What links this Rowan Tree to Rothbury Parish Council?

Updated: Jun 13



“Rothbury is a small market town set on the banks of the River Coquet in Northumberland, and although technically a town, everyone still tends to call it a village. It has a village feel about it”. (RPC website).


The link to the tree and RPC? This lovely rowan tree was planted in 1995, to commemorate and celebrate the centenary of Rothbury Parish Council.


This article is about Rothbury Parish Council, rowan trees in general, and this specific Rowan tree. It touches on the United Reform Church, the Preaching Trees at Windyhaugh, and tells the reader a little bit about Jim Miller, and Arthur Winter, seen with the spade in his hands, below. It also tells a little about the person who was Rothbury’s youngest resident at that time, Jade Newbould. Jade was a babe in arms when the following photograph was taken.





February 1995: Jade was 6 weeks old.

Front row: Arthur Winter (then Chair of RPC), Jade’s sister Suzanne, mum Pauline, dad Adrian.

Left to right at the back: Cllr Jim Miller, Sharon Diery, Cllr Helen Edes, Andrew Miller, Vanessa Proudlock, and Jade’s Grandmother, Elizabeth Diery.

Andrew Miller was representing Northumberland National Park, which had donated the Rowan sapling.



The Local Government Act of 1888 established elected county councils, and county borough councils. Following on from this, in 1894, the Local Government Act was passed which established another tier of government: Parish Councils, Urban District Councils, and Rural District Councils. Rothbury was entitled to have both a Parish Council and a Rural District Council.

The principal effects of the 1894 Act were:

  • The creation of a system of urban and rural districts with elected councils. These, along with the town councils of municipal boroughs created earlier in the century, formed a second tier of local government below the existing county councils.

  • The establishment of elected parish councils in rural areas.

  • The reform of the boards of guardians of poor law unions.

  • The entitlement of women who owned property to vote in local elections, become poor law guardians, and act on school boards. (Wikipedia.org Local Government Act)


LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT OF 1894






The Rothbury Parish Magazine of June 1894 points out that Rothbury Parish had 19 ‘Townships’:

1. Bickerton 2. Caistron 3. Cartington 4. Fallolees 5. Flotterton 6. Hepple 7. Hesleyhirst 8. Hollinghill 9. Mount Healey 10. New Town 11. Raw 12. Rothbury 13. Snitter 14. Thropton 15. Tosson 16. Trewhith 17. Warton 18. Whitton 19. Wreighill


Of course, now, Hepple, Hesleyhirst, Hollinghill, Thropton, and Whitton & Tosson have their own Parish Councils.


The population of Rothbury Parish in 1891 was about 2,300.

We can see that the population is decreasing – the population of Rothbury Parish in 2011 was 2,107, and it was estimated to be about 2,059 in 2020. (UK Office of National Statistics).



The first-ever Rothbury Parish Meeting was held in October 1894.

This meeting was to choose the first Chair and nine Councillors. “The Chairman will be elected at the first annual meeting of the council from their own body or from other persons qualified to be councillors of the parish”.

“In the Rothbury Township the first parish meeting will be called and publicly advertised by the Overseers, the notice stating the business to be transacted, towards the end of October.”

People who were entitled to attend and vote were the electors who were on the parliamentary and county council rolls. Note that “a woman is not disqualified by marriage from being upon the Country register and voting under this Act, provided that she and her husband shall not be qualified in respect of the same property”.


Information from the Rothbury Parish Magazine 1894:


At this first meeting the following men were elected:

Name

Vote

Dr Jack

110

J P Ridley

102

Thomas Shell

98

Lionel C Davy

90

Jas. Taggart

82

Wm G Mackay

81

Dr Barrow

73

Robert Matthews

67


The Newcastle Evening Chronicle of 2nd January 1895 reported it:


It is good to read that these first councillors were concerned to keep the River Coquet clean and were determined to urgently find a suitable place for the disposal of rubbish.

The responsibilities of Parish Councils have stayed broadly the same since their formation in 1894. You can read the full list of obligations here: LocalGov.co.uk - Your authority on UK local government - Parish council responsibilities

By the time of The Local Government Act of 1972, all rural districts were abolished (England and Wales). But of course, Rothbury Parish Council continued, and reached its Centenary in 1994.


RPC 100 years on

One hundred years later, in 1994, Rothbury Parish Council had as its Chair, Arthur Winter. Jim Miller, who can be seen in the original photograph from 1995, persuaded Arthur to join the Parish Council, in the 1980s. Jim recognised Arthur’s determination to help others and felt he would be a good addition to RPC.


