The year man walked on the moon... and Blanchland had flush 'netties'!

Blanchland Stores
Blanchland Stores (now the deli) - petrol pumps round the back. Click on image to enlarge. Photo by Peter Jackson.
Petrol pumps
Motorists could fill up in the back lane. Click on image to enlarge. Photo by Peter Jackson.

The year 1969 is a memorable one for so many reasons: Richard Nixon was sworn in as US President, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their 'bed-in' for world peace, a fresh-faced Prince Charles had his investiture at Caernarfon Castle in Wales. And then on July 20, witnessed by millions around the world who squinted at the fuzzy black and white TV transmissions, Neil Armstrong (now there's a Northumbrian name) took those giant steps for mankind on the moon.

It all seems so long ago now, and so much has changed over just 41 years. And if you think Blanchland can't have altered that much, a survey carried out at the time shows some aspects of village life are dramatically different from the 'Sixties.

Back in the summer of 1969, Peter Jackson, an architecture student at University College in London, had to complete a holiday project, with the brief to "...observe, record and infer relevant information about the physical and social patterns of a place of your own choice." With happy childhood memories of family holiday trips to the village in the 1950s, Peter chose to study Blanchland, and in the weeks that followed he spent his time researching, photographing and writing about life in the village.

More than 40 years later, Peter is now an architect with the Government of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, but he returned to visit the family he'd stayed with in 1969 last August and handed over his beautifully bound Blanchland study to villager (and his landlady) Joyce Ridley for safekeeping in the village.

His album of Blanchland's history, geology and community forms a detailed snapshot of the village in 1969, and even people who lived in the area then will be amazed at the changes that have taken place.

Whiteheaps Fluorspar Mine 1969 by Peter Jackson- click on the picture to see more images.

The remains of the village's mining industry was faring well in 1969; Blanchland Fluor Mines was still operating at Whiteheaps, near Hunstanworth, where the company was re-working the centuries-old lead mines to extract 12,000 tons of fluorspar every year. This would mainly go to Glasgow where it would be used as a flux in the manufacture of steel, and a small amount would go to Pilkington's for glass manufacture. In his project, Peter says that even in 1969 the miners would occasionally still find lead which would be exported to Rotterdam. According to Peter's analysis, six men were picked up by minibus in Blanchland to work at the mine; one Blanchland woman was employed at the mine as secretary.

Another business which operated out of Blanchland at the time was the Derwent Valley Lime Company. Three lorries were housed in a garage at the top of the bank on the south side of the bridge which collected, delivered and spread fertilizers for local farmers.

There was no White Monk Tea Rooms to quench the tourists' thirst in those days, but there were the two ladies who did afternoon teas in their living rooms for the daily throng of visitors the hot summer days wafted in to the village. Peter remarks in his report: "They are very popular, being cheap, good food and 'cottagey'!"

The Sunblest baker's van
Back in the 'Sixties, the baker's delivery van was the best thing since... Click on the image to see a larger view. Photo by Peter Jackson.

The building that is now the tea rooms was still a thriving country school in 1969, with 22 children aged between four and 11 years. Anyone who attended Blanchland School in those days and has rose-tinted memories - Peter's survey seems to back them up! The children had two teachers, one resident in the village, the other close by at Edmundbyers. Peter describes "up-to-date teaching methods and concepts... 'do your own thing' encouraged," and a typical school day would include English and reading in the morning with PE at 11am if the weather was warm - or maths if not. Lunch would be at 12 noon when the teachers and children would all take it in turns to serve up the food, and there'd be lessons in geography or history in the afternoon finishing off with stories, drama or poems before hometime.

Milk from Rope Barn
Milk for Blanchland villagers came from Rope Barn, just a quarter of a mile away. Click on image to enlarge. Photo by Peter Jackson.

Although Hexham market days and the 'big supermarkets' of Consett were beginning to tempt increasingly mobile Blanchland shoppers, many provisions still came to them rather than them needing to travel miles for groceries. The Sunblest baker's van stopped outside Abbeyview Cottage in The Square three times a week, and a butcher... "from Newcastle, at 9pm parks around the backs streets on Tuesdays, Thursday and Fridays."

Milk was still produced locally from a herd of cows at Rope Barn on the outskirts of the village. Peter writes: "The milk is brought down to the village each morning at about 10.00am, in the boot of the farmer's car, bottled." Once all the Blanchland homes had their bottles on the doorstep, the extra milk went in churns to the Co-operative Society to pour into Tyneside's morning cuppas.

You can look at Peter Jackson's 1969 project on Blanchland by downloading it from here (large file - 13Mb)

One revolutionary - but perhaps not immediately obvious - improvement to the lives of Blanchland inhabitants was the introduction of a new sewer in 1966. Right up until 1964 the good people of Blanchland had been using dry 'privies', and - as had probably been happening since the time of the monks - a horse and cart had plodded round at night collecting the contents of the earth closets. This humble length of underground pipe enabled everyone to have a flush toilet, and must have been a huge relief... in more ways than one.