Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Four Weddings and a Funeral Shed Light on Past

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Four Weddings and a Funeral Shed Light on Past

Article excerpt


THE romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral was the hit film of 1994 and resurfaces regularly in the TV schedules.

Now four weddings and a funeral are back again, but this time the setting is a remote part of Northumberland many years ago.

It is the title of one of hundreds of events in the Heritage Open Days programme in the North East, which starts tomorrow and continues to Sunday.

Keen walker and historian Roger Morris has delved into the archives of Ninebanks church in what was North Pennines lead mining country.

He has come up with details from four weddings and one funeral from what is now a quiet spot in the West Allen Valley but which in the 18th and 19th centuries was a thriving place.

"During the 1700s the West Allen boomed with lead mines and the population mushroomed. Even after the price of lead began to fall in 1850 there were still more than 500 lead miners in the West Allen Valley," said Roger.

Isaac Holden, who was born in the valley in 1805 and started work at the age of eight at the mines, became an itinerant tea seller and staunch Methodist, who also devoted himself to raising money for good causes.

One such project was gathering funds to buy a horse-drawn hearse for Ninebanks to bring dignity to funerals.

The vehicle, presented to Ninebanks in 1856 by Isaac, was stored in a hearse house, and was in use until the 1930s.

"In Victorian England hearse houses were common and often linked to the local church but then fell redundant with the coming of motor hearses and changes in funeral practices," said Roger.

"Across the country the one at Ninebanks will be one of only two hearse houses open to the public."

The building was restored recently as one of the schemes in a four-year project by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, backed by PS2.7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, aimed at making the most of the area's historical and natural assets.

On Saturday and Sunday from 2pm-5pm the hearse house, now a walkers' shelter and micromuseum, will feature in Heritage Open Days, with teas also being served in the church hall and a Victorian wedding dress on show. Roger has researched the life of Isaac Holden and has written the guide to Isaac's Tea Trail, a 36-mile walking circuit inspired by the tea seller and visiting Allendale Town, River East Allen, Carrshield Moor, Nenthead, River Nent, Alston, Blagill, River South Tyne and returning via Ouston Fell.

When Ninebanks church opened in 1764 it was in demand with weddings in double figures most years for the next century.

The first wedding which Roger has singled out is from 1769 between John Liddle and Ann Ellison of Coalcleugh.

The couple had married clandestinely in Scotland, probably at Gretna. …

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