ENGLISH MEDIEVAL CHURCH TOWERS: THE NORTHERN PROVINCE, by W. E. David Ryan. Published by Boydell and Brewer (www.boydellandbrewer.com). £19.99. Softback.

THE author has visited and painted 500 medieval churches of the Anglican Northern Province of England to record in watercolour their towers, preserving for posterity one of the greatest groupings of northern England’s historic buildings.

Originally his plan was to photograph them, but he found that obstacles both natural and man-made – like trees, bushes, gates and power lines – blocked the image. A painting therefore became the purest record, and as a gifted architect of the pre-computer age he was well able to turn to watercolours.

This scholarly book is filled with 500 colour illustrations, each with an architectural description and details of each tower’s exact location. Twenty-one Northumberland churches are featured including Ancroft St Anne, Bolam St Andrew, Embleton Holy Trinity and Ingram St Michael and All Angels.


FLAG UP ON THE RIGHT! POST-WAR LIFE IN ALLENDALE: A MEMOIR, by John Batey. Available from the Forge Art Gallery, Allendale. £5. Softback.

JOHN Batey was raised in the village of Allendale, high in the North Pennines, in the immediate post-war years. His father, the village headmaster, had a clear vision of how his second son should be brought up… but things did not always go to plan.

This amusing account of his childhood and adolescence provides a light-hearted and affectionate account of growing up in this “idyllic village”.

After a short teaching career in Cornwall, with the call to return to Northumberland becoming more insistent, the author was delighted to be offered a job as assistant warden of a field study centre near Wark-on-Tweed.

He explains: “My re-awakening to my Northumbrian childhood had come about in a curious way. For many years my brother had given me a subscription to The Northumbrian magazine and when it arrives I eagerly check to see if there are any articles about the Allendale area.” In one article he read about old schoolfriends, Ian and Valeria Dunn. He wrote to them and that was the start of a renewed contact.

One of many happy memories from his youth was of the days spent during the grouse season as part of a team of beaters armed with white flags whose job was to drive the game birds towards a line of shooters.

He recalls: “Some of the less experienced shooters were downright dangerous, and we had to be ready to dive for cover if we saw the gun swinging our way. One lady had a habit of shooting at anything that moved and at the end of one drive she had bagged two brace of grouse, a snipe, a racing pigeon and a sheep!”

Teenage years saw John rough shooting for rabbits, hares, partridges and pheasants, and angling for trout in the River Allen. Unusually, he lists some of the characters who give the human framework to the dale. These include molecatcher Walter Rutherford, head keeper Eddie Fairless, beaters Geoff Fairlamb and Eddie Robinson, rough shooter Derek Blair, angling companions Eddie Forrest and Robert Phillipson, plus old friends Bill Nichol, Jack Stephenson and Ian Dunn (leading lights in Allendale’s New Year’s Eve tar bar’l procession), Josie Phillipson and Hilton Walker, and blacksmith Basil Fairlamb.

He observes: “I wanted to reflect on the post-war years when we were lucky enough to live in a time of peace, when traditional values still held sway, and when we had the good fortune to be raised in Allendale, and the lovely North Pennine valley in which it is situated.”


MORPETH: A SOCIAL HISTORY, by Alan Davison and Brian Harle. Available from B. Harle (harle474@btinternet.com) by post £13.95 (+£3.55 p&p). Softback.

LYING on the ancient road from Newcastle to Berwick, Morpeth has seen countless traders, armies and travellers passing through in both directions. It was raided by the Scots, burnt by King John and its Norman castle was all but destroyed in one of the last full-scale sieges of the Civil War.

Despite this record of strife and mayhem, it developed into a thriving market and manufacturing town, a tourist destination and the county’s administrative centre.

Newminster Abbey was founded in the first part of the 12th century on the south side of the River Wansbeck and the town was granted a royal charter by King John to hold markets and fairs in 1199. The town’s clock tower, built between 1604 and the 1630s, is unusual in being one of only eight bell towers not associated with a church.

In 1847 Morpeth became one of the stopping places along the Newcastle and Berwick Railway, and developed as a hub for new railway lines with three separate companies vying for routes. The Blyth and Tyne Railway opened a line to Bedlington in 1857, the Wansbeck Railway opened in 1862 and the North Eastern Railway in 1872.

In 1851 the town had a population of 4,339 at a time when Newcastle’s population was still only 4,400. As important industries such as tanning leather declined in the 19th century, some workers found employment in the business of market gardening.

One highly successful grower was Robert Whinham who produced the ‘Whinham’s Industry’ gooseberry, which became one of the best-selling gooseberries in the world. Around 1,900 Morpeth growers were sending out around 200 tons of this fruit countrywide by train. Bushes produced in Morpeth were sold to growers in the United States, Holland and New Zealand.

From the 1860s the town’s fame grew as the location of the Morpeth Olympic Games, the most famous athletics and wresting event in the North of England, and it continued – with breaks only during the wars – until 1958.