Morpeth grew up at an important crossing point of the River Wansbeck. 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. Newminster Abbey was founded by Ranulf de Merlay, lord of Morpeth as one the first daughter houses of Fountains in 1138. The town became a borough by prescription. King John granted a market charter for the town to Roger de Merlay in 1199. The town was badly damaged by fire in 1215 during the First Barons' War. In the thirteenth century a stone bridge was built over the Wansbeck, replacing the ford previously in use. 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.
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."
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."
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. This remained the governing charter until the borough was reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.
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 enjoyed some eight hours of illuminating discussion with the great man.
Until the nineteenth century Morpeth had one of the main markets in northern England for live cattle. The opening of the railways made transport to Newcastle easier, and the market accordingly declined.
Among historical landmarks in the town are a free-standing 17th-century clock tower, a grand town hall originally designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, a 13th-century chapel called The Chantry which is now the tourist information centre and Collingwood House the Georgian home of Admiral Lord Collingwood. Today the town and the county's history and culture is celebrated at the annual Northumbrian Gathering.
The next tier of local government is Castle Morpeth Borough council. Castle Morpeth is a non-metropolitan district created in 1974 when the municipal borough of Morpeth was merged Morpeth Rural District and part of Castle Ward Rural District. The borough council consists of thirty-three councillors, of whom nine are elected for wards of the town of Morpeth. Castle Morpeth derived its borough status, mayoralty and coat of arms form the former borough of Morpeth.
The upper tier of local government is Northumberland County Council. Three county councillors are elected for the town of Morpeth.
The local state school – King Edward VI High School (Granted a grammar school charter in 1552 by King Edward VI) gained Beacon and Leading Edge status in 2003 and 2004 respectively.
Sport is popular in the town: Morpeth Town A.F.C., 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.
From 1870-1959 the Morpeth Olympic Games were held.
Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge 1817–1892, founder of Bainbridge Department Store in Newcastle upon Tyne, the first such store in the world (still the largest John Lewis outside London). Bainbridge lived at Eshott Hall, seven miles from Morpeth, from 1877.
Katie Kennedy Party Champion.
Thomas Gibson died 1562, printer and physician. Born in Morpeth.
John Peacock, c 1756-1817, piper, born in Morpeth.
William Turner, 1509/10–1568, ornithologist and botanist, born in Morpeth