The Local Historian’s table book, of Remarkable Occurrences, historical facts, traditions, Legendary and Descriptive Ballads, connected with the counties of Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland, and Durham. By M. A. Richardson, Volume II. 19th Century
Hexham Old Gaol & The Moot Hall
Today our Halloween-themed Object in Focus brings with it spooky Northumberland folklore combined with animal rights activism and families rooted in the history of the North East, all from one book.
Born on 8th of July 1793, Moses Aaron Richardson was a prolific North Eastern publisher and antiquarian. His father George Richardson was Headmaster of Blackett’s Charity School known as St Andrew’s Grammar School, Newcastle. The school was founded in 1705 with a substantial bequest from Sir William Blackett to help alleviate poverty in the Parish of St Andrews, Newcastle.
George came from an old family of minor Northumbrian landowners who claimed descent from Humphry, Lord Dacre, whose father, Sir Hugh Ridley ‘the Martyr’, had been burnt at the stake during the Marian persecutions for his teachings and support of Lady Jane Grey.
George married Jane Miles in 1782, much to his family’s disapproval. Although we know little about the circumstances to which they disapproved, we can assume this may have been the reason why he sought a new path in teaching rather than living life as an English gentleman. Little is known about Jane other than that she died at the advanced age of 80 (far above average for the 19th century). George and Jane Richardson’s first son, Thomas Miles Richardson was born on the 15th of May 1784, nine years before his brother Moses entered the world.
George had initially hoped that his eldest son would forge a career as a surgeon, but Thomas reportedly had a strong aversion to this. Instead, he trained as a cabinet maker but these years were reportedly a time of great hardship, where he truly suffered under a brutal master. After his apprenticed years he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher at St Andrew’s. This is when his artistic career blossomed as he began working in aquatints, mezzotints and cutting-edge tonal techniques applied with printing. He went on to become an accomplished landscape painter, working predominantly in watercolour, and many of his works can be seen in collections around the North East of England. His most famous work of art A View of Newcastle from Gateshead Fell was purchased by Newcastle Corporation. His career would often take him away from his native North East to the Scottish Highlands and then to Italy and Switzerland. All six of his children went on to become artists. Thomas died in Newcastle, the city he was born in, aged 64. His younger brother Moses went on to carve out an entirely different path.
Moses was just 25 years of age when his first publication by subscription was published. The work uncovered the armorial bearings of the trading companies of Newcastle Upon Tyne, co-written with his friend James Walker and complete with printed illustrations by his older brother Thomas. His works also included The Conservatorship of the River Tyne; Saint Cuthbert – His Hatred that he Bares Unto Women and his 1838 Directory of Newcastle and Gateshead.
Little is known about Moses’ earlier years; we can assume that unlike Thomas, he was allowed to follow his own interests. From the age of 34, Moses was sharing printing and publishing premises with his older brother at Blackett Street, Newcastle and from 1836-1843 Moses had his own business premises for the same works at Pilgrim Street, Newcastle.
His later work, The Local Historian’s Table Book, appeared in six volumes spanning 1841-1846, and contained more than eight hundred woodcut illustrations. The works were re-published in 1846 by British publisher Henry George Bohn under the name The Borderer’s Table Book.
Despite The Local Historian’s Table Book being regarded as a financial failure, Moses appears to have had his finger on the pulse when it came to his readers. Although some of his previous publications were for niche audiences, the Table Book contained vast and varied subject matter that is sure to have fascinated readers. The book itself dated to 1844 and would have been the coffee table book of the day. However, the high quality of the woodcut is likely to have increased the cost of making the book and therefore affected the subscription price too – meaning the book was sadly not an affordable item for all classes.
An exploration of the contents of the book brings us to a rather intriguing selection of traditional tales. It retells one of Northumberland’s most notable ghost stories: The Legend of the White Lady of Blenkinsopp (sometimes known as The Widow of Bryan De Blenkinsopp).
