Public grounds


Institute of Historical Research



Eneas Mackenzie

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'Public grounds', Historical Account of Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Including the Borough of Gateshead (1827), pp. 709-714. URL: Date accessed: 17 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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The Town Moor, or Castle Moor, was originally, according to Bourne, a wood very famous for oaks, out of which were built many hundred ships, and all the houses of the old town of Newcastle. It was given to the burgesses, he says, by Adam of Jesmond, about the reign of Henry III. But, by a clause in the charter granted to the burgesses by Edward III. in 1357, this Moor appears to have been an appurtenance of the town, under a certain fee-farm rent, paid to the crown from time imme morial. This king granted the further privilege of digging coals, stones, mines, minerals, &c. therein, for the use and benefit of the burgesses. (fn. 1)

A colliery that was working on the Town Moor at the time of the Commonwealth, extended 100 acres under the superficies, and was valued to the town at £35 per annum. The colliery on this Moor was advertised to be let April 16, 1763. Nothing more occurs on this subject until September 29, 1825, when the corporation granted a lease of the Town Moor colliery, for the term of 31 years, to the late C. J. Brandling, Esq. on the following terms:—"Certain rent £500 to commence on the Sept. 29, 1826—for 500 tens. Tentale rent 20s. per ten. Certain rent after the first five years £600 for 600 tens. Tentale rent, as before, 20s. per ten. The surface is not to be broken or entered upon, on any pretext whatever. The lessee has a power of determining the lease at the end of the first four years of the term, and afterwards at the end of any three years, by giving twelve months notice."

The Nun Moor lies on the west of the Town Moor, extending from where the Thorn Bush stood, near Barras Bridge, to the grounds at Kenton. It belonged to the Nuns of St. Bartholomew, and, after the dissolution, was sold by John Branxholme, to Robert Brandling, of Newcastle, merchant, for £20. About the year 1650, it was purchased of Mr. Charles Brandling, of Gateshead, by the corporation of Newcastle, who annexed it to the Town Moor. (fn. 2) By an inquisition taken 37 Henry VIII. Nun Moor is certified to be within the county of Northumberland.

The Castle Leazes, anciently called the Castle Field, according to a tradition mentioned by Grey, was the gift of King John to the townsmen of Newcastle. (fn. 3) The contents, by a plan made for the corporation in 1731, are 127 acres, 2 roods, and 17 perches. The Merchant Adventurers, in 1681, sold the 94 ridges in the Castle Leazes bequeathed to them by Mr. Thomas Davison, to the corporation, at the annual rent of £13. The corporation, in 1701, also purchased lands in the Castle Leazes of Charles Clarke, draper. Part had likewise belonged to Alderman Barnes.

The Town Moor, Nun's Moor, and Castle Leazes, contain, together, 1178 acres, or thereabouts. (fn. 4)

On December 31, 1771, that part of the Town Moor lying west of the Ponteland turnpike-road, from Gallowgate Quarry to the West Cow-gate, containing about 89 acres, was, in pursuance of an order of common council, advertised "to be let for the purpose of being cultivated and improved." This assumption of power alarmed the burgesses, who summoned meetings of the companies, subscribed moneys, and then committed sufficient trespass for the lessee and magistrates to ground an action of trespass. At the assizes in August, 1773, Serjeant Glynn, recorder of London, proved that the magistrates had no right to let the Moor. By the advice of the judge, a juror was withdrawn, the magistrates gave up their pretensions, agreed to pay £300 costs, and to join the burgesses in soliciting (at the corporation expense) an act of parliament, confirming to the resident burgesses and their widows their full right to the herbage of the Town Moor for two milch cows, and authorizing the burgesses to let at one time 100 acres of the common, the rent to be divided by the stewards of the respective companies amongst their poor brethren and widows. Since this act was obtained, the 29 incorporated companies in Newcastle have been represented by 69 stewards, who are expected not only to watch over the Town Moor, but also the other rights and privileges of the burgesses, &c.

The Herbage Committee consists of nine persons, whom the stewards elect every guild-day out of their body, to superintend the affairs of the Town Moor and Castle Leazes. They meet regularly once a month, and have many extra meetings and surveys. They receive no salary, but are allowed their expenses.

