Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Landholders of Cowpen Farms



Click to access full size interactive map of Cowpen Township


On 15th November 1619 the major freeholders of Cowpen gathered at nearby Horton Church to sign an agreement between themselves. It was an historic meeting with major implications for the future of the township.

Sir Ralph Delaval knight, Robert Widdrington esq, Lewis Widdrington gent, Tristram Fenwick gent, Martin Fenwick gent, John Preston, Cuthbert Watson, William Story and Robert Smith yeomen agreed to divide the common lands between themselves and create individual farms. They voted to appoint William Matthew, a surveyor of Newcastle, to "survey all the lands in Cowpen aforementioned and to allot and set forth every man's part according to the purport and quantity of his freehold". A number of the major landholders of the district were also present to witness the signing of the document and to settle disputes and act as commissioners, including Sir Thomas Riddle, Roger Witherington esq, Mark Errington esq, Thomas Ogle esq and Oliver Killingworth gent.

The partition took place on the 1st of March of the following year.

The lands of Cowpen had been farmed in common since at least the 13th century. This had been the usual method of farming in this district imposed upon the population after the Norman conquest. But this was a particularly archaic form of common, open-field farming called a run-rig system whereby the strips of land allocated to each tenant were scattered throughout the large, unenclosed, open fields. Unlike most areas farmed in common where the fields were more planned, some being periodically left to lie fallow and divided into arable and pasture areas, in the fields of Cowpen there was no distinction between arable and grass lands. Freeholders lands were mixed with those of the customary tenants. There was, however, some mention of individual tenements, or closes, having being formed in a piecemeal way by this date. Malvin's Close is the obvious example.

There had been initiatives shown by investors in coal mining in the area. These would be small-scale operations consisting of bell pits sunk to a depth of only 15-20 feet below ground, but even so, the shifting nature of landholding under the run-rig system was not conducive to colliery enterprise.

The Delavals had also by now acquired over half of the township, although they had held a substantial portion since the 13th century, but now wanted to improve and consolidate their holding.

The time was ripe to split the land into individual farms and enclose the fields with fences and hedges. This was a common practice throughout the country between the 17th and 19th centuries and it was perhaps the most important development to happen in any area. Smaller landholders were often unable to afford to enclose their land and would sell up. Tenants without security of tenure were often evicted to be replaced by labourers or the holding would be turned over to sheep farming.

The farms created in Cowpen were the ones which survived, more or less, until the 20th century. A small amount of exchange and consolidating of holdings took place, especially to create High House Farm and South Farm was created out of the undeveloped South Moor, so the exact dates aren't as yet known. The division was as follows:

North Farm and South Farm

1619: allotted to Sir Ralph Delaval 394 acres of pasture and arable and 72 acres meadow in the East Division of Cowpen Township. This was made up from:
11 acres meadow at the Garth End, 60 acres arable in the East Field, 55 acres arable in Coupwell Close, Malvin's Close  66 acres, Cocklawe  80 acres, the East Close 104 acres, Long Weedes Close 188 acres, 104 acres arable and meadow in the South Moor.

1623: A windmill and land was purchased on behalf of Alice Delaval at the far end of Cowpen Township in the High House Farm area. Originally part of the Prior of Tynemouth's lands it had been granted to Braddock and Kingscote by the Crown. The windmill had been erected in 1598. This was owned by the descendants until 1865. A right of common on a small piece of land at Darewell Burn was also acquired.

1624:  Sir Ralph granted the lands to his brother Thomas Delaval of Hetton-le-Hole to be bequeathed to the heirs of Thomas.

1629: Another brother of Sir Ralph, Robert Delaval, also held lands here from 1619 although not mentioned by name in the allotment document. He resided at Cowpen in a hall opposite where the Windmill Pub Grocery Shop and Greggs now stands. He died in this year leaving the property to his wife and on her death his daughters who continued to reside at Cowpen. The eldest daughter, Mary, married Sir John Mitford of Seghill. On his death she married Colonel Edward Grey, who was labelled a traitor during the English Civil War. He came to reside at Cowpen after the war ended. She died childless in 1649.

