Pies and an elephant hunt help bring history to life

Morpeth Heritage Open Days event-Ken Stait of Stait Photography at Newgate Street gets into the spirit of the event showing old pictures of Morpeth in his shop.
Morpeth Heritage Open Days event-Ken Stait of Stait Photography at Newgate Street gets into the spirit of the event showing old pictures of Morpeth in his shop.

HISTORY came bursting to life in Morpeth as thousands enjoyed the attractions of Heritage Open Days.

The national scheme sees events take place across the country to celebrate its heritage, history and culture, with many hidden architectural gems opening their doors to the public.

In Northumberland more than 100 events took place, with buildings of all ages, styles and functions inviting people to take a peek at their treasures over four days from Thursday, September 8.

And Morpeth was no exception, where more than 3,000 visitors and locals joined in a host of activities co-ordinated by the Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT).

There were tours of the Clock Tower, Collingwood House, Morpeth Castle and the Town Hall’s civic rooms, exhibitions in Morpeth Chantry, and a variety of walks and talks, many of which were fully booked.

Businesses in Newgate Street were keen to play their part in the celebration, including the Morpeth Herald, and many set up window displays, showing old photographs or items that would have been sold in their shops in times gone by.

Wendy Smith and her staff at Cafe des Amis gave customers a taste of the past, with Edwardian and Victorian teas, kitchen garden cake, scones and spinach soup, as well as ‘trench’ fruit cake that was baked by wives and mothers to send to soldiers fighting on the front line in the First and Second World Wars.

R Martin’s butchers also made special heritage pies.

The event was supported by Morpeth Antiquarian Society, which provided old photographs and information about many of the shops, and the donations given by businesses in return for the material will pay a month’s rent for the society at its temporary storage base in Newbiggin.

Susan Bellamy, who runs Stripes fashion store and was involved in organising the Newgate Street initiative, was delighted at the interest it attracted.

“It was really good and there was so much enthusiasm from people,” she said.

“It was like going down memory lane for a lot of the older people and they were really interested in the displays. It brought quite a few people up the street. It was really successful and it was good to see the traders coming together to get involved.

“It is something we really want to do again and hopefully it will be even bigger and better next year.”

One of the other highlights of the event was The Sanger’s Circus Trail, led by pupils from St Robert’s RC First School, which took participants back to 1861 when an elephant went on the run in the town after killing its trainer.

Bemused shop assistants and passers-by were asked if they had seen the beast and a trail of destruction could be found giving clues to its whereabouts.

For an international cultural celebration, Morpeth Library hosted a fun-filled session of the SNAP (Sharing (K)nowledge and Pleasure) group, attended by Mayor Phil Taylor.

People could learn songs, dances and games from around the world, as well as try some international food and drink.

GMDT board member Kim Bibby-Wilson said: “The four-day programme of events excellently arranged and co-ordinated by our Heritage Officer Tamsin Lilley was a great success.

“There was a lot of interest, for example, in the heritage of Newgate Street, with some of the businesses trading there putting on their own displays to evoke days gone by.

“Morpeth Antiquarian Society volunteers also provided old photographs and information, which not only attracted great attention from shoppers, but helped raise funds towards the cost of housing the Antiquarian museum in its temporary storage at Newbiggin.

“The researchers looked at old trade directories and census returns to compile chronologies for the shops and pubs and discovered for instance that there had been two different tripe sellers in Newgate Street at one time.

“The Sanger’s Circus Trail involving the search for a missing elephant also caused quite a stir as people came across the trail of destruction along Morpeth’s main streets and yards, with an empty shop temporarily turned into a bread shop whose door had been battered down by the rampaging beast.

“The final event of the four days was a film featuring extracts from the archives of local photographer Tom Temple, while the walk around the curious yards and alleyways featured in Bridget Gubbins’ book was so popular that an extra date will need to be arranged to cater for those people who could not be fitted in during the Heritage Open Days.”

Northumberland County Council and The Woodhorn Trust co-ordinated the wider county programme of events, helped by volunteers and community groups.

Council Executive Member of Customer Services and Culture Neil Bradbury said: “The interest in Heritage Open Days grows every year.

“Once again, there’s been so much to do and see, with buildings of every type imaginable opening up to let the public take a look at some of the county’s hidden architectural treasures, while all the tours, events and activities brought local history and culture to life. I want to thank all the volunteers who worked to make the events such a success.”