In May, 1809, the incorporated companies unanimously declared their opinion, that a new act for the improvement of the Moor was necessary, as the existing act provided no funds for improvement, prescribed a bad mode of culture, absurdly enforced the letting of good old grass land, imposed a vague promissory oath, and provided no specific penalty for breaking it. A select committee was authorized to consult with a committee of the common council on framing a new act. The draught of an intended bill was, after due deliberation, agreed upon. It was proposed to drain, inclose, and improve the Moor; and, in order to have a permanent fund for carrying on improvements, to let about 300 acres of the Nun's Moor, on which the corporation offered to build a farm-house and offices, and to make the roads and fences, to be repaid gradually out of the surplus of the rents. The ground within the circuit of the race-course was to be left open, for the convenience of the public, and the holding of the annual fairs. But the jealousy of the free burgesses was excited against this scheme; and a violent opposition being shewn in the Michaelmas Court of Guild, all further proceedings for obtaining a new act were abandoned.

A Statement of the Stewards' Accounts for Fifteen Years.

Year ending Michalmas. Way-leaves and fines. Rents and stones. Manure. Of the corporation for scavengers cleaning streets. Borrowed of corp. Total. Cartmen, quarrymen, scavengers, and labourers. Oats, hay, straw, seeds, &c. Tradesmen, and building wall on the no. turnpike. Expenses. Pd. the corp. for borrowed of them. Total.
£. s. d. £. s. d. £. s. d. £. s. d. £. £. s. d. £. s. d. £. s. d. £. s. d. £. s. d. £. £. s. d.
1811 17 2 0 (fn. 5) 174 16 10½ 397 18 0 119 18 7 50 759 15 415 10 130 2 8 79 13 10½ 49 12 674 19
1812 41 3 10 (fn. 6) 303 15 11½ 451 4 0 119 17 2 916 0 11½ 742 9 91 3 1 88 17 29 6 1 50 1001 16 3
1813 35 2 4 396 10 11 345 13 0 119 17 4 897 3 7 672 15 10 Included in tradesmen. 169 11 22 5 11 864 13
1814 35 1 10 221 1 414 10 0 119 17 4 790 10 558 10 1 191 3 3 39 18 9 789 12 1
1815 39 6 4 116 2 10 411 14 10 119 17 4 687 1 4 498 12 9 40 2 3 109 3 10 45 16 10 693 15 8
1817 39 13 3 165 18 11½ 375 18 10 220 0 0 50 851 11 508 15 7 90 4 4 189 19 3 42 10 8 831 9 10
1818 50 4 4 120 0 6 419 0 9 220 0 0 809 5 7 509 0 9 81 1 6 123 8 11 49 12 25 788 3
1819 56 17 3 126 10 10 531 17 6 220 0 0 935 5 7 517 13 1 189 11 194 8 51 7 953 0
1820 46 13 0 ‡180 1 0 409 13 6 165 0 0 801 7 6 472 10 10 103 18 (fn. 7) 204 10 6 72 6 4 853 5
1821 38 1 0 121 13 6 474 8 6 73 16 11 707 19 11 360 4 42 15 146 14 118 7 668 1 3
1822 95 17 1 86 0 2 381 18 6 40 0 0 603 15 9 355 0 0 72 1 0 164 11 3 55 2 0 646 14 3
1823 40 15 0 101 2 4 328 18 0 62 10 0 533 5 4 290 16 7 112 14 9 113 14 1 51 16 6 569 1 11
1824 51 19 6 89 1 11 437 3 0 37 10 0 50 665 14 5 262 2 10 179 17 116 12 7 55 9 0 614 1 11½
1825 46 17 0 90 10 2 457 3 9 594 10 11 300 15 8 161 4 5 114 14 9 54 3 3 630 18 1
1826 37 8 0 103 18 0 461 8 9 68 15 0 80 751 9 9 319 15 3 124 17 10 182 2 6 79 8 80 786 4
672 1 9 2397 5 4 6298 10 11 1706 19 8 230 11304 17 8 6784 13 1419 14 0 2189 6 10½ 817 3 155 11365 17


