Morpeth life and times of Lord Collingwood

L-R is Captain Ray Nelson, Captain Stephen Healy, President Jim Dunn and Rotary Secretary John Pringle.
L-R is Captain Ray Nelson, Captain Stephen Healy, President Jim Dunn and Rotary Secretary John Pringle.

Morpeth Rotary Club

At a recent meeting, guest speaker Captain Stephen Healy, Deputy Master of Trinity House in Newcastle and President of the Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood Association, gave a talk to members about the admiral and his links with Morpeth.

His full title was Baron Collingwood of Caldburne and Hethpool in Northumberland, but his title died with him as a request to pass it on through his daughters was refused.

He was in the Royal Navy for 50 years and only spent seven years in total on shore during that time.

Collingwood held property in Morpeth from 1792 up to his death in 1810.

At that time, the town had a population of 2,951 compared to 3,400 in Hexham and 4,300 in Alnwick, whilst Newcastle had 28,000.

There were 400 houses in Morpeth with accommodation for 800 families. It had two MPs, a new English Free School and an important weekly cattle market.

His property was next to a chain bridge over the river, which collapsed in 1830, and close to the stepping stones. The Clock Tower was in the same street and was used as a jail until 1802. They would have heard the 8pm curfew bell every evening.

Most of the land to the south was undeveloped so he would have had excellent views.

The stage coach to London and Edinburgh began in 1758 – with the journey between the two capitals taking 10 days in summer and 12 days in winter. The faster mail coach started in 1784.

Various inns in Morpeth were contracted to the different coaching companies. They included the Waterford Lodge, the Black Bull and the Queen’s Head. It was quicker to travel by coastal ship from the Thames to the Tyne.

News took three or four days to arrive from London. It would have taken the Collingwoods three to four hours to travel to society events in Newcastle.

He had been in the West Indies from 1783 to 1786 as Captain of the HMS Mediator. Then came his longest period ashore, from 1786 to 1790, when he was based at Newcastle.

Collingwood married Sarah Blackett, daughter of the Mayor of Newcastle. They had just been married a couple of years when they took the house in Morpeth.

In 1799, during his second period ashore in Northumberland, he was made Rear Admiral of the White.

At home, he spent a lot of time out in the garden making improvements, planning a summer house, clearing the view to the river and planting trees. He established what he called his ‘quarterdeck walk’.

A brother admiral called to see him and found him in the garden at the bottom of a deep trench with the gardener.

In one of his letters, he draws parallels between his contentment and Diocletian, who was the only Roman Emperor to retire and spent happy hours in his garden and vegetable patch.

In letters home he would ask about the three oaks he planted and the poplars. It was clear that his heart was always at home in Morpeth.

In 1801, Collingwood was with HMS Barfleur at Plymouth when his wife arranged to travel to see him, a journey of about two weeks. However, he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red and was ordered to sea.

He was delayed because he had to take part in a court marshal and was with Nelson at the Fountain Inn when his wife and eldest daughter arrived, although he still had to sail at dawn on the next day for the West Indies.

At Trafalgar in 1805, on HMS Royal Sovereign, his ship was the first to engage the enemy. It eventually took on five vessels.

He was also in command there at the end, following the death of Nelson.

He asked several times to return home, but he was very good at his job and the Admiralty kept him at work. At long last, when he was ill, Collingwood was given permission to return.

He was three days outward bound for England when he died of stomach cancer at the age of 61.

It was not until 1906, the year after the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, when a plaque was put up on his old house in Morpeth. Just a few years later, the landowner had his three oak trees cut down.

In 1850, the Roman Catholic Church built on some of the land. Now, much of what was his garden is soon to be covered by the Morpeth flood defences.

A few years ago, three oaks from Corbridge were planted at the Collingwood Garden at Isla del Rey in Menorca, near to Collingwood’s last posting. The Spanish authorities tried to have them taken out as being non-native species, but the locals rallied around and they are still in place.

The sculptor who made a bust of Collingwood for Menorca was asked to keep the mould until money could be raised to pay for a second one in Morpeth. This was achieved and the bust was unveiled in Morpeth Town Hall in 2013.

A few years ago, a grand portrait of Collingwood was commissioned from Taiwan by Longhirst Hall and put up in its Collingwood bar.

He was an honorary member of Trinity House, Newcastle. He is the only person to have been admitted without ever being in the house, which acts as headquarters for the Collingwood Society.

Captain Healy was thanked by Morpeth Rotary member Captain Ray Nelson, who is Master of Trinity House, Newcastle.