A while ago I wrote a post about artist L S Lowry‘s association with Berwick-upon-Tweed. He was not the only artist to have connections with Berwick, a picturesque town which has inspired more than its share of painters over the centuries.
I have researched a few of them and here is a small sample.
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)
Turner visited Berwick at least twice and created some of his famous landscapes in the area including Norham Castle, Dunstanburgh Castle, Berwick Harbour and this one, Berwick Castle, painted in 1831.
It is thought that Turner sketched this scene from a vacant lot at what is now 21 Castle Terrace. Turner did not know it, but he was sitting on the site of a missing medieval church and graveyard which was only rediscovered in 1988 when building work on the plot exposed human remains and stones. The site is now fenced off but I took this photo at the foot of the hill below Turner’s vantage point in order to get a similar perspective.
The old bridge in Turner’s painting is now hard to see from this point, partially obscured behind two more bridges constructed since Turner’s time – the Royal Border Bridge (in the foreground), finished in 1850 and the Royal Tweed Bridge, opened in 1928.
Berwick Castle is much diminished since Turner’s painting. The route of the railway line and the siting of the Royal Border Bridge necessitated the demolition of much of what remained of Berwick Castle to make way for Berwick-upon-Tweed railway station. The Victorians were so confident that their progress was superior to whatever came before, it seems they had no qualms about flattening a historic castle to accommodate a railway station.
Sir Frank Brangwyn (1867 – 1956)
The Royal Border Bridge is a Grade 1 listed railway viaduct with 28 arches and has become a tourist attraction in its own right. It too has been featured in many artworks such as this 1924 London & North Eastern Railway poster by Sir Frank Brangwyn. He was born in Bruges and lived in England from the age of seven. He was a prolific artist producing as many as 12,000 artworks during his career.
Seen up close you cannot fail to be impressed by the skill and ambition of the Victorian engineers. When work started on the bridge it was longer and higher than any bridge built before.
John Blair (1870 – 1920)
I am not familiar with this artist but he painted a series of Scottish and Northumberland scenes which were turned into ‘oilette’ postcards by Raphael Tuck and Sons. (I have written about oilette postcards before – see here). Blair was born in Paxton, just over the border from Berwick. The scene on this 1923 postcard features an octagonal Bell Tower, built in 1577, replacing one of 19 towers which acted as look out points on the medieval town walls of Berwick. The earthen mound to the left of the tower was excavated in the 1970’s to reveal Lord’s Mount, a powerful gun tower built by King Henry VIII to strengthen Berwick’s defences.
As you can see, little has changed since Blair’s painting.
Thomas Sword Good (1789 – 1872)
This artist was born in Berwick and he lived in this house at 21 Quay Walls from 1846 – 1872. He was skilled at portraits of ordinary people going about their daily tasks.
He often painted the cliffs around Berwick as backgrounds to his genre paintings.
There are many more artists with links to Berwick and, if you are interested, you can find out more in this book: Artists in Berwick: Inspiration and Celebration by Edwin Bowes.
I took the family to Alnwick Garden earlier this week, hoping to see their magnificent Taihaku Cherry Orchard in full blossom. Unfortunately the sakura were slightly past their best (a week earlier would have been perfect) but that is the problem with having to book tickets well in advance.
Even so, there was still plenty of pretty blossom left and the cold wind was blowing petals in the wind. This place would be packed if it was in Japan. There are dozens of wooden two-seater swings where couples can relax and enjoy the fleeting spring blooms.
The 329 cherry trees at Alnwick are of the Taihaku variety with large white blossom petals. This is said to be the largest collection of this species in the world. This tree had been extinct in Japan until 1932 when a British ornithologist and plant collector called Collingwood “Cherry” Ingram took cuttings from a tree in Sussex (which had been earlier imported from Japan) and reintroduced the Lost Taihaku to Japan. All Alnwick Garden’s Taihaku trees are descended from the same Sussex tree.
