|>||Anciently written Aldenston, that is Alden's
town, and more recently Aldstone; is a region of dreary wastes and narrow dales;
bounded on the west by Cross Fell, Hartside Fell, and Thackmoor Fell, and on the other
sides by high lands in the counties of Northumberland, Durham, and Westmorland. It is
included in Leath ward, gives name to a county court district, petty sessional and county
council electoral divisions; and with Garrigill forms the head of a poor-law union, and
The parish is of very considerable extent, stretching lengthwise from north to south about nine miles, and from east to west about eight miles. It comprises 36,000 acres, and is divided into two parts known as Low District and High District. The former contains 12,000 acres and embraces all the district lying north of Blackburn rivulet, Natrass gill, and Nenthall tenement. The rivers South Tyne, Blackburn Nent, Gildersdale Burn, and several smaller streams intersect the parish. They rise and unite here and flow through some deep dells, which afford in a few places good pasturage for sheep and cattle. There is very little arable land in the district, and but few acres are under tillage. Healthy1 moorlands form its distinguishing feature, and over a wide extent the traveller searches in vain for a single spot of beauty on which to feast his weary eyes. But though uninviting in its aspect, the parish possesses many features of interest to the students of geology and mineralogy. The lead mines of Alston have long been regarded as the most productive in the north; silver, copper, zinc, iron, and coal are also found, and several minerals in the crystallised state. The soil is a mixture of clay, moss, and sand. Small trout abound in the rivers, and grouse upon the moors, where grow clustered bramble-like cranberries, commonly called cloud-berries. This rich mining district was formerly very difficult of access, owing to the rough and broken state of its roads, but in 1823 an Act of Parliament was obtained for making new roads from the town of Alston to Penrith, Brampton, and Hexham; and another road has since been made from Alston, over Yadmoss, to Greta Bridge, in Yorkshire. A branch line of railway was constructed some few years ago, connecting Alston with the Newcastle and Carlisle line, which has tended greatly to develop the mineral wealth of the district. The population seems to be steadily on the decrease; in 1881, it was 4,621; in 1891, 3,384; in 1899, 2,684. Between 1831, when the inhabitants numbered 6,858, and the present time, is a falling off of over four thousand people. The gross rental of the whole parish is £16,764, and the ratable value £13,975. The inhabitants, who are chiefly employed in mining, are civil, industrious, and intelligent, and show, by the dialect they speak, very little communication with the world beyond their own dales. Speaking of the homes and home lives of the miners, Mr. Forster says :- "I prosecuted a pretty extensive house-to-house visitation, found everything clean, whole, and in its place; no trumpery little ornaments, as in the collier cottages. Where there is a picture, it is that of some favourite minister, such as Wesley; or a copy of the "Cottar's Saturday Night." There are in almost every cottage some select Sunday books, besides the Bible and hymn-books; an occasional volume of poetry, as Cowper, Milton, Burns, or some favourite local author, and not unfrequently some of the extensively illustrated books published by Fullarton, Black, or Blackie. I counted 19 copies of the Imperial Dictionary. There were no cheap periodicals or people's editions - they are not reckoned at all canny. The miners like everything good of its kind. Many of them have cows, and not a few of them have a pony also. The remarkable personal beauty of the children, as compared with those of the adjoining colliery districts, is, I presume, to be attributed to nothing but the transmitted and reflected intelligence, which has resulted to their parents from their moral and religious cultivation. I saw nothing of a neglected brat; dirty or undarned stockings; no unblackened clogs or unwashed faces. The general character of the lead miners presents a striking contrast to that of the colliers. They consist of families who have lived for ages on the spot . . . . A steady, provident, orderly, and industrious people. Engaged from year to year by the leadowners, and generally besides their work underground, cultivate a small farm, which in many cases is their own. A high-minded people they are, too, disdaining pauperism, as the deepest degradation. They have been subject to very little or no mixture for ages past, as appears by their language . . . . approximating to the dialect of the lowlands of Scotland. The lead miners are remarkably intelligent, and well educated. There are books in almost every cottage. Attendance on public worship is the rule, not the exception, and profane language is scarcely every heard."
Another writer whilst giving an equally glowing account of the ease and comfort which he everywhere beheld, deplored the prevalence of the vice of immorality. "We must not, however, suffer ourselves to be misled, though we may be surprised at such a state of things. It does not necessarily follow that there is more wickedness in these villages than in towns, which, by a comparison, show a smaller return of illegitimate births; and the same argument applies to the rural districts of Scotland, against which the charge of immorality has been brought. For here in this lead mining country, a girl does not lose caste by having borne a child out of wedlock; though trouble may be occasioned at first, she continues to live in her father's house, sharing still in the privileges of home, and is not despised by her mother and sisters. . . . But should she play the wanton, and repeat the offence, then she forfeits her position and prospect of matrimony."
