The name of this town will bring back happy memories for many ‘Geordie bairns’ (‘Geordie’ is the nickname for the inhabitants of Newcastle, Tyneside and the surrounding areas – ‘bairns’ are children). In the (very recent for many) days when holidays were only a dream, a trip on the bus to Morpeth was looked forward to for weeks. It had everything a child could want: a large park with a paddling pool and swings, a river with ducks, and a market where you might be bought a treat. No visit to Morpeth was complete, however, without a bag of bread to feed the ducks.
There is much more to Morpeth than this, though. It is a town with a long history. Situated as it is in Northumberland, England’s border county with Scotland, it was always in danger of attack by the Scots, and was indeed attacked by them many times. However, in 1216 it was ravaged and burned by the King of England, John, who was in dispute with the local barons.
During the First Jacobite rebellion Morpeth supported the ‘Old Pretender’ James Stuart in his bid for the throne of England. Most of Northumberland was of the same mind, unlike the residents of Newcastle who were firmly behind King George.
Surprisingly, in view of frequent attacks, Morpeth never had walls to protect it. There is evidence of a castle though, and the castle mound can be seen from the park. As a result of the Norman Conquest, the first castle was built in the 11th century overlooking the River Wansbeck on which Morpeth stands. This motte and bailey castle was demolished in 1215. Lord Greystoke built a castle on the same spot in the 14th century, but not much is left now. Part of the boundary wall, some of the foundations and the gatehouse are left, although the gatehouse was subject to drastic restoration by the Victorians. It has been used as a family home and even had a swimming pool in the 1960s. This was removed when it was sold. In fact, if you want to stay in a castle, there is holiday accommodation in this one. All you have to do is contact the Landmark Trust. The castle is open to the public occasionally, too.
You shouldn’t miss the Chantry, which houses a craft centre, the tourist information office and the Bagpipe Museum. This holds examples of the Northumbrian pipes, which are smaller and sweeter in sound than the Scottish bagpipes (Scots may disagree!). The museum also has exhibits of other pipes from all over the world. Historically, the Chantry was a place for a priest to say Mass. He also collected tolls for the bridge there, too.
Morpeth is a small town, with a population of about 15,000. Although Northumberland is a very large county its inhabitants are concentrated in what was once the Great Northern Coalfield in the south eastern part of the county. Coal mining was a huge part of many families’ lives, and coal towns in the area include Blyth, Bedlington and Ashington, all on or near the beautiful Northumbrian coast. Other towns in the area, Ponteland, for example, have grown up more as dormitory towns for Newcastle.
If you’re planning to visit Northumberland, Morpeth is an ideal place to stay, as it is so easy to reach attractions such as the castles of Alnwick and Bamburgh, as well as being able to Newcastle and other places, perhaps using the excellent bus service.