WHALTON is six miles west of Morpeth, Northumberland and three miles from the A69 Jedburgh road. In the history of Durham and Northumberland printed in 1828 the community was described as ‘one on the neatest and cleanest villages in the county’.
Today, it is still an exceptionally well-kept village of grey stone houses lying on either side of a long, narrow village green. At the west end is a fine public house, the Beresford Arms, the name of which is a reminder that one of the landowners in these parts was Lord Decies, whose family inherited land once belonging to the Delavals. Sixty years ago, there was also a Temperance public house called the Seven Stars with, tables and a cobbled yard where parishioners could leave their horses on the sabbath and walk round to the church. This pub is now a private house.
Whalton Manor house was created out of four old stone houses by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1908-9 and the gardens were designed by Gertrude Jekyll. The wings of the Manor House have not been greatly altered, but the upper and lower hall and a circular dining room help to draw the house together. There is also an interesting old Rectory built around a fortified pele tower. Rectors in past times who lived there had their own access to the church by means of a footbridge crossing the road. This bridge was demolished in 1940 and a new Rectory built for the incumbent in the 1960’s.
THE CHURCH, of St. Mary Magdalene is mainly 13th Century, although traces of 12th century stonework can be seen. The Church contains memorials to the Ogle family who held Ogle Castle which is situated about two miles south of the village. Survival of medieval church fittings is uncommon in Border districts but at Whalton there are a few pieces of plain medieval glass in the east window of the south aisle. Visitors should also note the fine one-handed turret clock. This was a gift from a Major Bates of the Inniskilling Dragoons who built nearby Milbourne Hall in 1807. St. Mary Magdalene Church has seen growth and change for more than 800 years, in Saxon, Norman-French, Latin and English turns, parishioners have been baptized, instructed, confirmed, married and buried with essentially the same order as today. Recently there have been problems – dry rot in the roof, a tired organ, damp creeping up the walls, suspect electric’s and a large annual quota to find have provided plenty of headaches for the Church Council over the last thirty years. But like the early Christian martyrs Whaltonians thrive on adversity. Grants, loans, donations, flower festivals, fetes, concerts and coffee mornings have helped to provide and we now look to the future with confidence. Not least in the year 2002, has been the success of the Whalton Christ, a stunning collage of local photographs arranged to form an image of the face of Christ. The work is displayed on a pedestal at the back of the church and has brought visitors from all over Britain and from overseas.
The BALE fire takes place on midsummer eve, the 4th July; Whalton is the only village since 1903 to have maintained the ceremony which is a relic of the round of seasonal fires with which the ancients greeted the progress of the sun through the year. The word ‘bale’ originated in Northumberland and was used describe beacon fires lit on castle, pele and hill top to rouse the country when raiders were spied riding over the Border. The Morris dancers come to Whalton to entertain and the children hold hands to dance around the fire; they used to leap through the flames but this tradition has been given up. As the fire burns low, bystanders adjourn across the road to the Village Hall for refreshments and a barn dance.
Whalton is commuter distance from Newcastle and Tyneside and now many of the cottages and converted farm buildings have newcomers with young families. This has revitalised the village school which now has facilities for out-of-school hours care and activity. There are currently over 40 pupils and in 2003 had the honour of being named in the top 300 of the highest achieving seats of learning in the country. Recent OFSTED reports have been excellent.
The VILLAGE HALL is used by various groups on a regular basis. The Bowls club, the Luncheon club, Whist Drives, Women’s Institute and the Youth club meet here.
WHALTON had the distinction of winning the Best Kept Small Village Award in 2002.
The following is a description of Whalton written by local writer and journalist Veronica Blackett, compiled in March 2003.