The manor of Alston Moor, comprehending about 40 square miles, was confirmed to William Vipont, or Veteripont, by William the Lion, King of Scotland; and a further confirmation was given by King John, in 1209. By an inquest taken in the 8th of Edward II, (A.D. 1315), after the death of Nicholas de Veteripont, it was found that he died possessed of "the capital messuage of Alston, 14 acres of arable land, 100 acres of meadow, 33 tenants of Gerardsgill, with 33 shieldings at £5 18s. yearly rent, 13 tenants at Amotes-halth at £3 8s. 4d., 22 tenants at Nent and Corbrig-gate, with 22 shieldings at 5s. 2d. yearly rent; also a water corn mill, a fulling mill, and 3,000 acres of pasture in Alston Moor; all which premises were held of the manor of Werk." John de Clifford held the manor of Alston with Ellerington and Gerardgill, in the 10th of Henry V, paying yearly into the king's exchequer, at Carlisle, £6 13s. 4d. rent. In 1443, it was granted by Thomas Whytlawe, to William Staplyton and Margaret his wife, with whose daughter Mary it passed in marriage to the Hiltons, of Hilton Castle, in the County of Durham, who, in the reign of James I (A.D. 1618), sold it to Sir Francis Radclyffe, of Dilston, and continued in that family till the attainder of his descendant, James Radclyffe, third Earl of Derwentwater, in 1716, after which it was settled by Act of Parliament on Greenwich Hospital, to which institution it still belongs. Previous to the year 1611 the lands in this manor were mostly held on copyhold tenure, but during the next ten years all these copyhold tenancies were converted into leasehold ones for a term of 999 years, for which a small yearly acknowledgment is paid, and at the expiration of each 21 years, a fine of twenty times that amount. These holders are bound by covenant to serve on the Manor Court, which is held in the agents' office at Lowbyer yearly, in October. This court takes cognisance of the correctness of weights and measures, and adjudicates on damages done between tenant and tenant, and by the mining lessees to the landholders. Some of these functions have merged into other courts of later creation, but its power of adjudication in reference to damages is peremptorily upheld. This court is presided over by the steward of the manor (David Maine, Carlisle), who is assisted by a bailiff, and twenty-four jurymen. The principal landowners of the parish are the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty; the Nenthead and Tynedale Zinc Co.; the Exors. of T.W. Crawhall-Wilson; Robert H. Horrocks, Salkeld Hall; W.P. King, Wanwood; R. Atkinson; Carlisle and Cumberland Bank; Colonel Alfred Molyneaux Byng; Joseph Watson, Newton Reigny; and John Clark, Millfield, Wooller.
THE LEAD MINES. - Few districts surpass Alston Moor in the richness and abundance of its mineral wealth. Silver, lead, copper, zinc, iron, and coal are found in varying quantity, but the chief interest of Alston centres in its lead mines, with which metal the district has long been identified. It is not improbable that its metallic treasures were known to the Romans; at any rate they constructed a military road, known as the Maiden Way, traversing the district from the great wall southward through Westmorland. From Pliny we learn that lead was found in great abundance in Britain in the upper crust of the ground, and it is probable that during the Roman occupation it became an important article of commerce. The mines to which Pliny refers appear to have been in the neighbourhood of the Peak in Derbyshire, where pigs of lead have been found bearing Latin inscriptions. After the departure of the Romans the Saxons continued to work these mines, one of which, near Castleton, they dedicated to their god Odin. There is, however, no positive proof that the Romans were acquainted with the mineral wealth of Alston, no blocks or pigs like those alluded to above have been found, nor do any of the old mines bear traces of Roman workmanship. But if they be not Roman they at least boast a very respectable antiquity, and stand on record as having been worked ever since the reign of the last Norman King. In the twelfth century there was a mint at Carlisle, which there is every reason to suppose was supplied with silver from the mines of Alston. The Northumberland Pipe Roll for the year 1226 contains a charge of £2,154 for "rent of the mine of Carlisle," which by subsequent records in 1356 A.D. and 1414 A.D., is identified with that of Alston. The King, from his prerogative of coining, was entitled to all mines of gold and silver, which, on that account, were called Royal mines; and he was entitled to this privilege, though these metals were found in mines of base metal. The mines of Alston, in common, with all others held by the king, were protected by several Royal charters, which guaranteed to the workers in them peculiar privileges and immunities, and prohibited any one from unjustly disturbing them under a penalty of £10. These privileges often inflicted severe hardship on the occupiers of the land. One, perhaps the most obnoxious, empowered any person to dig and search for veins of ore without being accountable to the owner of the soil for any damage done to the surface, or even to the growing crops. In the 18th Edward I (1289-90) Henry de Whitby and Joan, his wife, impleaded several of the miners for cutting down and carrying away their trees. The miners, in their answer to the charge, claim the privileges belonging to all Royal mines; one of which gives a right to take away any wood whatsoever that shall be near to, and convenient for, their work, and that they have also a right at their will and pleasure to use and dispose of that wood for burning and smelting, and for paying the workmen their wages, and also to give away what they think fit for their poor workmen. They claimed to have exercised these rights from time immemorial. The old and absurd laws which regulated the working of Royal mines have been modified or abolished by recent Acts of Parliament.
