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Letter from Northumberland

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This page has a description of Willington North Farm and the residence, near Willington in Northumberland. The description has been transcribed from a handwritten letter passed down from Elizabeth McLaren (nee Duxfield).

The letter has no address on page 1, and no signature at the end. The pages are labeled 1 to 5. From the contents of the letter, it appears to have been written by a family friend and sent to Elizabeth in New Zealand. Some abbreviated words have been spelt in full, punctation added, paragraphs added, and long sentences split to improve readability.

The map below shows the location of places referred to in the letter.

Willington Map

The occupier of Willington North Farm (Willie Bowran) was located in the 1901 Census. The 1901 UK Census for Willington, Northumberland, lists as residents at Willington Stables: Thomas Bowran, 65, Farmer; his wife Annie; and his son William, 28. Both Thomas and William were born at Willington. Ann died in 1909 and Thomas in 1917.

The letter was presumably written about 1922, possibly after Elizabeth had visited England in 1921.

The Letter

I am pleased to say dear friend that I have been to Willington North Farm and a most charming place it is, both the farm and its surroundings. I wish you had seen it when you were here and so near, but then I did not know where it was. I had only heard of Willington Quay (and it is by the river) and I thought North Farm would be there.

You will remember when we at Earsdon you could fancy your parents worshiping at that church and sitting in those seats. I said they could never come all the way from Willington, it was too far. Now when I know where Willington is, it is quite possible they would attend Earsdon Church. Willington lies right between Willington Quay and Earsdon.

[A rough map was drawn showing: the river, North Shields, Willington Quay, Willington and Earsdon]

Now I must tell you of my visit to Willington. Before this I enquired at Willington Quay if there was any other Willington and was told there was Willington Square over by Wallsend, so one fine afternoon I had an early tea and set off about 4 o'clock and walked up N C turnpike towards Wallsend.

I met a man carting hay and thought he would know something about the farms. He had never heard of North Farm but pointed out some houses at a distance which he said was Willington Square. That was all the Willington he knew.

There were three farms on my way, but he said if I went to Battle Hill Farm they would be able to tell me. I had to pass a farm on my way so asked if it was Willington North Farm. They told me they had never heard of it but said if I went over the road there was an old lady, Mrs Bwins, who had lived there for over 50 years. She might be able to tell me.

I found a group of dear old-fashioned cottages, some white washed and others grown over with ivy. I found Mrs Bwins, over 80. She took me to her heart at once. It was such a delightful thing to see a strange face and I had to have another tea with her.

While we talked about the place I asked her what name this quaint little place went by. She said Willington Stables. She had never heard of North Farm but remembered well the fumes of the Chemical Works spoiling the crops. She said the stuff they grew in the garden was black and unsalable. The chimneys had to be built higher. It was all right now.

Mrs Bwins has a sister living in North Shields. I know her and her daughter very well so Mrs Bwins and I became very friendly. After promising to go back soon and see her we parted.

I set out once more to find your old home. I had not far to go till I got to Battle Hill Farm and there I found the North Farm.

The occupier is William Bowran. The conversation was all with Mrs Bowran, his wife. He and all the lot of them were out busy getting the hay in. It was such a lovely evening. They were working as long as they could see.

Mrs Bowran was exceedingly kind.

When I went up to the farm entrance, which happened to be the back, Mrs Bowran was coming out of the fowl house. I asked if she could tell me where the North Farm was. "This is it" she said, "But it has never gone by that name in our time and we have been here 13 years."

"All income tax and rate papers come to us addressed North Farm, but locally it is known as Battle Hill Farm."

Mr Bowran came in for a few minutes and said he knew there was a family named Duxfield had this farm. He said his father had the farm joining yours and he was born there and had lived there all his life and is now in yours.

He said his father and yours were sure to be friendly for they were neighbours. I was to tell you he was Thomas Bowran's son Willie.

After your father left, the estate went from one to another until a Mr Bell got it. This farmer's landlord and he made so many alterations that you would not know it.

The building itself outside is the same. The change is in the inside of the house and grounds. Mrs Bowran said the way I had come in was the only way in. In your time and to get to the front door you had to go by the gable end of the house. She showed me where the path had been but is all changed.

Money was plentiful with Mr Bell and he had the farm inside and out modernised and fitted up to date.

There were 7 rooms when you were there, now there are 11. Every room, kitchen, scullery and even pantry have electric light. In fact every was electrified. Every room had been fitted up with up to date well fires, handsome tiles and marble picture rails had been been put in all the rooms. A beautiful bathroom, shower bath, etc all silver plated fittings.

You will remember in the kitchen there was a door along by the window that you went out and in by. Now that door has been built up and you have to go in from the front passage.

Picture it now. A modern breakfast room in what was the dairy. Its a beautiful kitchen with the latest of kitchen ranges, with hot air oven and so many parts you can shut off and on.

You will also remember when you went in at the front door there was a room at each side, the right side the drawing room, the left side the dining room. Along the passage, left side back (which was your kitchen), right side back kitchen.

Now I will try to describe the outside.. A larger portion of the ground in front of the house has been laid out ornamental. There is a large tennis court. The grounds were beautiful with lovely flower plots all over with fancy trees and shrubs. The display of colours among the flowers was gorgeous. Here and there were small metal tables and chairs. There is a long gravel drive from the front door to a large white metal gate at the end leading to the road.

After doing all these alterations and spending money I don't think Mr Bell lived there long. He sold his estate and now it belongs to the Jarrow & Wallsend Coal Co. They got it very cheap, only £1400.

Mr Bell went to Australia then Canada, but is back here. He came into another large estate up by Haltwhistle which brings him in something like £1000 a year.

Mr Bowran has two farms. The land of the West Farm was joined to the land of the North Farm. Mr Bowran has 310 acres. They said they would be delighted to see any of you and to show you round.

The County Council are making anew road for heavy traffic from Newcastle to the coast and it is to go through the North Farm land in front of the house. It is a necessary road. The country needs it. They were compelled to give it up [the land for the road].

I asked about their harvest. She said it would not be so bad as they thought. Wheat and oats were good and they had a good crop of hay. Potatoes and twinings were coming on nice. That was at the end of July.

Now I am afraid they will tell a different tale for we have had rain in torrents all over the country. The farmers are ruined. What was in the fields cut is under water. Stooks have been swept out to sea by the deluges of rain on the coast here.

Mrs Bowran had no eggs left or she would have given me some. She gave me some lettuce and an armful of flowers. After a nice drink of milk I set out for home. I thoroughly enjoyed my walk there and back. It was a lovely evening and a most glorious sunset.