Comparing hotels and lodging houses

In the early 19th century Morpeth was a staging post on the Great North Road. Warkworth, by comparison, was of little importance.

By Roger Hawkins
Saturday, 25 May, 2019, 15:01

Under the heading Hotels, Inns and Taverns, Parson and White’s Directory for 1827 lists 34 establishments in Morpeth, of which five were inns. The Queen's Head took precedence, being both an inn and a posting house.

The other four — the Phoenix, Black Bull, King's Arms and New Phoenix — were all in either Bridge Street or the Market Place.

The sheer number of the remainder suggests that most of them were places of refreshment only, but some did also offer accommodation of a modest kind.

Until the coming of the railway in 1847, there was a huge weekly market for fat cattle. Many years ago, at Morpeth Antiquarian Society, Alec Tweddle told us that the drovers, if they had to stay overnight, would bed down on a “donkey’s breakfast”, which I assume was a palliasse filled with straw.

We get another glimpse of the accommodation on offer in The Autobiography Of A Beggar Boy, by James Dawson Burn (c.1806-1889). He was then a hatter’s apprentice in Hexham.

“In the early part of the year 1827 I had occasion to go to Morpeth upon business, and while there ... I put up at a small public house.

“I had for a bedfellow a little Scotchman, who was then carrying on business as a draper in Bamborough.

"On the Saturday night I could hardly get any rest for the loquaciousness of this person; but on the Sunday evening we had a rather warm discussion upon a religious subject. The man was full of strong prejudices, and altogether evinced an unmanly and contracted disposition.

“Having to rise early in the morning, I bade him farewell, but such was the vindictive character of the creature that he took no notice of me.”

Although the sequel has no bearing on our subject, it is too dramatic to miss out.

“I had not long been in Edinburgh when there was a most brutal murder committed in Haddington.

"The murderer suffered the extreme penalty of the law while I remained in Edinburgh. When (he) came out on the drop, what was my astonishment at recognising, in the condemned felon, my Morpeth bed-fellow!”

Warkworth at that time had exactly one inn, the Sun, and five public houses — the Hermitage, the Jolly Sailor, Mason’s Arms, Queen’s Head and White Swan.

Pigot’s Directory, 1828-29, describes it as: “A small market-town...The salmon fishery here is very extensive; and salt is made here from the sea water... The principal object of attraction... is the hermitage... and is much resorted to by strangers.”

The Hermit Of Warkworth, by Thomas Percy, 1771, was an early poem of the Romantic movement.

The first verse gives the flavour: “Dark was the night, and wild the storm/And loud the torrent’s roar; And loud the sea was heard to dash/Against the distant shore.”

It was hugely popular, and brought members of the reading public to Warkworth to see the real thing. At that time, of course, the only visitors were the rich.

The railway created a new industry in the village. From being a declining market town, it became a popular tourist destination.

Kelly’s Directory for 1894 says: “Warkworth is a township... with a station on the main line of the North Eastern railway... the village contains some good modern houses and in the summer months is a place of great resort.”

Kelly lists two hotels, the Hermitage and the Sun, two pubs, the Black Bull and the Masons’ Arms, and 19 places described as “lodging houses” or offering furnished apartments.

Morpeth now has only one hotel, the Waterford Lodge, though there are several guest houses and B&Bs.

In Warkworth, by contrast, the hotel trade is flourishing. We have stayed in several — all old, but fully modernised and en-suite — and enjoyed meals in others.

The Sun Hotel is right opposite the castle. The main building is 1825, but there is an 18th century wing behind.

The Hermitage Inn is of the early 18th century. With its sash windows, inn signs and carriage arch, it very much looks the part.

Warkworth House Hotel was a private house, built in 1822 by a John Forster, a native of Warkworth who made his fortune in the brewery trade in London. He brought the staircase, with its wrought iron balusters, from Brandenburgh House, once the home of Queen Caroline, the estranged wife of George IV. The ceiling above is very beautiful, in the Adam style.

The main bedrooms were designed with bed alcoves. In former times, a state bedroom was to some extent a public place so putting your four-poster bed in an alcove was both more private and minimised the draughts.

Bed alcoves were old-fashioned by 1822, but Sir Charles Monck had them at Belsay Hall only five years earlier so Mr Forster was in good company.

Bertram’s, now a cafe and B&B, was once the Black Bull. Outside, it looks early 19th century, but the fireplace, with its wooden beam supporting the chimney above, looks a lot older.