Volunteers look for challenge

Image of the ruined bridge from John Brand's History of Newcastle.
Image of the ruined bridge from John Brand's History of Newcastle.

A group of keen volunteers have this week visited Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn to decide on their next challenge.

The volunteers brought with them a 500-page volume of papers about the Great Flood of 1771, which they have transcribed and made available on the Internet.

Sue Ward from the group, said: “It was pure coincidence that this project came to fruition at the same time as this winter’s floods, but it has certainly sharpened our perceptions.

“Many people are aware of the collapse of Newcastle’s medieval bridge in the Great Flood of 16-17 November 1771, but the effects on the Tyne Valley and Tynedale, and the loss of life, property, animals and crops are much less known.”

The Papers belong to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne’s archives, and are a bound volume of documents from the relief fund for Northumberland.

“As well as being a source for the history of that event, it gives a wonderful snapshot for social and family historians about those whose lives were affected – who they were, where they lived and what they owned and valued; there is the generosity of the donors and the sometimes harsh decisions about the distribution,” she added.

“At the same time, a sub-group of the volunteers has been transcribing the 1784 Poll Book – the record made by the canvassers for Andrew Stoney Bowes of Gibside, ‘Britain’s worst husband’ in the 1784 Parliamentary election.”

The digitised version was one of the hits of Newcastle Antiquaries’ 200 Years exhibition in 2013 at the Great North Museum, with visitors able to look for their own surnames; it’s now freely available on the Antiquaries’ website.

Despite spending so much time dealing with crabbed handwriting and peculiar spelling, the team of volunteers is up for a new challenge.

They visited Woodhorn both to bring the Flood Paper, which are normally looked after by Northumberland Archives, and to look for some other interesting documents to digitise and transcribe.

Sue Wood, head of collections at Woodhorn, said: “We are looking forward to working with the volunteers to investigate our collections and find them a new project.

“I am sure that together we can locate something that will be both useful and interesting, not just to the volunteers, but to the wider community once completed.”