Alnwick, History Society

Bailiffgate Museum, Alnwick.
Bailiffgate Museum, Alnwick.

Village’s rich history

The February meeting of Alnwick and District Local History Society opened with a tribute from Bob Harrison to its stalwart Carnegie Brown, who died on Shrove Tuesday. Carnegie was chairman of the society for many years and became its first president. He will be sorely missed.

Barry Mead then gave a talk on Cresswell’s Curiosities – a wide-ranging, illustrated selection of history and anecdotes about the coastal village of Cresswell, which has a rich history and ancient treasures.

In the 19th century, Cresswell was a fishing village with its own lifeboat. For 69 years, all the coxwains were members of the Brown family. In January 1876, Margaret Brown was involved in a difficult and dangerous rescue of the crew of the SS Gustav, which led to her being called the Second Grace Darling.

Another unsung hero is Captain Joe Baker Cresswell. Early in the Second World War, a German U-boat was captured. An Enigma machine and code books were obtained, and taken speedily to Bletchley Park.

But Barry’s abiding interest is archaeology. Along the coast, the sea is eroding ancient archaeology at an alarming rate. Recent finds include a Bronze Age burial site, an Iron Age round house, and, most significantly, a Mesolithic hut dated to about 8,000 BC. Sea erosion brings peat layers to the surface, which quickly disappear, so volunteers regularly patrol the beach. Barry has found animal footprints in the layers, including scratch marks made by bears.

Cresswell has a listed pele tower, now in ruins. It is hoped to obtain lottery funds for its restoration since of 175 pele towers in Northumberland, over 60 per cent have been demolished and only one is open to the public. Cresswell’s tower is 15th century and finely built, with a magnificent floor still in situ.

A huge mansion was built next to the tower. This was demolished to make way for a grander hall, but this was demolished in the 1930s because of subsidence. The pele tower still stands, possibly because the walls are two metres thick. We wish them luck.

The next meeting is the AGM on March 22, at 7pm at Bailiffgate Museum (note the earlier time). Chris Hunwick will talk about the archives of the Duke of Northumberland.