For the first of our Ouseburn heritage research blog series, we welcome Lawrence, one of our dedicated volunteers. Lawrence stumbled upon the name 'John Lamb Luckley' at the start of the UK's Coronavirus lockdown, while researching for mentions of Ouseburn in old news articles. The discovery sparked a fascination. 

This blog post is a summary of research about John Lamb Luckley, a man from Northumberland who spent a period of his life in Ouseburn. 


While researching for the Ouseburn Trust I came across an article with one paragraph about Stepney Bank and the Lower Ouseburn Valley. It was part of a weekly column in the Newcastle Journal dated Saturday 25 January 1857. It was titled “Wanderings in Northumberland chapter XXVII Strolls about Newcastle upon Tyne” and the column was signed off J.LL. It gave a vivid, and not too complimentary, description of the area. It read:

Turning eastward I walked by Stepney Bank and got amongst a conglomeration of houses, stables and crooked streets, with a nauseous looking rivulet meandering amongst them and a population looking as if water were a forbidden luxury. To the north of this wretched suburb, this kingdom of dirt the five arches of the Ouseburn Viaduct span the vale, the only beautiful thing to be seen. These arches are formed of strong planks of Memel timber, bolted together and the open spandrels of the bridge give it a resemblance to some of those labyrinthine pictures in ladies crochet books. The bridge cost somewhere about 20,000 pounds.

Photograph showing Ouseburn Viaduct around 1839

Image: Newcastle Libraries

A photograph of a painting of the Ouseburn Viaduct (1839) probably dating to the early 1840s. The view looks south towards the viaduct built by John and Benjamin Green. The buildings in the foreground are the Ouseburn Lead Works. In the background can be seen the Stepney Windmill, houses and industrial buildings. The original timber structure was replaced with wrought iron in 1869.

Clearly this was written by someone who did not mince their words and had an eye for beauty. I noted the piece and carried on researching.

Sometime later, I came across a piece of poetry about the area titled The Banks of Ouseburn by J.L.Luckley Alnwick, in the Newcastle Journal dated Saturday 3 July 1847 - 10 years prior to the first discovery. It was very complimentary and clearly referred to further north up the Ouseburn. It intrigued me that this person had seen both sides of the coin and I decided to find out more about them.

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John Lamb Luckley's early life

I researched the census returns and births registers and found the following information. John Lamb Luckley was born in 1822 to George and Elizabeth Luckley and was christened in December 1822 at the Presbyterian Church in Alnwick.

Images of census entry showing John Lamb Luckley parents

The 1841 Census showed him living with his mother, who was then a widow. John was working as a cabinet maker. The 1851 census showed him living at No.5 Bailiffgate, Alnwick. Aged 28, he was unmarried and his occupation was a Printer. It was noted in the last column that he was deaf. Ten years later, the census showed him as a visitor at the house of John A.H. Tate, a printer and publisher in Fenkle Street Alnwick. John was aged 38, unmarried and his occupation was given as printer and author. The 1871 census revealed he was still living as a visitor at the home of John A.H. Tate in Fenkle Street Alnwick. At the age of 48, he remained unmarried but his occupation was now an author.

There was no sign of John on the 1881 census, but he did show up on the 1873 and 1874 Newcastle electoral registers as living at 14 Byker Bank Newcastle. The 1891 census showed John living in Shiels Yard, Clayport Street, Alnwick, aged 68, unmarried and working as an author and journalist. The death registers showed he died in the first quarter of the year 1899 at Alnwick aged 76.

These were the basic facts about this man but I felt I wanted to learn more about him including. Was he actually deaf, as stated on the 1851 census return? So, I started digging deeper and came across an article in the Newcastle Chronicle dated Saturday 27 November 1886 in which his poem entitled, 'Brislee' had been printed. The forward to the poem stated:

Mr. John Lamb Luckley is an accomplished linguist, a good botanist and a man of great general intelligence, besides being an apt inditer of pleasant verses. His “Pleasures of Sight and other Poems” published upwards of forty years ago, has gone through several editions. His “Flowers of the Aln” which appeared in 1849 is the best list extant of the local flora. His “Wanderings in Northumberland” which appeared in a local journal some thirty years ago, contain a deal of most interesting matter.

I found various other articles about him, and by him, in local papers.

Finding recognition

I came across an article in the Berwick Advertiser dated Thursday 14 March 1929. It was about a talk by the Rev. J.E.Hull, the vicar of Belford, Northumberland, given at the Belford Mutual Improvement Association and was entitled a ‘Northern Northumbrian Naturalist’. The lengthy piece included the following details:

The man I am going to talk to you about was born in Alnwick in 1823 [sic] of poor parents. He never had a moment of perfect health in his life. He was nearly without two of his chief senses, he was practically deaf and very nearly dumb and was left an orphan early in life. He lived to 1899.

He was apprenticed to a cabinet maker in Alnwick. At that time there was no Mutual Improvement Association, but there were Mechanics Institutes just beginning and the subject of our consideration tonight, whose name by the way was John Lamb Luckley, made the best use possible of the new Mechanics Institute in Alnwick.

