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Friday, 22 May 2015

Linnels is a house of dreams

ESCAPED wolves cut across here to escape the hunters, legendary hikers paused their trekking to look and yearn, domestic electricity was advanced here, and nearby a queen hid to save her life and a battle raged which changed England’s history.

It was also the hiding place of a rare medieval quaffing pot, buried for reasons unknown. The place looks so tranquil but it’s all been happening, in and around The Linnels.

The house itself, two miles south of Hexham and a frog’s leap from the rough stream known as Devils Water, is Victorian, and on the market.

It was built by the Charlton family soon after they bought back the former family land in 1891. The Charltons of Redesmouth had sold the Linnels estate to the Haggerstons in 1843.

The Linnels was more than just a plot with a view. It contained a bridge, farms and a water-powered cornmill which had been grinding away since Edward I was hammering the Scots.

Sir John, eighth Baronet Haggerston who died in 1858, and his son John de Marie, who died in 1918, were both of a Catholic bent, sharing ancestors with the Silvertops of Minsteracres.

This makes a mention in a 1920s travelogue all the odder: “In days not very old the mill was a haunt of doubtful characters, but all was changed after the property was sold by Sir John Haggerston.” Sir John a doubtful character? Puzzling...

But there had been an inn at Linnels Mill. The Linnels bridge was an important crossing point for the choppy Devil’s Water, and that brought in tavern trade.

Possibly the Trotter family – Linnells Mill tenants for more than 50 years from the 1840s – combined milling with a spot of bar-tending? So could it be the Trotters who were “doubtful characters”?

But these days the Linnels Mill, just next door to The Linnels house, has a spotless reputation as one of the oldest and best preserved relics of its kind. Its massive wooden framework and gears are still in place, as is equipment from the mill’s last phase of active life – as a hydro-electric generator for the house.

Perhaps encouraged by Lord Armstrong’s experiments with electric lights and elevators at his riverside home at Cragside, the Charltons of The Linnels apparently used their own natural assets to set up similar cutting-edge technology at their new home in Hexhamshire.

But mod-cons did not detract from The Linnels rustic charm, which was powerful enough to stun one of England’s most seasoned country connoisseurs.

Alfred Wainwright, the Kendal accountant whose hobby of walking and writing about it has made him a legend, passed The Linnels on one of his mighty treks.

In his 1938 book, A Pennine Journey, Wainwright described crossing the Linnels Bridge, gazing upon The Linnels and losing his grip entirely. “I hung over the bridge and yearned for that house so much that I am afraid I became oblivious to all else. I saw at last the house of my dreams.”

It was with a great sigh for “glimpsed perfection” that Wainwright trudged off along his beaten track.

He would have moved a lot quicker if he had been in Linnels Wood in the winter of 1904. The Allendale Wolf was twice spotted there on its famous rampage through Tynedale.

The desperate predator had escaped from a private zoo near Shotley Bridge and had been catering for itself for several weeks – particularly among the Allendale flocks – when it was spotted and the hunt was on.

A posse of local foxhounds, pink-clad huntsmen and shotgun-toting farmers chivvied the wolf from its lair, so it left the ’Dale and added Hexhamshire sheep to its diet.

Messy wolf takeaways were strewn at Sipton Wood, Dukesfield Wood, Spring House Farm and Holly Bush sawmill. The wolf then stopped to sample the mutton at Linnels Wood, and crossed the Devils Water to throw the hounds off his scent.

While frustrated hunters thrashed about firing at pet dogs, the animal had apparently ambled back to his favourite haunts in Allendale.

But the wolf soon reappeared near The Linnels, where he snacked on another brace of ewes. It was to be his last meal. His bisected body was found on the railway line the next day.

Not all animals are so unwelcome at The Linnels. The name is well known to any horse-mad little girl in Tynedale. The Linnels Fell Pony has been bred on the estate for generations, pride of the Charlton family who dedicated themselves to equine genealogy as well as electricity.

Robert Charlton launched the South Northumberland Pony Club in 1934 and as well as breeding fell ponies he opened his land for several horse trials each year. The tradition has been continued by his descendents who still live near The Linnels.

But The Linnels was no place for a gently-reared pony on May 15, 1464, when the White Rose clashed with the Red Rose in the Battle of Hexham, fought on Linnels Meadow.

The Red Rose (Lancastrian) Duke of Somerset thought he had chosen his battleground cleverly – with the Devil’s Water behind him.

The rushing burn stopped the White Rose (Yorkist) army from creeping up on Somerset’s troops, but it meant the Reds could be easily trapped against their own rear defences. The Devil’s Water claimed many lives that morning, and defeated Somerset ended the day suddenly shorter in Hexham marketplace.

Lancastrian King Henry VI was safe at Bywell Castle while his men died for him at Hexham, but legend says Queen Margaret had tagged along with the soldiers to help raise money and sympathy.

The poor queen is said to have fled the battlefield to seek shelter in Dipton Wood where she bartered her jewels to preserve life and honour from the local brigands. A damp cavern not far from The Linnels, which could have sheltered a royal in distress, is still called Queen’s Cave.

It’s likely that the victorious Yorkists lifted a few celebratory tankards around Hexham on May 16, 1464. Perhaps one drinking vessel was later lost near The Linnels?

The medieval bronze chalice with three little legs, dug up by workmen near The Linnels in February, 1860, is a mystery, so it was a cup for a mighty quaffer. And on an engraved band around it was written in Old French; “Blessed is He Who Links His Drinks.”

They didn’t worry about maximum units in those days, and certainly not when they had the Battle of Hexham to celebrate.

l The Linnels, Dipton, near Hexham, is for sale through Sanderson Young.