Celebrating the life of naval hero Lord Collingwood

FINAL preparations are under way to celebrate the life of Morpeth's naval hero — and the town he called home will not miss out on the tributes.

Tyneside-born Cuthbert Collingwood became the hero of Trafalgar after taking control when his friend Nelson was fatally wounded.

For the sake of the nation, he was persuaded to remain as Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy, but he was always eager to return to his Morpeth home in Oldgate.

Now his naval achievements are finding regional recognition in the year-long Collingwood Festival.

And next week the festivities will get into full swing to mark the 200th anniversary of Collingwood's death on Sunday, March 7.

Morpeth will play a key part in the celebrations, hosting various activities supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT) Heritage Officer Tamsin Lilley, who has helped to organise the events, said: "We are delighted to be celebrating Collingwood's life and strong connection to Northumberland.

"Despite only spending a short time in Morpeth, Collingwood was clearly devoted to the town and was truly at peace only when here.

"Collingwood has for many years been seen as Nelson's number two at the Battle of Trafalgar so the Collingwood 2010 Festival is an opportunity to highlight and celebrate Collingwood's many achievements and to bring him out from Nelson's shadow."

The Morpeth programme kicks off on Friday, March 5, when the 1805 Club, which cares for the memorials of the Georgian sailing navy, visits Collingwood House in Oldgate and is treated to a reception in the Mayor's Parlour.

Year 3 pupils from St Robert's First School will welcome the group, performing dances relating to the sea.

Later, the Town Hall Ballroom will host a specially-themed Northumbrian Concert, which is almost sold-out.

The annual music and dance evening, which also acts as a fundraiser for the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering in April, will include sea songs by Voicemale Choir, a guest puppet appearance by the Admiral's dog Bounce and the sailor's hornpipe, performed by a member of the Lisa Marie School of Highland Dance.

Alistair Anderson will play the small pipes and concertina — while the latter was invented after Collingwood's time, it is known that he had bellows-blown Northumbrian pipes on board his ships.

Also appearing will be Anita James and Ernie Gordon and local band the Border Directors, who will perform songs such as 'Coaly Tyne', which makes mention of Lord Collingwood.

The Clock Tower Cloggies will dance a Drunken Sailor Waltz and the Ashington Sea Cadets will help to steward the event.

It is hoped to display a replica of Lord Collingwood's waistcoat, along with carvings depicting scenes of his life, which were created in 2005 by the Kirkley Woodcarvers.

Organiser Kim Bibby-Wilson said: "It is very pleasing to be able to link in with the Tyneside Collingwood celebrations that are going on that same weekend.

"Obviously the main national thrust of the 2005 Trafalgar anniversary celebrations was Lord Nelson and we were flying the flag for Collingwood here, but this time he takes centre stage.

"During the concert there will be some quotes read out from his letters in which he talks about wherever he was abroad, he regarded Morpeth as home and he was only truly happy here."

On Saturday, March 6, Sedayne will tell stories of the sea in a free session at Morpeth Town Hall, from 10am to 1pm, and the venue will show the film Master and Commander at 2pm.

Other events later in the year include 'a walk in Collingwood's footsteps' at the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering and Phil Taylor making an appearance as the Admiral.

An exhibition will be staged by the Morpeth Antiquarian Society in June and there is the possibility of Collingwood artefacts currently on show at the Discovery Museum coming to Morpeth Chantry in the summer.

There are also plans for a talk by Max Adams on Collingwood After Trafalgar in September and tours of Collingwood House, to be confirmed.

The regional Collingwood Festival began in January with the opening of Collingwood — A Northumbrian Abroad exhibition at the Discovery Museum.

The display, which runs until June 27, features objects, paintings and extracts from Collingwood's letters, exploring his long naval career away from home, as well as his lifelong love of Morpeth and his family and friends.

There will be a civic dinner in Newcastle, hosted by the Lord Mayor, on Saturday, March 6.

And the following day will see a memorial service at St Nicholas Cathedral, a military parade through the city and a commemorative event at the Collingwood Monument in Tynemouth, including salutes and the firing of the Royal Sovereign cannon.

The festival will also link with the Tall Ships Race and a commemorative event in Menorca, as well as offer a packed programme of lectures at various venues across the region.

Festival Committee Chairman Captain Stephen Healy said: "Anyone who has sailed in or out of the River Tyne, or visited the coast at Tynemouth or South Shields, is aware of the Collingwood Monument and every Geordie knows Collingwood Street in Newcastle.

"Few, however know much about the man for whom they are named and who in the years immediately following his death was clearly held in very high regard.

"The festival is intended to raise Collingwood's profile, making adults and children alike aware of the achievements of this true local hero and his place in the nation's history."

The Northumbrian Concert takes place at Morpeth Town Hall on Friday, March 5.

Tickets cost 8, 6.50 conc, and are available from Morpeth Chantry TIC on 01670 500700.