Alnwick, Family History Society

The beautiful display of spring flowers at Bowburn Park beside Alnwick Castle.'Picture Jane Coltman
The beautiful display of spring flowers at Bowburn Park beside Alnwick Castle.'Picture Jane Coltman

Alnwick Branch of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society opened its 2017 programme with a well-received talk by local historian, actor and speaker Andy Griffin, entitled ‘Notable Names from Alnwick District’

Andy highlighted well-known Northumbrians, ranging all the way from the Greys of Howick to Lucy Bronze and Laura Weightman, all of whose achievements have brought recognition to the area.

Charles Grey, second Earl Grey (1764-1845), was one of the most famous Whig Prime Ministers, contributing greatly to the reform of government in the United Kingdom.

The Great Reform Act of 1832, along with the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, is his lasting legacy. His monument in central Newcastle, erected in 1838, pays tribute to his great achievements.

On a personal level, he was infamous for his affair with Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, whose love child Eliza Courtney was brought up locally by the Grey family.

The next notable was Josephine Butler, born in 1838, whose father John Grey was the cousin of Charles Grey. Josephine married George Butler, a devout Christian. Following the tragic death of their daughter Evangeline, she threw herself into social reform work.

Having seen the suffering and problems created by prostitution, she campaigned for changes to the one-sided Contagious Disease Acts.

She was committed to the abolition of women and child slavery across Europe and brought the need for social reform to the attention of the public. It was William Thomas Stead from Embleton who would be responsible for bringing her work to prominence.

Stead had risen quickly in journalism, becoming Editor of the Northern Echo in his early 20s and is seen as the pioneer of investigative journalism. Together with Josephine, his reporting influenced public opinion and changed government policy concerning child welfare. Sadly Stead, a staunch pacifist, lost his life on the Titanic whilst on his way to address a peace conference in the USA.

Our next notable was Edward Grey, First Viscount of Fallodon (1882-1933), local Liberal MP and Foreign Secretary from 1905 until 1916.

He is perhaps best known for his remark in August 1914 at the start of the First World War when he said “The lamps are going out all over Europe …” Edward was ahead of his time in emphasising the need for co-operation with European countries and for rule by international law.

He went on to become Ambassador to the USA from 1919-20 and leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords from 1927-29.

John Burnett (1842- 1914) was born in Alnwick the illegitimate son of a shoe maker, and went on to become a leading Trade Unionist.

John attended the Duke of Northumberland’s charity school before training to be an engineer. He led a strike in 1871 at Armstrong’s engineering works at Elswick, Newcastle, which resulted in a nine-hour day being successfully introduced for workers there, and then widely throughout Britain.

Andy also highlighted how our two local sportswomen prove that the region continues to produce people with determination to succeed. He concluded that, whether a product of nature or nurture, Northumberland can be proud of its ‘notables’.

The next meeting of the Alnwick Branch of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society will be on Tuesday, April 4, at the Bailiffgate Museum, 7.15pm for 7.30pm. The speaker will be David Lockie with his talk ‘Bamburgh to Otago. A Family History’.