Stories from the Museum

James Forrest

James Forrest grew up in Gateshead, where he worked in his father’s business as a painter and decorator. At the outbreak of was he enlisted in the Northern Cyclists, who, in the early part of the war were assigned patrol duties along the North East Coast. At the end of 1915, this resulted in James’ Company being stationed at Belford, from where they were involved in patrolling Budle to Ross Sands.

In Belford he met and fell in love with Blanche Mary Amos, who lived with her mother who ran a general store in the High Street. The couple were married in St Mary's Parish Church on 19 June 1916, possibly when it became clear that the Cyclists were to be posted to Front line Duties.

The Berwick Advertiser(23 June 1916) provided a good description of the wedding - the bride wore a lovely white dress with a matching hat, and when the couple left the church, James’ soldier colleagues formed a guard of honour with crossed bayonets. Once through the arch, two other friends got them to jump the petting stool which had been specially decorated with flowers. From there the Cyclists pulled the couple to the bride’s home in a motor car. James and Blanche then honeymooned in Scotland.

Shortly afterwards the Cyclists were posted to France, where James found himself in the Machine Gun Corps. It was there on 4 September1916 that James was killed in the fight for Contalmaison. Although James died then, the couple did have a daughter, who grew up to be a much loved teacher at Belford School.

Middleton Man wins the Croix de Guerre with Star.

Guy Leather was the second son of Gerard Leather of Middleton Hall. He joined the Royal Naval Air Service on 1915, on leaving school.

By the end of the year, he was regularly flying sorties along the Belgian coast, against the Germans, both bombing their harbours and fighting enemy planes.

Much of the time Guy was flying a single seater Nieuport-Scout. On one sortie in 1916, he successfully shot down a large, double-engined German Hydroplane off Ostend.

As a result the French awarded him a Croix de Guerre with Gold Star. Early in November 1916, the 19 year old Guy and another pilot were presented with their medals by a French General.

Guy wrote an account of the event in his diary :
A French General came and presented Norton and self with a Croix de Guerre avec Gold Star, not too bad. A most amusing show with kisses. Norton kept on making funny remarks under his breath, and it was all that I could do to keep a straight face.

Canny Lads of Bamburgh

Thomas Wake

Wilfred Wake

Thomas and Wilfred Wake were the sons of the lodgekeeper of Bamburgh Castle. At the outbreak of war Thomas enlisted at Alnwick, Wilfred as a Terrritorial had already been called up. They belonged to C. Company of 7th Northumberland Fusiliers. After training for several months both where sent to the Front, where two days later on April 26th 1915 near Ypres they were mortally wounded within a few yards of each other.

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Ann Menzies Sampler

Ann Menzies’ Sampler

This was found in a Quaker Charity shop in Sydney Australia in 1911, and returned to Belford that year by one of the ladies who discovered it.

The maker, Ann Menzies was born in 1837, the oldest surviving child of James Menzies, the last ostler at the Blue Bell.

He also drove the coach which brought passengers and mail from the Railway Station to the Blue Bell.

Although Ann moved away from Belford as a young woman, and for a while worked as a housekeeper for her Uncle in County Durham, she was back in 1881, when she was working at Belford Hall as a housemaid.

She remained at the Hall for the rest of her working life, and on retirement, lived rent free in a cottage in Nursery Lane (probably one previously occupied by her parents). The Atkinson-Clarks must have valued her services greatly, as, at the sale of the estate in 1923, George Atkinson Clark did not allow her cottage to go into the main auction and a special lease was prepared to ensure that Ann and her sister’s rent free status was protected.

Ann died in 1928 and is buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard.

The initials on the Sampler are thought to be those of her family members:
IM: James Menzies (father)
IM: Isabella Menzies(mother)
MM: Mary Menzies (sister)
MAM: Margaret Anderson Menzies (sister)
IM: Jane Menzies (sister)
G: George (brother)
GM: (top left of the picture) probably repetition of George above when his initials would not fit.
There were two other brothers: Henry, but he died as a baby and William, not born until 1854, after Ann completed the sampler

Belford Races

Belford Races

Belford Races took place on the moor above Belford from at least 1803 until the 1860s and brought visitors from across the northern half of the County.