Jim Miller in 1995

Jim Miller served on both Alnwick District Council and RPC for many years. He was Chair of RPC several times and Chair of both the Cemetery and Christmas Lights Committees. Jim’s son, Andrew, tells me that the thing his father was most proud of was the building of Rodsley Court, which he championed.

Andrew continued: “He was also always keen to plant more trees on the principle of what we fashionably now call the right tree in the right place. This is why he often asked me to assist with advice and support, including with a planting scheme for the extension to the cemetery. The plan I suggested of planting a mixture of English oak and yew around the boundary, with hardy sycamores at the windward westerly end was adopted by the committee and I'm pleased to see some of those trees maturing nicely. It was a shame many of the others were taken out recently when the cemetery was extended once again, though I understand the reasons for this”.


I ask Andrew if he knows why a rowan tree was chosen for the RPC centenary? He told me:

“The choice of the rowan was also due to my advice as they were looking for a relatively small tree that would complement the cherries, and I thought a native rowan would be appropriate.

The National Park Authority has planted many, many trees in and around villages and along roadside verges over the years and again it's wonderful to see so many of these now reaching maturity in places such as Tosson, Elsdon and so many hedgerows in-between”.



Andrew collecting an award for the Mountain Rescue Team

Of course, Andrew is also one of those special Coquetdale folk, who put a great deal back into the community they come from.


Anyhow, back to Arthur Winter, who was Chair of Rothbury Parish Council at the time of its Centenary, in 1994.


Arthur joined RPC, after being persuaded to by Jim Miller, and spent two years as the Chair. Arthur was born at Stevenson Terrace in 1949. When Arthur was still a young boy, his father, George Winter, a coalman, served on the Rothbury Rural District Council.


Arthur worked all his life as a mechanical engineer at power stations. His most exciting work role (which, as he tells it, was an amazing adventure) was working as part of a team, for 6 months, in Kosovo, for the UN. This was to assist in the management of the repair of a power station there.


I asked Arthur if any particular incidents or events stood out in his memory during his time on RPC. ‘It was a quite straightforward period for RPC while I was there. We all worked well together for the benefit of the community. I don’t remember any conflict.’

I asked if there was anything he was particularly proud of achieving.

Arthur told me: ‘As well as being on RPC, I was also on the Jubilee Hall Committee. I am proud that I instigated the setting up of the fund for repairing the roof. I worked hard at fund-raising, and once enough money was raised, we got the pitched roof installed. It was important to me that we used all local businesses to achieve this.’

Arthur decided to step down from being a Cllr in 1998, as he was working away all week and had little free time. Later he was needed at home, to look after his wife, Mary, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Arthur retired from his job in 2011.


Some other prominent Councillors

All people who put themselves forward to be councillors should be commended. It is a voluntary, unpaid, position, and can take up a considerable amount of time. There have been some very generous, community-minded folk who are, and have been, part of Rothbury Parish Council. It must make us all proud when some of them are publicly honoured and recognised for their commendable endeavours.

Councillor Tony Sandford was the first from Rothbury to be awarded the honour: Freeman of Rothbury.

Peter Dawson, Alan Fendley, and Helen Edes were also awarded this magnificent accolade in 2017 (unfortunately, Alan passed away in 2016). These Cllrs all went over and above in every way, serving the residents of Coquetdale. They were awarded the honour of Freeman/Freewoman of Rothbury. Between them, they had served on RPC for 79 years! Freemanship awards for service to Rothbury | Northumberland Gazette


Peter was also made honorary Alderman in 2009.

The youngest resident of Rothbury

Jade was born on 11th January 1995. In preparation for the Centenary Celebrations, Rothbury Parish Council had approached the GP surgery to ask who the youngest resident was. Once permission had been granted for RPC to make contact, Arthur wrote to Pauline and Adrian Newbould, to explain to them about the idea for the commemorative tree planting. The family were very happy to be asked and enjoyed both posing for the photograph and reading the accompanying Gazette article.



Now aged 27, Jade knew from early in her life that helping and understanding other people, was something she would enjoy doing. At 15 Jade decided against becoming a vet: ‘I wasn’t very good with blood and would cry at any hurt animal,’ So she put her energy into studying psychology. Completing A levels in Sociology, Psychology and Biology at KEVI, Jade then graduated with a BSc in Psychology from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.


Jade is clearly a dedicated and kind person, who has a strong desire to help others. She has worked with adults with severe learning and mental health needs, homeless youths, domestic abuse victims, and young offenders.

‘What a lot of valuable experience about helping vulnerable people you must have gained’, I say.


‘Yes, I have learned such a lot, and I have a great desire to help’ she tells me.

‘What are you doing now?’ I ask.


