Morpeth, Northumberland

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Wallington HallMorpeth CastleMorpeth Clock TowerMorpeth ChantryMorpeth stationMorpeth montage. Clicking on an image in the picture causes the browser to load the appropriate article.
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Clockwise from top: Wallington Hall, Morpeth Castle, Morpeth Clock Tower, Morpeth station and Morpeth Chantry
Morpeth is located in Northumberland
Morpeth shown within Northumberland
Population14,017 (2011)[1]
OS grid referenceNZ2085
• Edinburgh80 mi (130 km) NW
• London261 mi (420 km) SSE
Civil parish
  • Morpeth
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townMORPETH
Postcode districtNE61, NE65
Dialling code01670
AmbulanceNorth East
EU ParliamentNorth East England
UK Parliament
List of places
55°09′47″N 1°40′41″W / 55.163°N 1.678°W / 55.163; -1.678Coordinates: 55°09′47″N 1°40′41″W / 55.163°N 1.678°W / 55.163; -1.678

Morpeth is a historic market town in Northumberland, north-east England, lying on the River Wansbeck. Nearby villages include Mitford and Pegswood. In the 2011 census, the population of Morpeth was given as 14,017,[1] up from 13,833 in the 2001 census.[2] Two castles were built by the de Merlay family to defend the river crossing in Morpeth; the first on Haw Hill in 1095 and then Morpeth Castle in the 13th century to the south of the older castle. The town's history is celebrated in the annual Northumbrian Gathering. Morpeth is governed by the Northumberland County Council and the Morpeth Town Council. For the purposes of parish elections, the town is split into 3 wards: North, Kirkhill and Stobhill.

In 2008 the town suffered a severe flood, which caused damage to 1000 properties and lead 400 residents to be evacuated; less severe flooding caused further damage to properties in 2012. In response to the flooding, new flood defences were built in Morpeth and a dam with water storage reservoir was built upstream to reduce the risk of flooding from Cotting Burn. Morpeth has several churches of Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Reformed and Methodist denominations. St Mary's Churchyard is where Emily Wilding Davison was buried. Several schools are situated in Morpeth which include The King Edward VI School, Chantry Middle School and Newminster Middle School.


Morpeth is recorded in the Assize Rolls of Northumberland of 1256 as Morpath and Morthpath,[3] and was also archaically spelt Morepath.[4] The meaning is uncertain; "moor path" has been suggested in reference to its historical position on the main road from England to Scotland,[5][6][7] whilst the marshes around the modern-day Carlisle Park have been suggested to be the "moor" in question.[7] Another possible meaning is that the name derives from the Old English pre-7th-century compound morð-pæð or Morthpaeth ("murder path") in remembrance of "some forgotten" slaying on the road.[8][9][10][11] This meaning has been suggested to be "fanciful" by some sources.[7]

Morpeth was founded at an crossing point of the River Wansbeck.[12] Remains from prehistory are scarce, but the earliest evidence of occupation found is a stone axe thought to be from the Neolithic period. There is a lack of evidence of activity during the Roman occupation of Britain, although there were probably settlements in the area at that time.[13] In the final stages of the Norman conquest, the military occupation following the Harrying of the North delivered the town into the possession of the de Merlay family, and by 1095 a motte-and-bailey castle had been built by William de Merlay.[12][14][15] Newminster Abbey was founded in 1138 by Ranulf de Merlay, lord of Morpeth, and his wife, Juliana, daughter of Gospatric II, Earl of Lothian, as one of the first daughter houses of Fountains Abbey.[16] The town became a borough by prescription. King John granted a market charter for the town to Roger de Merlay in 1199.[17] It became one of the main markets in Northern England by the mid 1700s and by the mid 18th century was one of the key cattle markets in England;[6][12] however, the opening of the railways made transport to Newcastle easier in the 19th century, and the market accordingly declined.[12] The market is still held on Wednesdays.[18][19] The town was badly damaged by fire set by the barons in 1215 during the First Barons' War, in an attempt to block the military operations of King John.[6] In the 13th century a stone bridge was built over the Wansbeck, replacing the ford previously in use.[12] The motte-and-bailey castle was burnt down by King John in 1216.[14][15] Morpeth Castle was built in the 13th century by Ranulph de Merlay, to the south of Haw Hill,[14][15] on the site of an earlier fortress;[6] for some months in 1515–16, Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII's sister) and Queen Consort of Scotland (James IV's widow) had laid ill there, having been brought there from Harbottle Castle.[20][21] The only remains of the castle are the gatehouse, which was restored by the Landmark Trust, and parts of the ruined castle walls.[22][23]

In 1540, Morpeth was described 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 1543–50 war of the Rough Wooing, Morpeth was occupied by a garrison of Italian mercenaries, who "pestered such a little street standing in the highway" by killing deer and withholding payment for food.[24]

In 1552, William Hervey, Norroy King of Arms, granted the borough of Morpeth a coat of arms. The arms were the same as those of Roger de Merlay, but 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".[25]

Morpeth received its first charter of incorporation from 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.