Alnwick Garden was the inspiration of the Duchess of Northumberland. It opened in 2001 utilising a 12 acre site in the grounds of Alnwick Castle and it has been enhanced and expanded in the years since.
The centrepiece is the Grand Cascade featuring 120 water jets and fountains. The Pavilion and Visitor Centre seen behind contains a gift shop and food outlets.
The walled Ornamental Garden contains beautifully arranged flower beds and borders. The way their gardeners have trained the apple and other trees into neat horizontal branches is very impressive.
The Poison Garden is a popular feature. It contains around 100 seemingly innocuous and ordinary looking plants but it turns out they are toxic or narcotic and potentially deadly. Useful if you are planning to bump off your husband but I preferred the Ornamental Garden.
Other attractions include a Rose Garden, a Bamboo Labyrinth and Serpent Garden.
Closed at the moment due to Covid-19 restrictions is this fantastic treehouse, the largest wooden treehouse in the world, built around 16 mature lime trees.It serves as a restaurant and wedding venue.
Overall I would say that Alnwick Garden is an excellent attraction and hopefully it will continue to improve. You can find details of opening hours and ticket prices on their official website.
Gibside is an 18th century landscaped garden and estate located near Rowlands Gill, Gateshead.
It is a good place to bring the family and dogs to enjoy some fresh air and views within 243 hectares of gardens, woodlands and Derwent Valley countryside.
The estate was commissioned by George Bowes who made his fortune from coal. Gibside Chapel, built in neo-classical style, forms the centrepiece of the landscape design. It was designed as a mausoleum, presumably for George Bowes himself who died a few months after construction began in 1760. It is still in use as a church.
The orangery also dates from the 18th century. The sandstone walls give it a pleasing appearance even in its semi-ruined state.
This ruin was once a grand residence called Gibside Hall, built for William and Jane Blakiston from 1603-1620. It came into possession of the Bowes family through marriage. Originally a three-storey house, it was reduced to two in the early 1800s by John Bowes, the 10th Earl of Strathmore. He was the last of his family to live there and it fell into decline from 1860 onwards. The roof was removed in the 1950’s. Work is ongoing to make the surviving shell safe for visitors to enter.
The Bowes family was so rich that even their horses lived in a palace. Behind this grand facade is the stable block and cobbled courtyard.
You wouldn’t expect to see a massage parlour in such a place but in a tiny bothy near the stables you can enjoy relaxing holistic therapies amid woodland surroundings.
This is the Octagon Pond Banqueting House, which, during the time of George Bowes, was an elegant tea-house overlooking an attractive water feature and fountain. The building has been restored but the pond will be left in its neglected state since it has now become home to a population of great crested newts, a protected species.
This 150 feet tall column is topped with a 14 feet high bronze female figure of Liberty.
Other attractions here include an adventure playground, a bird hide and an observation hive. There is also a café.
Gibside is managed by the National Trust. You can find details of prices and opening hours on their website.
This painting (probably not the original) hangs in the Penang State Museum. It is entitled ‘Glugor House and Spice Plantation’ and was painted by Captain Robert Smith in 1818. The museum tells us that Glugor House and Estate was owned by David Brown (1778-1825) and that the plantation was ‘among the first in Penang to grow valuable spices like pepper, nutmeg and cloves as well as gambier.’ David Brown is remembered as the wealthiest landowner in Penang of his time and a generous philanthropist.
I read that David Brown was born in 1778 in Longformacus, a tiny village in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland. Since this village is not far from where I am currently staying I thought I would go along and see if any trace of him remains there.
Longformacus is a pretty place with a river called Dye Water running through the village. It has a population of just 66 (as at the 2001 census). It was somewhat bigger back in David Brown’s time with 450 residents but life would have been harder. Rev. Mr Selby Ord, in the Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-1799, wrote ‘the farmers are prevented from great exertions by high rents, the great expense of manure, the badness of the roads, and the distance of markets. The air is dry, cold and piercing. The only diseases are rheumatisms and cutaneous disorders, which seem to be occasioned by poor food, damp houses and want of cleanliness …. The people, accustomed to the pastoral life in their early years, are rather inclined to indolence and ease.’
