Morpeth, Northumberland

Coordinates: 55°09′47″N 1°40′41″W / 55.163°N 1.678°W / 55.163; -1.678

Morpeth Castle.jpg
Aerial view of Morpeth Court House
Morpeth is located in Northumberland

 Morpeth shown within Northumberland
Population 13,833 (2001)
OS grid reference NZ2085
Parish Morpeth
Unitary authority Northumberland
Ceremonial county Northumberland
Region North East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town MORPETH
Postcode district NE61
Dialling code 01670
Police Northumbria
Fire Northumberland
Ambulance North East
EU Parliament North East England
UK Parliament Wansbeck
List of places: UK • England • Northumberland

Morpeth is the county town[1] of Northumberland, England. It is situated on the River Wansbeck which flows east through the town. The town is 1.25 miles (2 km) from the A1, which bypasses it. Since 1981, it has been the administrative centre of the County of Northumberland.[2] In the 2001 census the town had a population of 13,833.[3] Nearby villages include Mitford and Pegswood.



Morpeth grew up at an important crossing point of the River Wansbeck.[4] Following the Norman Conquest the town came into the possession of the de Merlay family, and a motte and bailey castle had been constructed by 1095.[4] Newminster Abbey was founded by Ranulf de Merlay, lord of Morpeth as one of the first daughter houses of Fountains in 1138.[5] The town became a borough by prescription. King John granted a market charter for the town to Roger de Merlay in 1199.[6] The market is still held on Wednesdays. The town was badly damaged by fire in 1215 during the First Barons' War.[7] In the thirteenth century a stone bridge was built over the Wansbeck, replacing the ford previously in use.[4] Morpeth Castle was built in the fourteenth century by Ranulph de Merlay on the site of an earlier fortress: only the gatehouse and parts of the ruined castle walls remain.[7]

For some months in 1515-16 Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII's sister) and Queen Consort of Scotland lay ill at Morpeth, having been brought there from Harbottle Castle. She eventually reached London in May 1516.

Morpeth was described, in 1540, by the royal antiquary John Leland, as "long and metely well-builded, with low houses," and as "a far fairer town than Alnwick." During the war of the Rough Wooing, life in Morpeth was disturbed by a garrison of Italian mercenaries, who 'pestered such a little street standing in the highway' by killing deer and withholding payment for food.[8]

In 1552, William Hervey, Norroy King of Arms granted the borough of Morpeth a coat of arms. The arms were identical to those of Roger de Merlay, with the addition of a gold tower. In the letters patent, Hervey noted that he had included the arms of the "noble and valyaunt knyght"... "for a p'petuall memory of his good will and benevolence towardes the said towne ".[9]

Morpeth received its first charter of incorporation from Charles II. The corporation it created was controlled by seven companies or trade guilds : the Merchant Tailors, the Tanners, the Fullers and Dyers, the Smiths, the Cordwainers, the Weavers and the Butchers.[7] This remained the governing charter until the borough was reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

William Cobbett the famous radical journalist, author of Rural Rides stayed with Robert Blakey in 1832, during his speaking tour of the North East. Blakey enjoyed some eight hours of illuminating discussion with the great man.

Until the nineteenth century Morpeth had one of the main markets in northern England for live cattle.[7] The opening of the railways made transport to Newcastle easier, and the market accordingly declined.[4]

2008 Flood

On 6 September 2008, Morpeth suffered its worst flood since 1963. The flood defences were breached after a month's rainfall fell in 12 hours.[10] An estimated 1,000 homes were affected.[11]


As with the rest of the British Isles, Morpeth experiences a maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. There is a Met Office weather station providing local climate data at Cockle Park, a short distance to the north of the town.

Climate data for Morpeth, Cockle Park 95m asl, 1971-2000, Extremes 1960-
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 13.8
Average high °C (°F) 6.0
Average low °C (°F) 0.7
Record low °C (°F) −12
Precipitation mm (inches) 59.77
Source: Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute/KNMI[12]


Morpeth has two tiers of local government.

