Extracts from Celia Fiennes’ 1698 journey around England
After a foray into Suffolk, Celia Fiennes returned to Wansford in 1698.
I went thence to Wansford and passed by Mrs St Johns house wch stands on a hill a mile from ye town in a fine parke. There was no gate to Peterborough town and as I pass’d ye Road I saw upon ye walls of ye ordinary peoples houses and walls of their out houses, ye Cow dung plaister’d up to drie in Cakes wch they use for fireing, its a very offensive fewell, but ye Country people use Little Else in these parts. Wansford is 5 mile from Peterborough, where I passed over the Bridge wch Entred me into Northhamptonshire, the town being part in that shire wch is towards London, ye other in Lincolnshire wch a mile or two farther joyns wth Rutlandshire at Stamford, wch town stands in ye 3 Countyes, where I Lay at ” ye Swan in Wansford in England,” being a jest on a man makeing hay fell a sleep on a heap of it, and a great storme washed ye Hay and man into ye River and Carry’d him to ye Bridge, where he awoke and knew not where he was, Called to ye people in ye grounds and told them he liv’d in a place Called Wansford in England wch goes for a jest on ye men of Wansford to this Day.
The Haycock Inn was formerly The Swan. the legend lives on.
Celia travelled north, exploring much of the North West. She briefly reached the lowlands of Scotland but was unimpressed by the accommodation options and was generally negative about the locals.
Those houses are all Kind of Castles and they Live great tho’ in so nasty a way as all things are in even those houses one has Little Stomach to Eate or use anything, as I have been told by some that has travell’d there, and I am sure I mett with a sample of it enough to discourage my progress farther in Scotland. I attribute it wholly to their sloth for I see they sitt and do Little.
She speaks positively about the River Tyne as she nears Newcastle but is less complimentary about the coal mining industry. Amongst the sites taken in was a visit to the Surgeons Hall where she witnessed dissected bodies.
Thence I went 4 mile along by the Tyne, the road was good hard gravelly way for the most part, but very steep up hills and down; on one of these I Rode a pretty while wth a great precipice on the Right hand down to the river, it Looked hazardous, but the way was very broad. The River Looked very reffreshing and ye Cattle Coming to its sides and into it where shallow to Coole themselves in the heate, for hitherto as I met wth noe Raines, notwithstanding the great raines yt fell the 2 dayes before I Left Woolsley, and ye Little showers I had when I went to Hollywell I was not annoy,d wth wet nor Extream heat, the Clouds being a shade to me by day and Gods good providence and protection all wayes. This after noon was the hottest day I met with but it was seasonable being in July. As I drew nearer and nearer to NewCastle I met with and saw abundance of Little Carriages wth a yoke of oxen and a pair of horses together, wch is to Convey the Coales from ye pitts to ye Barges on the river. There is Little sort of Dung-potts. I suppose they hold not above 2 or three Chaudron. This is the sea Coale which is pretty much small Coale tho’ some is round Coales, yet none like the Cleft coales and this is what ye smiths use and it Cakes in ye ffire and makes a great heate, but it burns not up Light unless you put most round Coales wch will burn Light, but then its soon gone and that part of ye Coale never Cakes, there fore ye small sort is as good as any-if its black and shineing, that shows its goodness. This Country all about is full of this Coale, ye sulpher of it taints ye aire and it smells strongly to strangers,-upon a high hill 2 mile from NewCastle I could see all about the Country wch was full of Coale pitts.
Celia Fiennes approaches Newcastle from the north: the approximate location of Hollywell is ringed in red on the 1590s map above; coal pits, staithes and trackways are just visible.
The North East had been shipping coal (especially to London) for 300 years, an estimated 650,000 tonnes per annum by 1700. Tramways were starting to be used and within 20 years new technology such as the Newcomen steam-engine would revolutionise the industry. Celia Fiennes accurately describes the “wainways” along which four-wheeled carts were pulled from the pits to the riverside staithes. From there, “keels” carried the coal to larger vessels anchored by the mouth of the river. At the turn of the 18th century there were about 1,600 keelmen employed, about 400 being seasonal Scottish workers.
New-Castle Lies in a bottom very Low, it appears from this hill a greate fflatt. I saw all by the river Tyne wch runns along to Tinmouth 5 or 6 miles off, wch Could see very plaine and ye Scheld wch is the key or ffort at the mouth of ye river wch disembogues itself into ye sea; all this was in view on this high hill wch I descended-5 mile more, in all nine from that place.
