Lou is the owner of Cragend Farm with her husband Shaun, and deals with everything from Holiday Accommodation inquiries to egg collection from the chickens; she is the social media and web design finger-tapper.
The tour was well attended and we were thrilled that one couple had even decided to stay the night in our Bed & Breakfast room ‘The Armstrong Wing’ as well as take the tour of the farm.
Our tour consists of a historical journey, from the Bronze Age when early settlers built a small fortress on the hill at the back of the farm, to the current day, with spotlights on Harry Hotspur the Earl of Northumberland and the War of the Roses, when he was gifted lands for services to the crown which included Cragend, and Victorian lawyer turned engineer, Lord William Armstrong who built the Cragside estate from land he had purchased from the (4th,5th & 6th ) Duke of Northumberland in the 1860’s and design and manufactured hydraulic machinery to power his electric and hydraulic technology for the house, and also his model farm ‘Cragend’.
Cragend Farm was specifically remodelled to house his prize cattle and demonstrate how working with machinery could help the agricultural workers.
In 1900 when Lord Armstrong died the estate handed over the farm to tenants, and finally in 2010 the farm was sold by the Armstrong family to Mr & Mrs Renwick.
Thus began years of restoration to return the buildings to their former glory, with the workers cottages being renovated, the barns being converted in to a large family home and the Grade II* listed Silo being repaired in order to make it safer to visit and explore today.
It was during open discussion at the end of the tour that the guests who were staying the night commented that the reason they had asked to stay was that a member of their family was known to have stayed at Cragend Farm in the early 20th century.
We were told that their name was “Blenkinsopp” a good Peak District name, but an unusual Northumberland name. At this point we were unsure how we were going to prove that this family may have stayed at Cragend, until we looked at the Cragend Graffiti Report that was done by archaeologists in 2012 as part of a wider project to record the historic detail of the farm
The graffiti, some 500 inscriptions, ranges from 1890’s to the present day, and many are from the First and Second World War. Luckily for us the graffiti is catalogued on an Excel sheet which made it relatively simple for us to search for the name Blenkinsopp. And there it was! 1903! Wow!
Building H h1a 7 pencil on timber - handwriting name weather date 1903 John Ble/Robert Dunn (underlined)/Andrew Gunvey (underlined)/John Bell (underlined)/John Blenkinsopp (underlined)/Sept 2nd 1903/a very wet day
It was very exciting for us to reveal this information to our guests, and we discussed further why the family may have stayed here.
During the course of the following weeks we corresponded by email trying to piece together the story. This portion of the granary had to be removed as it was damaged and full of wood rot but we had photographs of the inscriptions and their locations.
It appears that Mr J Blenkinsopp and his family of wife with five children travelled from the Peak District (Chatsworth/Bakewell) to Cragside as a cattle handler. As we know, Lord Armstrong had built the farm to house his prize cattle and so it came as no surprise that a worker from another county may have been here looking for the job or that perhaps the worker had heard that a cattle handler was required in this prestigious Northumberland Estate.
It is possible that Mr Blenkinsopp was here at the farm to work with the cattle and either drive them elsewhere or sell them on behalf of the new Lord Armstrong who did not have an interest in the cattle.
Since this discovery we have also been checking the census in 1891, 1901 and 1911 to locate this family, some of whom seemed to stay locally for a while.
It has been so exciting to find a living relative of the graffiti writers, especially one who was not from our local area and it has been thanks to the Heritage Open Day that this has come to light.
Our thanks to Mrs Claire Halksworth (HOD visitor and great grand-daughter of Mr Blenkinsopp)
Photographs courtesy of Cragend Farm and ARS and Dave Burton Features.
Further Heritage Tours in May & June 2020.
Contact Cragend Farm for further details on how to book.
During the renovation of the barns into a house (domestic dwelling) the writings on the walls of the building were catalogued and photographed by a group of Archaeologists headed up by Dr Gillian Scott, who were able to list in chronological order dating from 1880's the writings on the lime washed walls, mainly in the Granary upstairs. We decided to leave the writings and drawings intact and they are now safely protected behind stud walls. Before encasing the graffiti, much of it which was First and Second World War related, we all wrote our names on the walls, everyone from the builders to our our children, for future historic investigation.
Find Out More About Cragend
Cragend Farm has a interesting and diverse history, from technical innovations to historic buildings. Tied in closely to the neighbouring Cragside Estate home of Victorian inventor and industrialist Lord Armstrong.