Cresswell, ‘The spring where water-cress grows’, is first recorded in 1234 as ‘Kereswell’.
The spring in question is probably represented now by the pant made with two vertical slabs of stone that comes out of a field wall below Cresswell Tower.
Leonard Leach, in The History of Cresswell, Ellington, Linton, Lynemouth and Woodhorn, p.7, says that this was the main source of water in village until 1935.
As regards prehistory, he mentions some worked flints found between Cresswell and Newbiggin, and a cist and its associated cairn found at Low Hauxley in 1983.
But apart from these and a few other widely scattered discoveries, he concludes that: ‘There is scant evidence of early habitation in the area, but no doubt more will be found in the future.’
Cresswell’s earliest recorded history is purely about the landowning class.
The Cresswell family is first mentioned in 1191, just over 100 years after the Conquest, but at various times the names of Widdrington, Radcliff and Fenwick also appear as landowners in Cresswell.
Cresswell Tower is of the 14th or 15th Century.
Even when he was fairly sure of becoming King of England, James VI of Scotland countenanced his border chieftains in harassing the English so until well into the 17th Century the tower was the lord of the manor’s family home, albeit with a house and chapel attached.
By 1749, things were sufficiently peaceful for William Cresswell to build a new Manor House adjacent to the Tower, much like the one at Belsay.
Nothing is left of it now but a doorway in the estate wall. Even the magnificent Cresswell Hall, built in the 1820s, survives only as a stable block and a sweeping colonnade in the Roman Doric style, originally a covered walk-way.
Cresswell was for long part of the large parish of Woodhorn, itself the remains of the even bigger parochia of an Anglo-Saxon minster.
Woodhorn’s parish registers are held at Woodhorn Museum, with a copy at Newcastle City Library.
In the earliest register, burials, baptisms and marriages follow each other as they happened. These books were expensive to buy, which led the old parish clerks to fill every inch of space, even going back over to use up blank leaves. As a result, whole runs of entries are out of order.
It was only later that separate registers, pre-printed in tabular form, brought about a higher standard of record-keeping.
Despite this, there is a fascination in these old registers. They are the stuff of ordinary people’s history.
A casual examination shows that most of the inhabitants belonged to the fishing community. A few were farmers or farm labourers, but, rather surprisingly, I found no domestic servants.
Here are some of the earliest entries:
20 August 1605, buried, Thomas, son to William Brown of Cresswell.
26 December 1605, buried, Alexander Moore of Cresswell.
30 November 1606, married, John Gibson et Dorothy Bishop of Cresswell.
30 November 1606, baptised, Alice, daughter of Walter Lambert, Cresswell.
12 December 1606, baptised, Agnet Puddy, daughter of Lancelot Puddy, Cresswell.
19 March 1606/7, baptised, Robert, son to Robert Humphrey off Cresswell.
8 August 1610, baptised John, son to Thomas Humphrey, Cresswell.
25 March 1611, buried, William Browne off Cresswell.
We don’t know the occupations of William Brown, or Browne, or the Humphreys, but in 1663 (Leach, p.3) one William Brown and the Widow Humphry owned land in the village, and in the 19th Century the Browns were one of the great fishing families of Cresswell.
The date 1606/7 is actually written only as 1606. Until 1752, the civil year began on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, aka Lady Day. Expressing dates between January 1 and March 24 as 1606/7, etc., makes everything clear.
Notice the clerk’s little bit of Latin – et – in the marriage entry.
Here are some marriages from about 150 years later. In all these cases, the parties were ‘both of Cresswell’:
9 October 1752, Robert Mills & Ann Railston.
10 June 1753, Charles Robison & Eleanor Graham.
2 August 1753, Thomas Armstrong & Isabel Arkle.
19 September 1753, William Armstrong & Alice Armstrong.
17 August 1756, John Hogg & Elizabeth Olliver.
9 September 1756, John Armstrong & Ann Smith.
16 November 1756, Robert Pearson & Ann Wilkinson.
31 June 1757, Zacharias Scrafton & Ann Taylor.
8 July 1758, James Pearson & Isabel Armstrong.
The Armstrongs were another great fishing family, though clearly there were plenty of other surnames in the village as well.
The standard of record keeping had improved greatly by the early 19th Century. In recording baptisms, the clerk – or perhaps the vicar – almost always gives the mother’s home parish, notes the child’s position in the family, and includes, where applicable, the vital words ‘by his wife’:
William Brown, born 25 November 1805, 8th son of Thomas Brown of Cresswell, Fisher, by his wife Alice Addison, native of Haxley (sic.)
Mary Brown, born 27 December 1805, 4th daughter of Henry Brown of Cresswell, Fisher, by his wife Elizabeth Wilson, native of Felton.
Thomas Willis, b. 2 June 1806, 3rd s. of John Willis of Blakemoor, Hind, bhw Dorothy Wright, native of North Seaton.
Eleanor & Mary Thompson, twins, b. 8 April 1806, 1st & 2nd d. of John Thompson, Farmer, Cresswell, bhw Eleanor Hindhaugh of Hartburn parish.
Ann Brown, b. 12 Oct. 1807, 3rd daughter of Thomas Brown of Cresswell, Fisher, bhw Alice Addison of Hauxley.
Isabel & Elizabeth Lawson (twins), b. 30 Sept. 1808, 2nd & 3rd d. of John Lawson of Cresswell, Farmer, bhw Margaret Swan, Hole the Hill.
Henry Brown, b. 29 Dec. 1808, s. of Thomas Brown of Cresswell, Fisher, bhw Margaret Rushead of Spittle.
Henry Brown, b. 22 April 1809, 11th s. of Henry Brown, Cresswell, Fisher, bhw Elizabeth Wilson of Felton.
Ann Scott, b. 12 May 1809, 1st d. of William Scott of Cullercoats, Carpenter, by Mary Smith of Cresswell.
Margaret Brown, b. 22 July 1809, 3rd d. of Thomas Brown, Fisherman, of Cresswell, bhw Alice Addison of Hauxley, parish of Warkworth.
Ann Thompson, b. 23 January 1810, 2nd d. of Samuel Thompson of Blakemoor, Husbandman, bhw Isabel Foresith of Middleton.
William Neal, b. 31 August 1810, 1st s. of James Neal of Cresswell, Seaman, by Alice Dent of Cresswell, a bastard.
Dinah Mills, b. 22 December 1810: 3rd d. of James Mills of Cresswell, Fisher, bhw Dinah Thompson of Cresswell.
Margaret Lawson, b. 23 June 1811, 5th d. of John Lawson of Cresswell, Husbandman, bhw Margaret Swan of Hole the Hill.
Mary Brown, born 7 August 1811, 4th d. of Thomas Brown of Cresswell, Fisherman, bhw Alice Addison, of Hauxley, parish of Warkworth.
William Swinhoe, b. 18 April 1812, 2nd s. of Thomas Swinhoe of Cresswell, Hind, bhw Easter Reed, native of Rennington.
Elizabeth Brown, b. 24 June 1812, 1st d. of Thomas Brown, Jun., Fisher, of Cresswell, bhw Margaret Ruffoot, native of Spittle.
Local history books: Leonard Leach’s History of Cresswell is available at Appleby’s Bookshop, also Wilson’s Handbook to Morpeth and Janet Brown’s Ulgham. But don’t delay, it won’t be there much longer.