Wagonway road

At the end of the 19th century Skelly described half a dozen country walks around Alnwick. He would recognise most of them if he could return today. But probably not this one. It’s no longer a country walk, but there’s history along the way.

“Coming back to the town, another fine walk goes by way of the Workhouse and Wagon Way, and joins the old London highway, a little to the north of Greensfield Moor”.

Until the Highways Act of 1835 the common law position was that the inhabitants of the parish were responsible for maintaining any road, unless it could be established that responsibility was attached to an individual or a specific body. From 1835 a road would have to be formally adopted if it was to be maintained by the parish. A few years after Skelly described this path the Board of Health would hand this footpath over to Alnwick Urban District Council, but at the time they were still responsible for maintenance. Their report from 1869 read:

A certain footway commencing at the south end of Bondgate and proceeding by Love Lane past the workhouse, and from then partly through an occupation road and partly through the Alnwick town fields to the Greensfield boundary fence. This footway from a point near the workhouse to the field in Mr Wm Carr’s occupation is much too narrow, and to remedy it would be difficult as the road is already too narrow for vehicles to pass each other without coming upon the footway. The only improvement we could therefore suggest would be to cut away the accumulation of soil on the east side of the road. That part of the footway through Mr Carr’s field should have some ashes placed upon it before winter.

There is a reference to a Love Lane elsewhere in Alnwick, but we know where the workhouse was. The footway then ran along the west side of what is now Wagonway Road.

Unlike a highway (which was available to all, and maintained by the parish), or a private road (maintained by the owner), an occupation road allowed the owner of one piece of land to pass over the land of another. In that sense they were private rights of way. The public had no right of way. However, often there was a public footpath along an occupation road. That seems to have been the case here.

In the 1860’s none of the houses around Duke Street, or Bridge Street had been built. Beyond the workhouse there were only fields. However, Ordnance Survey maps from the time show a road here, which continued – almost directly southwards – beyond the later line of the Cornhill Railway, to the Willow Burn, where it turned south-eastwards to join the Great North Road. This followed the route of the old wagonway, which had been built in 1809 to bring coal into Alnwick, then closed around 1850. The wagonway would later give its name to the road, but it is not given a name on the early Ordnance Survey Maps.

New houses were built between 1881 and 1899 to address a serious shortage of decent housing for working people in Alnwick. The Duke set up a housing association in 1897, and made land and funding available to build thirty-one houses along Wagonway Road. By 1899 these were complete, “fully occupied, and accounted pleasant and satisfactory”. The North-Eastern Railway built 20 cottages for railwaymen on Seaview Terrace (now between York Crescent and Augur Terrace).

In 1883 the footpath was repaired using reclaimed material from the old gas works in Canongate. Afterwards the Highway Committee inspected the footpath and found that it was uneven, and still became soft, muddy and slippery in wet weather. The occupation road beside the footpath was also in poor condition. They came to the conclusion that the whole footpath, from the station gates to the Auction Mart would have to be taken up and replaced with new kerb stones and chippings. At the same time, the owners of the newly built houses in West Parade would be asked to finish the footpath in front of their houses.

In Alnwick there were two significant waves of housing development by the council between the wars. The first wave was mostly completed between 1921 and 1926. Two schemes both lay to the south of the centre: St George’s Crescent and the York Crescent / York Road area.

Alnwick Fever Hospital was built in 1888, and operated until 1952 when the land was handed over to the Education Board, and used for the extensions made to Lindisfarne School in 1959. There’s more on the Fever Hospital <here>. The Lindisfarne Sports Hall now stands where it used to be.

After the second world war fifty prefabricated bungalows were constructed on Augur Terrace. They were replaced by Cornhill Estate in the 1970s.

In 1875 this path was described as the “Footpath to Shilbottle”. The jurisdiction of the Board extended to a footbridge over the Willow Burn. The path each side of the footbridge was described as the worst section of the path, which in general needed a little repair. Today this same route is followed by Wagonway Road to the roundabout on Willowburn Avenue. Beyond that, continuing south in a straight line to the Willow Burn, is still a public bridleway running behind the Greensfield Industrial Estate, and quite heavily used.

From that point the path that Skelly knew has been interrupted by later developments. It re-appears on the other side of the A1 and runs across the Cawledge Burn to Shilbottle. To follow the whole route involves a diversion via Willowburn Avenue, under the A1 at the junction, and returning to the path, along Hawfinch Drive.

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