Newcastle Family History Tynedale
Community Centre,
Northumberland, NE46 3NP
Contact: John Parker

Meetings on 2nd Thursday in the month at 7.00 pm ( No meeting in August )
Visitors are always welcome


Date Subject of Talk Speaker
13th June 2024 Members’ Forum – Why did they leave and where did they go?
11th July 2024 Guided walking tour of Corbridge Parish Church and Environs


Reports of meetings

May 2024

Group meeting held at 7pm on Thursday 09 May 2024
Attended by : 7 Members

Julian Harrop – A Treasure of Memories – A glimpse of images from the Durham Advertiser newspaper 1934-1961

Julian Harrop has worked at Beamish Museum for more than 30 years. His role includes responsibility for a photographic archive containing more than 2 million images as well as countless artefacts, many of which are the result of donations from organisations as well as the general public.

This evening’s talk concentrated on a specific donation. When the Northern Echo newspaper group were clearing the Durham Advertiser building they came across more than 35,000 photographic images held on the old glass plate photographic format. Over a period of more than two years, Julian and a group of volunteers have catalogued and scanned these images, which cover the period from 1934 to 1961.

The images displayed covered many aspects of public life during the mid 20th Century and encompassed subject matter from coal mining to coronation celebrations. Incidental to the actual subject matter illustrated, these images showed details of domestic and commercial life and changes in clothing styles, hairstyles, domestic decor and furniture at specific dates. As well of being of great interest from the social history point of view, this kind of visual record is invaluable in informing the work of Beamish Museum when they develop the site by re-creating homes and businesses from different time periods.

Because of the nature of the collection, the images are very particular to places in County Durham. However, this geographical specificity did not detract from the interest of seeing high quality images from an era within living memory. Julian mentioned that, when giving this talk in various places, several of the images had resulted in audience members knowing the names of people shown on the photographs – or even being present in the photos themselves, usually as schoolchildren in the 1950s or 1960s.

To round off a fascinating evening, the presentation concluded with some themed groups of images and some contemporary photographs of current developments at Beamish – including the cinema and the aged miners’ homes.

April 2024

Group meeting held at 7pm on Thursday 11 April 2024

Attended by : 10 Members + 2 Guests

Hilton Dawson – The Newbiggin by the Sea Genealogy Project

Hilton Dawson, Chair of the Newbiggin by the Sea Genealogy Project, gave a fascinating and entertaining presentation about the history of the project. The project started in 2012, with 65 people attending a public meeting.

Since 2019, the group have had shop premises at 82 Front Street, Newbiggin as a base for their activities. Monthly meetings of volunteers are held, which are shared globally via Zoom.

The aim of the project was to build a database of everyone who has ever lived in Newbiggin by the Sea using shared family histories. In just over ten years, the volunteers have constructed a complex structure of interlinked family trees which currently holds records for more than 39,000 people and includes more than 9,000 photographs. The group are supported in their work by MyHeritage, the company which hosts the database – which is thought to be the largest community family history record in the world.

The earliest recorded inhabitants of Newbiggin go back to 1200 A.D. The majority of the modern population of Newbiggin can trace their heritage back to the Robinson family in the 1620s – a 400 year anniversary celebration is planned for 2027. The population of Newbiggin in 2024 stands at about 6,500, but this figure has varied widely over the years – peaking when the village had a coal mine in the late 19th/early 20th century.

The project itself is centred on constructing a historical record, but the organisation and the process involved have contributed significantly to the local community. The volunteers – mostly local, but some far-flung – have been able to discover a great deal about their heritage, both individually and as a community

March 2024

The meeting on the 14 March 2024 was attended by 10 members. This was a Members Forum – ‘Memories of Schooldays’.

Not surprisingly, there was a very wide range of experiences recounted, covering the whole spectrum of loving schools to loathing them. A common theme was the segregation of girls and boys, which was normal for the times in the 1950s and 1960s- as was the expectation that the life choices for girls were to become a teacher or a nurse or just to get married and have a life as a housewife.

Several members remembered schools that no longer: one member had managed to acquire the attendance register for her class, which had been salvaged from a skip when the school was demolished years after she had left. More than one school attended by members had a playground on the roof of the building due to constraints on space in the urban setting. School dinners were, inevitably, a subject for discussion – from the delicious home-cooked meals in a village school to the “inedible”.

Unfortunately, the conversation was limited due to the time spent on the AGM and the other business dealt with in the ensuing meeting. Given more time, we would no doubt have had more time for more entertaining anecdotes and reminiscences. Generally, while some members had very much enjoyed their schooldays, it seems that they are not necessarily “the happiest days of your life”.

