PILGRIMS’ progress (continued).
Though it may not have been the steep and rugged pathway that the hymnist imagined, the column a fortnight ago trod, rejoicingly, the 12.2-mile Bede’s Way between Jarrow and Sunderland.
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Part of it is a country footpath from the rim of South Shields eastwards towards Cleadon and its wondrously eccentric Italianate waterworks.
The path – “inexplicably”, we said – is known locally as Occupation Road, though it wasn’t in the least inexplicable to Terry Miller, who lives nearby in East Boldon.
It was the route that led the Royalist army to the Battle of Boldon Hill, where getting on four centuries of Tyne-Wear rivalry is said really to have kicked off.
Little is recorded about the Civil War encounter, save that it all seems to have been a bit half-hearted.
One website simply describes it as a skirmish, another as a desultory skirmish.
Handbags, as these days they’d suppose.
Wikipedia, however, records that cannon fire was exchanged between the two sides and that “men lay dead in the valley”.
Terry Miller can confirm the first bit: in April he found a cannon ball, since weighed and measured by the Great North Museum, on the site.
NEWCASTLE was Royalist, not least because Charles I had granted the city and its Merchant Adventurers Company the East of England coal trading rights.
The old place flourished so greatly, indeed, that a 1635 traveller described it as “the fairest and richest town in England, inferior for wealth and building to no city save London and Bristol.”
Sunderland felt the backwash, its coal merchants and sailors redundant and angry. When Scots led by the Earl of Leven marched south to rough up the Marquess of Newcastle’s men, they picked up Durham City men and found no opposition upon entering Sunderland. The city was Parliamentarian.
The two armies had faced one another on Penshaw Hill, decided it wasn’t a very nice day for it, and shifted the fixture a few miles north to Boldon.
Back in 2005, a learned article in The Observer – you can tell it was learned, it used words like diaspora – supposed the engagement to be the start of 400 years of inter-city warfare.
“The Tyne-Wear (football) derby may be seen by the uninitiated as parochial and unsophisticated, but like the world’s greatest derbies, it has historical conflict as its bedrock.
“If anything, as a basis for rivalry, the Sunderland-Newcastle derby is the most legitimate conflict anywhere.”
A few days after Boldon Hill, there was a re-match at Hylton Castle, apparently also something of a noscore draw, but ultimately it was the Scots and their Sunderland supporters who took Newcastle after a threemonth siege.
As someone many years later rather ungrammatically observed, it was them that started it. One way or another, they’ve been at one another’s throats ever since.
TERRY Miller’s 73, lives in East Boldon, supports Sunderland.
“They almost all do round here,” he says. “Jarrow’s the dividing line, it’s a bit halfy-halfy there.”
He found the cannon ball while out walking. “I wasn’t really looking for it but it’s amazing what you see when the farmers are ploughing up the winter crop. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of one being found.”
Though unable, reasonably enough, to confirm that it was a 1664 missile, the museum noticed flash marks and confirmed that it had been fired. It weighed 5lbs.
“That’s the first thing everyone asks,” says Terry. “I know that the battle’s history is a bit sketchy, but if people died, you can see why. You wouldn’t want to be hit by that thing, would you?”
THERE’S quite a lot more. One website offers anagrams for Battle of Boldon Hill – don’t even go there – another reveals that there’s a 68-page paperback of the same name by someone called Othniel Hermes, which itself sounds pretty anagrammatical. It’s available for £26.86.
The Observer told of “profoundly irrational manifestations” of the ongoing enmity, like Newcastle fans refusing to eat bacon because it’s perceived to be red and white and the other lot boycotting “a certain breakfast cereal” – goodness only knows which one – “because of the Newcastle- oriented marketing of its brand.”
The two sides were battling again in the 18th Century and again at the Newcastle-Sunderland football match on Good Friday 1901, which couldn’t even start because of the throngs on the pitch. “At that,”
reported the Athletics News, “three or four thousand persons, mostly young fellows with caps, formed themselves into one compact body and went on an expedition of wreckage”.
You get the picture, anyway.
We don’t want it to become a pre- Occupation, do we?