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Morpeth Old Gatehouse.jpg
Aerial view of Morpeth Court House
Grid reference: NZ2085
Location: 55°9’47"N, 1°40’41"W
Population: 13,833  (2001)
Post town: Morpeth
Postcode: NE61
Dialling code: 01670
Local Government
Council: Northumberland

Morpeth is a town in Northumberland standing on the River Wansbeck which flows east through the town. The town is1¼ miles from the A1, which bypasses it. In the 2001 census the town had a population of 13,833. Nearby villages include Mitford and Pegswood.


Morpeth grew up at an important crossing point of the River Wansbeck.[1]

Middle Ages

Morpeth Court House

Following the Norman Conquest, the town came into the possession of the de Merlay family, and a motte and bailey castle had been constructed by 1095.[1] Newminster Abbey was founded by Ranulf de Merlay, lord of Morpeth as one the first daughter houses of Fountains in 1138.[2] The town became a borough by prescription.

King John granted a market charter for the town to Roger de Merlay in 1200.[3][4][5] The market is still held on Wednesdays. The town was badly damaged by fire in 1215 during the First Barons' War.[6] In the thirteenth century a stone bridge was built over the Wansbeck, replacing the ford previously in use.[1]

Morpeth Castle was built in the fourteenth century by Ranulph de Merlay on the site of an earlier fortress: only the gatehouse and parts of the ruined castle walls remain.[6]

Early modern period

For some months in 1515-16 Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII's sister) and Queen Consort of Scotland lay ill at Morpeth, having been brought there from Harbottle Castle. She eventually reached London in May 1516.

Morpeth was described, in 1540, by the royal antiquary John Leland, as "long and metely well-builded, with low houses," and as "a far fairer town than Alnwick."

During the war of the Rough Wooing, life in Morpeth was disturbed by a garrison of Italian mercenaries, who 'pestered such a little street standing in the highway' by killing deer and withholding payment for food.[7]

In 1552, William Hervey, Norroy King of Arms granted the borough of Morpeth a coat of arms. The arms were identical to those of Roger de Merlay, with the addition of a gold tower. In the letters patent, Hervey noted that he had included the arms of the "noble and valyaunt knyght"... "for a p'petuall memory of his good will and benevolence towardes the said towne ".[8]

Morpeth received its first charter of incorporation from King Charles II. The corporation it created was controlled by seven companies or trade guilds : the Merchant Tailors, the Tanners, the Fullers and Dyers, the Smiths, the Cordwainers, the Weavers and the Butchers.[6] This remained the governing charter until the borough was reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

Nineteenth century

William Cobbett the famous radical journalist, author of Rural Rides stayed with Robert Blakey in 1832, during his speaking tour of the North East. Blakey reported that he enjoyed some eight hours of illuminating discussion with Cobbett.

Until the nineteenth century Morpeth had one of the main markets in northern England for live cattle.[6] The opening of the railways made transport to Newcastle easier, and the market accordingly declined.[1]

2008 Flood

On 6 September 2008, Morpeth suffered its worst flood since 1963. The flood defences were breached after a month's rainfall fell in 12 hours.[9] An estimated 1,000 homes were affected.[10]


The A1 road provides a link to Edinburgh and Newcastle upon Tyne. Morpeth railway station has direct trains to London taking a little over three hours.

The town of Morpeth has what is reputed to be the severest curve on any main railway line in Britain. This curve has been the scene of several train crashes over the years.


St George's Church and Telford Bridge during the flood
  • Church of England:
    • St Mary's
    • St James the Great
    • St Aidan's
  • Methodist: Morpeth Methodist Church
  • United Reform Church: St George's (built from 1858 to 1860). It is notable for its octagonal spirelet.[11]
  • Roman Catholic: St Robert of Newminster

Church of England

The ancient parish church of Morpeth is St Mary's at Highchurch. The oldest remaining parts of the structure belong to the Transitional Early English style of the mid to late 12th century. The church, which was the only Anglican place of worship in tha area until the 1840s, has been restored on a number of occasions.[12] In the graveyard of St Mary's can be found the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who famously threw herself under the King's horse during the Epsom Derby in 1913. Her gravestone bears the slogan of the Women's Social and Political Union "Deeds not words".[12]

St James the Great was built when the need for a second church, in the centre of the town became apparent by 1843. The new church was designed by Benjamin Ferrey and was consecrated for worship on 15 October 1846. Ferrey designed the church in a "Neo Norman" style, based on the twelfth century Monreale Cathedral, Sicily.[13]

A third church, St Aidan's, was opened to serve the Stobhill housing estate in 1957. It is a modern red brick building with a vaulted roof.[14]

Methodist Church

The present Methodist church in Howard Terrace was opened as a Primitive Methodist chapel on 24 April 1905. It was built from local quarry stone, and was designed by J Walton Taylor. Although the Primitive Methodists were united with the Wesleyan Church to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain in 1932, a separate Wesleyan church continued to function in Manchester Street until 1964, when the congregations were united at Howard Terrace.[15]


Sport is popular in the town: Morpeth Town AFC, Morpeth RUFC, the cricket, hockey and tennis club and the golf club all play competitively. The Morpeth Harriers cater for those wishing to compete in athletics. The town also offers opportunities to play sport on a non-competitive basis through facilities such as Carlisle Park, the common and the leisure centre.