One item in the collection however is this rather strange Races Poster.

The explanation for it can be found in the following extract from the Berwick Advertiser.

From the Berwick Advertiser 25th September, 1841

BELFORD FEAST - Great disappointment was evinced by many of the inhabitants of Belford when it became known that the races were not to come off at the feast as usual; but in order that this old established festival should not altogether fall into disuse by this decision of the stewards of the races, a subscription was entered into, and the sum obtained enabled Mr. George Johnson (who has been master of the town sports for many feasts) to carry out the amusements of this feast beyond those of former years.

The amusements of the day commenced with a blindfolded race with wheelbarrows - distance nearly 200 yards. The stocks in the Market Place was the winning post, and the first to run against them to be the winner. Four competitors entered for the race, and after many windings, the prize was won by John Hope. A second race of the same kind was won by George Dryden. A pony race for an excellent bridle, (the gift of Mr Clark, Morpeth,) was run for by Mr Wightman’s bay pony and Mr Rule’s black pony, and was easily won by Mr Wightman’s, Mr Rule’s having gone to prayers by the way, and thereby lost the race.

Cart trapping, by draught horse, was also run for. Seven horses started for the prize, and the first and second heats were easily won by Mr Wightman’s black mare; but a prize was also to be awarded to the second horse, which was not so easily decided, Mr Logan’s and Mr Harbottle’s running a dead heat. Another heat was run to decide which horse was to be the winner, but this also ended in a dead heat, and the prize was then equally divided between Mr Logan and Mr Harbottle.

A donkey race for a bridle, another for a leg of mutton, and several others for smaller prizes came off at intervals. For the bridle 9 donkeys started. Upwards of a dozen of foot races by men, boys, and girls, for various prizes, were also run, many of which were well contested. In one race no less than 14 boys competed.

Great praise is due to Mr Johnson for the manner in which he conducted the amusements of the day, and the impartial decisions which he gave.

Clarkie - An extract from Gerald Lee’s reminiscences in the Museum

My friend Clarkie, as a young man, had worked at The Blue Bell Farm when it was still part of the Hotel. When he was working in the fields with the draught horses he had to keep an eye on the window in the gable end of The Blue Bell, above the back door. If he saw a white towel hanging in the window he knew he had to unhitch the horses, take them up to the hotel, hitch them up to the coach and go to Belford Station as there were guests to pick up off the train.

Later Clarkie worked for Jack Reay at Elwick and he and his wife lived on the farm. Jack met Clarkie early one morning and gave him an egg. 'Why is that not aaful' said Bob. 'What's the matter Bob?' said Jack. Clarkie replied 'Well here's me with a lovely big white egg for breakfast and the poor wife's got nowt.' Jack was blackmailed into giving Clarkie another egg!

When he was older and his wife had died Clarkie lived in Bell View and used to be down the back of The Blue Bell most days for a crack (chat/blether). One day I asked him to bury a dead sheep up in the field by the tennis court so off went Clarkie with the sheep and a spade in a barrow. Half an hour later he came down and me for a saw. Wondering what the saw might be for, I let Clarkie go and followed him back up to the field to see what was going on.

Clarkie hadn't dug a deep enough hole for the sheep and having buried the beast on its back, he was left with four legs sticking up out of the ground, so he just sawed them off and chucked the legs into the hedge ...