1650; The second daughter of Robert Delaval, Elizabeth, became the heir to the estate on the death of her sister. The lands were conveyed to her husband Sir Francis Bowes of Thornton and merchant adventurer of Newcastle.

1652: The lands originally held by Thomas Delaval of Hetton-le-Hole were surrendered in reversionary interest to Sir Francis Bowes who now became the sole landholder of the whole East Division of Cowpen. The estate was held by succeeding generations of Wanley-Bowes family. (History of Northumberland Vol 9 p330)

1779: Estate Jointly inherited between sisters Anne Wanley-Bowes, who married  Thomas Thoroton, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Coldstream Guards and Elizabeth Wanley-Bowes married to Rev Robert Croft. Both families resided at York. Rev Robert Croft was the last surviving landholder and the estate was managed by trustees of the family after this date. Both ladies left issue.

1799: Two closes were purchased at Bucks Hill by Richard Hodgson from the Croft family to build a mill on this site.


Cowpen Town Farm

1619: John Preston the elder was allotted 94 acres pasture and arable and 11 acres meadow and John Preston the younger was allotted 193 acres arable and pasture and 23 acres meadow in the Middle Division of Cowpen Township. The Prestons were originally named Prestwick and were members of the Harbottle and Ward families who held land in Cowpen from 1498.

1659: John Preston sold the farm to his brother-in-law John Proctor.

1679: The farm was sold to Edward Toll of North Shields. The estate descended in the female line to Mrs Dockwray. She bequeathed the farm to her son Thomas Dockwray, vicar of Stamfordham. On his death and after the death of his wife, the undivided holding was owned by his sisters Elizabeth Harbottle, Mary Charlton and Martha Dockwray. By 1790 William Harbottle had become the sole owner of the farm.
(History of Northumberland Vol 9 p347)

1874: The farm was sold to John Hedley of Blyth. He later became bankrupt and the receivers conveyed the property to the Standard Brick Company.


Home/Kit Kat Farm

1619: Robert Smith was allotted a small holding of 21 acres pasture and arable and 2.5 acres meadow. This was adjoining the main highway through Cowpen beside the Windmill Inn where Craigmill Park now stands. It survived until the 1970s, although much reduced in size even by the time of the 1st edition OS maps of 1860s, and was known as a small market garden. It was often referred to as Kit Kat Farm, although the 1960 OS plan labels it Home Farm.

Malvin's Close Farm

1619: Malvin's Close, before the division, must have been a more extensive area of land than what was turned into a farm. Sir Ralph Delaval, of the East Division, was assigned 66 acreas in Malvin's Close and Lewis Widdrington, of the Middle Division, was assigned 19 acres pasture. But it was John Preston, also of the Middle Division and the holder of Cowpen Town Farm, that came into possession of what became known as Malvin's Close Farm.

1765: Edward Preston, of West Boldon, sold the farm to Edmund Hannay, shipbuilder of Blyth.

1798: Edmund Hannay devised the property to his daughter Mary, wife of Edward Watts of South Blyth. It is often referred to as Watts Farm in many publications.

1873: Sold by Edmund Hannay Watts to the Cowpen and North Seaton Coal Company.

Red House Farm

1619: Lewis Widdrington of Cheesburn Grange, a scion of the Widdrington family of Widdrington, was assigned 11 acres meadow in the East Field, 13 acres arable in the Chile-lawe behind Lewis Widdrington's house, 11 acres arable in a field called Dollacke, 19 acres pasture in Malvin's Close, 24 acres in the plain moor adjoining to the Dammes, 27 acres pasture in the South Moor. In total 94 acres pasture and arable and 11 acres meadow. This was in the Middle Division of Cowpen.

1665: Sold by the trustees of Sir Thomas Widdrington of Cheesburn Grange (about 15 miles west of Cowpen) to Anthony Hedley of Newcastle.

