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ANY of the legendary tales with which we have
presented our readers relate to events which have long since passed away, leaving no trace behind them, beyond the interest they may afford in the narration or perusal, and the insight they give us into the rude manners of a half civilised age.
It is otherwise with the tale with which we commence our present volume. While we hope it will not fall far short of its predecessors in interest, it will at the same time be seen that the transaction which it commemorates has left real and substantial good fruits behind it.
The parish of Long Benton, in the county of Northumberland, has only been fortunate enough to obtain one permanently endowed charity. The circumstances in which this benefaction originated are peculiar and worth recording. Early in the last century, Mr. Cuthbert Alder, a gentleman of some consideration, living in a very secluded residence on his own property,* at Low Weetslett, had about the festal season of Christmas, made his usual provision for good cheer, and the exercise of hospitality. Among the viands thus stored up was a goodly range of Goose Pyes.
• An estate now belonging to the family of Mr. Ekins, the late rector of Morpeth. VOL. II.
The year 1710 was remarkable for the occurrence of a somewhat serious disagreement between the keelmen of the Tyne and their employers, which ended in a steek of long continuance. The keelmen were reduced to considerable difficulties by their long abandonment of their occupation, and many were fain to procure sustenance by pilfering, at first, on a small scale, but at length by a series of depredations, increasing at once in number and enormity until they assumed an aggravated and violent character. A party of the least scrupulous of these marauders, whether concluding from the known hospitable character of Mr. Alder, that his house would yield at this season an ample booty, or guided (as from the sequel appears more probable) by the local knowledge of a confederate, selected the well-stored larder at Weetslett as an object of their plunder. The house as far as regarded numbers was not deficient in its garrison ; for Mr. Alder with an equally wise regard to the conservation of the integuments of the outward man as for the well provisioning the inner, had retained the services of a party of tailors ; and they were pursuing their operations in the way of making or mending by day, and there took up their quarters at night. But in this, as in many other cases, the strength of the defence consisted not in numerical force. On the first alarm of the burglars the knights of the shears took to flight. They to whom, in the successful exercise of their daily vocation, the goose is so useful an ally, had no stomach for a nocturnal skirmish in defence of goose pye.
In fact the tailors sought refuge from danger some in one quarter, some in another, and one it is said did not disdain the warm aperture of the chimney flue as a refuge from the warmer work which already was going on within the invaded domicile.
Thus abandoned by the masculine (but not manly) portion of his garrison, Alder still made good his defence, and was worthily seconded by the amazonian heroism of a female servant. Like another "Trulla” * she hurried to the rescue, and thinking foul scorn
• A bold Virago, stout and tall,
As Joan of France, or English Mall :
that the savoury goose pyes, in whose construction she doubtless had borne a share, should fall a prey to the swart navigators of the Tyne and grace the * huddock of a keel, she so stoutly dealt about her as to draw upon herself the main violence of the attack. At length in the scuffle her arm was broken, and thus was she rendered hors de combat. The scale of victory now inclined to the side of the assailants.
Alder being at length overpowered, there seems little reason to doubt that the ruffians exasperated by his long protracted defence, would have added murder to robbery, but for a transient manifestation of good feeling in the breast of one of their party. This man had been either in Alder's service, (in which no one could live without acquiring some degree of attachment to him), or he had in some way or other, either in his own person, or that of some of his kindred, experienced good offices at Alder's hands, and touched by some compunction for the treachery which he had already manifested in this transaction, by pointing out a way of access to the larder, he now interposed to rescue at least the life of his aged benefactor, and in this he succeeded. Probably too the villains were seized by some apprehension at this stage of the affair, lest the alarm should reach the hinds and male servants, who were known to be sleeping in a detached outhouse, and they thought it wisest to decamp with their savoury spoil while the coast was yet clear.
