Saturday 12 July 2014

The Clay Pipe Makers of Tweedmouth

When I was living in Alnwick I had a phase of poking about the area in between the wall of Hulne Park and the modern housing estate of Barresdale which a century or more ago used to be the town rubbish tip. It was not necessary to take a spade to find something interesting, all kinds of intriguing oddments were lying about on the surface or only partly covered.

Among other things I found loads of old clay pipes. Hardly any complete ones, because - duh!  - nobody would throw away an unbroken one, would they, but lots of bowls and stems. Here is a selection. Note that the one back right says Tweedside Cutty and the stem of the more-or-less complete one is stamped Berwick. I did not think anything much of this at the time as I also found examples stamped Newcastle. But since I have been living in Berwick I have thought that I should really find out more about the Tweedside stamp. Enquiries in the local vintage shops met with blank looks.

So last week I went to consult the Berwick archivist, the fantastically knowledgeable and always helpful Linda Bankier. She immediately produced two articles about the firm of Tennants (sometimes spelt Tennents), who ran a clay pipe making factory in Tweedmouth from at least 1844, when their purchase of the business is recorded, to 1915, when it burned down. The factory evidently already existed on the site at an earlier date under different ownership. The site in question is the one at the end of this alleyway next to what is now our local convenience store. It is not possible to access it any more as it is now the back yards of several private houses. According to the article in the archives loads of pipes have been dug up in the neighbourhood - mostly faulty batches, which it seems they disposed of by just burying them in the yard.

The factory was literally just over the road from Tweed Dock, and the blocks of clay would arrive by ship and then be trundled down the alley. The street at right angles to the shop frontage shown here is called Kiln Hill, but until I talked to Linda I never knew that this is a reference to the kilns in which the clay pipes were baked. And one house on Kiln Hill now calls itself Pipe House, in homage.

The archives record that Tennants pipes were sold and used over a wide area on both sides of the border, so it is not surprising that I dug some up on the Alnwick tip. But it is surprising that I then ended up walking past the site of the factory where they were made nearly every day, without realising it.

Thursday 3 July 2014

The Berwick Curfew Run

When Berwick was a town under strict military control, a curfew bell rang at 8 pm, for about quarter of an hour. Or to be precise, apparently, for 13 minutes. A fun annual event for local sporty types is to try to run around the town walls before the bell stops ringing. The guide to walking the walls says that it takes an hour at a leisurely pace, so running all the way round in a quarter of that time is a challenge. On a sunny summer evening the walls are a blissful place to be. For this year’s race the glorious weather we have been having recently decided to leave us. But the view is still beautiful. 

The runners assemble outside the front gate of the Barracks, seen here, and then move up onto the grassy ramparts adjacent to it for the start. (You can read my post about the Barracks here.)

The curfew bell could not actually be heard from where I was standing, which was disappointing, since I can hear bells from my home further round the walls. Next year I think I'll just watch from  my front steps.

Club shirts were seen being worn by the Tweed Striders, the Chirnside Chasers and the Runduns, who I’m guessing come from Duns. The last two are towns on the Scottish side of the border, so this event is yet another example of the cross-border community life we value so much and hope to be able to preserve.

On top of the steady drizzle there was a stiff breeze blowing (there usually is here) and I am sad to report that my hat blew off and landed just over the lip of the embankment in this photo, perched on the very edge of the sheer wall below, in a spot completely inaccessible from either the top or the bottom except at imminent risk of breaking my neck. 

As I gazed at it longingly, a boy of about eight came alongside me and said, ‘that’s a steep drop’. Well done that child for paying attention during the health and safety briefing. There are notices at intervals around the walls warning of the Dangers of Steep Drops, for the benefit of walkers who are either completely lacking in common sense or under the influence of an unwise combination of alcohol and bravado. Last year a woman was pulled over the edge by her dog, but reading the notices probably wouldn’t have helped in that case.

I decided that on the whole it was better to have no hat than to have no functioning head to put it on, and went home without it, wet. In any case, I originally acquired it free as a perk of my stewarding duties when a visitor to the Civic Society exhibition left it behind. It’s somebody else’s turn now.

P.S. I have just been to watch the 2015 curfew run, and got the chance to ask one of the organisers whether the bell actually rings. The answer, sadly, is No, because the curfew bell is now so fragile that it would probably not withstand fifteen minutes of vigorous ringing. They promised me that this year the ordinary bells of the Town Hall would be rung for the run instead, but they never were.