1686: Sold by the son of Anthony Hedley to Peter Potts.

1725: Sold to Stephen Mitford of the Inner Temple.

1729: Sold to Henry Sidney of the Temple. The Sidneys were the main landholders and influence on the area for the next two centuries.

Kitty Brewster Farm

1619: Assigned to Robert Widdrington of Widdrington in the West Division 17.5 acres meadow in the North Field, 37 acres arable in the High Crofts, 55 acres arable in the Mill Field, 54 acres pasture in the Whins, totalling 164 acres.

1628: The lands were mortgaged to his brother John Widdrington of Plessey New Houses (5 miles to the West of Cowpen), who at a later stage came into complete possession of the estate. This also included Bucks Hill in the East Division.

1642: John Widdrington exchanged some lands with Cuthbert Watson of the neighbouring High House Farm to consolidate the lands into a single area.

1663: Held by William Widdrington of the family of Hauxley (10 miles to the North of Cowpen). Lands carried by marriage to William Fenwick who sold to Sir John Swinburne of Capheaton (19 miles to the west of Cowpen).

1687: Peter Potts purchased the estate of Robert Fenwick of Cowpen. The  lands had been part of the small allotment made in the West Division to Martin and Tristram Fenwick. This could also be known as part of High House Farm.

1695: Sold to Peter Potts, who had also acquired Red House Farm in Cowpen. Potts was a Newcastle merchant and the probable builder of Cowpen Hall.

1725: Sold to Stephen Mitford of the Inner Temple.

1729: Sold to Henry Sidney of the Temple. The Sidneys were the main landholders and influence on the area for the next two centuries.

High House Farm

1619: The lands in this West Division of Cowpen Township were originally granted to Cuthbert Watson, William Story, Martin Fenwick and Tristram Fenwick. Watson and Story were from Berwick-upon-Tweed and came into possesion in 1591. During the proceeding decades the allotments of land were eventually consolidated into one holding. Cuthbert Watson was granted 11 acres meadow in the North Field, 4 acres arable in the High Croft, 62 acres in the Whins adjoining Bebside, 24 acres arable in a part of the Mill Field known as Galliflat. Martin and Tristram Fenwick were granted 5 acres meadow and arable on the East side of the North Field, 41 acres pasture in the West Whins. William Story was granted 11 acres arable and meadow in the North Field, 23 acres arable in the Mill Field, 69 acres pasture in the West Whins.

1623: William Story sold a small field to Alice Delaval, the owner of the East Division, called Mill Bank and the right of common in a meadow field by the Darewell Burn.

1639: Story sold the remainder of the holding to Robert Preston a  plumber of Newcastle.

1701: Robert Preston a master mariner of Newcastle sold the holding to Trinity House, Newcastle. The farmhold at the East end of High House Farm comprised Mill Nook, Hayston Letch, North Field, North Bank, 2 closes in Cowpen Town called Preston Lands.

1712: The whole of the West Division was purchased by Cuthbert Watson, holder of the West High House Farm.
(History of Northumberland Vol 9 p335)

1802: The land were inherited by the two daughters of Cuthbert Watson IV on his death. Dorothy married Charles Purvis of Newcastle. Margaret was married to Rev Ralph Errington also of Newcastle.

1854 The two families made a partition of the estate. The Errington family took Cowpen House, which presumably had been known as Preston Lands in 1701. Dorothy Purvis had married John Anderson and they took Cowpen High House Farm. This was still held by the Anderson trustees in 1909.

1857: The Errington's Cowpen House was purchased by Marlow Sydney of Cowpen Hall. He was already a major landholder in Cowpen.

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Monday, 6 February 2017

River Blyth Crossing at Cowpen

Greenwood Map of Northumberland 1828
Greenwood's 1828 map of Northumberland shows a quite prominent crossing point of the River Blyth near Kitty Brewster farm in Cowpen. The map is an relatively early example of cartography and not totally accurate or detailed. But was it a prominent crossing point? The only other crossing points of the river are bridges and fords both upstream and downstream at Bedlington and Blyth about one mile away. A crossing at this point would have been desirable.