Clearly David Brown was not inclined to indolence but even so, it was quite a jump to progress from a fairly ordinary background to becoming one of the richest men in Penang in the space of just 25 years. How did he do it? He must have been from one of the more prosperous families in the village who could afford to pay for his schooling and law studies at Edinburgh University. Freshly graduated, he was sent out to Penang at the tender age of 22 to collect his family’s share of an inheritance left by his uncle, Laurence Stuart. Stuart had been in business with James Scott, who was a contemporary of Francis Light, and together they were considered as co-founders of Penang. James Scott was also from the Scottish Borders, born in Makerstoun, not far from Longformacus (and incidentally was a second cousin of the famous novelist Sir Walter Scott).
At the time Penang Island was under the control of the Honourable East India Company and young David Brown would have travelled out on one of their ships. James Scott was 32 years older than David Brown and probably took him under his wing and, impressed by his natural business acumen, employed him as an assistant. Brown may also have been related to Scott since many of Brown’s relatives used the name Scott as a middle or double-barrelled name. One theory, pure speculation on my part, is that Brown may have married one of Scott’s daughters. Brown was said to have had at least four local wives Barbara Lucy Melang, Nonia Ennui, Inghoo and Akeen and each of his sons had a different mother. Could one of those wives have been a daughter of James Scott? Researchers have suggested that Scott fathered more than a dozen children with four or five local women. If he married off one of his favourite daughters to Brown that might explain why Brown rapidly became a partner of Scott’s company and succeeded him after Scott’s death in 1808.
Brown went on to amass a fortune from trading, money lending and plantations and became the largest landowner in Penang and a pioneer cultivator of nutmeg, cloves and other spices. Since a nutmeg tree takes twenty years to reach full production it was his eldest son George who continued his efforts and he and his brothers reaped the financial benefits.
As a boy, David Brown would doubtless have attended this kirk, the Longformacus Church of Scotland which largely dates from 1730.
The church was closed down in 2013 and was set to be demolished. Thanks to local fund raising and private donations it was saved and converted to a heritage centre.
The grandest house by far in the village is Longformacus House, an early 18th century Category A listed mansion amid large wooded grounds. According to Historic Environment Scotland ‘both historically and architecturally, Longformacus House remains one of the most significant buildings in the parish and indeed, within Scotland as a whole.’ We know that the the Brown family owned Longformacus House and Estate for many generations but they were not the original owners. It seems likely that David Brown was not born in this house and his descendants probably purchased it after they had made their fortune in Penang. Sources on the internet tell us that the Brown family descendants now live mostly in Melbourne Australia.
The Brown family have their own exclusive burial ground in the corner of the Longformacus church graveyard. David Brown himself is not buried there (his grave is in Penang’s old Protestant Cemetery) but some of his descendants are buried at Longformacus. The central arch on this wall commemorates David Wardlaw Brown who was the second son of David Brown. The inscription reads: Sacred to the memory of David Wardlaw Brown of Longformacus and Glugar who died 26th September 1864 aged 52. Margaret Turnbull Tait widow of the above who died 9th May 1891 aged 73.
The other engraved arches commemorate J.J.E. Brown (David Brown’s 5th son) who died 22 March 1895 and his wife Wilhelmina Jane Tait, Major Alexander Brown of Trinity Lodge, Duns who died 10th April 1858 and his wife Margaret Murray, Elizabeth Waller, wife of The Honourable Forbes Scott Brown, the 3rd son of David Brown who died in Penang on 28 May 1874 and is buried there, and two of their sons.
Altogether there are 21 graves with the surname Brown in this cemetery according to the Borders Family History Society.
