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Morpeth in 1851

MORPETH, a municipal and parliamentary borough in the township and parish of Morpeth, in the western division of Morpeth ward, in the county of Northumberland ; 302 miles from the General Post-office, London, by the former mail-coach road through Ware, Huntingdon, Grantham, Newark, Doncaster, York, Thirsk, Northallerton, Durham, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne ; or 331 miles - namely, 307 miles by railway through Rugby to Newcastle, and 24 miles from thence by coach : it is on the road to Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh. The parish of Morpeth comprehends an area of 7,600 acres, and is partly in the east and west divisions of Castle ward, and partly in the western division of Morpeth ward. The population at the different enumerations in the present century was as follows:- 1801, 3,707 ; 1811, 4,098 ; 1821, 4,292; 1831, 4,797 ; 1841, 4,237. It is divided into eight townships - Hepscott or Liepscott and Morpeth Castle, (the latter having Catchburn and Stobhill united with it,) the east division of Castle ward ; Newminster Abbey, Shilvington, Tranwell and High-church, and Twizell in the west division of the same ward: and Morpeth and Buller’s Green in the west division of Morpeth ward. The boundaries of the municipal borough include about half of the area, and nearly all the population of Morpeth township, and a small waste portion of the township of Newminster Abbey ; the town is chiefly in the borough, but a portion of it is in the township of Buller’s Green. The number of houses and persons in these two townships nearly coincides with the houses and population of the town. The return in 1831 and 1841 follows :-





In 1831













Buller’s Green












In 1841






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Buller’s Green




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The diminution of the population, 483, or nearly 12 per cent, in ten years, and the circumstance that there were no houses building in 1841, show the decline which had taken place. The parliamentary borough, as regulated by the Boundary Act, comprises the parish of Morpeth, excepting the townships of Shilvington and Twizell (population of the two 151 in 1831, 137 in 1841), and the adjacent parish of Bedlington, or Bedlingtonshire (population in 1831, 2,120 ; in 1841, 3,155), a detached portion of the county of Durham. The population of the parliamentary borough in 1831 was therefore 6,766 ; and in 1841, 7255.

Morpeth town stands in a sort of peninsula formed by the windings of the river Wansbeck, which surrounds the town on the west, south, and east sides, but is not navigable. The road from Newcastle enters the town from the south by an elegant bridge of three arches over the river, erected from the designs of Mr. Telford, and there is a suspension bridge on the west side. The streets are irregularly laid out, and, when the Municipal Corporations’ Commissioners made their report (1835) were not lighted : they were formerly indifferently paved with pebbles, but in 1828 the pavement was taken up and the streets macadamised, to the great comfort of the townspeople and travellers. The town is supplied with water from a spring at Stob-hill. There are not many good houses in the town. The church is nearly half a mile from the town, on the south side of the river : it is in the style of the fourteenth century, and consists of a nave and chancel, and a western tower engaged with the nave : few old churches are more destitute of objects of interest, architectural or antiquarian. In the spacious churchyard is an ancient octagonal cross, but little injured. In the town, close to the bridge, is an ancient chapel, part of which is used for a grammar-school, and part is still used as a chapel-of-ease for the performance of divine service. In a suburb of the town, on the south side of the bridge, on the east side of the road, is the gaol and house of correction for the county, erected about twenty years since, at a cost of £70,000. It is an octagonal building, entirely of stone, in a dry and elevated site. The average number of prisoners in the year 1842-3 was 80, of whom 10 were debtors. The Gateway is an imposing mass of building and contains the chapel, the sessions-house or hall for county business, in which the Easter sessions for the county are held, and other apartments. Near the gaol, on the opposite side of the road, are the remains of Morpeth Castle, a rude and strong building, of which the gateway-house and the outer wall, now much shattered, are still standing ; the area enclosed by them, 82 yards by 53, is occupied as a nursery-ground. The town-hall, a building by Sir John Vanburgh, was used as a sessions-house until the erection of the present gaol. There are a Roman Catholic chapel ; and meeting-houses for Presbyterians, Independents, and Methodists. The Rev. John Horsley, the antiquary ; author of the ‘Britannia Romana,’ was minister of the Presbyterian congregation from 1729 till his death in 1731, at the age of forty-six. The trade of Morpeth is not of much importance ; but there is a good weekly market for live stock on Wednesday : the weekly sale of oxen is 200 ; of sheep and lambs, 2,500. There are a dispensary, a savings-bank, a subscription library, and a Mechanical and Scientific Institution. Races are held yearly on the first week in September, on a course on Cotting-wood, north of the town. The race-course is about a mile and a quarter in circuit.

Morpeth is a borough by prescription. Under the Municipal Corporations’ Reform Act, it has 4 aldermen and 12 councillors, and is not to have a commission of the peace except on petition and grant. The borough first sent members to parliament in 1553. It returned two down to the time of the Reform Act, when it was reduced to one. By the Boundary Act its limits for parliamentary purposes were enlarged from the existing municipal boundaries to the extent already described. The number of registered electors was in 1835-6, 354 ; in 1839-40, 363 ; in 1842-3, 428, namely 142 freemen and 286 ten-pound householders. Morpeth is a polling-station for the northern division of the county of Northumberland.

The town of Morpeth is not noticed in history till the reign of John (A.D. 1199), who granted a charter for a fair and market; it was burnt by John A.D. 1216, during his war with the barons. In the civil war of Charles I, Morpeth Castle was occupied by a body of the Scottish Covenanters, from whom it was taken in 1644 by the Marquis of Montrose. The late Dr. Morrison, the eminent Chinese scholar, was a native of Morpeth. The town gives the title of Viscount to the Earl of Carlisle, and by courtesy to his eldest son.

The living of Morpeth is a rectory, with the perpetual curacy of Ulgham, in the rural deanery of Morpeth, in the archdeaconry of Lindisfarne, in the diocese of Durham : the annual value of the benefice is £1,611, with a glebe-house.

There were in the borough in 1833 thirteen day-schools with 448 to 458 scholars, viz. 260 to 270 boys and 188 girls ; giving less than one-eighth of the population under daily instruction. Of the day-schools one, with 43 boys, was a free grammar-school founded and endowed by Edward VI : two others were supported by the corporation. There were four Sunday-schools with 464 scholars, viz. 209 boys and 255 girls. Lending libraries are attached to two Sunday-schools ; one (that of the Church school) is for the general use of the parish. A library of little value is attached to the grammar-school.