Ordnance Survey 1895


The 19th century Ordnance Survey maps do show a ford at this place. It does not cross the river in a most direct course though. The path moves North direct across the river then turns NW in a new direction across the channel.

The river is still tidal at this point. The crossing would have only been possible at low tide. But even so, the river bed is covered in thick mud. Was there a structure in place to give a firmer footing? And was the diagonal course a necessity to avoid the staiths built on the North bank of the river in the early 19th century. If the ford was constructed in earlier times than the 19th century did it go in a more direct route across the river channel. The crossing was not shown on Armstrong's map of 1769, but absence of evidence doesn't necessarily indicate it wasn't there.

Aerial Photo from 2009 Showing Linear Features


Aerial photography does seem to indicate that there is a linear feature, or structure, at the fording point. I went to investigate and underneath the seaweed now covering the linear feature was a raised platform made of stones, each the size of a hand. The platform was at most only a couple of feet in width, just enough room for one person to walk across.

OS Plan of 1960


The Ford looking North from Kitty Brewster


The feature is not shown on the 20th century Ordnance Survey mapping, however, once again, absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence, but it clearly fell into disuse especially after the A189 was constructed in the 1950s. The river channel also altered its course slightly with an island developing by the time of the 1960 OS plan. The channel at the point of crossing seems to have become deeper after this date.

The Ford looking NW
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Friday, 13 January 2017

1813 Blyth Plan by John Rennie

Rennie 1813. Modern features added for scale.


This plan of Blyth was made in 1813 by John Rennie, later to be Sir John Rennie. He was an eminent engineer and authority on harbour works. He was the designer of the breakwater at Plymouth Harbour and Waterloo Bridge across the Thames. The plan shows Rennie's proposals for the improvement of the harbour at Blyth. These included the construction of a pier, or breakwater, 1370 yards long on the seaward side to prevent waves crashing over the rocks, which were swept into the channel blocking it up. It would also help guide ships away from the dangerous rocks and into the harbour. It was also part of the plan to build jetties on the westward side of the harbour to break up the waves and tide action which would help prevent silting of the channel. Lastly he proposed that a new, straighter and deeper channel be cut. All this work would be very expensive, of course. So was the survey.

Rennie had been commissioned to survey the harbour by the landholder of Blyth Sir Matthew White Ridley. Ridley had "come of age" in 1799 and could see the potential of improvements to the harbour now that the coal trade was expanding with the creation, in 1794, of a deep-mine pit at Cowpen. The coal was shipped via the River Blyth as was his own coal from the Plessey mines some five-and-a-half miles away. Ridley had also sought the expert opinion of some master mariners from Lynn on the best way to alleviate problems that occurred within the harbour. Lynn, on the East coast of England, was the principal trading port with Blyth at this time.

The proposals put forward by Rennie were not adopted immediately. But in a letter to the Admiralty, responding to charges he had damaged the harbour, Sir MW Ridley claimed he had spent £956 (roughly £60,000 in 2015) clearing and deepening the river mouth between Jack in the Basket and the Bar. He had also constructed a small stone dyke, or breakwater. Pilots and shipowners also came to Ridley's defence and were grateful for the improvements made but mentioned in their letter: "We fear the improvement projected by him [Rennie] cannot be done but by pubic means". In other words it was un-affordable to Ridley  as a private investor at that time.

There had been some improvements to the natural harbour during the 18th century, which was by then shipping 60,000 tons of coal per annum. In 1727 a ballast quay had been built. In 1765 the North Dyke was constructed which was a roughly-built breakwater on the West side of the Sow and Pigs rocks intended to break the force of the waves in a westerly gale. And in 1788 a lighthouse. (CE Baldwin "Port of Blyth" 1929)



Balmer. Blyth in 1820s looking West


The year 1813 was to be a time of some important developments in Blyth. Wallace in his 19th century "History of Blyth" mentions that much rebuilding of the town buildings took place in this year. As most of the buildings on Rennie's plan were still in place on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey mapping of c1860 it can be presumed that they were built shortly before the time of the plan. The mines of Ridley and Cowpen also merged as explained in the Northumberland County History Vol IX p234:

"During the remainder of the eighteenth century the Ridleys practically controlled the coal trade at Blyth. They had secured the whole of the collieries in the Plessey district, where they worked the Low Main seam, then known as the 'Plessey Main coal,' and were owners of the only shipping quay at Blyth. Although the small amount of foreign trade which had existed during the early part of the century dwindled away after 1743 in consequence of the increase in the export duties, the coasting trade continued to afford a steady market for the output of the pits. But the closing years of the century brought with them the prospect of competition in the trade. It began by the opening of a small colliery in the neighbourhood of Bedlington, the proprietors of which, Messrs. Gatty and Waller, secured from the bishop of Durham a quay on the north side of the river near the site of the present Cambois staiths. Gatty and Waller's colliery, however, proved a failure, and the quay was bought up by Sir Matthew White Ridley, who also acquired the colliery and removed the pumping engine to Plessey, where his mines, then carried to a depth of forty-six fathoms, were hard pressed by water.
In 1793 further opposition took place with the commencement of a colliery on the adjoining estate of Cowpen, the property of the Bowes family, then represented by Margaret Wanley-Bowes, Thomas Thoroton and Anne his wife, and the Rev. Robert Croft and his wife Elizabeth. In 1782 a borehole had been put down on the estate proving the existence of the Low Main seam, or Plessey Main coal, at a depth of ninety-two fathoms from the surface. 
To win this seam so far in advance of the pits then working at Plessey and at such a greatly increased depth was a considerable undertaking and one which the lessors were in 1792 advised must be  'attended with uncertainty, great difficulty and much expense.' No doubt, however, the prospect of so ready a mode of disposing of its produce as was offered by the river, and the large area of coal which a colliery at Cowpen would command, must have been a great temptation to anyone who had turned his thoughts towards such a venture, and, in spite of the prospective difficulties, a winning was commenced in 1794. The adventurers were Martin Morrison of Whitehouse, in the county of Durham, Stephen Croft of Stillington near York, John Clark (already interested in rope-making and shipping at Blyth), William Row, a Newcastle merchant, Aubone Surtees and John Surtees of the same town,' the scene of their operations being at the ' A ' pit, near the present colliery office, which was built at the same time. With the winning of Cowpen the period of deep mining in the Blyth district may be said to have commenced, and, as it is by far the oldest of the collieries now working in the district, having at the present date been in continuous operation for upwards of 110 years, some details of its early struggles may be of interest.  
By the beginning of 1795 good progress had been made at Cowpen, the upper seams had been reached and the pit was being pushed on to the Low Main, which was opened out and ready to commence work by May, 1797, the shaft being fitted with a pumping engine and two 'machines' or winding machines for drawing coal from the Yard and Low Main seams respectively. The colliery was connected by a wagonway with a shipping place on the river at the ' Flanker,' or mouth of the tidal area, called the 'Gut,' which extended inland as far as Crofton and formed the eastern boundary of Cowpen township.  
