Haltwhistle: the Centre of Britain

Market Place at the Centre of Britain

The name Haltwhistle comes from “Haut Whyslie” or “high watch between two rivers”. So I learned on our recent visit to this small, Northumbrian town.ย  Its Market Place dates back to 1207 when King John granted a Charter for weekly markets and two fairs to be held each year.

The town also claims to be the Centre of Britain. Here I am at the marker points this year, and on a previous visit in 2010.

If it surprises you that Britain’s centre should be located so far north, as it did me, see the diagram below. Convinced? Well, maybe. It is definitely plausible, although there are other places which make similar claims.

Whatever, the town certainly makes the most of it as a marketing concept with a Centre of Britain hotel, launderette and shops.

Many of the buildings around the market place originated as Bastles, including the hotel above. These are 16th/17th century defensible houses built to provide protection from border skirmishes between the English and the Scots. Haltwhistle has the highest number of bastles, 6, remaining in England.

It also has a fine example of 13th century architecture in the Church of the Holy Cross, with the addition of 19th century stained glass windows made by the William Morris Company.

I knew nothing of this heritage when I was five years old. What is the significance of that, you might ask? Well, this is the town in which I was born, and five is the age at which my family (by then including a younger sister) moved away to the bigger town (now city) of Sunderland. The War Memorial Hospital has been rebuilt in the last few years (and hasn’t had maternity services for decades) so I had to go online to find a picture of it as it was in the 50s and 60s.

Haltwhistle’s War Memorial Hospital 2019

In 1960 my sister was also born there. In those days, women were confined for almost two weeks after a birth. I wasn’t quite three, but I have clear memories of that time – one of my aunts came to stay to help Dad look after me (no such thing as paternity leave in those days). Every morning I received a postcard from my mum, and sometimes a gift that my wee sister had (allegedly) sent via Dad at visiting time: I particularly remember a small baby doll in a wicker cradle.

Children weren’t allowed to visit the wards, and one day Dad held me up to talk to Mum through the open window. I thought I was going to be handed in to her and screamed all the way home when it didn’t happen (and she tells me she took herself off to the bathroom to howl too).

And this was that home – the Methodist manse in Moor View. The colour image is 2019, the old photos show Mum and Dad posing proudly outside their first married home, probably in 1956.

And here am I at 15 months, toddling in the garden behind that big hedge at the side which looks much the same in 2019 as it did in the 1950s, and the whole family together a few years later.

The house was near the railway bridge – that hasn’t changed much either. This is my late Uncle Jim posing on it in the 1960s when it was fairly new – the stone work is dated 1953.

The railway station is also well-preserved – although now unstaffed, it retains its 1901 signal box, in the shape of a ship’s keel, and other buildings.

Finally, this is the church we went to – one of several where my father was minister – the Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1864, known as Castle Hill Methodist Church when we were there. It has since closed and both it and the Sunday School building, seen on the left behind the church, are private houses. The other Methodist church in town, Westgate, is still functioning.

After our brief, nostalgic (on my part) visit to Haltwhistle we drove on to our final destination for the day: Allendale, where we were to spend a long weekend with friends. More on that next time.

81 thoughts on “Haltwhistle: the Centre of Britain

  1. Lisa Dorenfest June 15, 2019 / 20:54

    What a charming little town. The best part of its history is you Anabel! Love the backstory. I can still see that adorable little girl shining through your face today.


  2. Erica/Erika June 15, 2019 / 04:09

    Hi Anabel, It is always significant to visit the place you were born. I forgot about the 2 weeks after giving birth. How things have changed. It was slightly sad and funny at the same time about how you and your Mom howled when you were still kept separate. I love all the photos!


  3. helenmackinven June 14, 2019 / 11:20

    Haven’t heard of the place or its claim but I enjoyed the story of your personal connection – great photos!


  4. restlessjo June 14, 2019 / 08:48

    The title made me smile, as it was probably meant to do, however justified the claim. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ I have only the briefest acquaintance with Haltwhistle, despite it having been quite near, but it’s nice to share a little family history, Anabel. Allendale I know better ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. BeckyB June 13, 2019 / 07:59

    oh Anabel this is so so lovely . . .. what a lovely trip back and how wonderful to take a peep into your photo albums. Thank you xx


  6. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) June 12, 2019 / 17:37

    Lovely family photos! I can’t say I’ve ever really thought about where the centre of Britain was, but it’s good to know in case it ever comes up in a pub quiz or something! Seems like King John was keen on granting town charters – Kingston’s is from 1200, and we have a slightly later version in the museum from 1208. I guess that’s at least one positive thing to come out of his reign, other than Magna Carta!


  7. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor June 12, 2019 / 14:22

    What fabulous photos! So much fun to take a look back at a place when you were a kid and what it looks like in present day.


  8. Ann June 12, 2019 / 08:54

    Your blog brought back welcome memories of my Wiltshire paternal grandmother. She was a staunch Methodist and we were woken up when she visited us by her enthusiastic singing from the Methodist hymn book
    She was also what we would now call a feminist and spoke with admiration of “the Bristol women”
    There was a well known women’s suffrage movement in that city.
    Grandpa was supportive of her views and always did the washing up after a meal, a habit followed by all four of his sons. In his opinion Grandma had prepared the meal and it was the least he could do. My main memories of in depth conversations with my uncles are that they always “opened up” more with their hands in the washing up bowl.


  9. the eternal traveller June 12, 2019 / 04:23

    What a lovely time of remembering and revisiting. The centre of the country thing certainly looks right to me on that map.


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter June 12, 2019 / 07:54

      Itโ€™s a good claim! Though as others have pointed out, it depends on your definitions and which islands you include. I really enjoyed our visit whether itโ€™s the centre or not – it was the centre of my little world certainly!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ann Coleman June 12, 2019 / 02:16

    How fun to go back and visit the town where you were born. And I have to admit that I didn’t think the center of the United Kingdom would be that far north, either.


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter June 12, 2019 / 07:51

      It was fun! I think the centre of Britain depends how you define it, which islands you include, which explains how there are several claimants. Itโ€™s a good asset for the town though.


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