Discovery leads to big anniversary celebrations for Chamber of Trade

A demonstration against a car parking charges proposal from the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade archives.
A demonstration against a car parking charges proposal from the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade archives.

A business group is looking back and forward this year.

After searching through the archives and newspaper reports, Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has discovered a reference to a chamber of commerce in the town meeting on November 7, 1868, at the Black Bull.

The front page of an edition of The Morpeth Rant.

The front page of an edition of The Morpeth Rant.

Therefore, it is celebrating the 150th anniversary to highlight what the group has done over the years, what it currently offers and potentially provide a legacy project.

And with a new chairman and vice chairman, Ken Brown and Sarah Sabin, elected by members earlier this year, work is also on-going in relation to the future with marketing initiatives and potential new events being discussed.

As well as representing businesses in Morpeth and campaigning on a number of issues, the chamber has supported town events and initiatives over the years – including Northumbria and Britain in Bloom entries and the Christmas Lights display.

It also organises a golf day fund-raiser and Morpeth Fair Day that attracts thousands of local residents and visitors from across the UK and abroad.

A picture from the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade archives.

A picture from the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade archives.

Ken said: “Earlier this year, we started talking about looking back to the origins of the chamber so we could make anniversary arrangements.

“We were thinking it would be about 50 or 60 years, but we were surprised to find out that there was a reference 150 years ago.

“It was fascinating to look at old documents and reports and mentions in the Morpeth Herald over the years, which gave an insight into how the chamber operated in different time periods.

“But it’s funny how the same issues, such as car parking regulations and out-of-town developments, kept cropping up.

“It’s nice to see how the chamber has developed, but we’re not just looking at the past.

“We’re looking to do some new things that will benefit both the chamber and all traders in the town.”

For a period of time from the 1960s, the chamber produced various editions of The Morpeth Rant – a free publication for the people of the town and district.

It included news, events and discussed key issues and asked for views on developments and how public money for Morpeth should be spent.

Those who have been members for a number of years, including Ken Stait, Geoff Proudlock, George Williams, John Beynon and Charles Robinson, have put the chamber’s case to local politicians and major companies at meetings and events.

Two major campaigning issues over the last 20 years have been removing parking charges and stopping potential edge-of-town supermarkets and retail developments.

George said: “With parking charges, what worked for us when Northumberland County Council became a unitary authority was pitching the political parties against each other.

“The Labour and Conservative groups were both in opposition at the time and we helped to convince them that it would benefit the local economy if free parking was introduced. They also didn’t want to lose out to each other.

“When Labour became the biggest party in 2013, this meant there was free parking in Morpeth – and Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham – the following year.

“With the big out-of-town retail schemes in Stobhill and Loansdean, we led positive campaigns and many members of the public supported our points.

“They shared our concerns that the local traders would suffer the most and they added their objections because they know the importance of independent traders to Morpeth.”

A year of celebrations for the 150th anniversary kicked-off with a dinner at Morpeth Golf Club in March.

Sarah said: “We’re looking to recreate the first chamber meeting in November and a commemorative book is being worked on.

“Members are also discussing a potential legacy project that would be visible in the town.

“Ideas so far include a drinking water fountain and a bandstand in the Market Place. We would like residents to give their thoughts on these and put forward other suggestions if they wish by email – info@morpethchamberoftrade.com”

As well as the meeting in 1868, information from the early days of the chamber includes the following.

‘In 1873, in the House of Commons, Mr Ridley presented petitions from the Morpeth Chamber of Commerce in favour of the local collection of agricultural statistics, a more correct system of striking corn averages, and a uniform scale of weights and measures.

‘In October 1903, the Chamber of Commerce was reformed as the Morpeth Tradesmen’s Association.

‘At the third Annual Dinner in 1906 at the Earl Grey Hotel, the Association supported complaints that police were over zealous in moving on horses and carts of traders and not allowing them to stand in Bridge Street.

‘In June 1943, there was a change of name from Morpeth Tradesmen’s Association back to the Morpeth Chamber of Commerce in the hope that it might appeal more to traders to support their work.

‘The annual meeting in 1949 was held at the George & Dragon and heard that new parking regulations to restrict parking of vehicles in main thoroughfares had turned a once busy town into something that now looks like one smitten with the plague.

‘In August 1954, Sanderson Arcade was opened and widely hailed as the Best in the North.’