February 2024

The meeting held on Thursday 08 February 2024 was attended by 11 Members + 1 guests, the theme of which was an AncestryDNA Workshop.

Branch Member John Harrison gave a very interesting talk on DNA – what it is, how it is fundamental to genealogy and how – and why – anyone can take a DNA test. He gave an overview of the three main types of DNA and what their significance is, and identified several commercial companies which offer DNA testing. Once a test has been taken, the individual taking the test is provided with a list (often of thousands of people) who have also taken a DNA test with that company and who have varying amounts of DNA in common. The greater the quantity of shared DNA, the closer the familial relationship is with the person taking the test.

John then went on to outline the potential for using these results in building family trees, resolving difficult issues and breaking down “brick walls”, as well as establishing collaborative relationships with other, often distant and hitherto unknown, wider family members. He also identified the limitations of what DNA testing can offer, and re-iterated the well-known caution that you should never take the contents of other peoples’ family trees as being complete or accurate.

Another branch member illustrated some of the features of AncestryDNA results which John was describing with some “live” navigation of his own AncestryDNA results and gave examples of how mysterious strangers’ connection to your own DNA test can be resolved. In a year or so of exploring his AncestryDNA matches in depth, he had discovered at least three new and significant branches of his own family tree, including over 1,400 “new” relatives including 65 DNA matches. Given that this type of research involves hundreds of individuals, the member had developed a spreadsheet to manage the data, which had proved to be both useful in terms of resolving matches and more manageable than pencil and paper.

It is to be hoped that this meeting will encourage branch members to take a DNA test, or to feel more confident in dealing with the initially intimidating lists of total strangers which result from taking a test.

January 2024

Group meeting held at 7pm on 11 January 2024 attended by: 8 Members + 3 guests

Members’ Forum -Old Family Items I have kept

There was a wide variety of objects on show ranging from family photographs through a pottery dachshund, an American hand mirror, a regimental sporran memento from the Tyneside Scottish Regiment, a Mobil Oil company long service award and an embroidery sampler from 1856 to a Goliath watch in a silver mantlepiece stand. Other items described but not seen were a wooden football rattle and a Gold Cup awarded for a heifer which won Best in Show at Smithfield, together with photographs of that cup being presented to the member’s father by the King.

The common factor linking all this eclectic mixture of objects was the sentimental value – a reminder of an ancestor or even a close family friend and a sense of connection to people who had been important parts of members’ lives. Very few of the items had significant financial value, although the model dachshund from a grandfather’s china shop had been valued on Antiques Roadshow around £300.

One member had intended to bring her late father’s bowls bag containing his woods. When she retrieved it and investigated the contents in detail for the first time, she discovered in the bottom of the bag some letters, photographs and a photograph album documenting her father’s travels in the Merchant Navy – none of which she had ever seen before, so this particular meeting resulted in the discovery of some additional family history!

November 2023

Group meeting held on the 9 November 2023 was attended by 8 members. Members’ Forum – An Eccentric Ancestor or other family Member

What seemed, on the face of it, to be an interesting topic for discussion had actually proved to be quite a challenge since many of us did not have particularly eccentric ancestors. We agreed that eccentricity was something only the rich could indulge in : most working people had hard lives – working on the land, down mines, in foundries and factories – and had precious little time or money to indulge in anything other than survival for themselves and their families.

However, several members had identified recent ancestors whom they had known and who had been extremely superstitious. Their levels of superstition were extreme enough to make these people stand out as being “different”, so they could be described as eccentric. Subjects of superstitions ranged from not cutting one’s nails on a Friday (or a Sunday) or not putting new shoes on the table to an extreme aversion to the colour green or to birds – including pictures or ornaments featuring images of birds.

One member thought their great uncle was the nearest thing to an eccentric they could identify. He had been a miner living in Mickley who was also a talented footballer and who had moved to London to spend several years playing professional football for Millwall F.C.

Another member’s 8th Great Grandfather had been a settler in America who had travelled on the Mayflower, having previously been part of the failed Jamestown settlement. In the interim, he had been sentenced to death in Bermuda for a treasonable act, but had pleaded for clemency because he had a wife and children and was reprieved.

One member had brought a letter written to their grandfather by his older step-brother on the occasion of the former’s marriage in 1910. The author of the letter had left Middlesbrough to move to Ayr, where he had opened a stationery and art shop. The letter ran to several pages and the general tone was extremely disparaging of marriage as an institution and far from any notion of social niceties despite being written in a formal and erudite way.

