The Running Wolf is my third historical novel based in the north east of England. It’s inspired by the tale of the master swordmakers who defected from Solingen in north west Germany and came to live in Shotley Bridge in north east England. The book focuses on Hermann Mohll, who was imprisoned in the winter of 1703/4 in Morpeth Gaol after he was caught smuggling swords into England and was widely suspected of high treason and being in cahoots with Jacobite rebels. (For more information about the history surrounding Mohll and the other swordmakers, please check these blog posts about the Shotley Bridge swordmakers.)
While researching this novel, I spent time exploring the two main rivers in the book: the River Derwent in Shotley Bridge and the River Wupper in Solingen, as well as the surrounding areas, and I took lots of photos, so I thought I’d share some of them here.
Shotley Bridge is a village near to Consett in County Durham, which lies in the eastern valley of the North Pennines. It sits on the River Derwent, which runs into the River Tyne, and from there, into the North Sea. It’s roughly equidistant from the northern cities of Durham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The Derwent would have been a much faster-flowing river in the swordmakers’ time, but it was dammed in the 1960s to make the Derwent Reservoir.
Prior to the swordmakers’ arrival in 1687, there wasn’t a great deal in Shotley Bridge, beyond its eponymous bridge and a flour mill. In The Running Wolf, the swordmakers arrive to find a terrace of sandstone houses already built, along with the nearby Bridge End Inn. In real life, the inn wasn’t built until 1688, a year after they arrived, and similarly, their houses and chapel in Wood Street were most likely built some time after their arrival. But for the purposes of the book, I wanted to have them move straight in on arrival, so with a swish of the pen, Wood Street appeared, ready-made.
Unfortunately, the swordmakers’ homes in Wood Street were demolished in the 1960s and weren’t preserved, although rumour has it that some of the carved stone lintels that hung above their homes survived. (This is pure conjecture, and I’ve never seen one, although I have seen pictures of them.) Durham County Council used to have pictures on its website and also on its Keys to the Past site, but sadly, they don’t seem to be on there any more.
A photo of the original lintel over the Oligh house at 44, Wood Street used to be available on the Durham County Council website, Keys to the Past but they are no longer there, sadly. In his book, The History of Shotley Spa, and Vicinity of Shotley Bridge (1841), the Rev. John Ryan, who married an Oley/Oligh, presents its text, followed by a ‘doggerel verse translation’:
(Ryan, 1841, p. 107)
The blessing of heaven gives wealth without care,
Provided that you contribute your share;
Likewise be faithful, just, and true,
And do what is commanded you.
(Ryan, 1841, p. 108)
This reflects one of Solomon’s sayings in Proverbs, ch. 10, v. 22: ‘The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and hee addeth no sorrow with it’ (King James Bible (a), 1611). (Perhaps it was also an invocation to accrue wealth, based on Solomon’s familial wealth from international trade and importing precious metals.)
Ryan also mentions a second lintel inscription, which he describes as being effaced either by time, or because the stone was of a softer quality. He provides the available lettering as follows:
(Ryan, 1841, p. 108)
Ryan suggests that the last three lines were ‘an invocation of a blessing upon those who might enter that door’ and that the first three lines ‘refer to the emigrants having left Germany, their fatherland, and founded the village’ (Ryan, 1841, p. 108). Richardson suggests that this is from Psalm 121, v. 8, ‘The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth for evermore’ (Richardson, 1973, p. 37). Equally, however, it could be from Deuteronomy ch. 28, v. 6, ‘Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out’ (King James Bible (b), 1611).
On its website, Durham County Council’s archaeology team describes a third door lintel as ‘A much-weathered door lintel was inscribed, apparently in German, as follows: “SEG…HN…ALLE S…EICH…IN…Deinem EVW…UND ELE…WAS DIR BE…” (again, this information is no longer on the website, unfortunately.)
There are still some swordmaker buildings remaining in Shotley Bridge. The Cutlers’ Hall is still standing (on Cutlers’ Hall road, funnily enough), although it now takes the form of three attractive cottages, one of which is for sale at the time of writing. This was built by descendants of the original swordmakers, and there’s a plaque over one of the doors that bears the initials of Anne and William Oley, and the year 1787 (exactly a century after their forbears arrived in Shotley Bridge).
The cottages are listed buildings and they still hide swordmaker secrets. Behind a ceiling panel is tucked something very interesting… a drawing of the Solingen blademark, the running wolf (or flying fox), and what looks to be a crossed-sword symbol (but not one I’ve come across anywhere else).
Further along the River Derwent, the remains of a blast furnace and calciner are still standing at nearby Allensford. I set my neck a few times going down to get these photos. Since then, the Land of Oak and Iron project has helpfully installed some wooden steps, which makes this site much more accessible. In addition, the protective concrete cap you can see here (installed by University of Durham) has been removed and the furnace has gone green. (It now reminds me of a Hobbit house.)
This is just a very quick look around Shotley Bridge and the River Derwent. For much more information, please have a look at the Shotley Bridge Village Trust website. There, you will find lots of articles and photos about Shotley. You can also read my similar posts on Solingen and Morpeth Gaol (once I’ve written them, of course)!
If you’d like to read The Running Wolf , copies are available from booksellers, such as: Blackwell’s, Books etc, Forum Books, Foyles, Hive, Waterstones and WHSmith. Available in e-books for Apple, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, etc. Also available from independent bookshops and local libraries. If you’re not in the UK, the Book Depository ships worldwide free of charge.
Best wishes, Helen