Hello there folks and welcome back to my ramblings which at least this time I did warn you about and not just go AWOL like I did before. The reason for this you can see in the header image for this piece which has absolutely nothing to do with what I am going to write about here although hopefully it will be covered in the future. There is a long way to go (physically and in a literary sense if this can be termed literature) so I suppose I had better crack on.
I had left you in Alnwick, Northumberland after having inspected various licensed premises which was all done in the interest of research for this blog you understand but I was up relatively early, well early by my standards, as I was being kicked out of my rather pleasant B&B. I hasten to add that it was not due to any misbehaviour on my part but merely that it was fully booked for the next several days and I am not surprised as it is excellent.
I had fallen somewhat in love with Alnwick which is a thing I tend to do rather easily and wished to stay another night or two. Fortunately a quick internet check had provided the solution in the form of Alnwick Youth Hostel which suited me fine. The great thing about my mode of travel is that I don’t need all mod cons, room service etc. as I am equally happy with a dorm bed and communal facilities. After over 50 years of doing it I am fairly used to it. All I need is somewhere to lay my head and somewhere to sluice my old bones with anything else like cooking and recreational facilities being a bonus and this hostel seemed to meet my requirements perfectly.
I knew I couldn’t check into the hostel until later on so you probably don’t need me to tell you what happened next. It was a bit more difficult with the luggage but at least the journey was downhill and I had already marked the places for a rest which I took full advantage of. When I say marked I do not mean marked as a dog would mark his territory as I thought the local constabulary would have taken a dim view, it is just a surveillance term for noting things.
I was looking for somewhere relatively close to the hostel and the Queens Head Hotel seemed to fit the bill so I went there for a few hours of writing up this blog and vaguely watching whatever sport may have been on the various screens about the place.
I packed up and headed out for the last short leg of the walk and on the way I spotted this beauty of a Mini which I could not resist taking an image of. I should stress that I am in no way a “petrolhead” and have never even held a licence for four wheels as I always rode motorbikes but I have rather a soft spot for Minis, especially the older ones.
I was probably within a couple of hundred yards of my destination and regular readers will probably have guessed what happened next. I was in a road called Hotspur Place, yes it is that Henry Percy aka Harry Hotspur again of whom I have written before, and came upon another pub called the Tanners Arms. Well, research is research so in I went and wasn’t quite expecting what I saw which was a tree growing right in the middle of the pub. At first I thought it was a very clever bit of interior design but it isn’t, it is a proper living tree.
The bar is not big and only comprises one room but it is a beauty. Apparently it had been closed for a while but re-opened in July 2021 and it is certainly a credit to whoever did that especially as they specialise in real ales and ciders from the local area which is a concept I love. The bar itself is well stocked and I think my favourite feature was the beautiful stained glass above it. I noticed that they also had regular live music so the Tanners really was my kind of place so I stayed for a couple of hours (and pints) but I had to reluctantly leave as check-in at the hostel closes at 1900.
Before you even enter the door you cannot be impressed by the building itself which is a fine example of Victorian architecture as I hope the images indicate. It was built in 1856 on the site of an old dilapidated candle factory. It is actually in two connected parts and for many years served as Courthouse, Police Station and town jail and almost inevitably with me, it has a fascinating history which I simply had to research. If you visit and do not want to research yourself there are a series of very good information boards in the corridors.
For a relatively small town the Courthouse here played a small part in changing British legal history and it is to do with the Edlingham Burglary case and I have attached a rather well researched document here which is definitely worth a read. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, although I suggest you do as it is fascinating, I shall precis it here briefly.
In 1879 two well-known local poachers called out Richardson and Edgell were out plying their illegal activity, both armed with shotguns. Richardson was physically huge, described as being “like a bull” and terrified the local populace and police alike as he was not averse to violence having previously been found not guilty of the murder of a police officer who tried to apprehend him poaching. Having had limited success with the rabbits they decided to burgle a local vicarage which was inhabited by the 77 year old vicar and his middle aged spinster daughter. Things went wrong and both residents were shot, thankfully not seriously.
Earlier in the night the police had stopped two Irishmen living in the town who were also known poachers but had the sense to hide their ill-gotten gains outside the town for later retrieval. The Irishmen were duly banged up in the building I was going to sleep in that night whilst the police started to build their case or rather they started to construct one.
The victims both positively identified the Irishmen even though it was pitch black and the incident lasted seconds and miraculously a huge amount of evidence started to appear in sufficient quantity to have them committed to Newcastle Assizes where they were duly sentenced to penal servitude for life.
The actual criminals appeared to have got away with it and indeed they did for nine and a half years which is how long the Irishmen spent in prison. Eventually, for reasons you can read about in the document Edgell confessed and agreed to give evidence against Richardson who eventually confessed to his part in the affair.
The legal problem at the time was that re-trials where someone had been convicted were not permitted and it required several questions in the Houses of Parliament and a petition to the Home Secretary before the Irishmen could be pardoned and released and another trial ordered. In contrast to the life sentence of the Irishmen the actual criminal only received five years apiece. As for the policemen who had invented the evidence, six were charged but none convicted.
The upshot of all this was eventually a massive change in the criminal appeals system and eventually our Court of Appeal which exists to this day. That is my precis as short as I can make it but I do encourage you to read the document, it is a great read.
The pleasant yard out the back used to be the prisoners exercise yard and you can still see the cells, complete with barred windows. Fortunately today’s residents are free to come and go as they please although a lot of the 21st century British prison seems to be run along these lines!
The hostel was everything I needed and I was lucky enough to get a bottom bunk which was handy but not difficult as there only appeared to be one other bed occupied. I had a quick look round the place and even by the much improved standards of hostels since I first used them in the 1970’s this was a prime example of what many of them are now. I’ll give you a quick tour.
The entire premises were immaculate, clean and tidy, nicely decorated and prove that even budget accommodation can be relatively luxurious and very comfortable. I had a quick look at the facilities which were spotless as you can see.
The common room, as it is called in hostel parlance is as good as many a lounge I have been in at guest-houses, complete with large screen TV and a wide selection of books and games to while away the evening. There did not seem to be many people there so I was rather hoping there were no ghosts lurking about the place.
The kitchen was spacious and very well-equipped and adjacent to an equally spacious dining area as you can see. I promise you I have seen many a pub and restaurant kitchen that was not a fraction of the size of this place.
Comfortable as it looked, it was far too early to turn in so I took off out to research some more places of liquid refreshment purely so I could tell my dear readers all about them – honestly!
I did find an absolute gem of a place called the Blue Bell Inn but I visited several times so I shall leave a full description for another post. If you want to find out about this excellent establishment and what else I got up to in Alnwick, you’ll just have to stay tuned.