Researching AncestryDNA matches had led another member to finding a family member who had left Helmsley in the 1830s to set up a farm in Ontario and another who had left his life as a brass founder in Birmingham in the early 1840s to embark on an overland trek to Utah as a farmer and a part of the Mormon community around Salt Lake City.

October 2023

The meeting on the 12 October was attended by : 7 Members + Guest Speaker
Dr Christine Seal -The Poor in the 19th Century and the new Poor Law : a comparison of Urban and Rural Unions in the North East

Christine gave a talk about the way in which the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 changed the administration of public support to the poor and destitute. The system of the relief of poverty had been based on Parishes collecting money and food and giving it to the needy. The Workhouse system provided premises where those with no means of earning living could be supported by wider society

The regime for workhouse inmates typically consisted of bread and gruel for breakfast, soup for dinner, cheese and bread for supper. They were early to rise, early to bed, did a lot of communal praying, and were engaged in hard labour such as breaking rocks. Workhouses were administered by a Board of Guardians, which met weekly to decide who would get support (parish relief) and who would go into the workhouse

The Poor Law Amendment Act was enacted by Parliament in 1834 and the Unions defined in the legislation came to the North East in 1836. Hexham Poor Law Union consisted of 69 parishes and so it covered quite a wide geographical area. Christine reviewed the statistics for the North East Poor Law Unions, based on Census Data and Workhouse Registers, as well as newspaper reports and correspondence. She was able to highlight variations between the numbers of residents in different Union Workhouses over time. In Durham at the time, working people were relatively prosperous – particularly in the mining communities. Demand for relief under the Poor Laws was normally low, but rose when miners had to give up work due to occupational diseases or injuries, and also when major colliery disasters struck, leaving widows and orphans destitute. In 1844, there was also a surge in demand due to a protracted pitmen’s strike.

Long-term residents became institutionalised – quite a high proportion of these were labelled “idiots’ or “imbeciles” and did not receive any treatment for mental health issues, although some were transferred to lunatic asylums. Workhouses were normally run by a manager and a matron, who would usually be a husband and wife team. Two such couples ran Hexham Workhouse in the latter part of the 19th Century, both for long period of time : however, one was forced to resign and the other was dismissed, both because of allegations of financial impropriety on their part.

The social welfare reforms of the early 20th century saw the need for the Workhouses disappear, so by the 1930s they had all closed.

September 2023

Meeting held on Thursday 10 August 2023 which was Attended by : 10 Members + One Guest + Guest Speaker

John Walker – Hexham Connections – a work in progress.

John – an NDFHS member who lives in Surrey – gave an interesting visual presentation supported by relevant books which had informed his research and by glass photographic negatives from the mid Nineteenth Century, some of which were reproduced in his presentation. He had first visited Hexham in 2012, visiting Warden Church and Fourstones Paper Mill in search of information about his ancestor David Brown, who had learned the paper making trade in Scotland and subsequently owned and managed Fourstones Paper Mill for many years. David Brown’s children included Margaret Charlton Brown, who married William Arthur Wilkinson, a railway worker in York. Their daughter Katherine, born in 1919, was the speaker’s mother.

Another family connection related to Joseph Bell and Mary Charlton, who lived at what is now known as Linnels Farm (formerly Linolds Farm). More recent members of this family include Roy B Charlton (a renowned expert on the breeding of Fell Ponies ) and Robert Charlton, whose children are still active in the Hexham area.

The speaker had inherited a needlework sampler produced by Mary Charlton at the age of 12 – a picture of which was included in the presentation. William Charlton (a miller by trade) and his wife Adah Nixon were also of interest.

July 2023

Meeting held at 7pm on Thursday 13 July 2023 attended by : 13 Members. The speaker was Jo Bath talking about Medieval Ghosts

Jo explained that, from the 6th Century AD to the 16th Century there were two traditions which influenced people’s belief in how the dead could appear to the living. The Christian tradition was based on the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church which taught that the souls of the dead went to Heaven, to Hell or to Purgatory. The last of these was an interim destination from which the soul might be cast down to Hell or raised up to Heaven. The dead were able to come back to the physical world in order to describe the afterlife and to issue cautionary tales to the living and to seek help in their quest to be raised up to Heaven. The Church offered the means for souls to be absolved – either by saying Masses, by issuing Indulgences or by undertaking pilgrimages : all of these options provided significant income for the Church while reassuring those paying that their deceased loved ones would enjoy eternal bliss rather than damnation.