Received, Balance of account for 1810 For 1811 and following years, ending Mich. L17 8 0
1826 (except 1816, no acct. published) 11322 5 8
11304 17 8
Paid, during the same period 11365 17 7½ Bal. 1815, is 43 3 1½
1816, is 16 5 0½ 26 18 1 11392 15
Due to the treasurer, Michaelmas, 1826 70 10
By the steward's acct. the bal. due the treas. is L55 5 10
Add, error in carrying bal. from 1818 to 1819 0 0 1
Bal. of 1822, not carried forward to foll. year 15 4
Bal. ought to be 70 10

From these accounts, it appears that the stewards apply the whole of their clear income to the improvement of the Moor, which is gradually converting into a superior state of improvement. (fn. 8) There are, this year (1827), about 600 cows grazing upon the Moor. The largest number ever depastured in one year was near 800.

The money received for rent of land, being part of the Moor, and leased for cultivation, is distributed amongst poor resident burgesses and the poor widows of burgesses. From the year 1774, when the Town Moor act was passed, to the year 1812, the sum of £1363, 11s. was received for rents. This, divided by 38, the years within this period, will give an average of something less than £36 per annum. But, during the seven years' lease lately commenced, upwards of £300 a year will be divided amongst the poor. At one period, the rent of the 100 acres leased was only £5.

In 1647, grass-men were appointed to take care of the Town Moor; and, in 1653, the four servants of Robert Hunter, the noltherd, were required every morning and evening to enter the several gates of the town, and to blow their horns along the streets, as a signal for the owners of cows to bring them out, in order to drive them to the Town Moor. By the printed rules, sanctioned by the mayor and sheriff in 1823, the two noltherds are likewise required to attend the gates, to receive the cows every morning and evening, and also to bring them back. They are answerable for the cows under their charge, and are to take care of the bulls in the bull-park. They are also required to scale, mole, and dress the Cow-hill, Moor, and Leazes, manure the ground, hain the Leazes, repair the hedges, and clean the ditches and ponds. Their perquisites amount to 3s. 2d. for every new cow, and 2s. 6d. for every old cow per annum, with a free house, and grazing for one gelding.

The Forth is bounded on the east and south by the ground of St. Mary's Hospital, except towards the north-east corner, where it is bounded by Dove-cote Close; then on the north-west by a freehold and a little piece of the land of St. Mary's Hospital; and on the west and south-west by the grounds of George Anderson, Esq. and the Infirmary. It contains eleven acres of ground, and, when surveyed in 1649, was valued (tithe-free) at £12 per annum. About this time, the corporation paid £4 yearly to the king as a fee-farm rent for it. Bourne has given us some conjectures concerning the etymon of the name, which perhaps will not be thought very satisfactory. "The word forth or frith," says he, citing Blount's Law Dictionary, in verbo Frith, "as it is anciently called, comes from the Saxon word frith, which signifies peace; for the English Saxons held several woods to be sacred, and made them sanctuaries. From this definition of the word, it may be no improbable conjecture, that the ancient Saxons inhabiting about the parts of the wall (Roman Wall) where the town now is, gave the name of Frith to this place, as it was perhaps endowed with gloomier shades and darker recesses, the awful exciters of heathen superstition, than other places about the town were."

The Forth is said to have been anciently a fort belonging to the Castle, and to have been given to the townsmen of Newcastle for their good services by King Ed ward III. But another account says, that so remote as the reign of King Henry III. the townsmen obtained licence to dig coals and stones in the Forth. In 1657, the Forth and paddock adjoining were leased out at the rent of £20 per annum, for 21 years, with a clause to permit all the liberties, privileges, and enjoyments formerly used there: amongst these occur "lawful recreations and drying clothes." About this time, a bowling-green and house for the keeper were made, by contribution, in part of the Forth; around which, some time after, a wall was built and trees planted by the corporation. In 1682, there was an order of the same body "to make the Forth-House suitable for entertainment, with a cellar convenient, and a handsome room," &c. A keeper of the bowling-green was retained till about the middle of the last century. Indeed, it seems to have been always a place of pleasure and recreation, "for it was an ancient custom," says Bourne, "for the mayor, aldermen, and sheriff of the town, accompanied by great numbers of the burgesses, to go every year, at the feasts of Easter and Whitsuntide, to the Forth, with the mace, sword, and cap of maintenance carried before them." Here they unbended the brow of authority, and joined the festive throng. The vast concourse of young people of both sexes at this place, during the Easter holidays, is undoubtedly the remains of this ancient custom.

