History Articles - Black Ralph

For six years I wrote a short history article in the monthly parish magazine, The Pelican.  One of the articles is shown in the column opposite.

Articles can be accessed by clicking on the appropriate title from the index below.

If anyone has any old photographs or parish information which they would like recorded (for present and future generations to share) then please get in touch with me.

    John Davison (Website Co-ordinator)
           Telephone: 01670 760609
      Email: jdavison26@btinternet.com

63   Dec 2011 We'll Weather the Weather
62   Nov 2011 Alan's Ackl'n Appearances
61   Oct 2011 Ackl'n Marriages 1913-14
60   Sep 2011 Old Photographs Required
59   Jul 2011 A Tower With A Tale To Tell
58   Jun 2011 A Well Kept Secret
57   May 2011 Fishy Business
56   Apr 2011 Acklington Warrior Stone
55   Mar 2011 The Church of St John
54   Feb 2011 Deep and Chrisp
53   Dec 2010 For Whom The Bell Tolls
52   Nov 2010 Which Village?
51   Oct 2010 A Pilot's Memories
50   Sep 2010 Acklington Black Poplar
49   Jul 2010 Street Names
48   Jun 2010 RAF Memorial
47   May 2010 Crowning Glory
46   Apr 2010 Badminton Club
45   Mar 2010 Murder On The Train
44   Feb 2010 Guyzance Tragedy
43   Dec 2009 Acklington Park
42   Nov 2009 Dye House (Part 2)
41   Sep 2009 Dye House (Part 1)
40   Jul 2009 History Making Heads
39   Jun 2009 Acklington Main Street
38   May 2009 James Raymond Smith
37   Apr 2009 The Age of Steam Trains
36   Mar 2009 Fred Wilson
35   Feb 2009 Guyzance School
34   Dec 2008 Acklington W.I.
33   Nov 2008 Lych Gate
32   Oct 2008 Village Hall Disaster
31   Sep 2008 Summer Crowds
30   Jul 2008 Spot The Differences
29   Jun 2008 Sunday School
28   May 2008 National Finalist
27   Apr 2008 What's in A Name
26   Mar 2008 Railway Inn
25   Feb 2008 Osprey
24   Dec 2007 The Guyzance 10
23   Nov 2007 Bowls Club
22   Oct 2007 Village Harvest
21   Sep 2007 Wedding Bliss
20   Jun 2007 The Other Acklington Artist
19   May 2007 The La'Well Tree
18   Apr 2007 The German Spy
17   Mar 2007 The Winter of 47
16   Feb 2007 Les Birkett's Memories
15   Jan 2007 Railway Station
14   Dec 2006 Jane Chapman
13   Nov 2006 Witches
12   Oct 2006 Jack Taylor
11   Sep 2006 Black Ralph
10   Aug 2006 School Photographs
09   Jul 2006 Pig Killings
08   Jun 2006 Village Hall Disaster
07   May 2006 Cricketers
06   Apr 2006 On Yer Bike
05   Apr 2006 Cricket
04   Mar 2006 Mailbag Robbery
03   Feb 2006 Storm of 1886
02   Jan 2006 Football
01   Dec 2005 Help Required

It seems as if there have always been some very interesting characters living in the parish of Acklington.  In my history slot this month I would like to tell you about Ralph Potts who was born in 1814.  “Black Ralph”, as he was known, was a big powerful blacksmith and farrier with a mass of black hair and a bushy black beard.  (The hazy picture above shows him as an old man when his hair had turned white).  Ralph was an intelligent, fearless and deeply religious man.  He was a fine craftsman and was respected by all.  He had three blacksmiths shops in the area but lived in the big Smithy House in Acklington at the junction of the road that leads down to Warkworth – known locally now as “Dobson’s Corner”.

As a leading member of the community he would be called upon to deal with troublesome drunks and intervene in domestic disturbances.  It was said he could knock a man over as if he were a nine pin.  Village mothers would frighten their children by saying “I’ll send for Black Ralph mind!”  As well as shoeing horses and mending farm implements he treated sick animals and was asked to treat sick and injured villagers too.  He was noted for his herbal potions and ointments which he would make up in the kitchen from garden and wild plants.  He invented a pedal digging spade and made sets of extraction pliers in his shop to take out bad teeth in humans as well as horses.

Ralph was a bold man and would stand up to the farmers and squires.  He once ordered the Duke of Northumberland off the property even though the Duke was the landlord!  As master of his own house and set in his ways he would retire to his bedroom at 9 p.m. to pray and would rise at 5 a.m. to read the scriptures, however cold the morning was.  He held services in the front room of the Smithy in the days before Acklington Church was built.  Each Sunday morning he would walk to church in Amble and the family were not allowed to sit down to dinner until his return. 

One tale that survives shows the character of Black Ralph.  Two men brought a mule to be shod at the smithy and said they would leave the animal with him and went off to the mart smiling as they expected him to have great trouble with this difficult mule.  On their return they were surprised to find the mule, with new shoes fitted, tethered outside the blacksmith’s shop.  Ralph had clamped the animal’s ear in the vice and was able to continue the job with a very restrained mule.

Readers may be interested to know that Ralph Potts name is listed (amongst those of other prominent parishioners of “Acklington Township”) in Bulmer’s Directory of Northumberland 1890-1900.
The full list of names included is as follows:

Robert Aitken - auctioneer
James Henry Balmbra - station master
John Bell - retired carrier
John & David Brewis - farmers, High Park
Agnes Ann Clapperton
William Crowther - Grocer, Acklington Factory
George Davidson - tailor
Thomas & Joseph Dawson - boot & shoe makers
Samuel Donkin junior - auctioneer
Jane & Samuel Egdell
William Fenwick - postman to Guyzance and shoemaker
William Hay - mill cottage
Mrs Hannah Simpson Heath - Farmer, Chester House
Margaret McKenzie Huntley - grocer
William Huntley - retired joiner
Robert Jobson - cowkeeper
William March - Railway Hotel and farmer
John McKenzie - grocer and woodman
Edward Moffitt - farmer and butcher, Cheveley
George Storey Moffitt -
assistant overseer and churchwarden for Acklington
John Vasey - schoolmaster
Charles Pigg - police constable
Ralph Potts - blacksmith
Christopher Pringle - postmaster
Thomas Raffle - foreman platelayer
Rev. William Rudge - rector, Acklington Rectory
Thomas Scott - farmer, Field House
Robert Shanks - farmer, Coal Houses
Elizabeth Mary Storey - cowkeeper
John Summers - sexton
John William Thompson - farmer, Cavil Head and Wherleyshaw
William Thomson - farmer, Acklington Park
Janet Woods - shopkeeper
Matthew Young - cowkeeper

If anyone has interesting stories to tell about past or present Acklington parishioners then I would be very pleased to hear from them.  I aim to include a chapter on “prominent folk” as part of my booklet on “The history of Acklington Parish”.  I reckon Black Ralph will get a mention, don’t you?

                                                                John Davison  01670 760609