These mines had their own special courts for administering the laws which regulated the working of them, and for settling any claims or disputes which might arise concerning them. At Alston, it appears from inquests held at Penrith, in the years 1356 and 1415, the judicial affairs of the mines were administered by a coroner, as judge, a king's sergeant, as sheriff or head bailiff, and a jury of twelve. The occupiers of the land did not always quietly submit to the spoliation of their crops, but sometimes resorted to physical force to prevent the miners prosecuting a search for the ore in their grounds. In 1359, one Tilman, a native of Cologne, who held the mines by lease under a certain rent of the freemen of Penrith, obtained letters patent directing the king's bailiffs to maintain and protect the said Tilman and his workmen while at their labour, and not to suffer them to be injured or molested. In 1417, the mine of Alston was held by William Stapleton, Esq., at the yearly rent of £10. Edward IV, in 1468, included Alston in a munificent grant of all the gold and silver mines in the kingdom, to Richard Neville, the famous Earl of Warwick, better known as the "King Maker," his brother, the Earl of Northumberland, and others; and a few years subsequently the mine of Fletchers, near Garrigill in this parish, was granted by the same king to his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and others. After the attainder and execution of the unfortunate Earl of Derwentwater, the mines with the manor were settled by Act of Parliament upon Greenwich Hospital, now represented by the Lords of the Admiralty. In 1768 there were 119 lead mines in the parish, 103 of which were held under lease from that institution. At that time the yearly output was about 20,610 bings (8,244 tons), worth about £70,000. The mines were less productive in succeeding years, and at the end of the century the annual value of the metal produced did not exceed £16,000, and the number of persons employed about 1,100. In 1858, there were about 48 mines in operation belonging to the Lords of the Admiralty, and about 21 in the manor of Tyne Head, the aggregate output being 5,382 tons of ore, from which were obtained 3,960 tons of lead and 28,056 ounces of silver. During the past few years the lead trade has been in a very depressed condition, many of the mines are lying idle, and the number of miners employed, considerably reduced. During the year 1881, the total produce was 2,129 tons of ore, which yielded about 1,200 tons of lead and 11,000 ounces of silver. In 1883, the yield was still more restricted, the total quantity being 1,771 tons. Since that date the average yearly amount has decreased considerably. In 1899, the total quantity of dressed lead ore reached 514, out of which 366 tons of lead were obtained, and 2,942 ounces of silver. The most productive mines are those belonging to The Vieille Montague Zinc Company at Longcleugh, Smallcleugh, Middlecleugh, Capleclough, Guddamgill, Carrs, and Hangingshaw; to Messrs. Pritchard, Craig Green; and the Nentsbury Mining Company.
The lead ore or galena (locally termed bowse), is always found in veins, many of which may he traced for several miles. The mines are leased to the various companies or individuals who work them by the Lords of the Admiralty, who exact a royalty of a twelfth of the produce for lead, and a fifteenth for other minerals; but owing to the present depression, their lordships have conceded a reduction, and at present an eighteenth is paid for all classes of minerals. The lead ore varies in quality from 70 to 75 per cent. of metal, and yields on an average about eight or ten ounces of silver to the ton. Zinc also abounds in the parish. It occurs in the form of blende, a native sulphuret, called by the miners black jack, and also as calamine, a native carbonate. The miner in following a vein frequently strikes into a cavern whose sides are encrusted with various spars, which sparkle beneath the light of his lamp like a thousand diamonds in some Golcondan grotto. These caverns vary greatly in size; one in Gildersdale Fell, known as Tutman Hole, has been explored for more than a mile from its mouth without finding its extremity. The spars which line these caverns, presenting the most curious and fantastic forms, are of four kinds, viz., calcareous, fluor, cauk or barytic, and quartz. Iron ore, containing from 30 to 60 per cent. of metal has been found, but not in sufficient quantities to render it a marketable article. The Crow Coal, met with on Alston Moor and Cross Fell, contains a large proportion of pyrites (sulphuret of iron), bums very slowly, is intensely hot with very little flame, and emits a strong sulphurous smell. It is found in thin seams near the surface, and by mixing with clay is formed into fireballs, and used by the miners. Carbonate of barytes also occurs in sufficient quantities for remunerative working. When it is ascertained that ores exist in any particular place, a shaft is sunk in the ground, or if the situation admit, a level or adit is driven; means being likewise employed to remove water and destructive fluids from the mine. Fire damp is not often met with in lead mines, but choke damp is very common. The Grand Aqueduct, called Nent Force Level, cut by order of the Trustees of the Hospital, extends to Nent Head, a distance of five miles underground. Several boats are kept in it, and guides are in readiness at any of the inns for those who wish to explore these subterraneous wonders. Its mouth is near to the town of Alston, where the river Nent forms a very romantic waterfall.
