Museum’s past has special significance for three guests

Patricia, Patricia and Helen standing in the doorway of the Baliffgate Museum.
Patricia, Patricia and Helen standing in the doorway of the Baliffgate Museum.

For three recent visitors, the religious heritage of a north Northumberland museum had a very special significance.

The building which today houses Alnwick’s Bailiffgate Museum used to be St Mary’s Catholic Church.

William and Mary Bennett  perhaps in the 1900's.

William and Mary Bennett perhaps in the 1900's.

And on August 11, 1878, 20-year-old sweethearts William Bennett and Mary Agnes Hennen were married there.

Now, 135 years later, William and Mary’s 86-year-old granddaughter, Patricia Donnelly, accompanied by two of her daughters, Helen and Patricia, has made a pilgrimage of sorts from her home in Dalbeattie, Scotland, to visit the building in which her forebears were married.

Back in the 19th century, William was a sett maker working in the quarries at Longhoughton. Mary Agnes, who was the daughter of a blacksmith, came originally from Ballymote in Ireland.

For reasons which her descendants have yet to discover, Mary had lost one of her legs and by the time she met William she had a wooden leg.

Apparently when William, who was Church of England, told one of his friends that he intended to marry Mary, the friend said, ‘I’m surprised you want to marry her. She’s got a wooden leg, she’s Catholic and she’s Irish’.

It is unsure whether the friend regarded each of these disadvantages as being equally off-putting.

William, however, was clearly smitten and his reply (at least in a printable form) was, ‘I’d marry her, whatever she were’.

Shortly after the marriage in Alnwick, the couple moved to Wales and then, during the 1880s, to Dalbeattie, where they lived for the rest of their lives apart from a brief period in Arklow, Ireland. In all, the couple had eight children.

At the end of their recent visit to the Bailiffgate Museum, Patricia and her daughters were delighted to have seen the place where all those years ago William and Mary tied the knot and to have their picture taken in the very spot that the happy couple would have stood as they came out after their ceremony.

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