The keynote of John Lamb Luckleys life was beauty. His first love was poetry. The most prized possession of Luckleys was Johnston’s “Flora of Berwick-on -Tweed” presented to him by the author as he knew him well in later years.

If you go into Alnwick cemetery you can read this inscription over his grave “In memory of John Lamb Luckley, Alnwick, died 1 March 1899 aged 76. Scholar, poet, author, journalist his genius was prized and the productions of his pen will remain lasting souvenirs of his studious life and literary abilities.”

This article answered a lot of questions I had about John L. Luckley. Later, I found an article on his death in the Morpeth Herald dated Saturday 4 March 1899.

SAD DEATH OF AN OLD ALNWICK JOURNALIST

Late on Wednesday night, John Lamb Luckley, an old Alnwick journalist and literateur was found dead in one of the rooms he occupied in “Shiel’s Property”in Clayport Street in Alnwick. He was 76 years of age. For a long time he had been ailing from intermittent action of the heart and lately suffered from general debility. For many years he lived the life of a hermit scarcely ever seeing anyone in his poor abode and being in miserably poor circumstances his end must have been a melancholy one indeed.

As he had not been seen by any of his neighbours since Sunday and his doors being always found locked a message was sent to Mr. S.G.Patten, Chemist, who was a kind friend to him. Who in the presence of Police Sergeant Straughan, had his door broken open and the old man was found stretched upon the floor, face downwards, quite dead. The deceased gentleman’s career was a somewhat remarkable one - of isolation and hardship.

Being afflicted with deafness when quite a boy, through his misfortune he became callous and eschewed company of those of his age, preferring the companionship of books. He studied both Greek and Latin and being gifted with a wonderfully intelligent mind, he became quite proficient in these languages; but his affliction of deafness debarred him from putting his learning and general literary ability to any substantially pecuniary advantage. He loved poetry and was himself an author. His productions generally show his ability as a rhymer and writer, particularly his “Flowers of Alndale” and “Pleasures of Sight” which he published when a youth of about 20 summers and subsequently his “Wanderings in Northumberland” which appeared in the Newcastle Courant nearly fifty years ago. Prior to writing these articles he opened a small printing business in Bailiffgate Street and with a wooden Stanhope press and a few pounds of type he launched out to the public the Alnwick Punch, a satirical little work which gained the publisher some notability. This venture failed and some years after he became connected with the Alnwick Journal, a monthly magazine, which ceased publication some seventeen years ago. In this miscellany he published many excellent literary productions, which brought him into repute in North Northumberland. He was a clever enigmatist and on many occasions carried off the chief prizes in competitions arranged by various magazines and weekly periodicals. When the Morpeth Herald offered prizes a few years ago, he always took the first award. As a litterateur, a scholar and a man of superior intelligence he was much respected in the town of Alnwick and his unfortunate end is very regrettable.

There followed a detailed account of the inquest into J L Luckley’s death concluding with the following:

The Coroner in addressing the jury remarked that the deceased had been long and favorably known in the town of Alnwick and had grown up to be almost an institution of the place and he was sure his death would be greatly regretted by a very large circle of acquaintances as well as by many literary people. It was unfortunate that he should die in such a manner, but it was nevertheless a satisfactory reflection that he had not suffered actually from want, one or two gentlemen having cared for him.

The jury returned a verdict of “Found dead on or about 1 March, death having resulted from natural causes.

The final mention of Luckley I found was in the Newcastle Journal, dated Wednesday 16 December 1936, and was about Denwick bridge, near Alnwick.

DENWICK BRIDGE

The writer stood on Denwick Bridge, near Alnwick, at the weekend and thought for a moment or two of that now almost forgotten character John Lamb Luckley, author of “The Flora of Alnwick”. Luckley harbored an intense objection to the design of the bridge’s parapet, in which interwoven crescents form the ornament. He never missed an opportunity with pen or tongue to ridicule the design as being unlike anything in heaven or on earth. He found few sympathizers, for the general opinion was that John must have a grumble and that if it were not Denwick Bridge it would be something else.

John Lamb Luckley was of a type rarely met with nowadays, a strange “crabbit” creature, possessed of considerable knowledge, self-acquired. He was a Latin scholar, a botanist of no mean order and he could turn a creditable verse. He lived in poverty and, in the later part of his life, in unwholesome surroundings, but he was not without friends. His ability was recognised by a few discerning people who rendered him what assistance they could but he was always “difficult” His love of nature was his most likable trait and if he could have been on Denwick Bridge on Saturday his eye might have been offended by the interwoven crescents but his heart would have been delighted by the magnificent show of “snowberries” on the farther bank side.

Photograph of Denwick Bridge in Alnwick

Denwick bridge north-west of Alnwick was built in 1766 by the first Duke of Northumberland. One parapet is made of a series of crescents linked together, the crescent being the badge of the Percy family.

Image: Sue Everett

In summary, I consider myself very lucky to have stumbled across this man. I like to think if I had been lucky enough to have met him, I would have called him a friend. Yes, no doubt he was 'difficult' but he had such depth and strength of character and I for one have been inspired by his life story. As he said in the Preface of his book of poems 'The Pleasures of Sight' he had “a wish for fame". I feel honoured to have put this story together so his name can be remembered.


Research and words by Lawrence Havis, May 2020