David Brown donated land at Jalan Dato Kramat to the local municipality for use as a sports field. The place is today known as Padang Brown or Padang Dato Kramat and a substantial monument to Brown stands in one corner of the padang, surrounded by cooked food stalls known as the Padang Brown Food Complex.The inscription on the memorial reads:
This monument was erected by public subscription by the European and native inhabitants of Pinang: To the memory of the late David Brown Esquire in testimony of their esteem and approbation of his character and for his unwearied zeal and usefulness as a member of the community during the long period of 25 years which he was a resident on the island. His death took place on the 12th September 1825 in the 49th year of his age on board the H.C.S. Windsor Castle on her passage to Malacca.
As for Glugor House, the stately mansion in the painting built by David Brown in 1812, his son George Wilson Brown lived there following David Brown’s death. The house is no longer there. The estate became Glugor Barracks, then was renamed Minden Barracks and now forms part of the Universiti Sains Malaysia campus in Gelugor.
Nutmeg is still popular in Penang today, particular as a drink, but the days when the spice was worth more than its weight in gold have long gone. In the 1500s it was said to have cured the common cold and could even prevent plague. Perhaps if it could be reinvented as a cure for Covid-19 it could once again become valuable and sought after.
You can find pictures of David Brown and his son David Wardlaw Brown and more family information on this blog.
Maelmin Henge and Heritage Trail is an outdoor attraction near the Northumberland village of Milfield. There is not a huge amount to see but it is worth a visit if you are in the area. It would also be a good place for a school trip. It comprises a wooden henge and a Dark Age house (both modern reconstructions) and a short trail through a copse and field with a couple of dozen interpretation boards detailing 10,000 years of history from the Palaeolithic era onwards.
This wooden henge is a recreation of the Milfield North Henge which was excavated nearby in the 1970s and carbon-dated to around 2300BC. The original henge would have been used for burials.
An information sign tells us that the Milfield Plain is drier, cooler and sunnier than the rest of UK because it is sheltered somewhat from rain-bearing westerly winds by the Cheviot Hills. They are right about it being cooler, with July mean temperatures of just 14°C. Apparently our Mesolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors used to enjoy temperatures around 2°C higher than today. It seems the current climate change crisis is just taking temperatures back to how they used to be!
This wooden structure is a full-scale reconstruction of a Dark Age (AD 410-550) house excavated at a nearby quarry. The walls would have been coated in mud and straw to protect against the elements.
A century ago, the coal mining village of Chopwell, near Gateshead, was a hotbed of revolutionary socialism and earned the nickname Little Moscow for its strong support of the Communist Party.
There was a lot of unemployment, poverty and hunger and the working conditions for miners were harsh and dangerous providing a fertile breeding ground for revolutionary ideas. During the 1926 general strike the union flag at the council offices was taken down and replaced with the Soviet Flag. When the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited the area in 1929 he expressed sympathy with mining families for the privation and squalid conditions they had to suffer. He received ‘a reet welcome’ from the miners who appreciated his common touch.
The last coal pit closed down for good in 1966, taking away the community’s reason for being. Chopwell was classified as a category D village, meaning ‘do not resuscitate’ and it was allowed to decline. But it has hung on and reinvented itself as a dormitory town for those employed in Newcastle or Consett. The village streets may have a rather humdrum appearance but the residents are fortunate to have a 900 acre woodland on their doorstep called Chopwell Wood.
The old pit-head buildings have been demolished and slag heaps levelled. The miners’ rows of terraced houses, once dank, overcrowded and lacking in sanitation, have been upgraded and modernised.
There is no obvious sign that the revolutionary flame continues to burn brightly but you can still find streets in the village named Lenin Terrace and Marx Terrace and judging by the Chopwell website there is a strong community spirit among the village’s population of 3,000. Another notable street, Fannybush Lane, had to be renamed by the local authority in the 1990s because its street sign kept getting stolen.
