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Introduction to the 1771 Tyne Flood Papers

From the papers, we can see the committee being set up very soon after the Flood, and subscriptions being set on foot. Unfortunately the minutes of the first committee meeting were missed by mistake when the imaging was done, and this was not realised until too late; however, a note of the decisions of that meeting was included in William Garrett’s pamphlet (see above); follow this link for an image taken from that book. The committee consisted of local gentry, clergymen and doctors. A number of the names are familiar from Newcastle politics, such as the Blacketts and the Fenwicks; others are important players in Northumberland, such as Sir Lancelot Allgood who was a former MP for the shire. In the aftermath, there was a long controversy over the rebuilding of Hexham Bridge, and again some of those on the committee appear as leading actors in that, for example Gawen Ainsley. The local aristocracy, though quite generous in giving money, were not involved in the distribution; the highest-ranking person on the Northumberland committee was a knight (Sir Lancelot), while in Durham it was a baronet, Sir John Eden.

Church of England clergy had a key role, but dissenting ministers were nowhere involved. The clerics took particular responsibility for the collection. As Revd. Thomas Noble of Belford reports, ‘What Riding, as well as Writing I have had on this Affair, it may not be material to communicate; but this I am confident in, That it alone wou'd have enabled a Gentle of the Law to have drawn up a £10 Bill’.

The assessment was then done by churchwardens or other local worthies, and signed off by the vicar – or in Haltwhistle parish the curate, since the vicar Thomas Rotheram was non-resident and freely admitted he did not know his parishioners. However, William Fenwick of Bywell can be seen taking complete control of the distribution in the two parishes there, explaining that ‘the Minister of our Parish is incapable of doeing any business. His Curate is very ill and does not live in the Parish’. There is, though, little evidence that the ordinary people were devout; there are only three references to Bibles being lost, and a few prayer books. Follow this link for a list of all the books referred to in the papers. 

There are only a few human interest stories in the volume; follow this link for one of them, Edward Forster. Mostly, the papers deal with the financial consequences of the disaster, as seen by the local gentry who administered the fund. One of the most tragic stories was that of John Johnson, of Ovingham Boathouse, who lost eight members of his family; follow this link for Garrett’s description. Several people gave him immediate help, and this perhaps explains the churlish response of the Committee when deciding how much compensation they should pay the only other survivor from the family, his brother Matthew.

One recurring issue is a row between the Northumberland Committee and a group of subscribers to the relief fund from Newcastle, about how the money should be apportioned between Newcastle and the rest. It was an argument among the gentry, however; for instance, members of the Blackett family (still prominent in the area) were on both sides. The ‘sufferers’ themselves had no voice in the distribution.

A note about money

To get an idea of the sums being collected and distributed in terms of today’s money, multiply the figures by around 100. The final sum collected, just under £2,000, should therefore be considered as worth around £200,000 today. This may seem a large amount, but the gentry and merchants of Newcastle subscribed around 3 times that amount a year or so later for the building of the new Assembly Rooms in Westgate Road, where the central chandelier alone cost £650.



In the future, don’t forget your past