The Town, which gives a name to the parish, lies in the midst of a mountainous district, and is said to be the highest market town in England. The height of the Market Place is 963 feet above the sea level. The wild, rugged character of the locality, and its distance from the more habitable parts of the country, were, until the construction of the branch line connecting it with the Newcastle and Carlisle railway, almost insurmountable hindrances to the visits of strangers. The town is situated near the confluence of the South Tyne and Nent, 19 miles N.E. of Penrith, 20 S.E. of Brampton., 29 E.S.E. from Carlisle by road and 35¼ by rail, 43 from Newcastle by road and 50 by rail, and 281 from London. The houses are generally built of stone, with slated roofs, and have been placed without much attention to regularity. Hutchinson, at the close of the 18th century, thus speaks of it :- "It is a small market town, meanly built, situated at the declivity of a steep hill, inhabited by miners. The fatigue of passing bad roads was in no wise alleviated by the scene which presented itself here. Pent in a narrow valley, over which mountains frowned with a melancholy sterility and nakedness; the wind tempestuous, impending clouds stretching forth a dark and disconsolate curtain over the face of the morning, rain beating vehemently against the windows, which were not able to resist the storm; a few trees standing near the inn tossed by the heavy blasts which howled down the valley; such were the objects which presented themselves to us at Aldston . . . . . We might be bold to challenge Derbyshire or even Cornwall to produce so peculiarly wild a spot as Aldston Moor; where all that the earth produces is from its bowels, and where the people also are so generally subterraneous." The town is well supplied with water by an excellent spring on Broad Pothill, from which the water is conveyed in mains to five tanks situated in convenient parts of the town. It was lighted with gas for the first time in May, 1843. Gas is retailed at 4s. 2d. per 1,000 cubic feet. The market is held on Saturday, and fairs for sheep, cattle, etc., on the third Saturday in March, the last Thursday in May, the Saturday on or before the 27th September, the Saturday before the feast of St. Luke (October 18), and the first Thursday in November.
The Church, dedicated to St. Augustine, was rebuilt in 1870, at a cost of over £4,500, and the spire erected some years later. It is a handsome edifice, in the Early English style, and consists of nave, chancel, aisle, and tower surmounted by a graceful spire. The Church Building Society contributed £50 towards the cost of erection, on condition that all the seats should be free; the remainder was raised by public subscription. The church contains several fine stained glass windows; also a very handsome font in memory of Hugh Salvin, given by Frances Alice Fenwick. The organ was built at a cost of £670, by Messrs. Bryson and Co., of London. The bell which now calls the people to worship is the same which long ago summoned the family of the unfortunate Earl of Derwentwater to dinner at Dilston Hall. The estates being declared forfeited, they were settled upon Greenwich Hospital, to which the Alston portion of them still belongs. Gibson, in his "Memorials of Dilston Hall," says:
"The clock and bell were given to the church of St. Augustine at Aldstone. The former bore the date of 1714, and therefore had not long been in possession of the earl. The board minute of the Commissioners, for the donation of the bell and clock to Aldstone Church, is dated 28th. August, 1767."
