Victorian Professions


Morpeth is an ancient market town that held the main market for live cattle in northern England until the 19th century. The lordship of Morpeth was originally granted to William de Merlay by William the Conqueror, eventually passing to the Earls of Carlisle until the 20th century. It is situated not only at an important crossing point on the River Wansbeck but also close to what used to be the Great North Road, the old coaching route between London and Edinburgh, providing trade for numerous inns.

In addition to its cattle market, Morpeth was also an important centre for leather tanning and wool manufacture until the mid-19th century when these all but died out. The Newcastle-Berwick railway line (1847) also diminished Morpeth's importance as a cattle market and the town turned instead to becoming an increasingly important service centre for the growing population of miners and railway workers who were employed in the wider locality. Retail became the most significant element in the town's employment. Morpeth also became increasingly important as an administrative and jurisdictional centre, hosting the county gaol (1822) and County Asylum (1859). The county quarter sessions met in Morpeth once a year and the county constabulary was also established in the town in 1886. From 1872 the town also developed a reputation as a leading centre for the manufacture of fishing tackle.

The Court House (1820-28) and the Town Hall (1869-1870) were built in the 19th century and are prominent buildings in the town, as is Thomas Telford's bridge over the Wansbeck (1829-1831). The famous Clock Tower (1604-1634) was built much earlier out of medieval stone most likely from nearby Newminster Abbey, dissolved in 1537. Morpeth's population in 1851 was 4,911, compared to 3,574 at the beginning of the century. By 1901 it was 6,158.

These are the people in Morpeth we are interested in: