24, Fenkle Street

24, Fenkle Street

An application has been made for modifications at 24, Fenkle Street / 7, Narrowgate (the former Doc’s Bar). The building is Grade-II listed, but its unremarkable appearance is reflected in the rather weak justification for the listing: “included for group value”. This development makes no external impact, and little internal impact – so we decided not to comment. However, it caused us to look into the history of the building.


This was an ironmongers in the 19th century (Hindmarsh, then Purvis, then Thomson & Wright).

In 1930 it became the headquarters of the Public Assistance Committee for Northumberland North Area 2 (which covered Alnwick Urban District, Alnwick Rural District, Amble, and Rothbury). The 22 members of the committee met here to examine applications for relief and decide the amounts to be given. Perhaps this part of the history explains some of the internal features of the building.

To qualify for dole, an applicant had to undergo the means test – an intrusive, and often insensitive, investigation into the family’s income and savings. Initially this system of relief depended on funding from local ratepayers, but in the Great Depression national government started to play a more important role as the system was overwhelmed by rising unemployment. Millions were relying on local ratepayers, who were themselves under financial pressure. The Unemployment Act of 1934 introduced a central government Unemployment Assistance Board, then the National Assistance Act of 1948 founded the National Assistance Board, and national insurance contributions.

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