Heritage runs deep in Morpeth, Ashington and Bedlington
PUBLISHED: 00:16 23 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:20 20 February 2013
Usher in the new year with a timely visit to Northumberland, where towns Morpeth, Ashington and Bedlington have much to offer and guarantee a warm welcome, as Louise Brown discovers
Those of us fortunate enough to have been born and
bred in the North East are, with good reason, proud
of the fact. Others who arrive later in life and settle here are generally happy to be considered adopted North Easterners.
The area possesses a clear regional identity asserted by those who, in whatever circumstances, find themselves living here; but residents of Morpeth, Ashington and Bedlington, located in South East Northumberland in close proximity to one another, while acknowledging this shared identity, resolutely proclaim the merits of their individuality.
Ashington, one of the largest towns in Northumberland, grew from a small hamlet with a few farms in the early 19th Century, to a large coal mining village when collieries were opened in and around the town by the Duke of Portland. The industry developed to
the point where Ashington laid claim
to being the largest mining village in
Deep-pit coal mining declined during the 1980s and 1990s and the last colliery in the area, at Ellington, closed in 2005. The town's proud mining history is not forgotten, however, but embraced and celebrated, finding expression particularly in the towns Woodhorn Museum.
A visit to Ashington will generate feelings of nostalgia as the parallel rows of colliery-built houses remain an intrinsic part of the architectural landscape. The old colliery homes were built on a grid system, their layout making it easier to deliver coal. Many of the rows have numbers for names, but some are named after trees and characters from Shakespeare such as Portia, Ariel and Juliet.
Modern housing estates have now established Ashington as a popular residential area, with good road links to Newcastle and the surrounding area.
The town has much to offer locals and visitors alike, with the main shopping street, Station Road, being pedestrianised, allowing for easy access to high street offerings.
There is a leisure centre with a lifestyle gym, swimming pool and a packed programme of activities. The nearby Wansbeck Riverside Park offers a tranquil escape from the town centre and is the perfect place for a stroll.
Ashington, far from dwelling on its past, places great emphasis on regeneration, a new hi-tech business park, built on the site of the old colliery, attracting new business to the area.
Townspeople in Ashington are very proud of their town and its roots and who would blame them, with legendary sports stars such as footballers Jackie Milburn, Bobby and Jackie Charlton, England fast bowler Steve Harmison and golfer Kenneth Ferrie all born in
A short journey south brings you to near neighbour Bedlington, also a former mining town needing to adjust to a new economic environment. Being originally an exclave of the county of Durham, Bedlington became part of Northumberland, pursuant to Act of Parliament, in 1844.
Aside from giving its name to an endearing breed of dog, the Bedlington Terrier, the town is notable for its fascinating history, which reflects the importance of South East Northumberland to the industrial development not only of the region but of the country as a whole.
Up until the 18th Century, Bedlington had changed very little but with the exploitation and development of nearby coal and iron industries, the area and the town itself began to change rapidly. Many collieries began to emerge in the area, which featured a network of waggonways carrying coal to Morpeth and to the port of Blyth.
Ironworks, whose production contributed significantly to the early development of the railways, were important commercially.
Today, Bedlington Country Park
offers the perfect retreat and, if luck is with you, a great place to spot wild animals. Covering approximately 57 hectares of woodland and grassland on the north banks of the River Blyth,
there is so much to explore. Within the park is a large grass area known as
Attlee park, named after Clement
Attlee, and for many years the venue
for the Northumberland Miners
Picnic, with political speeches given
on the bandstand.
Enjoying a more rural setting than Ashington and Bedlington and located just off the A1 is the beautiful market town of Morpeth. Situated on the banks of the River Wansbeck, Morpeth enjoys a long and well-documented history.
The town became important initially as a market town and coaching stop on the Great North Road between London and Edinburgh. Its market town identity dates back to the 12th Century when, in 1199, the town was given formal permission to hold a market. The market was important for the buying and selling of cattle and by the mid-18th Century was one of the most important cattle markets in the country.
Today, Morpeth is truly impressive commercially, with high quality shops and retail outlets providing a compelling reason to visit the town. The principal shopping streets are Bridge Street, Newgate Street and Oldgate, which, as well as providing high quality retail facilities, are littered with historical landmarks such as the Town Hall, built to a design of Sir John Vanburgh.
Outlining the attraction of the town, Charles Robinson, Chartered Surveyor of Rickard Chartered Surveyors and Estate Agents, said: Morpeth remains one of the most popular places to live in the North East of England due in part to the excellent reputation of local schools, easy accessibility to coast, countryside and city and the way the town has managed to retain its market town character enhanced by its delightful wooded valley setting, local history and places of interest to visit and excellent blend of high quality, independent and national retailers. It is the perfect place to live.
Identifying the old Sanderson Arcade as a dated feature in the town, much in need of redevelopment, Dransfield Properties acquired the site and have created a new complex which opened in November 2009, providing much-improved shopping facilities within an Edwardian-style arcade. The centre is directly opposite Rutherfords department store, a feature of the town since 1846.
A real treasure of Morpeth is Oldgate, which is accessed via the junction of Bridge Street and Newgate Street and features a variety of niche shops and boutiques of true quality, such as The Cheese Shop, Oldgate Gallery, Fleur (a clothing boutique) and Blush. Proprietors of Blush, Liz Brown and Nancy McLeod, both being residents of the town, regard Morpeth as the perfect place in which to live and do business. As Liz said: Morpeth cannot be viewed as anything other than a beautiful town whose residents, together with others who make up our customer base, have proved to be so loyal and supportive of our business.
The shop has must-visit status, selling interior accessories, jewellery and gifts and prides itself on sourcing products from local designers and makers. The last 30 years, with the decline and eventual loss of its traditional industries, have proved challenging for the South East Northumberland area but Morpeth, Ashington and Bedlington, each building upon a long and proud history, reflecting the spirit of their residents, whether indigenous or adopted, have so much currently to offer while looking to the future with well-founded optimism.
The decline in coal mining has changed Ashington and Bedlington, which once relied on the pits for most of the employment and social welfare in the area. What do the towns owe to their survival and does the strong community spirit still exist? Tell us what you think by leaving a message.