Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for MORPETH

MORPETH, a town, a township, a parish, a sub-district, a district, and a ward, in Northumberland. The town stands on the river Wansbeck, adjacent to the Northeastern railway, at the junction with it of the Wansbeck Valley railway and of the Blyth and Tyne railway, 15 miles N of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The name was originally Moor-path, was afterwards written Morepath, and designates the town as situated on what was once a moorland road. The place was of small note, not more at best than a village, in the times of the Saxons and the Danes; but it rose to some consequence, and became the seat of a barony, immediately after the Norman conquest. The barony belonged to the Merleys, or De Merlais; passed to the Greystocks and the Dacres; went, by marriage of the heiress of the Dacres, to Lord William Howard, known as Belted Will; and has descended from him to the Earl of Carlisle. A castle was built, on what is now a tree-fringed mound, by William de Merlai, in the time of William the Conqueror; was dismantled, in 1215, by King John; underwent speedy restoration; remained a place of strength till the time of Charles I.; was seized in 1664 by the Scots, and held by them for 20 days against a siege by a body of the king's forces; and is now represented by a fine massive gatehouse, and a few broken walls. A Cistertian abbey was founded at Newminster, about ½ a mile to the W, in 1138, by Sir Ranulph de Merlai; gave entertainment to Edward I., Edward II., and Edward III., was given, at the dissolution, to the Brandlings; and is now represented by only a ruined arch. The town drew prosperity from the castle and the abbey; and it was described, in 1540, by Leland, as "long and metely well-builded, with low houses," and as "a far fairer town than Alnwick. ''It suffered great devastation, by accidental fire, in 1689: but it speedily recovered from the disaster; and it has, in recent times, undergone much improvement. Akenside, the poet, wrote here his "Pleasures of Imagination; ''Horsley, the author of "Britannia Romana, ''and Lord Collingwood were residents; Turner, the early writer on botany, Gibson, the herbalist, and Morrison, the Chinese scholar and missionary, were natives; and the Earl of Carlisle takes hence the title of Viscount.

The town lies embosomed in a green valley; has beautiful, diversified, and picturesque environs; and is seen to great advantage from a terrace, or public promenade, tastefully formed along the bank of the river. It consists chiefly of two spacious and well built streets, with a highly picturesque market-place; and it extends into the township of Bullers-Green, which forms a northern suburb. A handsome bridge, after designs by Telford, and erected in 1831, crosses the Wansbeck on the S side of the town. A very picturesque old bridge stood near the site of that bridge; belonged to a community of monks, who levied toll at its N en d; and was wantonly destroyed about 1835. The monks' toll-house still stands; has a picturesque belfry; was successively a chapel, a chantry, and a free school; and belongs now to the Corporation. The town hall stands on the W side of the market-place; was built in 1714, after designs by Sir John Vanbrugh; and is a bold and peculiar structure, with a rustic piazza and with turrets. The market-house, also in the market-place, is a quaint old edifice on pillars. The clock tower, in Oldgate street, was originally a jail, and was surmounted by two little figures in ancient costume, only one of which now remains. Gates stood formerly at all the entrances of the town on the Scotch side; but they have been destroyed. The county jail stands on the N outskirts; was built in 1822-9, at a cost of more than £80,000; presents the appearance of a Gothic castle, large and imposing; includes a chapel, and a very handsome sessions' house and offices; and has capacity for 96 male and 24 female prisoners. The county lunatic asylum stands on a slight eminence, about ½ a mile to the NE; was completed in 1859; is a beautiful and spacions brick edifice, with tastefully disposed grounds; and commands an extensive view over the circumjacent country. The workhouse, in lieu of a previous insufficient one, was built in 1866; includes inspection wards, male and female vagrant wards, and an hospital; and has accommodation for 150 inmates, besides vagrants. The parish church, or St. Mary's, stands on a ridge called Kirk-Hill, about ½ a mile from the town; is chiefly decorated English; was recently well-restored; comprises a nave of 5 bays, 60 feet by 46, a chancel, 41 feet by 19, and a W tower; has a fine Jesse window, with fragments of ancient stained glass, filled in by Wailes; and contains sedilia, a piscina, and a hagioscope. The churchyard is entered by a lich-gate, erected in 1862; and contains a restored old cross, and a recent lofty monumental cross to the Rev. J. Bolland. St. James' church stands in the centre of the town; was built in 1846, by Ferrey; is in the Lombardic style and cruciform, with a central tower, and an apsidal choir; and contains a stone pulpit, good glazing by Wailes, and some rich carving. There are chapels for Presbyterians, Independents, Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics. The free grammar school was founded in 1552, by Edward VI.; was long held in the old chantry at the quondam old bridge; is now held in a commodious building erected in 1859, after designs by Ferrey: has £224 a year from endowment; and numbers among its pupils the third Earl of Carlisle and the fourth Lord Widderington, who here contracted a friendship which resulted in the rescue of the latter from the scaffold after the rebellion of 1715. There are a borough school for girls and infants in Well way; national and infant schools, adjoining St. James' church in Newgate-street; a mechanics' institute, established in 1825; a dispensary, opened in 1817; and charities, additional to the school endowments, £22.