NewCastle is a town and County of itself standing part in Northumberland part in ye Bishoprick of Durham, the river Tyne being ye division. Its a noble town tho’ in a bottom, it most resembles London of any place in England, its buildings Lofty and Large, of brick mostly or stone. The streetes are very broad and handsome and very well pitch’d, and many of them wth very ffine Cunduits of water in Each allwayes running into a Large stone Cistern for Every bodyes use. There is one great streete where in ye Market Crosse, there was one great Cunduit with two spouts wch falls into a Large ffountaine paved wth stone which held at Least 2 or 3 hodsheads for the jnhabitants. There are 4 gates wch are all Double gates with a sort of Bridge between Each. The west gate wch I entred I came by a Large building of bricke within bricke walls, which is the hall for the assizes and sessions for the shire of Northumberland. This is NewCastle on ye Tyne and is a town and County. There is a noble Building in the middle of the town all of stone for an Exchange on stone pillars severall rows. On the top is a building of a very Large hall for the judges to keep the assizes for the town; there is another roome for ye Major and Councill and another for the jury out of the Large roome wch is the hall, and opens into a Balcony wch Looks. out on ye River and ye Key. Its a Lofty good building of stone, very uniforme on all sides wth stone pillars in the ffronts both to the streete and market place and to the waterside. There is a ffine Clock on the top just as ye Royal Exchange has. The Key is a very ffine place and Lookes itself Like an Exchange being very broad and soe full of merchants walking to and againe, and it runs off a great Length wth a great many steps down to ye water for the Conveniency of Landing or boateing their goods, and is full of Cellars or ware houses. Ye harbour is full of shipps but none that is above 2 or 300 tun Can Come up quite to the Key: its a town of greate trade. There is one Large Church built of stone wth a very high tower finely Carv’d full of spires and severall devises in the Carving-all stone. The Quire is neate as is the whole Church and Curious Carving in wood on each side the quire, and over the ffront is a great Piramidy of wood ffinely Carv’d full of spires. There was a Castle in this town but now there is noe remaines of it but some of ye walls wch are built up in houses and soe only appears as a great hill or ascent, wch in some places is 30 or 40 steps advance to the streetes that are built on ye higher ground where the Castle was. There was one place soe Like Snow Hill in London wth a fine Conduite. Their shops are good and are of Distinct trades, not selling m any things in one shop as is ye Custom in most Country towns and Cittys; here is one market for Corne, another for H ay, besides all other things wch takes up two or three streetes. Satturday was their biggest Market day wch was the Day I was there, and by Reason of the extreame heate resolved to stay till the sun was Low ere I proceeded farther, so had the opportunity of seeing most of the Market wch is Like a ffaire for all sorts of provision, and good and very Cheape. I saw one buy a quarter of Lamb ffor 3d and 2d a piece: good Large poultry. Here is Leather, Woollen and Linnen and all sorts of stands for baubles. They have a very jndifferent sort of Cheese-Little things, Looks black on the outside. There is a very pleasant bowling-green, a Little walke out of the town wth a Large gravel walke round it wth two Rows of trees on Each side Makeing it very shady: there is a fine entertaineing house yt makes up the ffourth side, before wch is a paved walke and Epyasses of bricke. There is a pretty Garden, by ye side a shady walk, its a sort of spring garden where the Gentlemen and Ladyes walke in the Evening-there is a green house in the garden, its a pleasant walke to the town by ye walls. There is one broad walke by the side of ye town runns a good Length made wth Coale ashes and so well trodden, and the raines makes it firm. There is a walke all round the walls of the town. There is a good ffree school and 5 Churches. I went to see the Barber Surgeons Hall wch was within a pretty garden walled in, full of flowers and greens In potts and in the Borders; its a good neate building of Brick. There I saw the roome wth a round table in it railed round wth seates or Benches for ye Conveniency in their disecting and anatomiseing a body, and reading Lectures on all parts. There was two bodyes that had been anatomised, one the bones were fastned wth wires the other had had the flesh boyled off and so some of ye Ligeament remained and dryed wth it, and so the parts were held together by its own Muscles and sinews that were dryed wth it. Over this was another roome in wch was the skin of a man that was taken off after he was dead, and dressed, and so was stuff’d-the body and Limbs. It Look’d and felt Like a sort of parchment. In this roome I Could take a view of the whole town, it standing on high ground and a pretty Lofty building.
