RALPH POTTS -
THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH
Nicknamed Black 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”.
a leading member of the community he
would be called upon to deal with
troublesome drunks and intervene in
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
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.
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
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
On their return they were
surprised to find the mule, with new
shoes fitted, tethered outside the
Ralph had clamped the animal’s
ear in the vice and was able to continue
the job with a very restrained mule.
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
WILSON HEPPLE -
THE ACKLINGTON ARTIST
Hepple became a famous Acklington
He was particularly known for his
horse, dog and kitten paintings.
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
22 he astonished the local art world
with his painting of
Hoppings” which featured
He loved the countryside
spent a great deal of
his time travelling
one of his travels in 1895 he was
walking by the river Coquet near
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
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.
made some enquiries and found it
belonged to the Duke of Northumberland’s
For a modest annual sum Hepple
had found the dream home for his wife
Elizabeth, his son John and their
They all moved from Tyneside to
live in the cottage and the whole family
John and Ada attended Acklington
Wilson Hepple painted many of
his finest paintings at
Cauld Head Cottage.
The painting on the right is
walked or cycled the one and a half
miles to Acklington Railway Station with
Elizabeth coped with life as a
country woman much as she had done as a
cook in service, but perhaps with better
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
Head Cottage and its unspoilt rural
surroundings inspired three generations
of Hepples, encouraging them to paint
some of the most beautiful scenery ever
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 TAYLOR -
COMMUNITY AWARD WINNER
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
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
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.
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
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”.
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
8. Jack took a fierce pride in
the tidy appearance of the village
and could often be seen sweeping
footpaths, especially during the
In the past Jack has volunteered to
keep tidy the gardens of vacant
properties in the village until the
new occupants moved in.
Jack was very generous and public
spirited. He was at his
happiest when he was helping someone. It
not uncommon for lucky villagers to
find a sack of sticks or a bag of
home-grown tomatoes on their
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 -
ARTIST AND TV CELEBRITY
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.
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
The beautiful River Coquet (above) as it meanders through
Acklington Parish - painted by the Acklington artist Evans.