Jade explains ‘I am currently waiting to change jobs to the local authority in which I live – North Tyneside. I am going to be a Family Partner working within the Early Help Team in Social Services’.


I ask what Jade’s hopes for the future are? She tells me that she will be graduating with a master’s degree in 2023, but she loves studying so much, she may well continue to a doctorate. ‘My main passion is child mental health. I aim to develop a career within social services or the NHS in this field’.


I ask Jade what she likes to do for fun; I am delighted with her answer:

‘I am The Bakeologist’ she laughs. I am looking confused, so she explains ‘I am a psychologist who bakes, or maybe a baker who practises psychology!’. Jade clarifies: ‘My biggest hobby is baking – I take after my gran, who made celebration cakes. I am teaching myself to do the same’.



One of Jade’s creations.


When I ask Jade what trees she likes, of course I am hoping that she will say ‘rowan’, but maybe that would be too corny! Anyhow, she tells me that she and her sister Suzy loved an apple tree that still lives in her grandparents’ garden.

‘Still to this day they get apples which we continue to make delicious pies from, for ourselves, and to give away to neighbours’.


Finally, she tells me, ‘I would love to have my own children in a few years – my main hope in life is to be happy with what I have achieved and to be able to say I made a difference to someone’s life’.


I am sure that Jade has already achieved this and will continue to help and support many people in the future. She, like so many others in this wonderful village/town, is a credit to Rothbury and Coquetdale.


Some Interesting Ideas and Facts About Rowan Trees

The rowan is a deciduous native tree that has quite a few different names. Its scientific one is Sorbus Aucuparia. It is also often referred to as a ‘Mountain Ash’ – mainly because ash and rowan leaves are similar, and also because, like the Ash, the rowan grows well at high altitudes. The two species are not related, though. Other names for the rowan are Keirn, Cuirn, and, my favourite, Witch Wiggin Tree! The rowan’s old Celtic name “fid na ndruad” translates as “Wizard’s Tree”.



Ash tree leaves



Rowan (Mountain Ash) tree leaves



A Rose by Any Other Name?

Rowan is part of the family ‘Rosaceae’, as are roses, and 4,828 other species! Have you ever noticed that rowan berries do look a bit like little rose hips? The berries can be red, orange, or yellow. Also, lovely to note is the shape at the bottom of the berry – the little star, or pentagram – have you noticed it?



The star at the bottom of a Rowan berry



Rowan berries


Rowan trees can grow to be 15 metres high and can live up to 200 years. You will easily recognise the pretty bark: it is silvery grey and smooth. The leaf buds are hairy and purple!


Rowan is ‘hermaphrodite’ which means an animal or plant with both the male and the female sex organs. The rowan’s flowers contain both the female, and the male reproductive parts. The flowers are stunningly beautiful.



Rowan flowers – these contain the male and female reproductive parts.


Enjoy this short video of a year in the life of a rowan from The Woodland Trust: https://youtu.be/pHoCsCsxExA


Biodiversity

Rowan leaves are a treat for the caterpillars of many types of moth. Those gorgeous bunches of flowers attract many pollinating insects, watch the bees buzzing around the tree when the flowers emerge in May! The berries are devoured by many birds, including blackbird, mistle and song thrushes, redstart, redwing, fieldfare and waxwing.



Magic

In 1995, when the Rothbury Parish Council Rowan tree was planted, the Northumberland Gazette journalist who wrote the article included this detail: “The rowan is said to ward off evil spirits and is a symbol of new life; its berries provide colour and food for birds throughout the winter months”.


Of the thirteen trees in the Ogham moon calendar, Rowan falls at 21st January to 17th February. So, this particular tree was planted at the perfect time.



The Goddess of the Rowan by Naomi Walker


Rowan has always been associated with magical properties, protection from witches and making spells. The wood of rowan is traditionally used to make divining rods. Rowan is a sacred tree to the Celtic Druids, to the Scots, to the Irish, the Welsh, and the Manx, in fact to many, or most, peoples from the Northern Hemisphere, where it makes its home.

Here is a page of a website called Trees for Life, this page explains the mythical origins of rowan and the magic qualities.

It is written far better than I can explain, so take a look here:

Rowan tree mythology and folklore | Trees for Life


Coquetdale Rowan Magic

Peter Dawson, a qualified plasterer, and slater, as well as being a Cllr, worked in the building trade. He told me some very interesting stories about the beliefs of farming folk in Coquetdale. We have already noted that the rowan tree is held to give safety against witches.


Peter adds more information to this belief:

“The front door steps on old farmhouses are usually local sandstone and can be very large. Over the years they become very worn and true to farmers being careful with their money the steps were very often turned over so that the unworn bottom became the new top.

