Nicknamed Black Ralph

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.  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.

Ralph’s wife Rachael died aged 74 and was buried in Acklington churchyard in 1887.  Ralph made an iron grave head in her memory and some years later he joined her but of course his name could not be added to the ironwork.  This grave head (still proudly standing as shown opposite) is surely the only one of its kind in any churchyard anywhere.


Wilson Hepple
became a famous Acklington Artist.  He was particularly known for his  horse, dog and kitten paintings.

He was born in 1853 in Quality Row, Byker.  The Row looked over the open space grazed by cattle.  Wilson Hepple at first trained to be a woodcarver, but in his late teenage years he left his woodcarving apprenticeship to concentrate on painting.
At 22 he astonished the local art world with his painting of  “Gallowgate Hoppings” which featured  himself  on  a  horse.  He loved the countryside  and  spent a great deal of his time travelling throughout Northumberland. 
On one of his travels in 1895 he was walking by the river Coquet near Acklington.  He was about to cross a fine old stone bridge from the south when he spotted a broad track leading westward past a huge stone building on the left and peeping above a tangle of foliage descending to the river the red tiled roof of a tiny cottage.  Intrigued at what he saw, he moved closer and found it was deserted and soon he was following the dark still waters of a mill stream stretching to the distant roar of a waterfall.  A few hundred yards further and he found himself looking at a scene which would enchant him for the next 42 years, and his descendants for many years after, “Cauld Head Cottage” on the river Coquet.  The cottage was built to house the workman once responsible for opening the sluice gates of the mill stream from the dam and clearing the silt behind it. 
Hepple made some enquiries and found it belonged to the Duke of Northumberland’s estate.  For a modest annual sum Hepple had found the dream home for his wife Elizabeth, his son John and their daughter Ada.  They all moved from Tyneside to live in the cottage and the whole family loved it.  John and Ada attended Acklington School. 
Wilson Hepple painted many of his finest paintings at Cauld Head Cottage.

The painting on the right is called "Expectation". 

Hepple walked or cycled the one and a half miles to Acklington Railway Station with his paintings.

Elizabeth coped with life as a country woman much as she had done as a cook in service, but perhaps with better amenities.  When Wilson Hepple died in November 1937 (some 10 years after his wife Elizabeth) his son John, whom he had trained as an artist but who had become a headmaster in Newcastle, kept the cottage as a studio.  But he too died and joined his father in a separate unmarked grave in Acklington churchyard. 

Cauld Head Cottage and its unspoilt rural surroundings inspired three generations of Hepples, encouraging them to paint some of the most beautiful scenery ever produced.  Cauld Head Cottage, Acklington – where Hepple spent 42 years of his life painting animals and landscapes – was eventually pulled down and a bungalow now stands in its place.



Jack (pictured above with wife Vera) receiving his Civic Award in 2006.

Jack Taylor died on 10th January 2015 just short of his 89th birthday.  During his lifetime he made a very significant contribution to Acklington Parish.  At the age of 80 he had the honour of receiving Alnwick Council’s Chairman’s Civic Award for his tireless community work. He is pictured left receiving this prestigious award from Councillor John Rutherford, Chairman of Alnwick District Council in 2006.

Jack tried hard to play down the “village hero” tag because he was a modest man and did not like publicity or fuss.  He never sought acclaim or rewards and was a man of deeds rather than words, but his very significant contribution to the community over many years made him a most worthy recipient of the award.  He was very much an unsung hero and everyone in Acklington was delighted that his efforts were recognized and commended. 

Below are 10 facts (mostly historical) you probably don’t know about Jack Taylor… unless, of course, you are a member of Jack’s family.

1.  Jack lived all his years in Acklington Village.

2.  Jack went through his whole education without ever missing a day at school or without ever being late.  I wonder if anyone else in our parish can say that.

3.  As a young man, and in the days before flushing toilets, Jack cleaned out the smelly earth closet toilets throughout the village.  He is pictured below going about his “toilet cleaning duties” with his horse and cart.  (I am sure you will agree that anyone who serves their community in this way is surely worthy of an award).

4.  Jack went to war at the age of seventeen and as a young soldier he took part in the Normandy Landings and fought on the front line - witnessing many atrocities and harrowing experiences which deeply troubled him and affected his health.  Just before Jack's death he was informed that he was to be awarded the Légion d'Honneur by the French government for his services in France.

5.  Acklington was renowned for its RAF airfield and is now well known for its prison.  Jack worked at both of these institutions and indeed received Her Majesty’s Imperial Service Medal in recognition for his “long and meritorious services”.

6.  Jack had a long and close association with Acklington Church.  He served in many capacities including: choirboy, sidesman, boilerman, grave digger and bell-ringer. Interestingly enough Jackie always declined invitations to be a member of the PCC (Parochial Church Council) but would rather support in a practical manner such as making signs for church events or helping to keep the churchyard tidy.  He dutifully helped to maintain the churchyard for as long as anyone can remember.  It used to be grass cutting by scythe (at which Jackie was an expert) but even right up to the age of 80, and with the use of more modern grass mowers, he worked tirelessly to help keep the churchyard immaculate…. and never ever accepted a penny for it.

7.  Jack could only see out of one eye.  He lost the sight of one of his eyes when a thorn from a hedge he was cutting flew up and pierced him in the eye.

8.  Jack took a fierce pride in the tidy appearance of the village and could often be seen sweeping footpaths, especially during the autumn time.

9.  In the past Jack has volunteered to keep tidy the gardens of vacant properties in the village until the new occupants moved in.

10.  Jack was very generous and public spirited.  He was at his happiest when he was helping someone.  It was not uncommon for lucky villagers to find a sack of sticks or a bag of home-grown tomatoes on their doorsteps.

Yes, Jack the “unlikely” lad may not be everyone’s idea of a hero, but people who get themselves really involved in their communities deserve to be recognized.  It is to be hoped they inspire others to follow in their footsteps, for in this day and age we could certainly do with more citizens like them.




Charles Evans
is a very talented artist, TV presenter and writer who lives in Acklington.  He has been painting and demonstrating for many years with a captivating and infectious style, teaching countless thousands of people to paint through his videos, books, painting holidays and stage shows. 

His career really took off when he moved to Acklington and now he is one of the leading watercolour painters in Britain.

Whether he will be remembered as one of the great artists in the same way as Wilson Hepple (featured above) is, only time and history will tell.  There is no doubt, however, that he enjoys tremendous popularity and is extremely skilled at what he does.  Pictured left is one of his paintings of Acklington Village, whilst on the right is a local lifeboat.

The beautiful River Coquet (above) as it meanders through Acklington Parish - painted by the Acklington artist Evans.