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Wayside Jottings (by Rambler)
Newcastle Journal - Saturday 9th May 1914 (page 5 col 3)
When I heard the "useful trouble of the rain" (as Wordsworth had it) early last Monday, I was soon up and ready to be out and away, for the pulses of my heart's blood seem to long for the green of the Tyne Valley and the chance of hearing the cuckoo again. It's a sin to be in on such a day. For a few pence I got to Ryton, and saw the old Willows golf ground just saved by the showers: then I crossed the ferry to the Heddon side. The worthy boatman was rather of the reserved kind, but I gathered from him he takes to and fro about 2,500 people in the week. I can mind the old house on yon side and that October flood which swept it and the bank away, so that the River Tyne Commissioners set to work to save all the land they could. By what they have now so well done, the large blocks set an angle the water will not wash out, helps to keep both sides from breaking away. He told me that the dredging now affords a depth of 17 feet, with a low-level of 12 feet at the neap tides, for, as every schoolboy knows, salt water comes all this way twice daily.
A web search shows that "useful trouble of the rain" is a quotation, not by Wordsworth but by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in Idylls of the King, a cycle of twelve narrative poems published between 1859 and 1885.
There is a photo of Archie Scott's ferry house, situated on the north bank of the River Tyne after the flood damage referred to above, on the blog.
By some error made years ago the honoured name of Edwin, king of the land north of the Humber, has been corrupted here by laziness. A short walk along the path on the north of the Tyne has brought me to Hedwin Streams; it was once Edwin's Streams; so named, I fancy, because our king had his "march" or boundary of some sort here, a boundary the Corporation of Newcastle used to claim usually about Ascension Day, when they "beat the bounds" and the Mayor and town councillors were wont to make some pretensions to their rights, and pay a village maiden handsomely for one kiss. Where Edwin's line ran is now a pillar, marked with the three castles of our town's arms, and bearing date above 1785. The sea water goes on for a few hundred yards or so above this, near to the Close House cricket ground, so after I have made my usual score thereon this coming June I can have a dip. Hedwin is in the parish of Heddon-on-the-Wall, and both names should read "Edwin."
There is more information about the Tide Stone and the Ascension Day ceremony on this site.
At the gardener's gate here I heard the blithe new comer, the wandering voice, the cuckoo, but ere I got that annual pleasure I came by a delightful old quarry, the chimney of which is visible to all on the N.E. line. This cool retreat once served to build many fair places in Newcastle with honest stone, and the chimney marks the site of the windlass engine which ran the mineral down an incline - still to be traced - to the river, and thence in keels to the town. This quarry on a spring day is a dream of fair colour. Nature busy with her hand at healing the rents that Time has made; while the wood behind with its new bracken and wild hyacinths acts as a pleasant setting. I had a look over the poultry runs now attached to Close House, for though Mr James Knott loves the sea and its ships, he dearly loves to get "back to the land," and great improvements have been made all round in this demesne. Here I saw what is probably the most original system of rearing poultry any one can see in England, and the tenant has chosen a capable Lancastrian as a poultry man that already "firsts and seconds" are the order at each show, even as recently as last Saturday. The eggs of good breeds are hatched by incubators in house No. 1; the next bit of well-laid land has its "brooder" for the chicks as they have advanced, while the whole nine departments reveal the various stages from egg to cock-crowing. No wonder I was so interested that I brought a few in their perfect growth to start poultry keeping once more, and soon I shall be sending new laid eggs to my friends who live among the ricks and mortar. I am certain of one thing, that Mr James Knott will make a name as a prize-breeder this year; he will keep to a "princely" line of birds, I am sure, and "Plymouth Rocks" especially.
The 'princely line of birds' is a reference to James Knott's shipping company, Prince Line while the Plymouth Rock, a breed of chicken, makes another link between poultry and shipping.
There is more information about Sir James Knott on this site.
There is an article about quarrying and old photos of the quarry chimney above Close House on this site.