The bell was cracked in 1844 by being vigorously struck with a hammer to proclaim the joyful tidings of a wedding between two well-known people. It was recast in 1845. The earliest record of a church at Alston is in the reign of Henry II, at which time the advowson belonged to the King, but was subsequently appropriated to the monastery of Hexham by Ivo de Veteriponte, lord of the manor of Alston. This appropriation was resisted by the King, who claimed the advowson as an appendage of the Crown. Representatives of the ancient name of Veteriponte, now curtailed to Vipond, still linger in the parish. The patronage of the church was, however, restored to the monks of Hexham by Edward I whilst lying sick at Lanercost Priory during the winter of 1306-7. This convent was an offshoot of Hexham, and this may explain the influence which was exerted in favour of the mother house. The good monks, however, not content with the patronage alone, petitioned the King in 1335 for the appropriation of the revenues to their own use, but their request does not appear to have been granted until 1376. In the third year of Edward VI the rectory and advowson of Alston were granted to Sir John Peryent, Knt., and Thomas Reeve, gentleman, and afterwards to Arthur Lee and Thomas Archer, who admitted Sir Thomas Hilton, Knt., to a third portion. The Lords of the Admiralty, on behalf of Greenwich Hospital, are now the impropriators and patrons of the living, which, for a number of years has invariably been conferred upon a chaplain in the Royal Navy. In 1535 the living was stated to be worth £7 13s., and in 1663 the parish church and the chapel of Garrigill were supplied by one clergyman, whose stipend was only £12 6s. 8d. with "some sundry glebe." In 1754 the benefice was worth £20, and in 1835 its net value was £130. It is now worth about £300, and is held by the Rev. William Alan Rutherford, D.D. and J.P., who is assisted by the Rev. Henry Burgh Dolland, M.A., as curate. By an Act passed in the 33rd George III, the governors of Greenwich Hospital received 3,551 acres of land in lieu of great tithes, and by a voluntary rate of 4d. in the pound the parishioners purchased a close of land, which the vicar now possesses, in lieu of tithes, together with a small yearly modus. This parish, with its chapelries, was, until 1882, included in the bishopric of Durham, but on the creation of the diocese of Newcastle in that year, it was transferred to the new See.
The vicarage is a plain modern building, erected at the expense of the impropriators, in consideration of the Rev. B. Jackson, the then vicar, having ceded to them his right of every third presentation to the benefice.
The following curious piece of tombstone literature, to the memory of a cobbler, may be seen in the churchyard :-
My Cutting-board's to pieces split,
Nonconformity is well represented in the parish by three or four different shades of dissent. The followers of George Fox were early established here, and still form an important congregation. Their chapel, which was erected in 1732, and repaired in 1859, will accommodate about 200 persons. The first Wesleyan chapel was erected in 1797, and enlarged in 1825; another has since been built, and also at Nenthead, Nentsbury, Garrigill, Brownside, and Nest. The Congregationalists have churches in the town of Alston and at Garrigill, and the Primitive Methodists have chapels at the same places, and also at Nentsbury and Blaygill.
The Grammar School, rebuilt in 1828 by subscription, is endowed with a revenue arising out of the Fairhill estate, which was purchased in 1739 by the churchwardens and overseers of Alston, with £217 left by several benefactors, for the poor and schools of Alston parish. The estate was at first encumbered by a mortgage of £68, but the holder, in 1796, bequeathed it to the school. This property has since been enlarged by an allotment of the common. On the expiration of the mastership of the school, this endowment, by a recent scheme of the Charity Commissioners, will no longer be paid to the master, but applied in maintaining exhibitions of not less than £15, nor more than £25, tenable for not more than four years at any place of higher education approved by the governors of the endowment appointed under the scheme.
Alston High School was erected in 1811 by subscription. For many years this school was entirely supported by voluntary contributions, the only payment exacted from the children being 6d. per annum for coals, etc. Afterwards a new arrangement was made by which each child paid 3d. per week in addition to the 6d. for coals. It is now under Government inspection and entirely free. Average attendance, 76. The Salvin National School for girls was erected by subscription in 1844. It is attended by about 50 children. The Infant School was built in 1851, at his own cost, by the Rev. Hugh Salvin, the then vicar. Average attendance, 54.
The Town Hall is a handsome Gothic building, the foundation stone of which was laid by Hugh Lee Pattinson, Esq., on the 15th July, 1857. The entire cost of the structure was nearly £3,000, which was raised by subscription. Its various apartments are all utilised, and let out to advantage. On the ground floor are a news room, district council room, and registrar's offices. Above is a spacious assembly room, capable of accommodating 400 persons, in which county courts and public meetings are held. Adjoining the Town Hall and connected with it is the savings bank. In the centre of the town stands a neat Market Cross, erected by subscription in 1883, at a cost of £154, of which sum H.P. Stephenson, Esq., London, contributed £60, and the Lords Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital a like sum. The cross, which previously occupied the site, formerly bore this inscription : "This Market Cross was erected by the Right Hon. Sir William Stephenson, Bart., born at Crossland, in this parish, and elected Lord Mayor of London in 1761." The house at which Sir William was born is now a farmstead, pleasantly situated on the Penrith old road, about a mile S.W. of Alston. It is now the property of H.P. Stephenson, Esq., mentioned above. When the house was rebuilt a few years ago, two lintels from the old building were preserved bearing the following initials and dates : "H.S. and R.S., 1688," and "T.S., H.S., and R.S., 1707." In 1843 Crossland became the subject of litigation. A man named Price, from the neighbourhood of Durham, whose wife was a Stephenson, laid forcible claim to the property, and, with the aid of five men whom he had engaged to assist him, he tried to obtain possession by unroofing the house. They were taken before the magistrates at Penrith, and committed to the sessions at Carlisle. At the trial they all pleaded guilty, and were bound over to keep off the aforementioned premises for ever.
