Glendale Local History Society

'Keeping the Past Alive'

Talk Report Nov 13 - Old Alnwick

Having been born and brought up in Alnwick there must be few who know Alnwick better than he. He also contributed to the foundation of Balliffgate Museum, currently being refurbished. His presentation, a wealth of old slides revealing 'collectable' images of the town in yesteryear, was accompanied by his anecdotes. He recalled from memory incidences associated with the many original shops and trades, together with older historical information. Numerous images showed the abundance and variety of shop-keepers who plied their trades, ranging from Jobson's the saddlers, to a bicycle shop where the cycles sold were made on the premises, to a tea broker (where loose tea, was once kept under lock and key) displayed a 'golden canister' suspended above the shop entrance: this can still be seen in Narrowgate today. There also remain, in Narrowgate, features of architectural interest: original telltale 'Yorkshire Sliders' (windows pre-dating sash-windows), together with evidence, from roof-lines and masonry, indicating a previous generation of thatched roofs.

The Great North Road once ran from London to Edinburgh through Alnwick, making it the premier market town in the north-east and able to support no fewer than 52 inns and public ale-houses – some survive but with extensive alterations. The White Swan was the principal coaching inn, where mail coaches stopped regularly. When entering the town from the south one passes through the three-storied arched 'gateway' tower, from Bondgate Without to Bondgate Within: this is the only remaining entrance of four from the era when Alnwick was a fortified walled town. In the 17th-18th centuries it was used as a prison.

The Market Cross, from which proclamations were made, stands in the north-east corner of the Market Place - a focal point situated in the centre of the town. The structure of this cross has evolved over the centuries. Regular fairs and markets with animal sales took place in the square, where bull-baiting also once occurred – a ring, anchored in stone, remains as evidence of this. The Town Hall stands on the west side of the square between the Market Place and Fenkle Street, the two connected by an arch running through the building. Adjacent on the south side stand the Assembly Rooms, now better known as Northumberland Hall. Beneath this building ran the arcaded 'Shambles', once housing the traditional butchers' stalls displaying their meat.

Many old alley-ways and architectural features remain, giving telltale signs of this once mediaeval town. A visit to the newly restored museum, in the future, and a walk around Alnwick, searching out these details, will open eyes but above all we were told to "look up" to detect much of this ancient town's history! Glendale Local History Society was very grateful to Mr Adrian Ions for standing in as speaker at this meeting

Rosemary Bell November 2013


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