By Brian Hall
Tuesday 27 Sep 2011 12:18:00
Browse all Brian Hall articles





Anybody who read the previous blog on famous people associated with old, and often small parts, of old County Durham will recall that I promised to do a North of Tyne piece. Given that I deliberately excluded Durham City itself, I stated that I would exclude the Toon as well. So let's head off across the Big River all the way to Borderland. Holy Island, or Lindisfarne - even one of our famous modern folk groups named themselves after that place- is worth a mention,to say the least. St Aidan, a bunch of monks, followed by St Cuthbert, made it a centre of Christianity in Western Europe. Whatever you think of religion, it has to be a claim to fame, that one. And they had to fight off the early day Scandanavian tourists, the Vikings, as well.


Another bunch up the road are famous. The Berwick on Tweed lot. For me, their really famous export was Gordon the FishshopOwner who emigrated to Shiney, County Durham. A fierce man of Berwick, and fanatical Mag, he used to give me and a mate a lift to the match in our early teens, and served all NUFC fans extra chips and extra batter. Sunderland fans got far less rations. 


But I suppose the real claim to fame for Gordon's home town, aside from having been fought over by English and Jocks every other day, was that they officially remained at war with Russia, two centuries after some war had ended!!  That was due to some accidental omission in a Treaty a couple of centuries ago or whatever, which left the people of Berwick officially at war with Russia until the last decade. Now that means they are all famous. Berwick v Russia? Thankfully, the peace treaty was recently altered to end the potential hostilities.


Frontierland up there is of course famous,or infamous, for its Border Reiver Clans. Wooler is the most famous, obviously, as it was the medieval land of the HALLS. I once embarrased my oldest daughter when we stayed up there in a hotel, and asked the receptionist if we really had to pay the bill, as we were Halls and used to run the district. She sadly said that that was a long time ago, and Our Claire stayed in the foyer, once again ashamed of  her Fatha. Anyway, I digress. And I have to admit that Border Reiver Halls were a bit of a micky mouse Clan, compared to those of the Milburns, Charltons, Armstrongs, and Douglas.



All of those dodgy Reivers though were seen as very famous on one occasion. The Battle of Flodden Field in darkest Northumberland when the rampaging Jocks were beaten back by the English Army. The Southern Bishop praised their ferocity and courage...............but unfortunately, qualified it a bit, by adding that at times, they fought and robbed the English Armies as well. Ungrateful buggar, that Bishop. The lads were just taking their rewards for their work.


Off back to the coast itself, and we pile into Seahouses. Many have, including many a bus trip from many workingmens clubs, full of old blokes, in search of fresh air, great fish and chips, and a few pints. That lovely little place of course is famous for one character - Grace Darling. She heroically hoyed herself into a lifeboat plot to save whoever she could out in the fierce North Sea - hence , the museum there.                  


We can travel from there across into the land of Harry Hotspur Percy - plenty bars named after the Percys - but the route, in this blog, has no time for that, so head south. Into the Land of King Coal. Backworth, birthplace of Thomas Burt, first working miner  ever to be elected into Parliament.



Keep gannin, and pop into Woodhorn Colliery Museum, adjacent to nearby Ashington. Canny few famous people emerged from around there. The Pitman Painters. And another obvious lot. The footballers, Milburns and Charltons - note the Border Reiver names again - Steve Harmison, the cricketer - and of course, my Uncle, John Hall. Nip over to Bedlington, land of the Terriers footy team, and birthplace of a cousin of a great great grandma's cousin, namely, the very rich Mr Rich, a US billionnaire. He found this out a couple of years ago, and is slowly building up his old family's home town into a football force.  


Time to get to the Big River. Wallsend, for example - end of the Roman Wall - and producer of so many characters. Some are still knocking about in the High Street there!! Sporting characters emerged - again. Steve Watson, Lee Clark. Best to omit Steve Bruce though. And all the way back to Lindisfarne, the pop group that is, Ray Jackson.


Finally, avoiding Toon, up West. To Wylam. Weh, George Stephenson knocked about there, and he managed to found railways. Not a bad achievement. Up to the Wall, I like Heddon - sentimental reason here. My Grandad spent a small spell there in the late 30s, at an miners' rest home, courtesy of union funds. I could travel further, to Hexham, back up to Harbottle, and so on, but I think you get the picture.


Canny history in our region, eh, and just the tip of the iceberg. But who wins in the Northumberland v Durham famous people battle? A draw, I reckon. In the big Cup Final though, as a Durham man, I have to admit that Newcastle hammers Durham City. Except for the famous blokes who built a better Cathedral and Castle, that is!!




ps       I forgot to mention a very famous landlord in Harbottle, up in the wild Cheviots. He gave me the wink once, when I was desperate to see NUFC on a SKY televised game. It was on in some even remoter village up there, and he even arrranged a lift from a local farmer there and back - to this day, I remain grateful to the landlord, and even more grateful that the said farmer seem to manage the tiny tracks to where I was staying, despite my increasing concern that he may have had one too many!!!!!

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