Alston Poor Law Union is co-extensive with the parish, and contained, in 1891, a population of 3,384, showing a decrease since the previous census of 1,237. The workhouse is situated near the town of Alston, and is capable of accommodating 60 inmates, but the number of indoor paupers at present in the house is 14, who are maintained at an average weekly cost of 3s. 4d. each. The house is in charge of a master, matron, and assistant matron, and three guardians are appointed to pay a visit once a month. The spiritual welfare of the inmates is looked after by the vicar or his curate, who have service every Sunday, and the Wesleyan minister who attends every other Sunday.
CHARITIES. - Attwood's Charity. - Charles Attwood left by will the sum of £25 annually for poor people in physical need in the parish of Alston.
Stephenson's Charity. - In 1759, John Stephenson, alderman of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, left £4 a year to be equally divided among sixteen poor widows of Alston and Garrigill.
Langhorne's Charity. - In 1802, Charles Langhorne, of Craig Nook, devised property, mortgages, &c., which were sold, and, in 1818, the proceeds were vested in the purchase of £777 2s. 1d. three per cent. reduced Bank Annuities. The interest (£21 7s. 4d.) is distributed yearly to the poor of the parish resident above Nent hall.
Miss Hodgson, of Salkeld Hall, left £11 yearly for the poor, for coals and clothing. The money is at present in the hands of the vicar and churchwardens.
Samuel King, left in 1872, £2,000 for the town of Alston; after paying legacy duty, the original sum was allowed to accumulate, and in 1898, it amounted to £2,333 10s. 6d., producing an income of £64 3s. 3d. yearly. The money is in the hands of 10 trustees.
The Fairhill Estate (see Grammar School above).
Hutchinson's History of Cumberland, published in 1796, says: "On Gildersdale Fell is a bog or dead-water, the top of which is covered some inches thick with a sort of mud, which the neighbouring people use for painting yellow and red; it produces colours like yellow ochre and Spanish brown; but no scientific man has had the curiosity duly to investigate and analyse this uncommon production." This "uncommon production" has proved a veritable ochre, and is now manufactured into paint.
Leadgate is a small hamlet distant about two miles from Alston. The village school was rebuilt in 1850 by the Rodderup Fell Mining Company, at a cost of about £600. There is accommodation for 95 children, but the average attendance is only 40. There are a small library and a Mutual Improvement Society, from which much benefit has been derived by the miners of the district. Religious services are held in the school-room every Sunday afternoon by the Rev. Henry Burgh Dolland, M.A., curate of Alston.
Garrigill, sometimes written Garrowgill and Garragill, is a corruption of Gerrard's Gill, the name by which it was known in former times. The chapelry lies about four miles south of Alston, and is bounded on the north by Nattrass Gill and Flowedge; on the south by the river Tees; on the east by Flinty Fell; and on the west by Cash Burn and Shield Waters. The area and ratable value are included in the parish; the population in 1891 was about 300. When approached from the north, the scenery affords an agreeable contrast to the sombre heath and bent-covered moors of Alston. There is a commingling of hill and dale, wood and water, which in many places approach the picturesque. Limestone is abundant, and the soil better adapted for pasturage than tillage. The inhabitants are engaged in mining and kindred operations. The village, correctly named Garrigill-gate, is situated about four miles south of Alston. The chapel, built a little over a century ago, is devoid of every architectural beauty, resembling in its extreme plainness a Quaker Meeting House, rather than a place of worship of the Established Church. A little chapel stood here at a very early period. In 1215 King John made a confirmatory grant of the church at Aldstone, with the chapel at Gerard's Gill, to the prior and convent of Hexham. The old font has been re-instated in the church during the past year, at the expense of E. Joicey, Esq., of Blenkinsopp. The bell bears the date 1764. The resident curate-in-charge is the Rev. Cæsar Caine, F.R.G.S. The registers extend from 1730 to the present time; but two tombstones in the burial ground, bearing the dates 1692 and 1693, show that the earlier portion of the register is missing. The church contains a tablet to John Little, Esq., of Raise House, who died in 1821, and another inserted in the floor to Reginald Walton, 1713. The Wesleyan Chapel was rebuilt by subscription in 1859, the stone being laid by R.W. Bainbridge. The cost of its erection was about £600. Its interior has since that time been greatly improved, and an organ added at a cost of £200. The chapel of the Primitive Methodists was built in 1856, upon the site of an older one, and will accommodate about 400 worshippers. The Congregationalists have also a place of worship here, erected in 1662. It formerly belonged to the Presbyterian body, and is endowed with an estate of land. The present school was erected in 1850, on a site presented by the Governors of Greenwich Hospital, and was further enlarged in 1874. It has an endowment of £12 a year out of the Fairhill estate (See Alston Grammar School). It is mixed, attended by 75 children, and is under the care of Mr. J.T. Dent. A Reading Room and Library were erected at the same time, the total cost, including school, being about £750.