The Forth, properly so called, is of a square form, enclosed by a low brick wall, within which is a broad gravel walk, shaded by two rows of lime trees, planted at equal distances. The trees lately became much decayed, and the beauty of the green was defaced by the constant exercising of troops in it; but the corporation have now prohibited these trespasses on the peaceful enjoyments of the inhabitants, planted many young trees, and put the whole into excellent order. It is certainly the most convenient and delightful promenade in the vicinity of the town. On the north side of the bowling-green was a tavern, with a balcony projecting from the front, and a parapet wall, from whence the spectators, calmly smoking their pipes and enjoying their glasses, beheld the sportsmen. This house is now let in tenements.


1 The Cow-causeway anciently ran northward through the Town Moor from the Barras Bridge. In 1748, the corporation converted this causeway into a good turnpike-road, 11 yards in breadth. They also made, in 1753, a turnpike-road from Gallowgate to the West Cow-gate.
2 In 1805, the mayor and burgesses granted to government five acres of land, which was afterwards increased to eleven, at the north-west corner of the Leazes, at the annual rent of £5 an acre, on which a Depot for artillery has been erected. There are two ranges of noble stables, each 100 yards in length, and calculated to hold 188 horses, besides those for officers. The barrack-rooms are large, lofty, and airy; and the houses of the officers are handsome and commodious. These, with the cooking and cleaning houses, forage sheds, and other offices, were finished the latter end of 1807. Since then, a canteen and officers' mess-room have been erected. On one side there is also a large magazine, with an hospital for the men, and another for the horses. The whole is well lighted, plentifully supplied with excellent water, and enclosed by a lofty stone wall. During the late war, the party usually stationed here were sufficient to form three brigades of guns; but these barracks are now chiefly occupied by cavalry. Mr. Wyat furnished the design; and the engineers were Capt. Hartcap and Lieut. Gold. Capt. Geary, the first British officer who fell in Portugal, was deputy engineer. These gentlemen were succeeded by Col. De Buize, who finished the buildings, which cost upwards of £40,000.
3 This is quite irreconcileable with Bourne's account, who says, "This place was formerly the inheritance of divers persons, owners thereof, who were accustomed from ancient time to take the fore-crop thereof yearly, at or before Lammas-day; and after that, by an ancient custom, all the burgesses of this town used to put in their kine, and used the same in pasturing of them till Lady-day in Lent, yearly, and then to lay the same for meadow again till Lammas."
4 Bourne says, "When the parliament took an inquisition of Castle Field, the Forth, and Town Moor, in 1649, they were valued at £27 per annum. The mill in the Castle Leases, commonly called Chimley Mill, upon the syke or rivulet called Bailiff Burn, and the other mill called Little Mill, were at the same time valued at £10 per ann. each."
5 In 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, and 1817, inclusive, the total sum received for stones was L538, 10s. 0½d. Nothing since that time.
6 The rents, in 1812, include L5, 18s. 4d. the dividend on the notes of Surtees and Co.
The stewards unadvisedly began to enclose the Moor on the north turnpike with a stone wall, which the corporation caused to be pulled down. In 1820, there was L66, 4s. and in the following year L20, 5s. subscribed towards carrying this project into effect. These sums are added to the rents.
7 In the tradesmen's accounts for 1820 and 1821 are included L85, 7s. 5d. expended in building the wall at the north turnpike. The quarrymen's wages for 1812, 1813, 1814, and 1817, amounted to L404, 11s. 5½d.
8 Mr. George Anderson faithfully discharged the duties of treasurer to the stewards for several years, till 1819, when he resigned. The stewards presented him with a valuable silver cup for his services. He was succeeded by Mr. Michael Hogg, the present treasurer.