It was not an unusual practice at this period for colliery lessees to let the working and leading of the coal to contractors, who found all labour and stores and were paid at a fixed rate on the coal delivered at the staith. The colliery commenced regular work on this principle, the first 'under-takers,' as they were termed, being John Clark, one of the lessees, and three coal viewers, John Gray of Newcastle, Richard Hodgson of Plessey, and Richard Smith of Shotton, the two last named bringing mining experience gained in the Plessey district to the assistance of the partnership, which was dissolved four years afterwards the working of the colliery being subsequently carried on by the lessees themselves.  
In its early days the colliery seems to have been beset by difficulties. A market for its produce had to be secured in spite of the opposition of the long-established Plessev collieries with their more conveniently situated place of shipment and, as the Blyth trade was then a limited one and mainly confined to the coast ports, the London market for this class of coal with its higher prices being to a very large degree in the hands of the Hartley colliery owners, the output which it was possible to secure for Cowpen must have been quite incommensurate with the standing charges of so deep a winning. 
Like the deeper collieries of the Tyne basin, it had also to face mining difficulties caused by want of experience in methods of working coal at increased depths, and by ventilating appliances which were inadequate for the more extended areas attached to each of the deeper shafts. It was found necessary, therefore, as early as 1799 to prepare for the expenditure of fresh capital in sinking the ' B ' or North pit to win the Low Main near the river at a depth of 109 fathoms. This task was completed and the pit got to work in 1804, a branch line connecting it with the wagonway from the ' A ' pit to the Flanker. Operations were now chiefly confined to the ' B ' pit Low Main and, after the termination of the expenditure on it and the staiths, matters went on more smoothly for a time, although the yearly output was only about 48,000 tons, until about 1812, when the occurrence of a creep in the ' A ' pit old workings caused great anxiety and expense. The ill-success of the enterprise soon led to changes in the ownership, resulting, about 1811, in Mr. Taylor Winship becoming a partner and assuming the direction of affairs. Shortly afterwards overtures were made to Sir Matthew White Ridley with a view to putting an end to the competition of the Plessey collieries. The whole of the trade from Blvth had for the six years previous to this averaged about 80,000 tons a year, and it was suggested that, as the Hartley [Seaton Sluice] owners were not likely to be able to increase their vend owing to the confined nature of their harbour, the closing of the Plessey pits would bring about a large addition to the Cowpen vend and result in an increase of profit greatly exceeding the cost of compensating Sir Matthew White Ridley for his withdrawal from the struggle.  
The fact that the Plessey pits, which had been in working for over 100 years as sea-sale collieries, had by this time largely exhausted their resources and that the expense of making fresh openings to the dip could hardly be warranted in the face of the Cowpen competition, must have greatly influenced Sir Matthew Ridley in consenting to these proposals. In August, 1813, the last of the Plessey pits, the 'View,' was laid in and the Cowpen owners were freed from serious competition in the Blyth trade. They were also able to secure the use of Sir Matthew's shipping quay at Blyth, which was at once connected with the ' A ' pit wagonway and thenceforward formed the shipping place for Cowpen.  
Trouble from the creep having shut off the coal to the south of the 'A' pit, the lessees were driven northwards, and in 1816 commenced working the Low Main to the 'B' pit under portions of the Cambois and East Sleekburn estates, of which they had secured leases respectively from Sir Matthew White Ridley and Mr. William Watson of North Seaton. 

