Wooler is a small town close to the Cheviot Hills and Northumberland National Park. It is a popular stopping-off point for hikers and cyclists looking to explore this scenic corner of northern England. For much of its history it has been a thriving rural market town but over the past 200 years it has also developed into a tourist destination offering healthy air and water.
The Glendale Local History Society has produced a book of history walks in and around Wooler and, armed with this book as my guide, I took a stroll around the town centre. Here are some of the highlights.
It seems the name Wooler is not connected with wool but may come from Old English ‘wella’ or ‘wuller’ meaning spring or well. A large, decorative drinking fountain occupied Market Square from 1879 to provide clean, safe non-alcoholic refreshment to thirsty workers on their way to and from work. The fountain has since been replaced by this floral fountain.
In 1855 there were some 13 pubs and inns in Wooler offering residents and travellers warm hospitality, companionship, vittles and ales, including the Black Bull which has hosted visitors for 250 years. There are at least two more pubs in the town centre today.
Two imposing former bank branches can be seen on the High Street and Market Place. This one used to be the Alnwick and County Bank, later becoming Martins Bank and then Barclays. The other building was originally the British Linen Bank and later Bank of Scotland.
This used to be the court house and police station, built in 1850. The district of Glendale, which comprised the town of Wooler and a few surrounding villages, had a mounted police superintendent, an inspector, 3 police sergeants and 16 constables in 1897. Perhaps they were needed to control the patrons of the 13 pubs. You would be lucky to see a policeman or woman patrolling the streets of Wooler these days.
Tower Hill, known locally as ‘The Tory’, is thought to be the site of an ancient castle. Only a few fragments of a 16th Century tower remain. A war memorial stands on the hill today, commemorating the 88 local men who died in the two world wars.
I spotted at least five churches on my walk:
St. Mary’s Parish Church (top left)
Wooler United Reformed Church (bottom right)
Glendale Hall, formerly the Methodist Chapel (top right)
St. Ninian’s Roman Catholic Church (bottom left)
There is also Wooler Evangelical Church (not pictured). Not surprisingly, in the 2011 census, 72% of Wooler Ward’s 4,266 population described themselves as Christian. However 6 people described their religion as Jedi Knights so perhaps the figures are not wholly reliable!
The churches no doubt would have been influential in setting up facilities for the less fortunate such as Countess Tankerville’s Steam Laundry which provided work for young women. The Salvation Army ran it from 1902-1920 to rehabilitate so-called ‘fallen women’. Why was it only women that were fallen? Life was unfair. Still is.
The Steam Laundry building was demolished and an exciting new project is under construction on the site. The Ad Gefrin Distillery Experience will, according to their website, be home to a world-class prestige single malt whisky, and celebrate the unique heritage, local art, crafts, food and culture of Northumberland. I predict a bright future for Northumbrian Whisky and this distillery and visitor experience is set to become Wooler’s leading tourist attraction when it opens in 2022.
The Cheviot Centre houses a tourist information centre among other things. This building was originally a workhouse, built in 1834 to house 70 paupers.
The quaint looking Doddington Dairy Milk Bar and Café is popular for its premium ice creams, milkshakes, smoothies and light bites.
Three traditional horse drawn caravans have found a great spot next to the river (called Wooler Water) to rest up and allow their magnificent horses to graze on fresh grass.
A vintage milestone showing the distances from Wooler to London, Edinburgh, Morpeth and Cornhill.
Some of the old grain milling buildings are now used as holiday accommodation.
Looks as though somebody has been feeling creative during lockdown.
There are quite a few antique shops and art galleries in Wooler town centre as well as an auction house and a book shop or two so it is well worth a visit if you like that sort of thing.
Map of the Wooler History Walk
This map shows most of the places mentioned above, together with a suggested walking route. Free parking is available at Padgepool Place Car Park, facing the Cheviot Centre.