Not far from the village of Ford in Northumberland is a pretty waterfall located in a tucked-away ravine called Routin Lynn.
Actually there is some confusion about the name with various permutations of spelling including Roughting, Roughtin, Lynn and Linn. Google Maps spells it Roughtin Linn but Ordnance Survey (probably the most authoritative source) calls it Routin Lynn. The confusion is not helped by a second waterfall with an almost identical name (Roughting Linn) located 13 miles away near Chatton.
The fall drops about 20 feet into a clear brown pool. I suppose some might be brave enough to take a dip and experience a power shower but seeing as it was mid-winter when I visited I wasn’t tempted.
A small cave might have been used by stone age visitors to the waterfall.
Routin Lynn Rock Art
A short walk away is an outcrop of grey sandstone bearing dozens of cup and ring markings.
Examples of these ancient rock carvings, some thought to date back 4,000 years to the Neolithic period, can be found scattered all over the British Isles and in Europe but their purpose or meaning remains shrouded in mystery. Petroglyph experts have theorised some kind of mystic, ritual or spiritual significance while others suggest they could have served as maps or been connected with astronomy.
I have an alternative theory. Perhaps they were for entertainment to help pass away those long evenings in the days before television. We Britons have always been fond of games. Could these grooves and circles have been used to play an early form of marbles or tiddlywinks?
A thin dusting of snow helps to highlight the patterns and they remind me of targets, perfect for rolling marbles or flicking pellets of sheep dung. Just an idea!
How to Get to Routin Lynn Waterfall and Rock Carvings
The locations marked on this Google map are accurate. The name of the river is Broomridgedean Burn. You can leave your car by the side of the no-through road opposite. For the waterfall, you will see this worn signpost for Routin Linn Farm (different spelling again!). Walk along this farm track for 100 metres until you hear the sound of gushing water off to the left, then follow the rough path through the woods.
Alternatively you could walk to the waterfall from the village of Ford. You can find the route here.
Hexham Abbey, with its 1300 years of history, is an interesting place to visit. It stands in the heart of the Northumberland town of Hexham, voted in 2019 as the happiest place to live in Britain. It hasn’t always been so happy as the long chronology of the abbey shows.
The first church and monastery on this site was completed in 678 by Bishop (later Saint) Wilfrid who trained as a monk and missionary on the island of Lindisfarne to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons.
Viking raiders destroyed part of the church in 875 and it was rebuilt and expanded in the 1100s. Scottish raiders attacked, burnt and ransacked the church on four occasions during the 1200-1300s, including by William Wallace ‘Braveheart’. (Mel Gibson didn’t mention that dastardly deed in his film did he!)
Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries saw Hexham’s priory closed and assets seized in 1537. The King gave the priory’s land and monastic buildings to his agent Sir Reynold Carnaby. The church itself was allowed to continue as the Church of England parish church for Hexham.
In 1725 a builder working on the Abbey fell into a sinkhole and rediscovered the Saxon crypt which had been forgotten for hundreds of years.
The crypt, which is is now open to the public, has a Roman feel to it, having been influenced by the catacombs of Rome and being built entirely from recycled Roman stones.
This huge stone was hidden face down as part of the Abbey’s foundation for hundreds of years until it was unearthed in 1881. It was identified as a tombstone of a young Roman legionnaire called Flavinus and dates from the Roman conquest of Britain. It shows a Roman cavalryman trampling on a cowering Briton.
The abbey was restored in 1908 to how it looks today.
The streets around Hexham Abbey have an old world feel. This photo was taken before lockdown – hopefully they’ll still be in business when this thing is over!
This short film tells more about Hexham Abbey’s history and the top things to see.
Barter Books is a wonderful bookshop in the Northumberland town of Alnwick. It occupies part of the town’s former railway station and is full of cosy corners with open fires and comfy seating where customers can sit down with a cuppa and browse books at leisure.
