Murrays are part of 'Rakeside' history

Alan Murray
Former fluorspar miner Alan Murray with his collection of 'spar 'bonny bits'. Click on the picture for a detailed view of the minerals.

Even though family members may be scattered all over the world these days, many people in the area can still trace their roots back hundreds of years to ancestors who lived, worked and brought up their families in the same place.

Former Whiteheaps fluorspar worker Alan Murray of Blanchland - who sadly died in 2013 - was the last of a long line of Murrays who mined and farmed for at least three centuries in and around Hunstanworth.

with a smile
Service with a smile from Margaret Murray in the 1960s. Picture given by Alan and Sara Murray.

There's evidence that there had been Murrays living on 'Rakeside' - or Jeffrey's Rake, the hillside above Ramshaw - since the early 1700s, always linked with the lead mining and farming that went on there. One of the earliest records mentioning the family name is the marriage of Joseph Murray and Mary Smith at Hunstanworth in 1743. Mary had been born in the village in 1715, the daughter of Robert Smith, also known as 'Justice Smith', and the newlyweds went to live at Manor House on Jeffries' Rake, Joseph being a cattle dealer and farmer (for more on these Murrays go to Peter Hollins' page on the Hunstanworth History website).

A hundred years later, Alan's Great-Grandfather Adam and his wife Betty (nee Jameson - another familiar local surname!) were still living on Jeffries' Rake with their young family of three sons. It was 1841, and Adam was working as a lead miner, as were most of the neighbours listed in the census of that year. The next census 10 years on shows that Adam has died; Betty is now head of the household, a widow as so many lead miners' wives would be in their forties, and to make ends meet, her three sons have left school and started work at 'the washings' - the place where lead ore is cleaned and sorted. The youngest is just 10 years old.

'Fast forward' again another 70 years to the 1920s when a young Cumbrian woman, Margaret Irving and her son Herbert arrive at 'Rakeside' where Margaret is to start work as housekeeper to Adam Murray, grandson of the lead miner Adam, and a carter at Parkhead Station on the road to Stanhope.

Margaret had been one of 14 children, born in 1895. Adam was more than 30 years older than her, and was widowed with a young daughter, Lizzie. The pair married, and had three more children - Jean, Doreen and the youngest Alan, born in 1930.

Blanchland Band in the mid-1890s
This is the only image Alan has ever seen of his father Adam - he's pictured on the right. Picture given by Jacky Bell

Alan was never going to get to know his Dad as Adam died when Alan was just five months old. "My mother said he'd been a great church-goer, and would ride on horseback to Hunstanworth Church to worship every Sunday," said Alan. A few years ago, someone gave Alan a newspaper cutting showing the members of Blanchland Brass Band, taken around the 1890s. And there, on the end of the row, is a young Adam Murray, cap on his head, dignified moustache, and treasured euphonium in his arms. "That was the first time I'd ever seen a picture of my Dad," said Alan, and a framed print had pride of place in the Murray's living room.

After Adam's death, Margaret and the five children came down from Jeffries' Rake to live in Blanchland, at the end house at the top of the Square which is now part of the Lord Crewe. She worked at Cowbyre Farm for several years during the war, earning 3/6 (17p) a week.

To earn some extra cash she started doing teas in her cottage, all home-baked on the kitchen range. Alan remembers: "The house was always full of the delicious smell of baking. She sold sandwiches - potted meat and egg - girdle scones done on a gas stove in the back, scones, chocolate and orange cake, and a big flat apple tart on a tray! She also made around 20 loaves of bread for the villagers, so every day there'd be loaves rising on the hearth or in the oven.

"During the investigations into the murder of the taxi driver at Edmundbyers in the 1960s, the detectives would start their day with coffee and 'a bite at Margaret's', and at the end of the day they would return for a substantial tea. She also had a large crock of her own home-made orange wine which she plied them with!"

Margaret Murray in The Journal newspaper
Alan's mother Margaret was featured in a Journal newspaper article about Blanchland on October 22 1962.

Margaret was also caretaker of the village hall for many years and enjoyed taking part in the plays produced by the drama group.

Every New Year's Day the whole family - which by now included several grandchildren - had to go round to 'Mother's' for lunch as January 1 was also her birthday. "No matter how much you had celebrated the night before, you just had to be there," said Alan's wife Sara.

The household might have been a noisy one at times with all her grandchildren around, but when The Archers came on the wireless (An Everyday Story of County Folk) there had to be complete silence; being a bit deaf in her later years, Margaret would often be seen sitting close up to the radio, listening intently to the latest episode of her favourite programme.

Margaret died in 1971, and Sara said: "She was just such a lovely lady. Like many others of her generation, she'd had a difficult life, but she was known and loved in Blanchland for more than 40 years."