The town has a head post office,‡ a railway station with telegraph, four banking offices, and several chief inns; is a seat of petty sessions and quarter sessions, and a polling-place; and publishes a weekly newspaper. A weekly market is held on Wednesday; and, till recently, was one of the largest for cattle in England, but has suffered serious diminution in favour of Newcastle. Fairs are held on 25 March, on the second Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before Whit-Sunday, on the Wednesday before 22 July, and on 25 Oct. Races were formerly held at Cottingwood, but have been discontinued. The weaving of flannel, the manufacture of agricultural implements, rope and twine-making, iron and brass-founding, tanning, malting, brewing, and corn-grinding are carried on. The town is a borough by prescription; is governed, under the new act, by a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; and sent two members to parliament prior to the reform act, but now sends only one. The municipal boundaries include the greater part of Morpeth township, and a small part of NewminsterAbbey township; and the parliamentary boundaries include the entire townships of Morpeth, Newminster-Abbey, Bullers-Green, Hepscott, Morpeth-Castle, and Tranwell-and-High-Church, and the parish of Bedlington. Corporation income in 1855, £745. Amount of property and income tax charged in 1863, £3,289. Electors in 1833,321; in 1863,440. Pop. of the m. borough, in 1851,4,096; in 1861,4,296. Houses, 654. Pop. of the p. borough, in 1851,10,012; in 1861,13,794. Houses, 2,312.

The township comprises 537 acres. Pop. in 1851, 4,102; in 1861,4,521. Houses, 658.—The parish contains also the other townships of the p. borough, likewise the townships of Twizell and Shilvington. Acres, 8,177. Real property, £18,765; of which £909 are in mines, £21 in quarries, and £30 in gas-works. Pop. in 1851,5,020; in 1861,5,612. Houses, 846. The living is a rectory, united with the p. curacy of Ulgbam, in the diocese of Durham. Value, £1,611.* Patron, the Earl of Carlisle.—The sub-district excludes the townships of Hepscott, Twizell, and Shilvington, and includes the parishes of Mitford, Meldon, and River-Green, sixteen townships of Hartburn, six of Long Horsley, two of Hebburn, and one of Nether Witton. Acres, 44,807. Pop., 8,426. Houses, 1,387.—The district comprehends a so the sub-district of Bedlington, containing the parishes of Bedlington, Woodhorn, Widdrington, Ulgham, and Bothal, the township of Hepscott, four townships of Warkworth, five of Hebburn, and three of Felton, and the extra-parochial tract of Felton-Pathfoot. Acres of the district, 95,429. Poor rates in 1863, £8,777. Pop. in 1851, 18,127; in 1861,24,003. Houses, 4,209. Marriages in 1863,132; births, 967,-of which 83 were illegitimate; deaths, 546,-of which 226 were at ages under 5 years, and 16 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60,791; births, 6,900; deaths, 4,100. The places of worship, in 1851, were 17 of the Church of England, with 5,347 sittings; 2 of English Presbyterians, with 620 s.; 4 of United Presbyterians, with 1,340 s.; 1 of Independents, with 700 s.; 2 of Baptists, with 50 s.; 6 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 663 s.; 2 of Primitive Methodists, with 236 s.; and 2 of Roman Catholics, with 300 s. The schools were 25 public day schools, with 1,915 scholars; 21 private day schools, with 644 s.; 23 Sunday schools, with 1,946 s.; and 3 evening schools for adults, with 34 s.-The ward excludes the borough, and is cut into two divisions, E and W. The E div. contains Bothal parish, three other parishes, and parts of two others. Acres, 45,016. Pop. in 1851,7,843. Houses, 1,495. The W div. contains Hebburn parish, two other parishes, and parts of four others. Acres, 53,975. Pop. in 1851,4,102. Houses, 774. Pop. of the entire ward in 1861,14,291. Houses, 2,669.


(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a town, a township, a parish, a sub-district, a district, and a ward"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Morpeth Tn/CP/AP       Morpeth SubD       Morpeth PLU/RegD       Northumberland AncC
Place: Morpeth

Go to the linked place page for a location map, and for access to other historical writing about the place. Pages for linked administrative units may contain historical statistics and information on boundaries.