After having a peep at the state of the cricket pitch, looking so inviting after Monday's rain, I had a chat with the woman who rents that half of the roadside, red-tiled dwelling which is so well known as the birthplace of George Stephenson. But, reader, would you believe it? - there's nothing to mart it! When you think what this man did for you and me and millions besides, since he got his steam-engines to work, would you not expect that the many pilgrims who visit this canny spot would have raised a tablet ere now to his honour? The woman said a bit of a sun-dial used to be where now the middle upstairs window lets in the light to a small room, but in the kitchen, where the great subject of Samuel Smiles was born, there is no record at all. Would it not be possible to have a slab set on the wall face of this humble place somewhat similar to that wherein he once lived a few years in Eldon Street? A bit of local history would be an excellent cordial to the drooping courage of some engineer fishing in the river a few yards off without wading.
They must be healthy, prosperous folk who live hereabouts. I judge of a land by the gardens of neat houses, and I was led to add two and two together last Monday. For after making a besom of the golden broom on the river bank, I had to stop and feast my eyes on the best wallflowers I've seen this year in all England; they are thick set in front of that row of stone cottages which looks across to the Wylam station. What a depth of colour! And the roses! Not even in Kentish lanes of late have I noticed any such in full blow to compare with the tea roses on the front of two of these dwellings. Flowers like these are so much lovelier growing on a wall that others may share your delight than worn in a button-hole, or, upon my word, I should have almost mustered up enough boldness to ask a sample that would have made Clayton Street a dream! There is, I forgot to add, one such tree - one long stalk - set with many a fair bud, on Stephenson's Cottage near the door, but the frost last Saturday morning had given it a check but not hurt it from teaching a poor rambler that pleasures are spread in stray gifts through the earth for whoever may care to find.
I had ended my spring morning's walk at the bridge when I turned to look at a sort of island garden which divides the rural traffic in this happy village. And it was the solitary bit of neglect I had seen all that fair time. It appears that after the Boer War the people wished to have a local habitation of some memorial for the names of the volunteers who had fought for the Flag in South Africa. Wylam is not a place of poverty, but content and decent incomes. So a goodly sum was raised and the committee first of all put a tablet in the well-kept church while the balance was spent in laying out their "park" - a bit of enclosed land a few yards in extent, with stone wall and railings enough in cost to have built an almshouse for a soldier's widow; to enclose what? A few shrubs, some lilac, and a crowd of dandelions going to seed! For this I was told the local Board or Urban Council is responsible! Here's a memorial of public money! I should like to be on that Board to propose that the rusty chain and a prison padlock be taken off, the wall removed, the path round inside made clear of all weeds, and then one or two oaken seats with an inscription of some sort to remind the villagers in their evening gossip of their inheritance. Then this little plot would cease to be an eyesore; the traffic could go its way, but the three sides of the road would look on a beauty spot which I hope I may yet be spared to see. Just now, to use a common expression, this "park" is neither use nor ornament. But surely, North Wylam has some public spirit in it when each private garden shows such loving care?
The War Memorial in Wylam was erected in 1923 and now has names only from the two World Wars and not the Boer War. The Memorial Park was originally surrounded by railings which were removed in the Second World War but I am not sure if this is the area referred to in the above account.
There was a retraction by Rambler of his comments in his article published the following week as he had been informed that the area of neglected ground was actually private land.
There is a memorial plaque to Corporal Arthur Thompson Yeats of the XII Royal Lancers,
who died in the South African War in 1900 in Wylam's St. Oswin’s Church. Two oak panels in the church record 48 names from the 1914-18 war, including two sons of Sir James Knott.
The death of Knott's two sons would have a great effect on the life of his family and much of his subsequent actions can be seen as done in their memory.
The conflict of the Great War would leave few communities unaffected and inflict profound changes on society all over the world.
The daily diary of Sunderland tommy, Arthur Linfoot, who joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915 and saw action in France the following year:
The National Archives have digitised a large number of British Army war diaries for the years 1914-1922:
The Long, Long Trail: www.1914-1918.net