnant to her master; and it was generally thought that he would have married her had it not been for the interference of his family. Though, however, they were not married, they continued to live together as man and wife, and a second child was the consequence.

“About a fortnight after her second confinement, her master left home, and remained away for about a fortnight more; at the expiration of which time his father and brother went to the house, and ordered the poor girl to pack up her clothes and all that belonged to her, except her children, and to be gone, giving her at the same time the scanty pittance of 4l., as a compensation for nearly three years’ wages, which were due to her.

“This, Sir, was a trying scene for the mother,— the infant, only a month old, to be torn from her breast, while the older one held by her gown to the last, crying most bitterly to go along with her!

“To finish this ‘sad eventful history’, the old man had previously ordered a cart to be got ready, and having bundled the poor broken-hearted girl into it, he ordered the man to drive her away as far as ever she would go, though it were to London. She was accordingly taken to Morpeth; what has since taken place is known to all, and surely cannot be a matter for much surprise to any person possessed of ordinary feelings.

Morpeth, Jan. 23, 1824,

“I am. Sir, your obedient servant, VERITAS”

The writer is careful not to give away the name of either the farm or the farmer.

The 1821 census does not give names, etc, but Cresswell was at that time a township in the parish of Woodhorn so I looked through the microfilms of the parish registers at Woodhorn Museum. If they had the children baptised, it would have been very obvious who the parties were, but they didn’t.

Interestingly, there was a Jane Wintrip at North Seaton, also in the parish of Woodhorn, who had a little boy in November 1820. But she was the wife of Ralph Wintrip, Husbandman. All that this tells us is that the Jane who did away with herself may have come from the same general area. But who her tormentors were, and what happened to her children, we shall never know.

As for who Veritas was, something about the style of the letter suggests to me that it was the Rev Edward Otter, Rector of Bothal. He was a very good man, fair-minded and noted for his humanity, and is buried on the north side of the church there.

That he might be the author is no more than a feeling, but it is significant that his parish of Bothal ran with that of Woodhorn, and that he had a town house in Morpeth, in Newgate Street, and was deeply involved in local affairs.