250th anniversary of birth of Earl Grey goes almost unmarked in the region

The 250th anniversary of the birth of Earl Grey falls today with little in the way of any celebration in the region

Grey's Monument stands out in the Newcastle City Centre skyline
Grey's Monument stands out in the Newcastle City Centre skyline

He is one of the most significant figures in British political history, with a monument in his honour in the centre of Newcastle and a number of stately homes linked to his life in Northumberland.

Yet the 250th anniversary of the birth of Earl Charles Grey is set to go almost unmarked in his home region with just a solitary event planned - and that marking the blend of tea which takes his name.

Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey, was born and bred in Northumberland, and a statue of him sits on top of the monument erected in his honour in the heart of Newcastle. Grey Street - once voted the finest street in the UK - is named after him, as is Grey College at Durham University.

During his four-year spell as Prime Minister, he was responsible for fundamental changes in British society, including the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the Great Reform Act of 1832 which is credited as launching modern democracy in Britain.

And yet today, exactly 250 years on from his birth, the only event planned in the region to celebrate Earl Grey is a two-day event in June organised by EAT! NewcastleGateshead Initiative.

Last night, the current resident of Earl Grey’s birthplace, Fallodon Hall, near Alnwick, said she felt a sense of personal “guilt” that the milestone is being allowed to pass by and large unmarked.

Lucia Bridgeman said: “Who is the person who has got the resources and contributes the imagination to create something out of a historical moment?

“We have got the do-gooders in the villages doing magazines, we have got the county council that has got no money, we have got other people who are too busy doing their jobs.

“In a sense Northumberland owes the Greys a huge amount but there are not many Greys left, it is a family that has died out. That might be the reason his memory has faded locally, his family has faded with him.”

Mrs Bridgeman said Earl Grey was part of a “great political family” and argued his memory lives on regardless of a lack of fanfare.

She said: “I think just the Grey family have had a huge impact on Northumberland and the county which is acknowledged because of the statues and other physical memories of them. It is no disgrace to their name that this is not being acknowledged.”

The solitary event in commemoration of Earl Grey is inspired by the tea which was named after him.

Tea and Cake Planet, A Weekend Adventure in Brewing and Baking, runs at The Boiler Shop, Newcastle, on June 28 and 29.

Northumberland Tourism, the body responsible for attracting visitors to the country, did at least put out a press release flagging up the anniversary and encouraging people to visit the gardens and arboretum at Howick Hall near Alnwick, where Earl Grey lived and where the tea that bears his name was dreamt up.

In the release, the organisation’s Jude Leitch said: “Earl Grey is one of Northumberland’s favourite sons and his classic tea blend is enjoyed around the world.

“Many tea-lovers have already made the pilgrimage to his birthplace at the beautiful Howick Hall Gardens and we’re sure more will follow in 2014, the 250th anniversary of his birth.”

The Northumbrian who ended slavery

Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey, was born at Fallodon Hall, near Alnwick, on March 13, 1764, before moving to nearby Howick Hall.

Grey was elected to parliament for the then Northumberland constituency in 1786, aged just 22.

He became a part of the Whig Party, the origins of which lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule.

In 1806, Grey, by then Lord Howick, became leader of the Whigs. A year later, he entered the Lords, succeeding his father as Earl Grey. In 1830, the Whigs took power, with Grey as PM.

Under his leadership, the government passed the Reform Act 1832, which saw the reform of the House of Commons, and the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.

In 1834 Grey’s spell as Prime Minister ended. He died in 1845 and was buried at Howick.

Earl Grey Tea is named after Charles. The tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for him, to suit the water from the well at Howick, using bergamot in particular to offset the taste of the lime in it. Twinings came to market the product and it is now sold worldwide.

Grey’s Monument in Newcastle was built in 1838 in recognition of his passing of the Reform Act. Grey Street, built in the 1830s, was also named after him.

Grey College at Durham University also carries the Earl’s name. He was Prime Minister at the time of the university’s foundation.

The Greys were a sprawling political dynasty. One descendant, Sir Edward Grey, was Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World. His role in attempting to head off the conflict was dramatised by the BBC earlier this month, witn Ian McDiarmid playing Grey.

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