Alistair Sinton took a packed January meeting of Alnwick and District Local History Society for a leisurely stroll along the 60 miles of the Old Great North Road (the old A1) from Newcastle to Berwick.
Alistair acknowledged a great debt for the contents of his talk to Ian Hall, a fellow member, who has published a short book about the history of the road.
Starting at Barras Bridge, Newcastle, the road proceeded to Gosforth, where we admired a large building over shops. This was the tramcar shed, used between 1897 to 1904.
Our walk was punctuated by pubs, many of which were old coaching inns. The first was the Three Mile Inn, at Three Mile Bridge, where the Ouseburn crossed the road.
A little further on were some grand pillars, the entrance to Gosforth House, home to the Brandling family. It is now a hospitality and conference centre at the racecourse. In the past, single-decker trams travelled up the road, ferrying race-goers.
Three miles on we arrived at the Six Mile Bridge pub. The bridge crosses the Seaton Burn. Nearby is Blagdon Hall, home to the Ridley family, and another pub, the Ridley Arms.
We carried on to Morpeth. The Great North Road went through the centre of the town, passing St Mary’s Church and the prison. This became the courthouse, and later flats. Carlisle Park, opposite, was owned by the Earls of Carlisle and given to Morpeth Corporation. The bridge over the Wansbeck is medieval, though little remains. Nearby is the bridge by Telford, built in the late 1700s.
We passed the Town Hall, then turned right. On the outskirts of Morpeth is a cottage, askew to the road. This was built as a toll-house to a road that was never built. The Great North Road went West of the new road, passing the Oak Inn, then turned to Felton, and the Northumberland Arms, which overlooks the Coquet. It has a very old bridge, now pedestrian-only.
From Felton, we crossed the A1 to Swarland to look at a monument to Nelson, then back East to Hampeth. The road has beautifully-laid setts at each side, and a terrace of houses built for workers at Whittle Colliery.
We arrived at Alnwick, admiring the Tenantry Column, station and the Hotspur Tower. The road followed Narrowgate, which was a bottleneck on the old A1. It crossed the Aln for the best view of Alnwick Castle.
Further North, we rejoined the A1, then branched off to Belford, passing Belford Hall. The road continued through Middleton, past a Hall. At Haggerston Castle Holiday Park, the tower is visible, but the old house was dismantled and sold stone by stone.
Leaving the A1, we went through Scremerston, a pretty village now, but once a mining village with a railway line to Tweedmouth.
And so to Berwick to admire the old pantile roofs and the medieval bridge. The bridge over the Great North Road is concrete, but we could see the fine Royal Border Railway Bridge by Robert Stephenson. And so we ended our walk.
The next meeting is on February 28, at 7.30pm, at Bailiffgate Museum. David Dickinson will talk about the work of a book binder and restorer.