The Company of Barber Surgeons and Tallow Chandlers dates to the 15th century, and in 1648 the Surgeons successfully petitioned the town corporation for a grant of land to build a meeting house with a garden for medicinal herbs. They began to study anatomy and undertake dissections in the 1690s. Their first hall is depicted (above) in the margin of the 1723 Corbridge map of Newcastle. The hall was rebuilt in 1730 then again in the 1850s when the site was required for the railway north from the station.
Celia Fiennes travelled on to Durham via Chester-le-Street.
Durham Citty stands on a great hill, the middle part much higher than the rest, the Cathedrall and Castle wch is ye pallace wth ye Colledge and all the houses of the Doctors of the Churches is altogether built of stone and all Encompass’d wth a wall full of battlements above the walke, and this is about the middle of ye hill wch is a Round hill, and a steep descent into the rest of the town, where is the market place wch is a spacious place, and a very ffaire town hall on stone Pillars and a very Large Cunduite. From this all the streets are in a pretty greate descent to ye river, which Lookes very pleasant by meanes of its turning and winding to and agen, and so there are 3 Large Stone Bridges wth severall arches apiece. The abbey or yc Cathedrall is very Large, the quire is good but nothing Extraordinary, some good painting in the Glass of the windows and wood Carving. There is over ye alter a painting of a Large Catherine Wheele which Encompasses the whole window and fills it up.
The Castle wch is the Bishops pallace stands on a Round hill wch has severall green walks round it, wth high bancks to secure them one above another, and on the top are the towers. About the Middle of the hill is a broad Grass walk railed in and enters into a Dineing roome. There are very stately good roomes, parlours, drawing roomes, and a noble Hall, but the ffurniture was not very ffine the best being taken down in the absence of my Lord Crew, who is not a Barron of England but is a great prince as being Bishop of the whole principallity off Durham, and has a great Royalty and authority, is as an absolute Prince and has a great Command as well as revenue; his Spirituall is 5 or 6000lb and his temporalls since his brothers Death makes it much more. He Comes sometymes hither but for the most part Lives at another Castle wch is a noble seate about 12 mile off, which is very well ffurnish’d and ffinish’d; he is the Governour as it were of the whole province.
Darlington gets a mention for its cattle market – then Hell’s kettles, near Croft which was the site of many travellers’ tales through the coaching era.
This is a Little Market town, the Market day was on Munday wch was the day I passed through it: it was a great Market of all things, a great quantety of Cattle of all sorts but mostly Beeves- it seemes once in a fortnight its much fuller. Two miles from Darlington I Came to the Ground the Hell Kettles are they talk much of, its in Grounds just by the road where Cattle were ffeeding, there are 2 pooles or ponds of Water the one Larger than ye other; ye biggest seemed to me not to be the Deepest nor is it Esteem’d soe deep; there was some sedge or flaggs growing round that, but ye fathermost wch was not soe bigg Looked a Cross that had noe flaggs or sedge on its bancks but yet it Look’d to me to Cast a green hew, Roleing waves of the water just in Coullour as the sea, and as the wind moved the water it very much resembled the sea, but the water when taken up in ye hand Look’d White and ye taste was not the Least brackish but fresh. My Conception of the Cause of ye greenish Coullour was from the greate depth of water, for the reason they Call them Hell Kettles is that there is noe sounding a bottom, wch has been try’d by plumet and Line severall ffathoms down; the water is Cold and as any other water when took up, it seemes not to Decrease in a tyme of Drought nor to advance wth great raines, it draines itself insensibly into ye ground.
As hinted at by Fiennes, the larger pool one is filled by surface water run-off whilst the other is fed from deep underground springs. They have featured in local folklore for many centuries: Tudor chronicler William Harrison said locals refer to them as “the Kettles of Hell, or ye Devil’s Kettles, as if he should see the soules of sinfull men and women in them; they adde also that ye spirits have oft beene harde to cry and yell about them”.
The British Geological Survey comes up with the boring explanation that these pools are the result of major, natural subsidence in the 12th century.