Sir Matthew Ridley had, before 1817, secured an interest in the concern, and in 1820 held five of the nine shares into which the property was divided, the Rev. Robert Croft being proprietor of two and Mr. Taylor Winship of the remainder. Mr. Winship, some time prior to his death in 1822, seems to have parted with his interest to Sir Matthew, although he continued to act as the colliery agent, and by the beginning of 1823 Sir Matthew had acquired Mr. Croft's shares and become the sole owner of the colliery, which was then in by no means a prosperous state."
The population of the town of Blyth in 1811 was slightly under 1,500. The Parson and White Trade directory of 1827 lists in this area: 2 watch and clock makers, 5 public houses, 5 tailors and drapers, 2 surgeons, 1 straw hat maker, 2 stone masons and builders, 1 iron monger, 2 rope and twine manufacturers, 3 milliner and dressmakers, 4 marine stores, 1 linen and woolen drapers, 3 joiner and cabinet makers, 1 ironmonger, 18 grocers, 5 bakers, 1 bookseller, 9 shoemakers, 1 boatbuilder, 2 block and mast maker, 2 braziers and tinners and 5 butchers. There were also 14 shipowners/masters listed but they lived in the newly-created, well-to-do suburb of Waterloo by this time.

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Friday, 18 November 2016

Thomas Knight Hospital

While wandering in Horton, Blyth Churchyard a little while ago I came across this grand monument to Thomas Knight.


In memory of Thomas Knight who was born at Buckland Kent Dec 25th 1806. And died at Crofton Blyth March 28th 1878. Margaret wife of the above died April 15th 1879 aged 71 years. They rest from their labours and their works do follow them. Members of the Thomas Knight Endownment Fund 1879
Of course, I am familiar with the Thomas Knight Care Home which stands on Beaconsfield Street behind the library. I was also aware that the care home stands on the site of the now demolished Thomas Knight Memorial hospital. So who was Thomas Knight and why was a hospital founded in his honour?

1887 Morpeth Herald

"OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE KNIGHT MEMORIAL HOSPITAL AT BLYTH: An event which has occupied the attention of the public of Blyth for some years now was brought to a successful termination on Wednesday afternoon in the presence of numerous company of ladies and gentlemen. The weather was most adverse for the occasion and added its disagreeableness by a continuous rain. By the way of information we beg to remind our readers that the hospital has been erected in memory of the late Mr Thomas Knight, a shipowner, who for many years resided at Crofton, Blyth. The desceased gentleman rose from the ranks and in time became one of the leading and wealthiest shipowners of the port. During many years he was a most generous contributor to all charitable movements initiated in that district, and after his death and that of his wife it was found that a large amount of money had been left for the founding of a hospital such as the growing importance of the Blyth and district required. The hospital is a substantial building, situated at the rear of the new mechanic's institute, and has been fitted up in a manner calculated  to serve the purpose to which it has been devoted. At one 'o' clock the Hon Lady Ridley, Sir Matthew White Ridley, Dr G Ward, Revs Greenwell and Maddison (vicars) and the Rev P Pearce, and a number of ladies and gentlemen assembled in the Blyth Local Board Room, Mechanic's Institute and a procession was formed to the main entrance of the hospital which was gaily decorated with bunting etc. There was a large company present, principally out of curiosity..."

The Newcastle Daily Chronicle of Wednesday, 28 December, 1887 reported: "At the door of the new building Dr. Gilbert Ward (who has taken immense interest in the undertaking) will present the key to Lady Ridley and ask her to open the hospital. After Lady Ridley has declared it open a portion of scripture will be read by the Rev. Peter Peace and prayers will be offered by the Rev. W. Greenwell, Vicar of Horton. An inspection of the interior will follow and there will be a luncheon in the Lecture Hall of the Mechanics Institute. Up to the present the hospital requirements of Blyth have been met by a small cottage hospital close to Blyth links."

Thomas Knight's widow had left an endowment of £6000 [about £712,000 in 2016]. However, it was felt that this was best used as revenue funding for the hospital (the interest earned on this endowment was still being used by the hospital into the 1980s). The capital costs of building the structure were raised by public subscription, although there must have been some discussion around Lady Ridley herself  providing the funding. The land on which to build the hospital was donated by Lord Ridley after discussions with Dr Ward. But there was some praise on the day as having a public subscription being the proper course to have taken, presumably as the public had made a stake holding in the building, with the ladies of various churches in the district having raised £251 at a bazaar, they would value it more. The vast cost of the building estimated at £2500 [roughly £297,000 today] was met by coal owners, the Duke of Northumberland and Lord Hastings due to the depressed state of trade in Blyth at the time.

