- Alston, Cumbria
infobox UK place
country = England
static_image_caption= Alston town centre
population = 1,128
region= North West England
constituency_westminster= Penrith and The Border
postcode_district = CA9
Alston is a small
townin Cumbria, Englandon the River South Tyne. It is said to be the highest elevation market townin the country, at about 1000 feet (300 m) above sea level.
The town lies on the confluence of the South Tyne and the
River Nent. The landscape of the area is built up from limestone, sandstoneand shale. The area is rich in minerals, in particular leaddeposits.
The landscape has been heavily influenced by the effects of varying methods of
miningover the centuries.
Nearby villages include
Its name is recorded in 1164-11712 as Aldeneby and in 1209 as Aldeneston, and seems to mean "the settlement or farmstead belonging to [a Viking man named]
The earliest evidence of population in the area comes from pottery fragments, a gold basket-earring and flint tools found in one of two barrows excavated in 1935 (2 miles or 3 kilometres NNW of Alston at Kirkhaugh), these were dated between 2000 BC and 1700 BC.
Evidence of Roman activity in the area comes from the earth remains of Whitley Castle, thought to be the Roman fort (
Castra) of Epiacum [http://www.roman-britain.org/places/epiacum.htm] built and rebuilt by the Sixth and Twentieth Legions between the second and third centuries. The fort's main purpose was to extract and protect lead and silverdeposits in the upper reaches of the south Tyne valley.
In the 10th century,
Alston Moorwas part of The Liberty of Tynedalewhich was an estate of the Scottish Kings within England, a situation that resulted in many years of confusion over the sovereignty of the area.
In 1085, the Barons de Vertiponte became the first recorded Lords of the Manor, they held the moor on behalf of the kings of
Scotlandwhile the kings of England retained the mineral rights. This was confirmed in a hearing during 1279 which concluded that the miners of the area were distinct from the local population thus paying their dues to the English crown instead of Scotland. As a result the miners lived in their own self regulated communities under English protection.
In 1269, John de Balliol, the king of Scotland invaded the north of England, as a result of this Edward 1st moved to reclaim the Scottish estates and Tynedale which included Alston Moor was taken into direct control of the English crown where it remains.
Despite the town being on the Tyne and being historically part of Tynedale the area has never been part of either
Hexhamshireor Northumberlandbut part of Cumberlandand later Cumbria. This was probably because the mines in the area were at one time administered from Carlisle.
Historically the area has been mined for lead, silver,
zinc, coaland fluorspar.
In the 13th century, the area was known as the silver mines of
Carlisle—silver was found in a high proportion (up to 40 troy ounces per long tonor 1.2 g/kg of smelted lead) and was used to create coinage in the Royal Mintestablished in Carlisle for the purpose. Most mining was very small scale until the mid-18th century,
The biggest mine owner in the area was the
London Lead Company; this Religious Society of Friends(Quakers) organisation with enlightened employment policies established an interest in the area during the early 1700s. In 1745, it began construction of a school, a library, a sanitary house, a surgeon's house, a market hall with clock tower, a laundry and a 'ready-money' shop in Nenthead, four miles away.
The last mines closed in the 1950s but as of 2005
Aylecolliery was still active.
The area is no longer actively mined although the mining history is exploited for
moorlandis mainly used for sheep farming however many farmers also have other enterprises, such as Bed and Breakfastaccommodation
Tourism is now a key source of income for the area. The surrounding area is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Alston is noted for its cobbled streets and 17th century stone buildings. [http://www.thecumbriadirectory.com/Town_or_Village/Alston/Alston.php] The
Pennine Way, the UK's first National Trail, passes through Alston.
Shopping is remarkably good for such a small place. Shops include a
whole foodsshop, a Co-op supermarket, a vegetable shop, two butchers, a newsagent's which also sells hardware, an outdoor clothing shop, an organic bakeryand a number of craft, gift and antique shops.
For much of the 20th century, between 1940 and its closure in 1980, a
foundryemployed around 200 people. The closure of this foundry increased unemployment in the area from 8.9% to over 25%.
Currently the area's main employer is Precision Products, [http://www.shawprocess.co.uk] a company that was started in 1947 by William (Bill) Ball. The company produces
stainless steeland super-alloy castings, employing around 65 workers.
The population census figures show that at its peak during 1831 the population of the parish of
Alston Moorwas 6,858 people. Today that figure is about 2,000. The population of the town of Alston was 1128 according to the 2001 Census. [http://www.eden.gov.uk/main.asp?page=2156] The community has its own website which is a result of the Cybermoor Project[http://www.cybermoor.org] which has brought the Internetto almost every home on Alston Moor, and broadbandto many. The problem of the area's relative remoteness compared to other areas of England was solved by utilising IEEE 802.11technology to construct the network infrastructure.
