Northumberland and Durham Family History Society, North Northumberland Group

MEMBERS’ FORUM: The latest Northumberland and Durham Family History Society’s North Northumberland Group meeting took the form of a members’ forum following a discussion at the previous meeting when members said how much they enjoyed stories and talks from our own members.

On this occasion, three members gave short accounts of recent research.

One of our members is currently transcribing correspondence from Charles Ferguson, the architect employed by Lord Armstrong.

A letter to Lord Carlisle dispelled the longstanding myth that the magnificent ceiling in the Great Hall at Bamburgh Castle was handcarved and took 10 years to complete. Reference was made in his letter to the machinery used and the speed with which the task was completed.

The Lord Crewe Trust, established after the death of Lord Crewe in the 18th century, did magnificent work in Bamburgh village, establishing a school, dispensary, hospital, lifeboat station, and much more, but it ran into financial difficulties in the 1880s. We were shown a plan of the Trustees’ wine cellars and wondered if this was connected with the enormous stocks of alcohol listed, including 12 dozen bottles of port.

Another member has collected examples of unusual weather occurrences in this country. Bede refers to famines and droughts lasting three years, resulting in mass suicides over cliffs on the south coast.

A drought from 1538-41 resulted in an early harvest in June and the death of hundreds of cattle.

In 1703 the worst known storm in Britain took place, with up to 10,000 people killed and 150 ships wrecked. The friction of the sails caused windmills to catch fire.

As recently as 1911 a summer heat wave meant that quarries in Clitheroe were forced to open at 4.30am to permit work in cooler conditions.

A piece of glass, several inches thick, from the porthole of RMS Orita was shown. The glass was blown in by a storm during a voyage to Argentina in the early 20th century.

Nowadays it is common for people to begin their family history by turning straight to the internet. We were shown an example of research pursued in pre-internet days by the traditional route of visiting record offices to look at original documents. In this case the researcher was fortunate to locate family papers in the archives which took him back to indentures from 1722 where he was able to see his ancestors’ signatures.

The story was a familiar one, of property-owning country people who became agricultural labourers and then moved into the town to develop their farming/butchery business.

Bankruptcy, which resulted in them losing the property, can have advantages for family historians as it can produce an interesting inventory, as in this case. The family property in Herefordshire still stands and even the cider mill and press are still there.

Some of the family history research carried out today solely on the internet results in impressively large lists of ancestors but is sadly lacking in detail and colour.

In contrast, this was an excellent example of family history rich in detail and pursued with patience and perseverance.

Next month we have an outside speaker. Barry Mead will be speaking on Monkey Business at a Medieval Abbey.

Come along to Bell View Resource Centre, West Street, Belford, for 10am on Saturday, March 19. New members welcome.