Alnwick, History Society

Alnwick Town Centre
Alnwick Town Centre

The Alnwick branch of Northumberland and Durham Family History Society opened its 2017 programme with a talk by local historian, actor and speaker Andy Griffin, entitled Notable Names from Alnwick District.

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

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845), was one of the most famous Whig Prime Ministers, contributing greatly to the reform of government in the UK. The Great Reform Act of 1832, along with the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, is his lasting legacy. His monument in Newcastle, erected in 1838, pays tribute to his achievements.

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.

Having seen the suffering created by prostitution and how it was controlled, she campaigned for changes to the Contagious Disease Acts. She was committed to the abolition of women and child slavery across Europe.

William Thomas Stead, from Embelton, brought her work to prominence. Stead had risen quickly in journalism, becoming editor of the Northern Echo in his early 20s, and was a pioneer of investigative journalism. His reporting influenced public opinion and changed Government policy concerning child welfare. Stead, a staunch pacifist, lost his life on the Titanic whilst on his way to address a peace conference.

Edward Grey, 1st Viscount of Fallodon (1882-1933), was a Liberal MP and Foreign Secretary from 1905-1916. He is perhaps best known for his remark at the start of World War I when he said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe.”

Edward emphasised the need for co-operation with European countries and for rule by international law. He was ambassador to the USA from 1919-1920, and leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords from 1927-1929.

John Burnett (1842- 1914) was born in Alnwick, the illegitimate son of a shoe maker, and became a leading trade unionist. He 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, which resulted in a nine-hour day being introduced.

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

The next meeting is on Tuesday, at Bailiffgate Museum, at 7.30pm. The speaker will be David Lockie on Bamburgh To Otago: A Family History.