Displayed in glass cabinets is a huge collection of valuable antiquarian books including this rare first (and only) edition which caught my eye.
It is a Japanese World War Two propaganda album printed in 1942 in Jakarta featuring cartoons and drawings by Saseo Ono (1905-1954) on sale for a whopping £860. Saseo Ono was a celebrated caricaturist and manga artist whose style was influenced by jazz, American movies and fashion. When war broke out his talents were employed in producing propaganda material for the Japanese war effort and he was sent to Indonesia from 1942-1946.
The colour drawings shown above have captions in Japanese and Indonesian. The one on the left concerns the battle for Kalidjati Airfield in West Java which was captured by Japanese forces on 1 March 1942 despite stiff resistance by a combined British and Dutch force. The caption of the drawing on the right can be translated as ‘when Japanese troops entered the city of Bandung’.
Saseo Ono’s other works while in Indonesia included the drawing of erotic images for the entertainment of Japanese soldiers.
After the war the Japanese people resumed their love of all things American and Saseo Ono was able to get back to illustrating what he liked best such as humorous scenes, fashion and glamourous women.
When Marilyn Monroe visited Japan in 1954 with her new husband Joe DiMaggio, the famous baseball player, they were mobbed by adoring fans everywhere they went.
Saseo Ono was planning to meet Marilyn Monroe, perhaps with the hope of painting her, but sadly for him he died on the very day she arrived in Tokyo. Perhaps the excitement was just too much for him!
Alnmouth is one of the most attractive villages on the Northumberland coast.
As the name suggests, it is situated at the mouth of the River Aln. The bigger town of Alnwick, famous for its castle and gardens, is situated about four miles inland.
The village was founded in 1150 and for centuries it was an active port for fishing and the shipment of grain to London and elsewhere. It may have also harboured smugglers and, with ten pubs in the village in the 18th century, visiting preacher John Wesley described it as ‘a small seaport town famous for all kinds of wickedness’.
Alnmouth does not appear to be a den of vice anymore but it is still well served by pubs. I counted at least five which is not bad for a village with only 500 or so permanent residents.
Wesley may have gained his poor impression of Alnmouth from the 17th century Schooner Hotel which has an interesting past and a spooky reputation.. Notable guests, apart from John Wesley, have included King George III, Charles Dickens and actor Basil Rathbone, most famed for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. In the 1600s some of the aforementioned smugglers and other dodgy characters found shelter at the inn and murders, suicides and family massacres took place within its walls. The hotel’s website explains ‘ Spirits of withered and demented souls haunt the whole hotel frequently. Apparently, the spirits don’t care about being seen.’ With over 3000 sightings of 60 individual ghosts, the Paranormal Society has named the Schooner the Most Haunted Hotel in Britain.
The Schooner displays a ‘Haunted Hotel’ sign outside. Clearly they consider that its creepy reputation attracts more people than it puts off.
By the end of the 19th century shifting sands had caused the estuary to silt up. The opening of the railway in the 1840s brought tourism and today Alnmouth continues to be a pleasant and picturesque tourist and holiday home resort.
Until the 1960s a ferryman used to row people across the mouth of the River Aln. The ferryman’s old hut has been refurbished and now contains a heritage centre with memorabilia related to the ferryman. It is thought to be the smallest museum in England.
The beautiful golden sand beach at Alnmouth is very popular. These photos were taken in September 2020 (between lockdowns) and it was quite busy by Northumberland standards. Like many of the beaches on this coastline, it is lined with concrete anti-tank blocks, left over from the Second World War where they were intended to slow down any possible German invasion.
A nine-hole links golf course occupies a prime beach front position. Founded in 1869 it is said to be one of the oldest courses of its kind in England.
On the slopes of Bracken Hill, formerly known as Battery Hill, stands a coastal battery built in 1861 to house the Percy Artillery Volunteers. It was modernised during WWII as an anti-invasion measure. The hill is now a mini nature reserve and provides great views of the beach and golf course.