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, County Durham. 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 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 The Running Wolf, I spent time exploring the three main locations in the book: Shotley Bridge, County Durham; Morpeth, Northumberland; and Solingen, North Rhine Westphalia, Germany, and I took lots of photos, so I thought I’d share some of them here. Morpeth is a lovely ancient market town in Northumberland and well worth a visit. It still has a number of old justice-related buildings that are fairly easy to see. Above is the former courthouse in Morpeth, which was built somewhat later than the setting in the book, in 1822, but I thought it worth sharing as it’s such a spectacular building, and earlier on, the area incorporated the County Gaol. The court was still in use until 1980.
The clock tower in Morpeth was built at the start of the 17th century and stands in the Oldgate part of town near the market. If you look carefully, you will see four figures on top of the tower. In the past, according to Prison History, it was used as a lock-up, and since it was fitted with a belfry and six bells in 1705, it would have made for a less than peaceful prison. (Hermann Mohll was released in February 1704, so he would have missed the bells, had he stayed here.) The bells tolled each night to mark the old town curfew, and if you fancy ringing the bells in Morpeth nowadays, you can find out more from the Morpeth Bellringers. Unusually for the times, this clocktower was secular and not part of any church.
According to Keys of the Past (a useful history website ran jointly by Durham and Northumberland County councils), there were various prisons at various times in Morpeth, and it states: ‘A tower was shown on maps of this site made in 1603. It was once the site of the town prison. There are now no remains to be seen at this site. The prison opened in the 17th century and closed in 1828. A jail is shown on the Wood’s Plan of the Town of Morpeth 1826.’ (If you follow the link, it will show a map of where the prison was sited that most likely held Hermann Mohll, broadly between 30-32 Bridge Street and the more evocatively named Whalebone Lane.)
When I was researching The Running Wolf, I came across a fascinating document in the Northumberland Archives. It was a large wall poster from Morpeth Gaol, and it listed various rules, regulations and fees (including which prisoners were allowed to have intercourse and who with). Unfortunately, this poster is part of a private collection so I can’t share it, but there are lots of historic prison reports available that are sharable, and I attach excerpts from The State of Prisons in England… published in 1777 and 1812, which contain lots of information about the layout of Morpeth County Gaol, the fees payable by prisoners, the size of rooms, windows, ventilation, sewage, and so on.
- Rear of Chantry
- The Chantry
- Buildings near site of old Morpeth Gaol
- Morpeth Castle
- River Wansbeck
- The Chantry (now Tourist Information Centre)
- Whalebone Yard (near site of old Morpeth Gaol)
Although the old prison is no longer standing in Morpeth, if you’d like to see inside an old Northumberland prison, Hexham Gaol and House of Correction are still standing and are both worth a visit. I visited the House of Correction and took lots of photos, but cannot find them. If/when I do, I’ll share them here as it’s not open very often.
- Hexham Abbey
- Hexham Old Gaol
- Hexham Old Gaol
- Hexham House of Correction (Northumberland County Council)
- Hexham House of Correction 1830 Drawing
- Hexham Moot Hall
If you want to visit Morpeth to find out more about its old prisons and court buildings, you can pop into the Tourist Information Centre, which is housed inside the 13th century Chantry. And if you need a bed for the night, you can even stay in Morpeth Castle. For more information about the locations in The Running Wolf, please see my other posts about Shotley Bridge, County Durham and Solingen in north-west Germany.
If you’re after a copy of The Running Wolf, you can buy one direct for the bargain price of £4.99, with free UK postage. This is a special limited offer for my blog readers.
If you want other formats, or you’re based outside the UK, please click here for links to major bookshops.
Best wishes, Helen
Published by Helen Steadman
Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her best-selling first novel, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise were inspired by the Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf will be published by Impress Books on 12 September, 2020. Despite the Newcastle witch trials being the largest mass execution of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries. The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who left Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. Currently, Helen is completing a PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen and is working on her fourth novel, which is about the famous lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, Grace Darling. The Historical Novel Society said of Widdershins: “Impeccably written, full of herbal lore and the clash of ignorance and prejudice against common sense, as well as the abounding beauty of nature, it made for a great read. There are plenty of books, both fact and fiction, available about the witch-trial era, but not only did I not know about such trials in Newcastle, I have not read a novel that so painstakingly and vividly evokes both the fear and joy of living at that time.” View all posts by Helen Steadman
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3 thoughts on “Locations in The Running Wolf: Morpeth Gaol, Northumberland”
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