northernvicar October 2023

I started October with a Curator tour of the Wartime history of the English Heritge house at Belsay. The house was requisitioned at the start of WW2. The then owner, Stephen Middleton, kept a close eye on it, and there are piles of letters of complaint he wrote to the army. At one point he covered everything with coconut matting – you can still see the marks. There are various signs of wartime – names on doors, a loo door which says “night time use only”, graffiti and items found under the floorboard.

Julie has been busy stewarding at Hexham Abbey for Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon.

There was a fascinating exhibition about Ladybird Books at Bailiffgate Museum in Alnwick. Lots of lovely illustrations. “Tootles the Taxi” was one we both remembered. What I didn’t know was that the artist, John Kenney, also drew some of the “Thomas” stories. The web tells me that there is a blue plaque to this gentleman at Kibworth in Leicestershire, he studied at Leicester College of Art, and died in 1972.

I also liked these pictures by John Berry for the 1972 book “On the Railways” – and his picture of a nurse. John was born in London in 1920 and studied at Hammersmith College of Arts. He got a scholarship to the Royal Academy, but it was the start of WW2. His Guardian obituary – – says “He went into the RAF and was sent to the Middle East. There, as part of a holding unit waiting to go into Tobruk, he offered to make up a poster advertising a national day of prayer. The artwork came to the attention of Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, who promptly had Berry seconded to the army as a war artist. It was a source of pride to Berry that he was the only war artist drawn from the ranks.” There are several examples of his work at

After the War he worked as a portrait painter and as a commercial artist. He painted the
original “tiger in the tank” for Esso, and worked for Ladybird for over 20 years, illustrating about 50 books. My eye was caught by his illustrations for “On the Railways” (1972) – the cover illustration of Southwark Cathedral and London Bridge station, the freightliner depot and electrification train, and the porter. Perhaps the porter typifies the way the railways have changed in the last fifty years. The nurse’s uniform has also changed!

A hospital trip to Manchester took me via the new station at Headbolt Lane. Medically they stopped chemo in September and have decided not to re-start it yet. As one consultant said, we’d give you chemo to improve your quality of life, and your quality of life is about as good as it can be. Part of me is very pleased, another part of me wants them to throw as many drugs at my cancer as they can. I haven’t got another date to go back to Manchester – most of my hospital treatment is now happening in the North East. I am pleased about that, but I still have some of the Manchester Metrolink network that is not coloured in!

On 13 October I went on a “Meet the expert” walk along Hadrian’s Wall from Birdoswald. Our expert was Andrew Roberts, one of their Roman team, and he got us thinking about the Wall, how it was built, why it was built and how it was used. We looked in detail at the bridge abutment at Willowford – the river has moved, so it now stands high and dry. Archaeology has suggested there were three different bridges at different stages of time – ranging from a simple foot crossing through to a wide roadway. How was the river defended, where did the roadway go once the river had been crossed? A fascinating morning.

Later in the month I went back with Julie, who went off and explored.

I had a couple of train rides with my brother – a ride on the Settle Carlisle and a trip round the Cumbrian Coast (plus a jaunt up the Ratty).

I had a jaunt north to see the Govan stones – which I have blogged separately. Then a Sunday to cover some freight lines in Yorkshire being used for engineering diversions. That included tea in Selby Abbey which has a steam loco in one of its windows. The Abbey has already been blogged at

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2 Responses to northernvicar October 2023

  1. Nancy says:

    Dear Northern Vicar, we who have read and loved your blog all these many years have our collective fingers crossed that you are comfortable and remain so.

    Best wishes,

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