Friday, 17 August 2012

Newbiggin by the Sea, Northumberland

The earliest recorded spelling of the name Newbiggin is dated 1187 and is Niwebiginga which in Old English means ‘new building or house’.   

In 1240 the village was in the hands of John Baliol, Regent of Scotland and founder of Baliol College, Oxford.  The estates passed to King Edward 1st after John was forced to abdicate in 1295, then they passed onto John Dreux, Earl of Richmond.  However it would appear that the estates were largely managed by appointed bailiffs and freeholders who enjoyed full rights for cattle grazing.  The Crown again acquired ownership then passed it onto John de Denton of Newcastle followed by the Widdrington family.  However after the Widdrington’s backed the wrong side in the Jackobite Rising of 1715 it again passed back to the Crown. 

One of the more noticeable buildings in the village is St Bartholomew’s church situated on a barren treeless promontory known as the ‘Point’.  The church dates back to early 13th Century with the addition of a spire in the 14th Century.  It later undertook a rescue and remodelling package in the 19th Century.  The position of the church on the ‘Point’ means it is of greater benefit to mariners and fishermen than to its followers.  It is believed a smaller church occupied this site before 1174.

                                            St Bartholomew's on Church Point
The passage of time saw the expansion of the village and the development of the port facilities for the export of grain and grindstones (it was rumoured that it was third in importance after London and Hull).  However in the early 19th Century this industry was overtaken by Newbiggin’s oldest and most notable industry – fishing.  The local fleet expanded to accommodate large herring boats as well as shallow draft cobles (fishing boats).  Amongst the fishing cottages there can be found the Lifeboat House 1851 (oldest working lifeboat house in the country), sheds, cobles, sea tractors and the Herring House (for coopering, barrelling and kippering).  The drive to build the Lifeboat house came from the tragic loss of 10 young fishermen from 4 boats in March 1851 when a storm suddenly arose.  The lifeboats were regularly hauled by the women folk in support of the men.  In 1940 during the rescue of the Eminent the lifeboat was launched, landed and relaunched at the other side of the Point having being dragged by 60 men and women through wind and snow.

                                                                                                               Fishing cobles

        Sea tractor for pulling boats ashore  

During the Edwardian and Victorian periods the village became a much sought after beach resort for the middle and working classes of Tyneside and South East Northumberland, attracting hundreds of visitors per day during the summer months.  A new gas works was opened in 1865 followed by a fully functioning railway station in 1870.  In 1862, The Haven, a large summer residence was built with views over the sea for a member of the Trevelyan family from Wallington, the house subsequently became the Newbiggin colliery managers home.  Other houses overlooking the sea were summer homes for rich business people and ship owners from Tyneside.  1,3 and 5 Front Street are said to be the oldest properties in the village which prior to 1850 housed the Johnson and Company brewery.

                                                The Bandstand on the Piazza
In 1868 the first telegraph cable from Scandanavia came ashore at the Point.  Cables were floated on tar barrels, towed ashore by longboats, pulled up the beach by horses then placed in trenches cut by fishermen, terminating at the Cable House.

The Promenade and Piazza
In 1908 Newbiggin colliery was sunk and did not close until 1967, at its peak it employed 1400 men.  The first manager came from Durham and, it appears, quite a number of Durham folk made their homes in Newbiggin shortly afterwards.  41 men have lost their lives in this pit.  However, this did not detract from the tourist industry, as a promenade, bandstand and bathing shelters were built between 1929 and 1932.  The promenade was opened by Sir Charles Trevelyan in May 2932.  Visitors came by bus and train to enjoy trips around the bay, the Pierot shows and other entertainment.  The faded glory of bank holidays in Newbiggin is still maintained with Bertorelli’s 1930’s period CafĂ© Riviera and the Coble Public House.

                                                                 Front Street
Storms, extreme sea erosion and collapsed mine workings destroyed the sea front and led to flooding of the village.  In 1993 a sea wall improvement scheme was introduced which included the refurbishment of the bandstand and development of a piazza.  In 2007 the beach was recharged by importing 500,000 tonnes of sand from Skegness and deposited on the beach through a 1m diameter pipe.  Breakwaters were installed and a brass statue by sculpture Sean Henry named Couple, is anchored at the centre of the bay.

Map of Newbiggin by the Sea

Additional Reading:

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Alnmouth has a long and varied history with evidence of nearby early bronze age activity.  The river Aln was marked on a map by the geographer Ptolemy which dates back to AD 150, suggesting an interest by Romans cartographers who mapped the coastline and rivers.

Adtwifydri or Adtuifydri (‘at the two fords’) is the name used by the Venerable Bede to describe the meeting of river and tributary at the mouth of the river Aln.  It is also the probable site of a great synod in 684 AD in which St Cuthbert was chosen as the Bishop of Lindisfarne.

In about 1152 a Norman knight – William de Vesci was given permission to hold court at Alnmouth, which raised the importance of the locality and a new town was started.  During the medieval period the town thrived on the exporting of stone, grain, wool, sheepskin and leather, and became quite prosperous.

However, in 1314 the English were defeated by the Scots at the battle of Banockburn.  Later, in about 1336, Alnmouth was raided, which together with the subsequent effects of the Plague in 1348 saw a general decline in economic activity and labour shortages.

The 16th Century saw the rise of the Border Reivers across Northumberland and the Scottish Lowlands and the corresponding increase in lawlessness throughout the area.  Economic prosperity continued at low levels until 1603 with the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland.  By the 18th Century Alnmouth was prominent for grain exports and importing goods from London.  Many new granaries were built to accommodate the rise in industrial activity.

To the south of the river estuary is Church hill which has an Anglo Saxon cross and was the probable site of an Anglo Saxon church.  The river Aln always flowed to the south of Church hill which was joined to the main township by a low lying piece of land.  On Christmas Day 1806 a huge storm caused the river to breach the land and changed its course directly into the sea, leaving the estuary to fill with silt. 

As ships became bigger and built of iron and steel, they became harder to dock in the tricky harbour conditions and this again led to a decline in the towns prosperity.  Now the granaries have been converted into houses and Alnmouth has embraced tourism as the ‘new’ industry with its picture postcard pastel cottages and red painted 18 century roofs.

Map of Alnmouth