The Germanic/Viking tradition – particularly strong in Yorkshire and other parts of the former Danelaw – came into play by the 12th Century and saw ghosts as re-animated corpses. The tales from this tradition identify these revenants as violent beings who would physically emerge from their graves and eat enormous quantities of meat, including human flesh.

Byland Abbey in Yorkshire has a collection of “ghost stories” – written in Latin by a monk – which show that the Christian and Germanic traditions merged. In these tales, based on clerical investigations into reported ghostly incidents, an individual is confronted by a threatening physical dead person (as in the Germanic tradition) but is able to survive the situation by saying “ God forbid you shall harm me – what do you want?”. At this point, the ghost would follow the Christian tradition of asking for help in their search for spiritual peace.

After the Reformation, the Protestant Church did not have Purgatory as part of their belief system, so the notion of spirits seeking redemption by manifesting themselves on Earth became one of the unacceptable tenets of Roman Catholicism. Elements of both traditions have persisted, with ghost stories still being a feature of contemporary culture, along with zombies, the modern equivalent of the Germanic revenants.

June 2023

Meeting held on Thursday 08 June 2023 which was attended by 11 Members

Members’ Forum – The ancestor I would most like to have known
All the members present contributed varied, interesting and sometimes poignant stories about the ancestors they had found of most interest in the course of their family tree researches. One common thread seemed to be that the various individuals concerned were in a position to solve a family mystery, or to explain why – or even how – certain past family members had re-located or radically changed their occupation and social status. Another reason for choosing a particular individual was that the member had some knowledge of that particular forebear but would like to be able to get to know the person behind the known facts and to understand how they lived and to gain a deeper appreciation of the social history of their time. Also, of course, the chosen ancestor tended to be one who could demolish a “brick wall” and potentially allow gaps or grey areas in the family tree to be resolved.

May 2023

The meeting on the 11 May was attended by 7 members and one guest.
Any Other Business. As our guest for the evening, Peter Flinn from Dunkeld, VA, Australia was invited to summarise his family connections with Hexham and the North East. Peter’s grandfather had been a fitter in the Tyneside shipyards, had lived in Heaton and had 9 children including Peter’s father. They had emigrated to Australia in 1924 and Peter had been born and lived all his life in the State of Victoria.

Peter’s great-grandfather had been born John Tilley in Hexham in 1842, the son of Margaret Tilley, an unmarried woman. She married Walter Matthewson in 1846 and her son adopted the name John Matthewson for the rest of his life. However, no trace of his father’s name can be found. By 1851 Walter and Margaret Matthewson were living in Gateshead, while John (Tilley) Matthewson was living with his grandmother in Quatre Bras Hexham. He subsequently joined the army, married, had a family and eventually returned to Newcastle.

Members were able to offer some general suggestions, and some detail of the Quatre Bras are of Hexham, but nothing concrete.

John Parker – The Maltman Family : Scottish Fisher Folk
In the early 1980s, John’s great-aunt had told him a family story concerning her own great-uncle William Douglas, who had been a fisherman in Eyemouth. Many years later, in 2015, John had spent a weekend in Eyemouth and while there spent some time researching the background to the story. He was unable to confirm or deny the family tale that William Douglas had survived the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster of 1881, but learned a great deal about the tragedy which struck the fishing community of Eyemouth on 14 October 1881.

Subsequently, after reading Peter Aitchison’s book “Black Friday”, John had suspected there might be a stronger connection with his family than the William Douglas he had been told about. The surname “Maltman” cropped up quite frequently in the “Black Friday” book and this name occurred once in John’s family tree : Euphemia Maltman was the wife of James Lamb, a generation before William Douglas – she was the mother of William’s brother-in-law.

Extensive research spread out over several years eventually identified all of Euphemia’s siblings and their descendants, resulting in a branch of the family tree which by the time of 1881 Census included 101 adult males, of whom 81 were Fisherman living in Eyemouth.
The Eyemouth disaster took the lives of 29 of these members of Euphemia’s extended family. This left 14 widows. Three children were orphaned and another 28 dependent children lost their fathers : three babies were later born after the death of their fathers. The town of Eyemouth, which had a population of about 2,000, lost 129 of its menfolk in a single day : 26 vessels from the town’s fishing fleet were lost in the storm.

The research involved had been quite emotionally challenging, but rewarding from the point of view of gaining a deeper insight into an historic event, and also of identifying distant branches of the family whose descendants later moved to Ashington, North Shields, South Shields, Hull and Canada.

(Last updated 20th May 2024)