"Thomas Knight had started life as a seaman in 1818. By thrift and hard work he saved enough money to buy his own keel to work for the Sleekburn Coal Company. He then bought a schooner of good sailing qualities and invested in other ships, retiring as steam ships began to supersede sailing vessels." (James Scott, Tyne and Tweed, 1983)

The hospital was described in the 1914 Kelly's Trade Directory for Northumberland: "...the building is of white brick with stone dressings, and comprises on the upper floor two wards, each containing four beds; on the ground floor is a large committee room, a waiting room, dispensary, two consulting rooms and a kitchen and offices. During 1913 there were 82 in-patients and 620 out-patients. In 1896 a marble bust of Dr. Gilbert Ward was placed in the entrance hall, the doctor having died in 1894."

Dr Gilbert Ward was mentioned in the newspaper extracts as the official in charge of the proceedings. It is the history and legacy of Dr Gilbert Ward which is a large factor in the provision of health services in Blyth.

Dr Gilbert Ward
The Royal College of Surgeons have this short biography of Dr Ward on their website: "[General Surgeon] Born at Newcastle [1805] and served his apprenticeship under Dr Trotter, of North Shields. He practised throughout life at Blyth. For fifty-five years he held the position of Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Blyth; for over fifty years every entry was made by his own hand. He was also Medical Officer of the Tynemouth Union; Medical Referee to the Star, Church of England, and Crown Assurance Societies; Surgeon to the Coastguard and to the Royal Naval Volunteers; Public Vaccinator and Certifying Factory Surgeon. He died at Blyth on May 17th, 1894."

Ward first came to Blyth during the cholera epidemic of 1832 which Wallace in his 1869 "History of Blyth" mentions: "In the autumn of 1832 cholera morbus reached Blyth, it's first victim being Peggy Lamb, a widow living in Church Street. A day or two later Andrew Steel, a roper, died and before the epidemic subsided eighty of Blyth's then population of 3000 had succumbed to the mysterious scourge." Cholera re-visited  Blyth on a further two occasions during the next twenty years. Ward, who also had responsibilities as the French Vice-consul had  difficulties isolating infectious patients, especially those that arrived at the port from various ships with diseases such as typhus. Lord Ridley heard of these difficulties and provided a cottage, rent free, to Dr Ward to be used as a hospital. The cottage was at the junction of what is now Ridley Avenue and Park View. As well as isolating infectious patients it also provided other hospital services. These services were transferred to the new Thomas Knight Hospital when it came into existence.



Dr Ward had a practice in Bridge Street, Blyth in a now demolished house on what is now the site of a modern bus depot. His son, Henry, joined him in this practice from 1864 until his untimely death in 1891. Marine Medical Group, which operates a practice in Blyth, can trace their roots to Dr Gilbert Ward's surgery. The same site on Bridge Street was used by Dr Newstead, followed by Dr Urquart, until 1956. There was then a succession of Doctors operating from Waterloo Road and then Stanley Street before ending up at the present site in the community hospital where the bust to Dr Gilbert Ward now occupies the main entrance. He had become well connected with the well-to-do in the town and hosted a member of the Royal family on one occasion. Scott (1983) writes: "On the day of Dr. Gilbert Ward's funeral police were out to control the crowds, many shops and places of business closed, blinds were drawn at the Hospital, the Mechanics Institute and the banks. Among the wreaths was one from the French Government." A window in St Cuthbert's Church, Blyth, entitled "The Four Works of Mercy" was also placed as a memorial to Dr Ward.

In 1893 an act of Parliament was passed (The Isolation Hospitals Act) which enabled local authorities to build hospitals for isolating patients with infectious diseases. Stiff penalties had been introduced by act of Parliament in 1866 for anyone carrying infectious diseases who endangered the public. A hospital was built for this purpose beside the river in Cowpen. Kelly's Directory (1913) describes it: "The Infectious Diseases Hospital, erected by the Blyth Port Sanitary Authority, at a cost of £3000, and opened in Aug. 1893, stands on the west bank of the river Blyth, near Old Factory Point, opposite Cowpen Cemetery, and is a corrugated iron building on a brick foundation; it comprises east, west and middle wards and a residential part containing six rooms; provision is made for 20 beds."

The cottage hospital was not needed after this date and Ridley Park was developed soon after near to this site.

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