In the village are still to be seen two mounds of earth, about 70 yards apart, known as High and Low Butt Hill. Here in the olden time the inhabitants used to practise archery; and like "the flower that is born to blush unseen," they may have had amongst them many a "Will Locksley,"2 whose fame passed not beyond the limits of the parish. A fair is held in the village on the first Friday in May, at which pigs form the chief commodity. At Crossgill, in the immediate neighbourhood, is a factory for the manufacture of metallic fuse for blasting. It was established in 1883 by the Garrigill Fuse Co., and is the first of the kind in the district.
Tyne Head is a small hamlet in this chapelry, about two miles from the source of the South Tyne, and seven and a half S. by E. of Alston. It forms a distinct manor from Alston, and is now held by E. Tuffnell, Esq., and Colonel Byng. Distinct traces of a Roman camp3 have been found in a field called "The Chesters," belonging to the Greenwich Hospital. The field has been so named from remote antiquity. The camp is situated about five miles from the Roman road called the Maiden Way. There is a Board school in the village, erected in 1822, in which Wesleyan service is held on Sundays. Accommodation, 70 (mixed); average attendance, 8.
Ivy House, formerly Garrigill Hall, was the abode of Westgarth Forster at the time of his death, which occurred on the 9th November, 1835. He began life as manager of the Allendale mines, a position which had been held previously by his father. He devoted a great deal of his time to the study of geology, with special reference to stratification, and in 1809 he gave to the world the result of his observations. It was entitled "A Treatise on a Section of the Strata, commencing near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and concluding on the west side of the Mountain of Cross Fell, with Remarks on Mineral Veins in general, and engraved figures of some of the different species of those productions." The third edition of this work, edited by the Rev. W. Nall, M.A., was issued in May, 1883.
CHARITIES. - Wilkinson's Charity. - In 1685, Robert Wilkinson left £100 for the purchase of lands of the clear yearly value of £5. Of this sum £1 is paid to the Garrigill schoolmaster for maintenance; 10s. to the minister for preaching a sermon at Garrigill, on the 1st of February; and the remainder £3 10s. to the poor.
Stephenson's Charity. - See Alston.
Occupies the eastern side of the parish, and contains a population of about 500. The river Nent, which enters into the composition of several local names, has its source here, and winding its way northwards joins the South Tyne near Alston. At the foot of Kilhope Head is the model mining village of Nenthead, 4½ miles distant from Alston. The mounds of slag and ore, the thumping of machinery, the entrances to the mines, which may be seen on the side of the hill, all betoken the occupation of the inhabitants. Near the village are the extensive lead mines of the Vieille Montague Zinc Co. This company, established in Belgium in 1837, acquired the mines, royalties, mills, works, machinery, etc., of the Nenthead and Tynedale Lead Zinc Co. in 1896. The district is rich in mineral wealth. The hill, which rises above the village, is so honeycombed and tunnelled with subterraneous workings, that, it is said, a person may enter at Nenthead, and after wandering about for seven or eight miles, may emerge on the Durham side of the hill. The lead ore varies much in its metalliferous qualities, and the first operation, after it is brought to the surface, is the sorting into different classes. The processes which follow have for their object the separation, as far as possible, of the bright shining pieces of ore; and this is accomplished by several interesting mechanical operations, in each of which running water plays an active part. A quantity of the ore is placed on an iron grate under a stream of water. This washing carries away a portion of the dross, and by raking the ore backwards and forwards the smaller pieces fall through. The shining pieces of pure ore are collected from the grate, and the remainder are taken to the crushing mill, where they are broken into pieces about the size of a nut. By a splendid contrivance, consisting of a series of revolving perforated drum cylinders, these crushings are sifted and classified. Each drum revolves upon its own axis, and is set in motion by the one above it, except the uppermost, which receives its motion from some other source. The perforations in each drum are graduated in size. The crushings are carried into the uppermost cylinder by a stream of water,and in their passage through, they are not only sifted into different degrees of fineness, but each sifting is delivered to a buddle, which may shortly be described as a sieve to which a jigging motion can be communicated, suspended in water. By this operation a further portion of pure ore is separated. The refuse of washings from the various processes are collected and made to yield whatever they hold of the metalliferous, for the ore is too valuable to be wasted. The pure galena having been obtained, it is subjected to several processes, the ultimate object of which is the elimination of the elements with which the lead is in chemical combination, and consequently the reduction of the metal. Three varieties of lead ore are found in this district, viz., the sulphuret, the carbonate, and the oxide. The first named is the most abundant. the last is found in one or two places only. There is no smelting done here now, all the ore is taken to Belgium. The output of the Vieille Montague Zinc Co. is about 2,000 tons annually.