The lower tier is Morpeth Town Council with 15 members. Morpeth is a civil parish with the status of a town. For the purposes of parish elections the town is divided into four wards: North Central, Kirkhill, Stobhill and South, each returning between three and five town councillors.[13]

The upper tier of local government is Northumberland County Council. Since April 2009 the county council has been a unitary authority. Previous to this there was an intermediate tier, the non-metropolitan district of Castle Morpeth, which has been abolished along with all other districts in the county. The county council has 67 members, of whom 3 represent the electoral divisions of Morpeth Kirkhill, Morpeth North and Morpeth Stobhill. All three are members of the Liberal Democrats.[14]


The A1 road provides a link to Edinburgh and Newcastle. Morpeth railway station has direct trains to London taking a little over three hours. The town of Morpeth has what is reputed to be the severest curve on any main railway line in Britain. This curve has been the scene of several train crashes over the years.


The local state school – King Edward VI High School (Granted a grammar school charter in 1552 by King Edward VI)[15] gained Beacon and Leading Edge status in 2003 and 2004 respectively. There are also two middle schools within Morpeth built next to each other called Newminster and Chantry. A first school called Abbeyfields is located within Kirkhill, Goosehill First School is nearer the town centre, Stobhillgate Primary School is located in the Stobhill housing estate and Morpeth All Saints Church of England aided first school is located in Lancaster Park, to the north of the town. Children of Roman Catholic families in Morpeth normally attend St. Robert’s R.C. First School within Morpeth before moving on to St. Benet Biscop Catholic High School in the nearby town of Bedlington.

Religious sites

St George's Church and Telford Bridge during the flood of 6 September 2008

Church of England

The ancient Church of England parish church of Morpeth is St Mary's at Highchurch. The oldest remaining parts of the structure belong to the Transitional Early English style of the mid to late 12th century. The church, which was the only Anglican place of worship in tha area until the 1840s, has been restored on a number of occasions.[16]

In the graveyard of St Mary's can be found the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who famously threw herself under the King's horse during the Epsom Derby in 1913. Her gravestone bears the slogan of the Women's Social and Political Union "Deeds not words".[16]

The need for a second church, in the centre of the town, was apparent by 1843. Accordingly, the church of St James the Great, designed by Benjamin Ferrey, was consecrated for worship on 15 October 1846. Ferrey designed the church in a "Neo Norman" style, based on the twelfth century Monreale Cathedral, Sicily.[17]

A third church, St Aidan's, was opened to serve the Stobhill housing estate in 1957. It is a modern red brick building with a vaulted roof.[18]

Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic church, dedicated to St. Robert of Newminster, was built off Oldgate, on the grounds adjacent to Admiral Lord Collingwood's house and opened in August 1850.[19]

United Reform Church

St George's United Reform Church was built from 1858 to 1860 and the first service held on 12 April 1860,[20] and stands immediately to the north of the Telford Bridge. It is notable for its octagonal spirelet.[21]

Methodist Church

The present Methodist church in Howard Terrace was opened as a Primitive Methodist place of worship on 24 April 1905. It was built from local quarry stone, and was designed by J Walton Taylor. Although the Primitive Methodists were united with the Wesleyan Church to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain in 1932, a separate Wesleyan church continued to function in Manchester Street until 1964, when the congregations were united at Howard Terrace.[22]


Sport is popular in the town: Morpeth Town A.F.C., Morpeth RUFC, the cricket, hockey and tennis club and the golf club all play competitively. The Morpeth Harriers cater for those wishing to compete in athletics. The town also offers opportunities to play sport on a non-competitive basis through facilities such as Carlisle Park, the common and the leisure centre.

Storey Park football field normally hosts Sunday League Matches. Morpeth Town's football ground is located on Morpeth Common, a five minute walk from Morpeth Golf Course.[citation needed]

The Morpeth Olympic Games, a professional event consisting mainly of athletics and wrestling, were staged from the early 1870s until 1958, barring interruptions for the two world wars. The Games were held on the Old Brewery Field until 1895, then at Grange House Field until the First World War. After two years at the town's cricket pitch at Stobhill (1919–20), the Olympics moved to Mount Haggs Field until 1939, and then back to Grange House Field for the fional years from 1945 until 1958.[citation needed]


13th Century Chantry

Among historical landmarks in the town are a free-standing 17th-century clock tower, a grand town hall originally designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, Collingwood House the Georgian home of Admiral Lord Collingwood, and a 13th-century chapel called The Chantry which is now the tourist information centre and houses such cultural institutions as the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum. Today the town and the county's history and culture is celebrated at the annual Northumbrian Gathering.