Over the years I have turned many of these and under every one, I have found a piece of rowan. Of course, I always replaced it before refitting the steps. (It wasn't unusual to find a child's shoe as well, these were all charms to stop evil from entering the house).

These traditions must go back centuries and can be under your feet without knowing it"


Cultural references


'Rowan Tree' Scottish Folk Song by Perthshire-born Carolina Oliphant (Lady Nairne) 1766-1845 There are words, music, and a dance.

Oh! rowan tree, oh! rowan tree, Thou'lt aye be dear to me, En twin'd thou art wi' mony ties O' hame and infancy. Thy leaves were aye the first o' spring, Thy flow'rs the simmer's pride; There was na sic a bonnie tree In a' the countrie side. Oh! rowan tree.

How fair wert thou in simmer time, Wi' a' thy clusters white, How rich and gay thy autumn dress, Wi' berries red and bright. On thy fair stem were mony names, Which now nae mair I see; But thy're engraven on my heart, Forgot they ne'er can be. Oh! rowan tree.

We sat aneath thy spreading shade, The bairnies round thee ran, They pu'd thy bonnie berries red, And necklaces they strang; My mither, oh! I see her still, She smiled our sports to see, Wi' little Jeanie on her lap, And Jamie on her knee. Oh!, rowan tree.

Oh! there arose my father's prayer In holy evening's calm; How sweet was then my mother's voice In the Martyr's psalm! Now a'are gane! We meet nae mair Aneath the rowan tree, But hallowed thoughts around thee Turn o'hame and infancy. Oh! rowan tree


Very moving words, don’t you agree? I found a lovely version of it too, on YouTube. This is played on a medieval instrument – the Huemmelchen Bagpipe, and a Big Fiddle, by Jurgen Ross and Marco Salerno.

Here is the music (It is beautiful, haunting) https://youtu.be/Mf_7zfY7dUg


Another version I’ve found combines the words and the music, it is sung by Anne Lorne Gillies, in 2014. Rowan Tree Song Dance Information YouTube Video (scottish-country-dancing-dictionary.com)


The RPC Rowan Tree by the United Reformed Church

Rothbury URC has been the main building that our tree has ‘seen’ in its short life. The church building precedes our little Rowan tree by 155 years. Two years before the Rowan sapling was planted, the church began a programme of extensive alteration and refurbishment. What was once a ‘rather bleak Victorian Chapel’ was turned over the next thirty years into the wonderful building we know and love today.


This place of worship is part of the very deep and profound history of the Coquet Valley’s United Reformed Churches, which can trace their story back to the Preaching Trees at Windyhaugh.


The Preaching Trees probably had their origin in the ‘Great Ejection of 1662’ when many priests were forbidden to lead worship because they could not in conscience follow the law requiring them to use the Prayer Book and no other. They and their many followers continued to worship in the way in which they believed. They went to hidden or isolated places, such as Church Rock on Simonside, and the high reaches of the Coquet Valley. The Tragedy of 1662 (theologian.org.uk)


Nearer to Alwinton Church than Rothbury, The Preaching Trees listened carefully to Dissenting Preachers who led worship under their boughs.



Preaching Trees at Windyhaugh, photo credit Dr John Cox


(It is a real tragedy that the Preaching Trees were casualties of the recent Storm Arwen)


As Dippie Dixie wrote:

‘In a corner of the meadow at Windyhaugh stands three venerable ash trees, beneath whose shelter “preachin’s” were held during the summer months by the Presbyterian ministers of Harbottle…





Today

Nowadays the URC is a vibrant, warm, and welcoming place of worship, with a great many community activities taking place within it. I am sure many of the people who benefit from this place, have watched the Rowan grow from a tiny sapling to the fine young tree it is now, in 2022.


We can only hope that the admirable values displayed by the people discussed in this article will continue within all the generations to come and live in the beautiful town that thinks it is a village – Rothbury, the centre of kind and precious Coquetdale.


Arthur Winter, Suzy Brook, Pauline, Jade and Adrian Newbould. April, 2022.


This wide-ranging blog has touched on:

The Local Government Act of 1894 The formation of Rothbury Parish Council, and Rothbury Rural District Council The Chair of RPC in 1980s and 90s The youngest Rothbury resident in 1995 Rothbury’s URC The Preaching Trees at Windyhaugh Rowan Trees in General A specific, culturally special, Rowan Tree.


Very special thanks for the immense generosity of time and help go to Peter Dawson, Andrew Miller and Dr John Cox.

Great thanks to the lovely Arthur and Jade, who have let me learn a little bit about their interesting lives.


Katie Scott rothburytrees@gmail.com www.rothburytrees.uk



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