Labour of love reaches the end of the road

THE final instalment of a popular Morpeth history guide is in the shops, bringing a mammoth seven-year project to an end.

The Town Trail for Morpethians series was first compiled by teacher Alec Tweddle to provide a street-by-street walking guide to the area, its history, buildings and well-known characters.

But the original work by the King Edward VI School Deputy Head sold out as soon as it was printed in the 1980s, and when the Friends of Carlisle Park began researching the history of the local woodlands, they found that the only public copies of the trails still available were in Morpeth Library.

The discovery prompted pals Alan Davison and Brian Harle to embark on a project to re-publish the ten guides, complete with their original maps and pictures, as well as updated information and images.

However, the envisaged ‘quick’ re-write turned into months and years as the pair found more and more information during their research.

But finally, seven years after starting their studies and four after the first re-visited trail was published, the historians have proudly seen Town Trail No. 10 hit the shops.

Mr Davison said: “It is a great relief to come to the end. We were totally naive when we started because we thought we could do it in no time at all.

“It has been hard work, but it has also been very enjoyable because of the people we have met along the way.

“They have told us fascinating stories about their experiences and they have led amazing lives. Talking to people like that is wonderful.”

The final trail covers Morpeth Common, Loansdean Hill, Whalton Road, High House Road, Abbey Mills, Newminster Abbey, Abbeyfields School and Storey Park, but to many the highlight will be the new material on the ‘Crash Camp’.

The camp was initially used by the military, but after the Second World War it provided accommodation for re-settled Polish families and was a thriving community.

Among the stories featured from former residents is that of Piotr Sulek, who as a Polish army cadet was sent to labour camps in Siberia during the Soviet occupation of his country.

He escaped and joined the 7th Polish Horse Artillery in Tashkent.

After travelling through several countries he fought at Monte Cassino and was in Italy until 1946, before resettling in Morpeth, where he met and married Julia Raczylo, who had also survived deportation to Siberia.

“This is the highlight of Town Trail 10. We have put in new illustrations and talked to people who lived there,” said Mr Davison.

“It is trying to make people aware of the fact that there was a large village there, with more than 300 people.

“It was a camp for hundreds or thousands of soldiers moving through and then the council wanted to convert it for temporary housing for residents, but it couldn’t do that so when there was a need to re-settle Polish people they came to the camp and settled with their families.

“There are some amazing stories in there, but if you go to the area now there is nothing to see.

“You wouldn’t think there were 300 people there at one time, with a Saturday school, Scout and Guide groups, and a concert room.”

However, regular readers of the trails may not be surprised to learn of the changes that have taken place as it has been a common feature of all of the guides.

“We are finding there is a solid group of people who are interested and know about the Town Trails, but there are people in the town who haven’t heard of them and they are amazed when they see them,” said Mr Davison.

“There is a lot of people who have come to the area recently and wouldn’t have a clue about the Crash Camp. People know about the Town Hall and the Clocktower, but they don’t know about these other things.

“In Town Trail 8 we had aerial photographs so people could see how the area has changed over the years. It was a completely different area and people over the age of 65 probably know that, but younger people wouldn’t.”

He added: “The idea that Morpeth was a quiet, country town just isn’t true.

“It was an industrial town with various mills, the tannery, which was an enormous part of industry, and market gardening, which was huge.

“Swinney’s came in and employed about 200 people so it was a big business.

“Morpeth was not like a Jane Austen village, it was a thriving industrial town, with quite a mixture of businesses. You just have to know where to look.”

Fans of the trails may be disappointed that they have come to a close, but there are other projects in the pipeline that could help to fill the void.

Mr Harle and Mr Davison will pen a new feature for the Morpeth Herald, looking back at the newspaper archives, and they plan to catalogue their research on disc.

Meanwhile, Mr Davison is collaborating on a book about the history of Morpeth’s market gardeners, and is also researching some of its pioneering sons, such as engineer John Rastrick Senior, Britain’s biggest fertiliser manufacturer Samson Langdale and vet George Heatley, who corresponded with Louis Pasteur about his work on rabies and published several books in his own right.

Town Trail No. 10 is available from Morpeth Chantry, Appleby’s and Mackays, priced £5.95.