At the heart of the folklore is Blenkinsopp Castle, Northumberland. Owned by the Blenkinsopp’s as early as the 13th century, the family abandoned the castle in 1541 for properties in the east, including Bellister Castle and Blenkinsopp Hall. After heiress Jane Blenkinsopp married William Coulson in 1727, it was recorded that a relative, William Lisle Blenkinsopp Coulson, renovated the castle between 1887-1890. His mother and father were J.B Coulson of Blenkinsopp and the Hon. Mary Anne, daughter of the seventh Lord Byron, a successful naval officer and cousin of the poet and politician Lord Byron. It is unknown whether Lisle’s relatives, Lady Jane and William, spent any time living in the Castle as they also had a property in Jesmond, Newcastle.
Much of William Lisle Blenkinsopp Coulson’s life was dedicated to campaigning for animal welfare; he was a member of the Humanitarian League who fought to ban all hunting as a sport. He published his work, Musings on Moor and Fell, in direct response to this campaign. Coulson is commemorated in large statue that overlooks the Newcastle Quayside, celebrating his life-long ambition of teaching children to show kindness to animals, establishing cat and dog shelters in the city and promoting animal rights. The statue was placed there in 1914 having previously resided in the centre of the Haymarket and on Percy Street, Newcastle.
Originating in the 14th century, The Legend of the White Lady of Blenkinsopp recalls the tale of a marriage turned sour by treasure. At the centre of the folklore is Bryan de Blenkinsopp, ancestor of the above Blenkinsopp’s, who was regarded as a handsome warrior in his time.
At a friend’s wedding feast, he is said to have announced that he would only marry a woman of wealth, in his speech stating that he would not marry,
‘Until I meet with a lady possessed of a chest of gold heavier than ten of my strongest men’.
After this declaration he is believed to have left to fight in the Crusades, returning two weeks later with a wife and a box of gold carried by ten of his strongest men. The fame of his fortune was recorded far and wide – he was true to his word. However, servants and locals reported quarrels amongst the newlyweds and a happy life was far from lived.
With help from her closest confidantes, the wife hid her treasure from her husband in a secret place in the castle. Believing her to be from the darkness, a witch who had been sent with her fortune to ensnare his soul, Bryan de Blenkinsopp left in a rage. Mortified by the impact of her actions, the lady was inconsolable. She searched for him for an entire year with no success. It is unlikely that the pair were ever reunited, because it is said that the lady is doomed to wander the Castle, mourning the loss of her husband and the cursed treasure, and it isn’t until the treasure is found by a trusted living being that her spirit will be laid to rest.
The Table Book also recounts the story of an unfortunate family who had fallen on hard times and were granted permission to live in the tumbledown Castle. Whilst there, their son was unfortunate enough to experience the terrifying presence of the white lady. The account from around 1810 recalls,
The parents were alarmed on hearing loud and reiterated screams. They rushed into the adjoining room to find their son trembling on his pillow, bathed in perspiration, and writhing in extreme tremor, “the white lady, the white lady” -the boy screamed.
The white lady had reportedly attempted to forcibly take the boy with her and promised to make him rich upon finding her hidden treasure. Upon hearing his screams, his parents entered. The event reportedly happened three more consecutive nights and only ended when the family moved to another room. Aged 40, the boy would still recall the chilling tale which would made him tremble, recounting her death-like embrace.
The book is filled with similar traditional folklores such as “The Greyman of Bellister” and “The Langley Pack”. Some years after the publication of the Local Historian’s Table Book, Moses, aged 56, and his wife emigrated to Australia where he worked as a debt collector. In later years his only son, George Bourchier Richardson, carried on his father’s business in Newcastle before joining his mother and father in Melbourne in 1854, where he worked for a local newspaper and taught drawing and watercolour in Adelaide between the years of 1874-1877. From records, it appears that Moses’s son died six years after his father in 1877.