During the Second World War, RAF Morpeth opened at nearby Tranwell and was a notable air-gunnery training school.[26]

The town and the county's history and culture are celebrated at the annual Northumbrian Gathering.[27]


Morpeth has two tiers of local government.

The lower tier is the Morpeth Town Council with 15 members. Morpeth is a civil parish with the status of a town. For the purposes of parish elections the town is divided into three wards: North, Kirkhill and Stobhill, each returning five town councillors. The current political make up of the Town Council is 9 Conservatives, 5 Liberal Democrats and one Green member.[28]

The upper tier of local government is Northumberland County Council. Since April 2009 the county council has been a unitary authority.[29] Previous to this there was an intermediate tier, the non-metropolitan district of Castle Morpeth, which has been abolished along with all other districts in the county.[30][31] The county council has 67 members,[32][33] of whom three represent the electoral divisions of Morpeth Kirkhill, Morpeth North and Morpeth Stobhill.[34] Since the 2017 County Council elections, all three wards have been represented by Conservative councillors.[35]


Like the rest of the British Isles, Morpeth has a maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. There is a Met Office weather station providing local climate data at Cockle Park, founded in 1897, a short distance to the north of the town.[36][37]

Climate data for Morpeth, Cockle Park 95m asl, 1971–2000, Extremes 1960–
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 13.8
Average high °C (°F) 6.0
Average low °C (°F) 0.7
Record low °C (°F) −12.0
Average precipitation mm (inches) 59.77
Source: Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute/KNMI[38]

2008 and 2012 floods[edit]

St George's Church and Telford Bridge during the September 2008 floods

On 6 September 2008, Morpeth suffered a severe flood,[39][40] causing damage to 1000 properties and leading 400 residents to be evacuated.[41][42][43] The town's flood defences were breached when a month's worth of rainfall fell in 12 hours.[44][43]

In September 2012, flooding occurred again, causing damage to properties, although floodwaters were reportedly 3 feet (1 m) shallower than in 2008.[45]

Flood defences[edit]

Work on flood defences started in 2013 in response to the 2008 floods. New flood defences were built in the town centre and a dam with storage reservoir was built on the Mitford Estate.[46] In May 2017, works on building a £27m dam were completed. The completion of the Dam was the final part of the Morpeth flood defence plan and reduced the risk of flooding from Cotting burn.[47][48]


To the south of Morpeth railway station a sharp curve has been the scene of several train crashes over the years.[49][50]


The local state school, King Edward VI School, was originally founded as a chantry school in the early 14th century and was located in the Morpeth Chantry.[12] The school later closed, but then was reestablished in 1552 by royal charter as the Free Grammar School of King Edward the Sixth,[51] but the school was commonly referred to as the Morpeth Grammar School.[52] The school was then renamed to King Edward VI Grammar School before the 1940s[53] and then in the 1970s lost it's grammar school status, becoming a comprehensive under the current name.[54]

The town has two middle schools, Newminster and Chantry, which are built next door to one another. It also has several primary schools: Abbeyfields First School in Kirkhill, Morpeth First School in Goosehill, Stobhillgate First School in the Stobhill housing estate, and Morpeth All Saints' Church of England-aided First School in Lancaster Park, which is located north of the town.[55] Additionally, St. Robert's R.C. First School, a primary school for Roman Catholics, is located in Oldgate, Morpeth.[56]

Religious sites[edit]

The ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin
Church of St James the Great, built by the architect Benjamin Ferrey in 1846
St Robert of Newminster Roman Catholic Church, consecrated 1 August 1850

Church of England[edit]

The ancient Church of England 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 the area until the 1840s, has been restored on a number of occasions after being destroyed by the Scandinavians, Scottish and Cromwellians in the 10th centuries.[57]

The grave of Emily Wilding Davison, a suffragette who was killed when she fell under the King's horse during The Derby in 1913, lies in St Mary's graveyard. Her gravestone bears the slogan of the Women's Social and Political Union: "Deeds not words".[57][58][59]

