Northumberland Properties - Old Vicarage, Hartburn

PUBLISHED: 01:06 05 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:35 20 February 2013

Northumberland Properties - Old Vicarage, Hartburn

Northumberland Properties - Old Vicarage, Hartburn

The fascinating old village vicarage was once home to an eminent historian who campaigned for mine safety, as Helen Johnson reports

Two hundred years ago this month the North East was coming to terms with the deaths of 92 men in an explosion at Felling pit. The local vicar, John Hodgson, was so moved by the disaster that he published his funeral sermon and was a founder member of the Society for Preventing Accidents in Coal Mines.

In the years that followed, Hodgson was heavily involved in improving safety in mines and taking negligent mine owners to task, and the societys work also led to the invention of the Davey Lamp.

But Hodgson is best remembered today for his unfinished masterpiece, The History of Northumberland. He had planned to produce six volumes covering the history of the county, its towns, villages and borders.

Although he died before the series was completed, and despite making a financial loss on each volume, his work was an important milestone in recording the countys past his research revealed, for example, that it was the emperor Hadrian who had built the Roman wall.

Much of his writing was completed at the vicarage in Hartburn, now the home of Margie and Geoffrey Smart, and Hodgson, who died in June 1845, is buried in the grounds of St Andrews Church which he served for the final 11 years of his life.

Hodgson was a self-made man, and had sympathy for working people. His parents couldnt afford to send him to university, and he worked as a schoolmaster before passing the exams for Holy Orders.

He worked at churches across the North East before moving to Hartburn in 1834, and settling in the vicarage, parts of which date back to 1540. In 1760, a new wing was added now the sitting room, it was originally called the music room.

The new wing has taller ceilings than the older part of the house, which means the upper floors are staggered, with three bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor and a further staircase to one more bedroom and a bathroom on the second floor and another big room in the attic.

Margie said: The house has rooms with beautiful proportions, with a lovely ceiling in the drawing room. I was particularly attracted by the kitchen, it has a Victorian fireplace that makes it cosy even though its big.

Each resident in the houses long history has left their mark. The last residents made the lovely kitchen and added the conservatory. We made a new bathroom next to the master bedroom and had it painted with a mural.

The house has lots of other nice features too: the windows go the floor, which makes it very light, the shutters all work, keeping it nice and warm, and the conservatory has underfloor heating.

Among the additions made to the house and grounds over the years was a grotto, believed to have been created by Dr Sharpe, the vicar at Hartburn from 1749 to 1792. Its a cave built into the cliff, Margie added.

It has a Gothic arch into the cliff, with a fireplace inside and a tunnel going to river. Legend has it that the grotto was intended as a changing room for river bathing. The tunnel was for modesty, providing covered access to the water.

When Margie and Geoffrey moved into the house they wanted to restore the link with the church and offered the gardens for fetes. We raise money for the church, Margie said. If we didnt it would have to close and its a beautiful church. The tower was built in the 11th century and was to do with the Knights Templar their sign, the Maltese Cross, is etched into the doorway.

Id never lived in a village before and its a good community. During a spell of illness, the neighbours were wonderful they even cut the grass for us.

She appreciated their efforts as the garden is large. Large enough for them to have used it for Geoffreys daughters wedding last summer. It was the perfect setting, Margie added. She walked through the beautiful gardens to the church, and we had a marquee with windows overlooking the river.

It went so well that we considered a business of renting it out for weddings. But most people like a dinner and dancing in the evenings, and we thought that would be too much for the neighbours, so we didnt do it.

They did start to offer bed and breakfast though, taking advantage of their location close to popular tourist attractions including Cragside, Wallington Hall, the Alnwick garden, the coast and Hadrians wall.

Buy a piece of history

Margie and Geoffrey are planning to retire and the Old Vicarage, Hartburn, is for sale with Strutt and Parker of Morpeth., 01670 516123.

Until the house is sold, the Smarts are continuing taking B&B guests. Bookings can be made through Alastair Sawday,, 01275 395430

The print version of this article appeared in the July 2012 issue of North East Life

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