The historical layout of central Morpeth consists of Bridge Street and Newgate Street, with burgage plots leading off them. Traces of this layout remain: Old Bakehouse Yard off Newgate Street is a former burgage plot, as is Pretoria Avenue, off Oldgate. The town stands directly on what used to be the Great North Road, the old coaching route between London and Edinburgh, and several old coaching inns are still to be found in the town, including the Queen's Head, the Waterford Lodge and the Black Bull. Morpeth's Mafeking Park at the bottom of Station Bank at the intersection with the Great North Road was unofficially considered to be the smallest park in Britain. It was originally a triangle of land bounded by roads but after road improvements is now a small roundabout.[23]

  • At the foot of Dogger Bank is a pathway leading to a footbridge over the River Wansbeck. A pair of whalebones nearby which form an arch mark the site of Whalebone Cottage.
  • A nuclear bunker is located underneath the former council building at Morpeth County Hall near Loansdean.
  • Down Old Bakehouse Yard, which stretches westwards off Newgate Street, is a garden wall many of whose stones were taken from the ruins of nearby Newminster Abbey. Masons' markings can be seen on some of the stones.
  • In the cemetery of St Mary's Church near Loansdean can be found the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who famously threw herself under the King's horse during the Epsom Derby in 1913. Her gravestone bears the epitaph "Deeds not words".
  • Behind St Robert's Catholic church near the town centre is a playing-field which was formerly an orchard. The stone wall on the north side of the field contains piping through which hot air was pumped to raise the temperature of the air and assist the growth of more exotic fruits such as peaches.
  • Morpeth's railway station is on the main east coast line which runs between London and Aberdeen. A non-passenger line still operates between Morpeth and Bedlington. Traces of various other lines remain, and many can be walked. One former line runs west from Morpeth to Scots Gap (from where there was a branch line to Rothbury), then west to Redesmouth, from where there was a northern branches to Scotland and a southern branch to Hexham.

Notable people

  • Lawrence William Adamson (1829–1911), High Sheriff of Northumberland
Jim Alder
  • Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge 1817–1892, founder of Bainbridge Department Store in Newcastle upon Tyne, the first such store in the world (still the largest John Lewis outside London). Bainbridge lived at Eshott Hall, seven miles from Morpeth, from 1877.[24]
  • Robert Blakey 1795-1878, radical journalist and philosopher. Born in Manchester Street, Morpeth, May 18, 1795.[26]
  • Luke Clennell 1781—1840, engraver and painter born in Morpeth.
  • John Davison, 1793–1863, theologian, author of Considerations on the Poor Laws . Born in Morpeth May 28, 1793.[27]
  • Thomas Gibson died 1562, printer and physician. Born in Morpeth.[29]
  • John Cuthbert Hedley, 1837–1913, Benedictine monk and Roman Catholic Bishop of Newport. Born at Carlisle House, Morpeth, April 15, 1837[30]
  • Edward Knott 1581-1656 Most important English Jesuit of his day.
  • Robert Morrison 1782-1834, first Protestant missionary in China. Translator of the Bible into Chinese. Born at Buller's Green, Morpeth, January 5, 1782.[31]
  • William Turner, 1509/10–1568, ornithologist and botanist, born in Morpeth[33]
  • Alan Weedy, born 1933, administrator for Northern California Cricket Association, born in Morpeth.[34]
  • The Right Reverend Dr. N. T. Wright, Anglican theologian and author, born in Morpeth in 1948
  • Professor Ted Milburn,CBE born Morpeth 1938 President of the YMCA in Scotland, Emeritus Professor of Community Education and Director of the Centre for Youth Work Studies at he University of Strathclyde</ref>
  • John Caffrey, Painter, Naturalist, columnist for the Morpeth Herald, Member of the Thoreau Society

