Industry, agriculture and tourism at changing estate
One of the unusual features of Northumberland is the frequent tendency for surnames to transform themselves into Christian names.
The well-known Northumbrian actor Robson Green is a contemporary example.
But names like Dobson, Alder, Mansfield, and many others, have often done something rather similar.
In our own family, the name Ford survives as a Christian name, even into a new generation, deriving doubtless from the village of Ford, close to the border with Scotland.
We have spent some time looking at the excellent churchyard maps in Ford church, seeing if we can track down the final resting place of our ancestors.
In making that pilgrimage, we found ourselves in one of the most fascinating parts of North Northumberland.
Ford and Etal Estates is a model of both sustainable agriculture and managed tourism, opening up a large country estate for the pleasure of others, without allowing the environment to be swamped or unrecognisably changed by exploitative patterns of developing tourism.
Crossing the River Till at Ford, one comes face to face with the romantic sight of Ford Castle.
On his way to Flodden, James IV of Scotland captured Ford. Having already captured nearby Etal Castle, he marched onward into England.
That march ended with the terrible and bloody battle of Flodden, where the English army routed the Scots at Branxton Hill, leaving 9,000 Scots and 6,000 English soldiers dead. King James IV’s body lay in state in Branxton church.
The manors of Ford and Etal have histories going back well into mediaeval times, with the Heron family as Lords of Etal and the Manners family being granted leave to crenellate Ford manor as early as 1388.
Both castles defended key crossing points over the River Till.
Indeed, the excellent English Heritage exhibition at Etal, including various audio-visual presentations, offers a real feel of this violent and unstable part of the border country.
Ford passed through a series of well-known Northumbrian families thereafter, including the Blakes and the Delavals.
Etal reverted to the Manners family, but was later given to the Crown and allowed to fall into ruin.
The castle was finally abandoned when Etal Manor was completed in 1748.
In the 18th century, Ford and Etal were prime examples of the impact of both the industrial and agrarian revolutions.
Coal had been mined as early as the 17th century at Ford Moss (now a nature reserve with only scant evidence of its industrial past), and Greenlawalls, Ford and Gatherick all had their own prosperous colleries.
Sir John Hussey Delaval introduced many of the modern farming techniques into the area, which were made more famous by ‘Turnip’ Townsend and the Cokes on their Norfolk estates.
Heathershaw Mill, now restored and again grinding flour, is a sole survivor of this age of revolutions.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
The i newsletter cut through the noise
Also, by the early 19th century, Ford was an industrious rural centre with saddlers, blacksmiths, millers and cartmen, amongst many other trades.
There were two schools and a large draper’s store.
All this brought its toll, with poor, damp and dirty living conditions – there were even stepping stones to the houses on account of the poor drainage.
This changed dramatically later in the 19th century.
Ford Estate passed, by marriage, into the hands of the Marquis of Waterford.
Following the Marquis’ death in a hunting accident, Louisa, his widow, poured all her energies into rebuilding the castle and creating a ‘model village’.
Louisa was a social reformer, even introducing a form of free healthcare.
She was a devotee of temperance, closing the Delaval Arms pub.
A devout churchwoman and an amateur artist, she was influenced by the pre-Raphaelite movement and painted the remarkable Biblical scenes on the walls of the village schoolroom, now the Lady Waterford Hall.
This story of rural development and improvement continued with the arrival of the Joicey family in 1907, formerly prosperous industrialists in the coalfields of County Durham.
A year later, James, the first Lord Joicey, bought Etal Manor and its estates, thus re-uniting the two domains as they had been under the Waterfords.
The Joiceys have been generous and responsible stewards of the estates, forging close links with the local community and church.
There is rich cereal farming and commercially maintained woodlands.
Etal, unusually surviving as a thatched village, is an attractive sight, with its village store, tea rooms and the recently restored Black Bull pub.
Alongside Heathershaw Mill, there now runs the light railway connecting Heathershaw with Etal. The railway was extended to its present two-mile length in 2003-2004.
Outstanding joinery and cabinet-making thrives towards the end of Etal village, near to the river.
The fine chapel at Etal Manor is the work of the great Victorian architect William Butterfield.
At nearby Letham Hill is a smithy and a sawmill, while Ford Castle is now a residential activity centre for school parties.
Reaching back beyond mediaeval times, Ford and Etal remain a microcosm of rural Northumbrian life, a life which has dramatically metamorphosed over a period of at least half a millennium.
What trade, one might wonder, did our Ford ancestors engage in as industry gave way to agriculture, before tourism added to the contemporary landscape?