Friday, 3 October 2014

1869 footway survey

I discovered a newspaper article from 1869 describing a survey of local footpaths.

In 1869 the town was expanding and increased traffic was damaging some footpaths. Farmers were starting to make agricultural improvements that involved ploughing up paths, or interrupting them with new drainage ditches and fences. Turnpike trusts, who had managed local roads for the previous century or so, were coming to the end of their life.

So it was an interesting time for footpaths.

There were nearly thirty footpaths in the survey, and the dog and I went to explore one of them. It ran for about 1.5 miles, is clearly described in the newspaper article, and clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps of the time. It doesn't really lead from anywhere, or to anywhere, but we made a round trip, resulting in a walk which took about three hours.

This is still a public footpath, which pre-dates the later field pattern - so it cuts across the middle of fields and their boundaries. It is not marked with signposts, except at the start and finish, but it runs in a fairly straight line, and large stiles have been installed at all the fences. So the route is mostly easy to follow. The stiles, unfortunately, are almost 100% dog-proof, so following this path with a labrador involves quite a few diversions to discover suitable gates.

The area has an interesting history. It went through two phases of enclosure and improvement. Early enclosures around 1700 increased the value of the land. Before that nobody seemed to care exactly who had what rights to the common land. With increased value there were a number of disagreements which led to court cases, and fences being pulled down. A second wave of improvement had to wait until the resulting disputes were resolved in the middle of the 19th century.

The ruined house above dates from the second phase of improvement: around 1870-1890. From a similar period, the path crosses the old track-bed of the Alnwick / Cornhill railway, which was built between 1884 and 1887, and closed in 1953.

Nearby is a farm that was owned in the 18th century by an eccentric mathematician, who divided his estate into highly regular square fields, fathered five sons and at least five daughters, but still found time to build an organ for a local church, design a threshing machine, and build a flying machine, from leather and feathers. After summoning friends and servants to witness his first flight, he jumped off his granary stairs, and landed (unhurt) in a gooseberry bush.

"Chapeau" to him.

The path wasn't traced on OSM, but I've added it now. It's a pleasant walk, with more than a bit of interest. The weather was fine, I enjoyed myself, and the dog seemed happy.

In 1869 most of the paths in the survey existed purely for utilitarian reasons. Only a few have been lost, most remain, and this isn't the only one that looks interesting.

So I think its fair to say that this theme can be continued....