Storey Park football field normally hosts Sunday League Matches. Morpeth Town's football ground is located on Morpeth Common, a five-minute walk from Morpeth Golf Course.

The Morpeth Olympic Games

The Morpeth Olympic Games, a professional event consisting mainly of athletics and wrestling, were staged from the early 1870s until 1958, barring interruptions for the two world wars. The Games were held on the Old Brewery Field until 1895, then at Grange House Field until the First World War. After two years at the town's cricket pitch at Stobhill (1919–20), the Olympics moved to Mount Haggs Field until 1939, and then back to Grange House Field for the final years from 1945 until 1958.

Sights of the town

13th Century Chantry

Among historical landmarks in the town are:

  • Clock tower: a free-standing 17th-century clock tower
  • Town hall: a grand hall originally designed by Sir John Vanbrugh
  • Collingwood House: the Georgian home of Admiral Lord Collingwood, second in command at Trafalgar
  • The Chantry: a 13th-century chapel which now serves as the tourist information centre and houses such cultural institutions as the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum.

Today the town and the county's history and culture is celebrated at the annual Northumbrian Gathering.

About the town

Lanes, snickets and burgage plots

The historical layout of central Morpeth consists of Bridge Street and Newgate Street, with burgage plots leading off them. Traces of this layout remain: Old Bakehouse Yard off Newgate Street is a former burgage plot, as is Pretoria Avenue, off Oldgate.

Inns and parks

The town stands directly on what used to be the Great North Road, the old coaching route between London and Edinburgh, and several old coaching inns are still to be found in the town, including the Queen's Head, the Waterford Lodge and the Black Bull.

Morpeth's Mafeking Park at the bottom of Station Bank at the intersection with the Great North Road was unofficially considered to be the smallest park in Britain. It was originally a triangle of land bounded by roads but after road improvements is now a small roundabout.

Interesting features

  • At the foot of Dogger Bank is a pathway leading to a footbridge over the River Wansbeck. A pair of whalebones nearby which form an arch mark the site of Whalebone Cottage.
  • A nuclear bunker is located underneath the former council building at Morpeth County Hall
  • Down Old Bakehouse Yard, which stretches westwards off Newgate Street, is an garden wall many of whose stones were taken from the ruins of nearby Newminster Abbey. Masons' markings can be seen on some of the stones.
  • In the cemetery of St Mary's Church can be found the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who famously threw herself under the King's horse during the Epsom Derby in 1913. Her gravestone bears the epitaph "Deeds not words".
  • Behind St Robert's Roman Catholic church near the town centre is a playing-field which was formerly an orchard. The stone wall on the north side of the field contains piping through which hot air was pumped to raise the temperature of the air and assist the growth of more exotic fruits such as peaches.
  • Morpeth's railway station is on the main east coast line which runs between London and Aberdeen. A non-passenger line still operates between Morpeth and Bedlington. Traces of various other lines remain, and many can be walked. One former line runs west from Morpeth to Scots Gap (from where there was a branch line to Rothbury), then west to Redesmouth, from where there was a northern branches to Scotland and a southern branch to Hexham.

Outside links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Local history - Morpeth (Northumberland), Keys To The Past (access 18 April 2008)
  2. "Cistercian Abbeys: NEWMINSTER". The Cistercians in Yorkshire. Sheffield University. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  3. Prof. Nicholas Vincent — University of East Anglia
  4. Samantha Letters, Online Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516 <>: [Northumberland] (16 December 2013)
  5. Benjamin Pohl (2019): An original charter of King John at Ushaw College, Co. Durham (Ushaw MS 66), Northern History, DOI:10.1080/0078172X.2019.1627790
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Morpeth (St Mary), Samuel Lewis (editor), A Topographical Dictionary of England, 1848, British history Online, accessed April 18, 2008
  7. Historical Manuscripts Commission, 12th Report & Appendix, Duke of Rutland, vol.1 (1888), 44-5, Dacre to Rutland, 14 October 1549.
  8. A. C. Fox-Davies, The Book of Public Arms, 2nd edition, London, 1915
  9. "Morpeth fights back after floods". BBC News. 2008-09-09. Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  10. "Morpeth a 'scene of devastation'". BBC News. 2008-09-07. Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  11. "St. George's United Reformed Church, Morpeth". St. George's United Reformed Church, Morpeth. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin". Parish of Morpeth in the Diocese of Newcastle. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  13. "The Church of St.James the Great in the Parish of Morpeth". Morpeth Parochial Church Council. 2004. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  14. "St Aidan's Church". Parish of Morpeth in the Diocese of Newcastle. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  15. "History of the Methodist Church in Morpeth". Morpeth Methodist Church. Retrieved 10 November 2009.