In 1843, a public meeting was called to address the lack of attendance to the church and it was found that the walk to the current church, on the southern edge of the town, was too much for many of the parishioners. From this meeting, it was decided to build a new church in the town centre and accordingly, the church of St James the Great was consecrated for worship on 15 October 1846.[60] Benjamin Ferrey designed the church in a "Neo-Norman" style, based on the 12th century Monreale Cathedral, Sicily.[61][62]

A third church, St Aidan's, was founded as a mission church in 1957, located in Stobhill estate on the south-east of the town.[63]

Roman Catholic Church[edit]

The Roman Catholic church, dedicated to St Robert of Newminster, was built off Oldgate on land adjacent to Admiral Lord Collingwood's house. It opened on 1 August 1850 and was consecrated by the Right Reverend, William Hogarth, Bishop of Samosata (later Bishop of Hexham).[64][65] Collingwood House is now the presbytery (residence) for the priest in charge of the church.[66]

United Reformed Church[edit]

There has been a Presbyterian ministry in Morpeth since 1693. Their first service occurred in a tannery loft in the town in February 1693 and a chapel was later built in 1721 in Cottingwood Lane, which still exists as a private home. The foundation stone of the present St George's United Reformed Church was laid down in 1858 and the first service in the new building was held on the 12th of April 1860.[67] Standing immediately to the north of the Telford Bridge, the building is in the style of the early English era, incorporates a stained glass rose window and has an octagonal spirelet.[68]

Methodist Church[edit]

The present Methodist church in Howard Terrace was opened as a Primitive Methodist place of worship 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.[69] The former Wesleyan church (built in 1883) is currently used as The Boys' Brigade headquarters.[70]


Morpeth Town A.F.C., Morpeth RFC, the cricket, hockey and tennis club and the golf club all play competitively within Morpeth. In addition the Morpeth Harriers compete in athletics.[71][72] The town also offers opportunities to play sport on a non-competitive basis through facilities such as Carlisle Park,[73] the common and the leisure centre.[74] Morpeth Town A.F.C. was the 2016 winner of the FA Vase.[75]

The Morpeth Olympic Games, a professional event consisting mainly of athletics and wrestling, were staged from 1873 until 1958, barring interruptions during the two world wars. The Games were held on the Old Brewery Field until 1896, 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 after the war until 1958.[76][77]

In 1730, a racecourse was built where horse racing events were held, until 1854, when the racetrack was replaced with St. Georges Hospital.[40][78][79]


Town centre of Morpeth

The historical layout of central Morpeth consisted 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. The town stands directly on what used to be the Great North Road, the old coaching route between London and Edinburgh.[80] Morpeth's Mafeking Park, at the bottom of Station Bank, was unofficially considered the smallest park in the world. It was originally a triangle of land bounded by roads but after road improvements is now a small roundabout.[81][82][83]

Carlisle Park and a coat of arms
A statue of Emily Wilding Davison to commemorate 100 years since women could vote

Carlisle Park is located on the southern bank of the River Wansbeck in Morpeth. The park has the William Turner Garden, an aviary, a paddling pool,[84] an ancient woodland, tennis courts,[73] several bowling greens and a skate park.[85] Notably, the park has one of the only four floral clocks in England.[86] In 2018, a statue of Emily Wilding Davison was erected in Carisle Park, to commemorate 100 years since women were given the right to vote.[87][88] The park has been awarded the Green Flag Award,[89] the Love Parks Award in 2017,[90] and 'Best Park' in Northumbria's in bloom competition in 2018.[91]

Other landmarks are:

  • A free-standing 17th century clock tower[40]
  • A grand town hall, originally designed by Sir John Vanbrugh (rebuilt 1869)[40]
  • Collingwood House, the Georgian home of Admiral Lord Collingwood[66]
  • Morpeth Chantry, a 13th-century chapel that now houses the town's tourist information centre and the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum[92]
  • Morpeth Castle, which stands above the town to the south, now operated by the Landmark Trust as holiday accommodation[93]
  • A nuclear bunker located underneath Morpeth County Hall[40]
  • A gateway on High Stanners framed by a whale's jawbone[94]
  • A garden wall in Old Bakehouse Yard which stretches westwards off Newgate Street, that includes many stones taken from the ruins of nearby Newminster Abbey. Masons' markings can be seen on some of the stones.
  • Morpeth's railway station is on the main east coast line which runs between London and Aberdeen.[49] A non-passenger line still operates between Morpeth and Bedlington.[95] 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 branch to Scotland and a southern branch to Hexham.
  • Ruins of Newminster Abbey a former Cistercian abbey about 1 mile to the west of Morpeth[96][97]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]