County town row grows

A LONG-RUNNING battle be- tween two Northumberland communities over which is the county town has taken a new turn.

A LONG-RUNNING battle be- tween two Northumberland communities over which is the county town has taken a new turn.

Alnwick and Morpeth have been locked in a dispute in recent years over which should be regarded as Northumberland’s capital.

The feud reached fever pitch last December when Alnwick erected signs proclaiming it the county town of Northumberland. This came after its town council conducted lengthy research into Alnwick’s historic claim to the title, which it says has been backed up by top brass at The National Archives in Kew.

But, 17 miles south, Morpeth has hit back, with one civic leader last night claiming the fact it is to house the new unitary authority for Northumberland is conclusive proof that it is top dog.

Derek Thompson, a member and former chairman of Morpeth Town Council and ex-mayor of Castle Morpeth Borough Council, said: “We continue to maintain quite rightly that Morpeth is the county town. That will be reinforced by the single unitary local government which is coming in next year and Morpeth will be the administrative centre of the whole county. Alnwick still maintains that they are the county town. It is just a publicity stunt really. The situation continues to be unresolved. We do not want to be childish about it, it is just a plain fact that Morpeth is the county town.”

Coun Thompson said that at some point in future, Morpeth may erect county town signs of its own.

But Gordon Castle, town, district and county councillor for Alnwick, hit back: “It does not matter where the unitary authority goes, that does not make it the county town. The county town was defined by the senior archivist at Kew.

“He made it quite clear what constituted the county town. He made it quite clear that Alnwick had that claim. We have affirmed it by putting the signs up. They cannot just assume it. The signs are up, they are staying up. We do not want a war of words with Morpeth, we want a good civic relationship but the matter has been sorted out. We believe we are absolutely safe in making the claim.”

Its town council visited the national archives in February 2005 to research its claim. It also wrote to its counterparts at Morpeth explaining its intentions a month later but did not receive a reply.

The senior archivist at Kew confirmed by letter in May that documents from 1548 and 1819 stated Alnwick should be the only place to hold the Northumberland County Court. He concluded that this made Alnwick the historic county town and as the court did not relocate before it became defunct, the title should remain. But Morpeth insists that its hosting of the administrative headquarters of Northumberland, currently the county council but as of next April the new unitary authority, backs its claim. It also says its geographic location as the gateway to Northumberland make it the rightful county town.

History cited

BOTH Morpeth and Alnwick believe history is on their side in their claim to be Northumberland’s county town.

Alnwick Town Council points to documents at the National Archive and Parliamentary Rolls to back their claims and say the Corporation Act and Sheriff’s Act of 1882 and 1887 show only Alnwick was given approval to hold county courts. But Morpeth says that it took over as the administrative centre of the county when local government reorganisation in 1974 took Newcastle and North Tyneside out of Northumberland, the County Jail was in Morpeth, and it has a Royal Market Charter going back to 1199.

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