The Board Schools were erected in 1899 at a cost of £2,300, in place of the schools built by the Mining Co. in 1864. They have accommodation for 200 children, with an average attendance of about 140. The Circulating Library and Reading Room is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; it is supplied with all the leading newspapers and periodicals.
The Church, dedicated to St. John. is a handsome structure, in the Early English style, erected by subscription in 1845, on a site presented by the late London Lead Company. It was restored and beautified in 1876, at a cost of £600, and an organ added in 1880. The pulpit, reading desk, and communion rails are all of elegantly-carved oak, the gift of the late Rev. H. Salvin, vicar of Alston. The church contains 400 sittings, all of which, with the exception of six, are free and unappropriated. Nenthead now constitutes a distinct parish, in the incumbency of the Rev. Charles Berry, M.A., and gift of the vicar of Alston. The value of the living is £106 yearly, with residence.
The Wesleyans and Primitive Methodists have chapels in the village. A new cemetery, covering 1¾ acres, was laid out in 1899 at a cost of £550. A market is held by custom weekly on Thursdays. The show of the Nenthead Floral and Horticultural Society takes place on the first Saturday in September; and that of the Nenthead Agricultural Society on the Saturday nearest to September 20th annually. A demonstration is held by the united Sunday schools yearly on Whit Monday.
The Nent Force Level, which terminates near the village, is entered by a shaft at the south side of Nent House.
Nentsbury Green is a hamlet three miles E. by S. of Alston. Here are situated the extensive lead mines of the Alston Moor Mining Co. The Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists have each a small chapel in the village. Nenthall is another hamlet, about 2½ miles in the same direction.
BIOGRAPHY. - The old market cross, which formerly stood in the centre of the town of Alston, long bore an inscription intimating that one, who rose to be Lord Mayor of London, first saw the light at Crosslands in this parish; but the little fell-side town has since given birth to a man, whose memory the Alstonians have more substantial grounds for reverencing, and of whom England is justly proud. Hugh Lee Pattinson, whose fame has extended far beyond the limits of this kingdom, was born here on Christmas Day, 1796. His father, a member of the Society of Friends, kept a shop in the town. Hugh received such an education as was obtainable in those days at a good country school. His strong reasoning and inventive powers he displayed in early youth, and whilst still a boy he astonished his friends and companions by the construction of an electrical machine and the wonderful effects he produced. He was ever eager in the pursuit of knowledge, and with such apparatus only, as he could make himself, he acquired a knowledge of the rudiments of chemistry and one or two experimental sciences. He was at this time, Dr. Lonsdale tells us, in the Worthies of Cumberland, "like a bit of good ore imbedded in a gangue or matrix - the stony surroundings had to be washed from the more precious metal, and the metal itself ground and polished to adapt it to its proper uses."
Tired of his circumscribed field of action and the absence of facilities for prosecuting his favourite sciences, he went to Newcastle, where he obtained the situation of clerk and assistant to a soap boiler. In 1825, the office of assayist for the lead mines at Alston became vacant; he applied and received the appointment. Whilst assay-master to the Commissioners he first appeared before the world as an author. He contributed two papers to the "Philosophical Magazine"; one was entitled "The action of steam and quicklime upon heated galena," and the other "The fossil trees found in Jefferies Rake Vein at Derwent Lead Mine, in the county of Durham." In 1831 he published an admirable description of the ore hearth and the mode of constructing it.
Pattinson was at this time directing the whole power of his penetrating intellect to the discovery of some more perfect and economical method of extracting the silver from the lead than the one then in use. His efforts were at length crowned with success. By the Pattinsonian method the extraction of silver from lead could be profitably pursued down to a minimum of 3 oz. to the ton; previous to this time the extraction of the precious metal was not remunerative when the proportion was less than 20 ozs. to the ton. His discovery brought him £16, 000, and with this he soon afterwards entered into partnership with two other gentlemen, and established the now famous chemical works at Felling, near Gateshead. Here he discovered a ready and inexpensive process for the manufacture of carbonate of magnesia, which has displaced all other makes in the market.
Mr. Pattinson devoted much of his time to the study of astronomy and the physical sciences, and was highly esteemed no less for his urbanity than for the extent of his knowledge, by the most eminent scientists of the day. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and also of the Astronomical and Geological Societies of London. He died in 1858, and was interred at Washington, in the county of Durham.
Bulmer's History & Directory Of Cumberland, 1901
1. Perhaps heathy was intended, rather
2. A reference to a character in the Robin Hood stories.
3. Whitley Castle.
Photos and Maps
19 June 2015
© Steve Bulman