Newbiggin, a lovely place to take water

On the beach at Newbiggin in 1891
On the beach at Newbiggin in 1891

Reporting on a Christmas Day tea at Newbiggin put on jointly by the Presbyterian and Wesleyan Sunday Schools, the Morpeth Herald of December 29, 1866, describes Newbiggin as ‘this prosperous township’.

Yet another example of Newbiggin’s prosperity in the 19th century comes in the Morpeth Herald of May 31, 1873.

NEWBIGGIN-BY-THE-SEA.— Visitors are rapidly reaching this fashionable watering place, ... Already the unrivalled beach is growing gay, and little civil engineers are constructing fairy houses, which Old Neptune very unsympathisingly levels at each tidal visit. Among recent visitors we have noticed the Lady Caroline Beresford; Lady Decies ... ; the right hon. the Earl and Countess of Buchan; G.B. Forster, Esq., Mrs Forster, and family, of Backworth House ... (etc.) The new station, a very fine and commodious building, is now open, and will doubtless add much to the comfort of travellers.”

Despite the efforts of the past few years to make Newbiggin into a flourishing seaside resort once again, it’s hard to envisage it as a fashionable watering place.

What changed? Clearly, a lot of things, but one factor is that Newbiggin wasn’t a colliery village then, but a picturesque fishing village. Yet another difference is that, unless they happen to have a caravan there, few people today will take a week’s holiday at Newbiggin. But in the 1860s and 1870s, families commonly stayed for a month or more.

Watering places were not quite the same as the seaside resorts of a later period.

The families that stayed at Newbiggin in Queen Victoria’s reign were mainly prosperous trades and professional people, and they came, nominally at least, to take the waters.

You could do this in a variety of ways. If there was a spring of bitter-tasting water, you could drink it and think it did you good. Or you could bathe in it. Most resorts had bath-houses where you could take your bath either hot or cold.

Sea water was better to bathe in than to drink, however, and the attraction at Newbiggin always seems to have been the change of scene and the excitement of doing things differently from at home.

The Morpeth Herald refers in 1855 and 1858 to the large numbers of people visiting Newbiggin, but gives no details. We get a slightly better idea from the Herald of August 15, 1874, when Dr Reid, the medical officer of the Local Board of Health, reported that ‘though the population must have doubled during the month of July, there had not been a single death reported to him’.

The resident population then was 1,131. So if the doctor was right, the influx of visitors was of the order of 1,000 people.

The season was from May to October. Mother and the children, perhaps with one or two servants, stayed in the village for weeks or even months. One of the advantages of Newbiggin was that, not being too far from Morpeth and Newcastle, fathers could attend to business during the week and still come down for the weekend, and the presence of these families was sufficiently important for the Morpeth Herald to publish a List of Visitors at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea’

A typical list ran to half a column of small print, giving the name of the family, where they came from, and where they were staying. The lists began in 1864 and went on for exactly 20 years. The earliest date of any list was mid-May, and the latest mid-October.

Finding them isn’t always easy, and I may have missed some. But as far as I can tell, if one takes the season to be about 20 weeks, only 1878 had a full set. I found four years with ten or more lists, 14 with at least a few, none in 1881, and none at all after 1883.

Year Earliest list Latest list Lists found

1864 25 June 8 Oct 8

1865 19 Aug N/A 1

1866 18 June 15 Sept 4

1867 25 May 14 Sept 6

1868 20 June 17 Oct 3

1869 3 July 14 Aug 4

1870 11 June 20 Aug 4

1871 8 Aug N/A 1

1872 8 June 31 Aug 2

1873 5 July 30 Aug 6

1874 27 June 12 Sept 9

1875 31 July 11 Sept 7

1876 10 June 16 Sept 15

1877 26 May 15 Sept 16

1878 25 May 12 Oct 20

1879 24 May 20 Sept 14

1880 15 May 11 Sept 15

1881 N/A N/A -

1882 3 June 1 July 5

1883 7 July 14 July 2

August 16, 1873, is a fair example. It was the top of the season and Newbiggin was host to over 50 families or parties of friends. Newcastle accounted for 28, Morpeth six, London four and Gateshead two. Others came from Nunnykirk, Pigdon, Cambo, Felton, Rothbury, Reedwater, Shellacres (Norham), Walker, Wylam, Riding Mill, Stewarton (Ayrshire), Hull, and from somewhere in County Durham.

Some were persons of consequence: “At No. 2, Cresswell Villas, Alfred Allhusen, Esq, Mrs Allhusen and family, of Newcastle. At No. 1, Victoria Terrace, the family of Lord Durham.”

The presence of members of a great aristocratic family speaks for itself. The Allhusens were merchants and industrialists.

The visitors from Morpeth or nearby were: At No. 5 Gibson Street, W. Annandale, Esq, of Morpeth; at No. 6 Wansbeck Square, Mr and Mrs Creighton; at No. 2 Lawson Street, Miss Grey of Pigdon and Miss Vardy of Rothbury; at Sea View Lane, Miss F.J. Ayre; at Mr Dawson’s, Gibson Street, Miss Wanless, Mrs Henderson and family of Saugh House (Cambo), and Miss Brown of Cambo; at Mrs Dodds’, Mrs Wilson and family; at Mr P. Jefferson’s, the Misses and Master Taylor; at Rock Cottage, the family from Hull, and Mr J. Atkinson and the Misses Atkinson; at Bath House, Benjamin Woodman, Esq, Mrs Woodman and family, Mr A. Swinney, Mrs Swinney, and Miss Paulin; at No. 2 Victoria Terrace, Samuel Donkin, Esq, of Felton; and at 5 Wansbeck Square, Mr Robert Crake, of Morpeth.

Unless otherwise stated, all of these visitors were ‘of Morpeth.’

I can identify a few of them. Samuel Donkin was a well-known farmer and auctioneer. Benjamin Woodman was the Town Clerk, and the Swinneys were foundrymen and engineers. It looks as if we have here two families, one with a friend, all sharing a house for the season.

The clergy were always well represented. During this week there were the Rev and Mrs Freeth, the Rev James Stewart, of Hawick, N.B. – North Britain, meaning Scotland, and at No. 4 Wansbeck Square, ‘the Rev. G.M. Colledge, Mrs Colledge and family, of Stewarton, Ayr’.

George Colledge was a Methodist minister, staying with his mother, brother and sisters, who lived at Newbiggin. Two years later he emigrated to Australia, to be followed by two brothers and one sister, where they took leading parts in the commercial, social and scientific life of Brisbane in Queensland.