See also


  1. ^ Morpeth Herald, 24 March 2005
  2. ^ Northumberland County Hall moved from Newcastle upon Tyne to Morpeth on April 21, 1981 (see notice in London Gazette issue 48579, dated April 10, 1981)
  3. ^ Office for National Statistics: Neighbourhood Statistics
  4. ^ a b c d Local history - Morpeth (Northumberland), Keys To The Past, accessed April 18, 2008
  5. ^ "Cistercian Abbeys: NEWMINSTER". The Cistercians in Yorkshire. Sheffield University. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  6. ^ [Public to get a say on future of historic Charter Market , Castle Morpeth Borough Council, accessed April 18, 2008]
  7. ^ a b c d Morpeth (St Mary), Samuel Lewis (editor), A Topographical Dictionary of England, 1848, British history Online, accessed April 18, 2008
  8. ^ Historical Manuscripts Commission, 12th Report & Appendix, Duke of Rutland, vol.1 (1888), 44-5, Dacre to Rutland, 14 October 1549.
  9. ^ A. C. Fox-Davies, The Book of Public Arms, 2nd edition, London, 1915
  10. ^ "Morpeth fights back after floods". BBC News. 2008-09-09. Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  11. ^ "Morpeth a 'scene of devastation'". BBC News. 2008-09-07. Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  12. ^ "Morpeth Climate". KNMI.**&indexid=TN&periodidselect=1971-2000&seasonid=18&scalelogidselect=no&minx=-925714.285714&miny=-5052380.952381&maxx=807619.047620&maxy=-3752380.952381&MapSize=560%2C420&imagewidth=560&imageheight=420&mainmap.x=266&mainmap.y=83&CMD=QUERY_POINT&CMD=QUERY_POINT#bottom. Retrieved 07 Nov 2011. 
  13. ^ "Councillors". Morpeth Town Council. Retrieved April 17, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Northumberland County Councillors". Northumberland County Council. Retrieved November 10, 2009. 
  15. ^ Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 2 part 2, Oxford (1822), 503, citing Edw. VI warrant book 13 March 1551.
  16. ^ a b "The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin". Parish of Morpeth in the Diocese of Newcastle. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  17. ^ "The Church of St.James the Great in the Parish of Morpeth". Morpeth Parochial Church Council. 2004. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  18. ^ "St Aidan's Church". Parish of Morpeth in the Diocese of Newcastle. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  19. ^ "St Robert of Newminster, Morpeth". Church Directory. Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  20. ^ Church website
  21. ^ "St. George's United Reformed Church, Morpeth". St. George's United Reformed Church, Morpeth. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  22. ^ "History of the Methodist Church in Morpeth". Morpeth Methodist Church. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  23. ^ "Signage and Interpretation". Greater Morpeth Development Trust. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  24. ^ Anne Pimlott Baker, Bainbridge, Emerson Muschamp (1817–1892), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 24 April 2008
  25. ^ William M. Kuhn, Bigge, Arthur John, Baron Stamfordham (1849–1931), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 24 April 2008
  26. ^ Roger Hawkins, Blakey, Robert (1795–1878), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 24 April 2008
  27. ^ W. G. Blaikie, Davison, John (1777–1834), rev. Richard Brent, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2007, accessed 24 April 2008
  28. ^ "Toby Flood England profile". Retrieved 5 October 2009. 
  29. ^ I. Gadd, Gibson, Thomas (d. 1562), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 , accessed 24 April 2008
  30. ^ Alban Hood, Hedley, John Cuthbert (1837–1915), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 24 April 2008
  31. ^ R K Douglas, 'Morrison, Robert (1782–1834), rev. Robert Bickers, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007, accessed April 23, 2008
  32. ^ G C Boase, Rastrick, John Urpeth (1780–1856), rev. M W Kirby, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed April 23, 2008
  33. ^ Whitney R D Jones, Turner, William (1509/10–1568), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed April 23, 2008
  34. ^ "Executives". Northern California Cricket Association. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 

External links

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