Northumberland archives at Woodhorn

Visiting Northumberland Archives

The first Saturday in June 2023 was absolutely glorious. What better way to spend it than by searching out and reading old documents at Northumberland Archives! Seriously though it was a great experience. I found loads of really great information for my family history research and the staff were very helpful. I will definitely be back.

Here is short post with some info on visiting the archives and what you can find there. I also share some interesting finds from my visit, which I was able to locate with a lot of help from the archive team.

Visiting the Northumberland Archives

The Northumberland Archives are inside the Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland. It is a truly impressive site at an old colliery. If, like me, you have a young family there is plenty for them to do whilst you explore the archives. The museum itself has a fantastic collection of exhibits and a decent playground if you have young kids. 

Before your visit make sure that you start your registration for the Archives Card scheme. It is free to register but you have to have to be a member in order to access certain archives, including Northumberland. If you start the process online you will be issued a card upon arrival at the archive. 

You can’t take anything into the archives that could damage the old documents – after all their primary purpose is to preserve and protect these historic artefacts. Lockers are provided at the entrance to the study centre and the staff will provide you with a coin to use them. You can take in a notebook, a pencil (no pens) and a laptop. Coats, keys, bags etc. all need to be left in the lockers.

For practical information such as opening hours and how to get there visit the Northumberland Archives website.

 

What information can you access at the archives?

There is a huge amount of historical documentation relating to Northumberland available to view. To get the best indication of what you can find then the best place to start is the online catalogue

The staff on site are extremely knowledgable and helpful. If there is something specific that you are looking for you can contact them in advance or ask them when you are there.

You can also access Ancestry and FindmyPast, including the 1921 census, for free at the archives (affiliate links).

Finds from my visit

Parish Registers

The Northumberland Archives hold all of the parish records for the county and I was able to search out the details for a number of my ancestors. Many of these records were on microfiche but a large number were still in their original books. 

Inquest Report for Thomas Blagburn

I was able to view and get a copy of the inquest report into the death of my second great grandfather Thomas Blagburn (1942). This included an extract of the case notes from his stay and eventual death at Newcastle City Mental Hospital. This helped me to confirm some of what I had assumed about his condition but was also a real eye opening in terms of patient treatment at that time. Note that inquest reports are only available to view in the UK if the death occurred more that 75 years ago.

Benwell and Elswick Ordinance Survey (OS) maps

Many of my ancestors lived in and around the Benwell, Elswick and Scotswood area of Newcastle upon Tyne. In particular I was keen to find out when 652 and 654 Scotswood Road might have been built. I was able to view the 1858 OS map (published 1864) and the 1894 OS map (published 1897). From this I was able to see that the house was built at some point between these times. I was also able to get a feel for the surrounds and what was happening in the area. These villages went from rural remote places to built up areas driven by growing industry in a very short period of time. The transformation was really quite amazing.

You can view OS maps online at the National Library of Scotland’s map images site. This is a fantastic free resource but nothing can beat seeing the old maps laid out with their handprinted detailing. 

Wills

I was able to view the absolutely beautifully written will of my fourth great grandfather, William Blagburn (1816 – 1872). From this I discovered that he left a sum of less than £200 to his youngest son, Thomas Henderson Blagburn. I was also able to view the will of William’s brother Robert, whose financial circumstances were somewhat different! He left effects under £1,500 to his widow Ann Hannah Blagburn. Both brothers were butchers and both lived in Newcastle upon Tyne so it is interesting that their situations were so different.

 

It was definitely a worthwhile trip to the archives and I’d encourage anyone with ancestors from the north east to take a look at the records that they hold. There is a wealth of information that isn’t currently available online. Additionally the staff are extremely knowledgeable and may well point you to a document or fact that you hadn’t considered.

Do you have any hints or tips for getting the most out of an archive visit? What is the best thing you have found when visiting an archive? Please share in the comments.

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