Landmarks and buildings of note
Construction of the neo-gothic building started in 1857 when Hugh Lee Pattinson laid the foundation stone. The architecture was designed by A.B. Higham and the estimated costs were £2000, although the final costs were closer to £3000; these were paid for by public subscription. [http://www.curlewconsulting.co.uk/historyline/26_townhall.mp3] [http://www.cybermoor.org/directory/towntrail]
Although the town does not hold a regular
marketit still maintains the legal right to do so. The market crosswhich acts as a focal point in the centre of town was constructed in 1983 to replace one constructed in 1863 after it was hit by a truck. [http://www.curlewconsulting.co.uk/historyline/32_market_cross.mp3]
A regular producers' market now takes place in the Town Hall from April to September selling food and crafts produced in Cumbria, Northumberland, and
Durham, celebrating Alston's position at the crux of these three counties.
During the area's peak of prosperity in 1776
John Smeatonbegan construction of an underground drain to assist with the transport of extracted materials as well as locate new mineral seams. The canal took 66 years to construct at a cost of £80,000, and became known as "Smeaton's Folly". In the 1830s mine manager and engineer said that it could be visited "in boats 30 feet in length, which are propelled in four feet of water by means of sticks projecting from the sides of the level; and thus may be enjoyed the singular novelty of sailing a few miles underground". It was intended to be 9 feet square but in the softer terrain was extended to 9'x16', dead level for 3.75 miles (6 km) to allow boat use, with a rise of 35 fathoms (64 m) at Lovelady Shield and then driven into the Nentheadground. The amount of ore found was disappointing, though not insignificant.
Access to the Nent force level is currently extremely difficult although efforts have been made to develop a
heritage centreto make this extraordinary piece of engineering accessible to the public.
amuel King's School
As well as having a
primary school, the town is host to England's smallest secondary school(an 11–16 comprehensive) Samuel King's School. Alston Moor has a second small primary school at Nenthead. [http://www.samuelkings.cumbria.sch.uk]
Alston in the media
Marketing literature for the town frequently refers to two occasions on which the town has been used as a filming location.
The front street and market cross of the town were used as a filming location in an adaptation of Jane Eyre. Despite three days of set preparation and two days of actual filming only a few seconds of footage were used.
The town was also adapted to resemble a seaside village where Oliver is born for the
ITVTV miniseriesOliver Twist.
To mark the millennium, a significant proportion of the population of the moor gathered in front of the market cross to pose for a commemorative photo to echo an abandoned tradition.
2005: Alston in crisis?
In August 2005, Alston made national, and indeed international, news headlines regarding the town's apparent lack of womenfolk. The news reports claim a ratio of 10 men to every woman in the town. (This is despite the 2001 Census for Alston reporting almost equal numbers of males and females in its population of 1128. [http://www.eden.gov.uk/main.asp?page=2156] ) A group of young men from Alston, led by a Mr.
Vince Peart, began distributing leaflets across the north of England and set up the "Alston Moor Regeneration Society" (founded after a pub survey upped the men-women ratio to 17-1), [http://www.freewebs.com/alstonincrisis] all in an effort to persuade women to come to Alston to find love. Articles appeared in such national media as The Daily Telegraph[http://www.telegraph.co.uk/global/main.jhtml?xml=/global/2005/08/18/nalston18.xml&sSheet=/global/2005/08/19/home.html] , The Guardian[http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1551311,00.html] and the BBC[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/breakfast/4161762.stm] A documentary was shown on Channel 4on 11 October 2006.
More than two years later the Guardian did a follow up article. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/country/article/0,,2181494,00.html] The "Alston Moor Regeneration Society" had gone national as the
Villages in Crisiscampaign. Alston shared first position with Bere Alstonin Devonin the top 10 list of places in Britain where the imbalance appears to be at its worst.
The area is stationed on a number of routes including the long distance footpath, the
Pennine Way, and the Sea to Sea Cycle Route(C2C) Cycle Route.
The town's rail link to
Haltwhistlewas completed in 1852 by the Newcastle and Carlisle RailwayCompany. The closure of the line was announced in 1973 and the line closed on 1 May 1976. Part of the route, between Alston and Kirkhaugh, two and a quarter miles in length, is now operated as the narrow gauge South Tynedale Railway. The railway is particularly popular with tourists and passenger trains operate between April and October, with Santa Special trains operating on certain dates in December each year. [http://www.strps.org.uk]
Many of the bus services to and from Alston are operated by Wright Brothers Coaches, which has depots at Nenthead, three miles from Alston and at Blucher, near Newcastle upon Tyne, and operates an 82 mile route linking Newcastle with Keswick via
Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Alston and Penrith from July to September each year. All local bus services are now under threat of end of service as the County Council wish to remove subsidies. This will leave only the Alston to Carlisle bus in operation.
The parish of
"A history of Alston Moor" by Alastair Robertson ISBN 0-9547339-1-6
* [http://www.cybermoor.org Cybermoor community website with news, comment, webcams and information about Alston Moor]
* [http://www.eden.gov.uk/community-and-living/towns-in-eden/alston/profile-of-alston/ Profile of Alston]
* [http://www.strps.org.uk South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society]
* [http://www.wrightbros.co.uk Wright Bros Coaches website]
* [http://www.northumbrian-railways.co.uk/alston.html Northumbrian Railways]
* [http://alstonmoornewsletter.org.uk Alston Moor Newsletter]
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