The sensation created by this affair as soon as it became known was most extraordinary; every effort was used to obtain a clue to the detection of the perpetrators, and a handsome reward offered for their apprehension. For some time however they baffled every effort of the magistrates. Difficult of access at all times, and fenced by their
hibious mode of life, it is more than probable that they were screened on this occasion by the members of the powerful and compact fraternity to which they belonged, it was therefore no easy matter for the inefficient police of that day to ferret them out of their haunts. But at length when all hope of fixing the charge on the individuals concerned had well nigh been abandoned, a clue to their detection was obtained in an unexpected and most extraordinary manner, and this by the very individual who had sustained the assault.
Mr. Alder having received some silver, in exchange for a guinea, at a shop on the Quay, at Newcastle, recognized in one of the pieces a coin, which either from being marked, or from some peculiarity, he was enabled to identify as part of the property stolen from his house
• Huddick or Huddock, the cabin of a keel or coal barge. Dutch hut, steerage.
Brockett's Glossary, 1829
on the night of the burglary. He anxiously questioned the shopkeeper whether she could say from whom she had received it and fortunately the mistress of the shop was able to fix on the individual. The slender clue thus obtained was carefully followed, other circumstances gradually transpired, the suspected parties were apprehended, searched and confronted by an overwhelming body of evidence.
To make a long story short, they were transferred to the authorities to be dealt with according to law, and the result was their execution for the burglary, and personal violence of which they had been guilty. The stout and protracted though unsuccessful defence which Mr. Alder had made elicited expressions of the universal approbation of his neighbours, and to him also of right belonged the reward which had been offered for the conviction of the criminals. But with a noble sense of delicacy he did not feel it right to appropriate a sum of money thus acquired. He regarded it as the price of blood, and determined to devote it to charitable purposes ; accordingly, he purchased therewith a close of land, about four acres in extent, known as Dacre's Close, which is situate in the township of Murton and parish of Tynemouth, which by his will* he devised to the vicar and churchwardens of Long Benton in trust for the uses of the poor of that part of the parish, know as the township of Weetslett, for ever.
Such is the source and origin of this charity. It only remains to
be said that Mr. Alder, having attained a good old age, honoured and respected by all his neighbours, departed this life on the 27th of November, 1736, at the age of 88 years.* He lies buried on the west side of the porch of Long Benton church, where his monument is still remaining. But a monument yet more enduring exists in the periodical recurrence of those comforts which his benefaction (now yielding a yearly rent of twelve pounds) is the means of diffusing. The churchwarden of the township receives and distributes the amount usually during the coldest months of winter, and thus at the very season of the year when Alder's house was broken into, the evil disposed may receive a wholesome warning from the sure though tardy punishment of the keelmen, while the memories of the poor are refreshed on the subject of Alder's goose pyes !
The attention of the public had been too strongly attracted to this foray upon the Weetslett larder to allow of its being speedily forgotten. Indeed among the lower orders in Newcastle, no topic was so frequently resorted to, within the memory of numbers now living, for the purpose of bantering a keelman. The quiver which supplied these piercing jokes seemed inexhaustible, and they seldom failed to hit; for there was not a subject upon which this class of persons were 80 susceptible; the most distant allusion to it at once aroused the choler of their irritable race.
They appeared indeed about that period to stand as a prominent butt for the jokes of the more humorous among their fellow operatives ; for in the next year, or not long after, these navigators of the Tyne became involved in another transaction of a similar predatory character. At the season of lamb dropping, in the early spring, very considerable losses were sustained by the proprietors of flocks along the river banks. There was scarcely a farmer whose pastures adjoined the river on whom some loss had not fallen. Continual alarms were excited, fresh complaints were repeatedly poured forth as new instances of lamb stealing successively became known. And what was the more provoking they disappeared in a manner unexplained and apparently inexplicable, leaving no trace behind them.
From the frequent instances of loss, and the amount which in the aggregate became considerable, the affair began to wear a somewhat serious aspect; still every attempt to obtain a trace of the perpetrators was baffled. At length as a farmer, himself a sufferer from these depredations, was traversing his grounds near the river, his thoughts doubtless busily employed on the spoliation committed upon
• Mr. Alder, in 1681, married Elizabeth Kea, who died in 1722, aged 63. Their son Edward, died April 10, 1775, aged 80.