Morpeth, Northumberland

Morpeth is the county town of Northumberland, England. It is situated on the River Wansbeck which flows east through the town. The town is a mile from the A1, which bypasses it. It is the administrative centre both of Castle Morpeth borough and, since 1981, of the County of Northumberland. In the 2001 census the town had a population of 14,096. Nearby villages include Mitford and Pegswood.


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.

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. An estimated 1,000 homes were affected.


Morpeth has three tiers of local government. The lowest tier is Morpeth Town Council. Morpeth is a civil parish with the status of a town, and has a town council of 15 members. For the purposes of parish elections the town is divided into four wards: North Central, Kirkhill, Stobhill and South, each returning between three and five town councillors.

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.

Local government reorganisation in 2009 will result in the abolition of both the borough and county councils, and their replacement by a unitary Northumberland Council.


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


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.

Notable people

James (Jim) Alder MBE, athlete, (born in Glasgow 1940)

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.

Arthur Bigge, 1st Baron Stamfordham, 1849–1931, private secretary to Queen Victoria and George V. Born at Linden Hall, near Morpeth, June 18, 1849.

Katie Kennedy Party Champion.

Robert Blakey 1795-1878, radical journalist and philosopher. Born in Manchester Street, Morpeth, May 18, 1795.

John Davison, 1793–1863, theologian, author of Considerations on the Poor Laws . Born in Morpeth May 28, 1793.

William Elliott, Baron Elliott of Morpeth, Conservative politician, (born 1920)

Thomas Gibson died 1562, printer and physician. Born in Morpeth.

John Cuthbert Hedley, 1837–1913, Benedictine monk and Roman Catholic Bishop of Newport. Born at Carlisle House, Morpeth, April 15, 1837

Edward Knott real name Matthew Wilson 1581-1656 Most important English Jesuit of his day.

Robert Morrison 1782-1834, first Protestant missionary in China. Translator of the Bible into Chinese. Born at Buller's Green, Morpeth, January 5, 1782

John Peacock, c 1756-1817, piper, born in Morpeth.

John Urpeth Rastrick, 1780–1856, railway engineer born in Morpeth January 26, 1780

William Turner, 1509/10–1568, ornithologist and botanist, born in Morpeth

Alan Weedy, born 1933, administrator for Northern California Cricket Association, born in Morpeth. Executives. Northern California Cricket Association. Retrieved on 2008-07-10..

See also


External links

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