Letter from the trenches from John Rough McDonald to his brother Willie

Somewhere Abroad

My dear Willie,
I quite forgot about your birthday, but I am sure its not too late to congratulate you on reaching double figures and to wish you many happy returns of the day. You’ll be feeling a bit bigger and bossier, I expect, but you’ll not have to grow old too quickly or you will be called up and then there will be nobody to stay with mamma. It was funny me getting a present from you on your birthday but I think that would be not a bad idea. Everybody should have to give other people presents when his birthday comes round, at least until my turn comes. However thank you very much for the nice toffee & chocolate you sent me. Also thank Mary from me and tell her I’ll write to her next. How are the strawberries getting on? and the other berries? I dare say that you will be the best judge .... All the berries out here are past you see the weather is warmer and the season earlier. You will miss the car this fine weather, but you will always find some way to fill time. Is your cattie still to the fore and have you felled any more jackies? How about the two rats in the stable? You should see them out here playing hide and seek in the dugouts. We have good sport chasing them, but now I have a sort of fellow feeling for them, as we usually spend most of the day in holes in the ground. You should see the men creeping into their foxholes. This life would suit you I think without a lie. We never take our clothes off so that saves you the trouble of putting them on again. Besides we only wash when we can get water, so you would have some nearly as bad as yourself (the next few words are unclear due to crease where the letter is folded) you would not be conspicuous. Well we are moving up the line tonight again, so excuse more. Lets hear how you are fettling now and again and get Mary to write too.
With love and kisses to all
from your loving brother

Willie’s tenth birthday was 2nd July 1917.

The Lady With The Bicycle

The Lady With The Bicycle

This photographic glass plate showing suffragists outside the Blue Bell Inn. It must have been taken during the March from Edinburgh to London in October 1912, when the suffragist carried a Votes for Women petition to Parliament.

Clearly visible among the group of women outside the hotel, is a suffragist holding a bicycle. Undoubtedly, this was Isabel Cowe, aged 44, who was described thus in the Berwick Journal :

Miss Cowe has done splendid work en route, for the bicycle has enabled her to reach many out of the way farm-places and hamlets for signatures, and then rejoin the party.

Her long experience of wrecks and storms at St. Abbs, where she has been a tower of strength to storm-stayed mariners, has made her hardy and helpful, and even in the roughest weather of the long evening she never missed a chance of getting a signature.

Wearing a sou’wester, and holding a hurricane lantern and pen and ink, she made a picturesque figure.

Miss Cowe was a formidable lady who campaigned on many fronts. The granddaughter of fishing families from Eyemouth and Coldingham, she lived at St Abbs Head. There, earlier in 1912, she had contributed to the rescue of passengers from the SS Glanmire, actions which resulted in her being awarded the RNLI’s Gold Brooch for bravery.

In 1914 she took on local government by refusing to pay her parish rates. The bailiffs were sent in to impound her goods and offer them for sale. Isabel locked herself into the house, and armed herself with a hatchet and a fire extinguisher. Eventually the bailiffs climbed in though a balcony window and conducted the sale of her goods. They then had to break down the back door to allow the buyer to remove them.

Miss Cowe published a letter in the Berwickshire News explaining her actions In previous years we have had to walk to Coldingham, 1 ½ miles from here, on a given day in the forenoon, to pay our County amercements. I asked the Collector to come to St. Abbs as there are over 70 householders here, but he took no notice. I did not go last year, as I had said I would not. He sent Leslie and Leslie (debt collectors) for it. I paid the rates but refused to pay his expenses, which were 4s 2d. and told him to tell the Collector that I would ask the other householders to do as I had done. This year he has come to St. Abbs and I have paid my rates to him at the hall.

Our grievance with the Parish Council is that they will not take up our sanitary arrangements. They say this cannot be done until St. Abbs is formed into a Scavenging District, and that is the work of the County Council. ....... We know of others willing to have the refuse, so we refuse to have extra taxation when it can be done without..... I hear so many complaints that I am obliged to take up the present stand.

I have been told by members of other Parish Councils, when they complained about our roads, to write to the Parish Council. I did so and they refused to act. I got 4 tons of railway sleepers and hd the roads put in order – the Creel road to Coldngham, footpath to the sands, and footpaths leading to the harbour, which cost over £26. £16 I have cleared by concerts, the other £20 I have still to make up.

Isabel survived all the upheaval and did not die until 1931. Her ashes were scattered on the lawn of her house, and a sun dial was erected to her memory by the many visitors who had come to know and respect her.

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