Latest news from North Northumberland Family History Society

We were pleased to welcome back Linda Bankier, from Berwick Record Office, whose topic was the families of Berwick.

The HLF-funded Berwick 900 Festival made good use of volunteers and some of the findings are now available on the website for the public to search.

Some of the characters researched were well-known, others less so. Dr MacLagan was one of the former.

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Linda showed a photograph of three generations, who all became doctors. The first was a keen botanist and church elder. Originally from Edinburgh, he played an active life in Berwick, even providing tea for travellers coming to trade at the May Fair. He and his wife had 11 children and lived in Woolmarket, and later Ravensdowne. So concerned was he about the unhygienic state of the drains in Berwick that he was charged with wasting water when he used it to flush them out.

Upon his death it was decided to erect a statue in his memory and £150 was raised by public subscription. A statue of Hygeia, the goddess of health, was placed in Marygate and later outside the infirmary.

It was learnt that some of his daughters became missionaries in China and his brother became Archbishop of York.

Less well-known is Ellen Ainslie. She was the first name and the only woman listed on Berwick’s war memorial.

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Born in Paxton in 1893, she married in 1914 in Hampshire, where her soldier husband was stationed. She died in 1917 of cardiac failure caused by working in a munitions factory at Gretna.

McBains of Tweedmouth sponsored a float during Charities Week in 1918 with women demonstrating the manufacture of shells. A photograph of the float has survived.

The Maltings Youth Theatre staged street theatre as part of the project and re-enacted a Military Tribunal from 1916, which attracted a good audience. Robert Gladstone was one of many appellants who lost his case and went to war.

Berwick awarded the title of Honorary Freeman to men who returned and they raised funds for a bed in a Russian hospital after the war.

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Berwick’s whaling history was also looked at, notably the diary of Thomas Crowther, who joined the Norfolk, which became ice-bound on a voyage to Greenland in 1837. The diary contains grim accounts of starving and dying mariners when they were forced to over-winter in Arctic waters. The Norfolk docked at Carr Rock the following May.

Research on the fishing families of the Greenses was a project in itself. Familiar names such as Manuel, Burgon, Borthwick and Jamieson provided a wealth of stories. The Burgon family tree became a familiar sight at Berwick 900 events and was added to by the public. The connections through inter-marriage of fishing families proved complex.

Linda has developed family history walks around the Greenses and Ravensdowne, which are proving very popular. A book for people tracing their ancestry in the area has also been produced, as has a database of Freemen and educational packs for schools, based on real families once resident nearby. Several family history days were held at the Guildhall, attended by hundreds of people who brought new stories of Berwick folk.

It was evident that this was a very successful project and one that will bear fruits for local and family historians for years to come. We are grateful to Linda for sharing the findings with us. For more information go to and look under Projects.

Our next meeting is on Saturday, March 18, at 10am, at Bell View, Belford, when the topic will be Unusual Sources for Family History. All are welcome.

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