History

There are two good books still circulating around the shops, which describe the earlier history of Allendale.

Allendale: Twentieth Century Memories, by Nora Handcock

Looking back at Allendale, a book of photographs, compiled by Robert Philipson

In addition, of course, the Local Historical Society maintains an archive of historical documents in Allendale Library.

Very briefly: Allendale, servicing the mines stretching up to and beyond Allenheads, was an important centre of lead refining in Victorian times, producing 1/6 of the total world lead (lead had been mined in the area since Roman times). Allenheads was the world’s first electrified village (driven by hydro-electric turbines powered by cleverly located reservoirs above the mine. The road to the mines was the first in the land to be tarmacked, achieving a smooth grade for ponies to pull their carts of lead ore to the refinery. The last lead was extracted around about 1906, and the area fell into post-industrial decline and decay.

The estates of the Allen Valleys developed their grouse shooting moors, and Allendale apparently tried to become known as the Switzerland of England. But W. H. Auden made the North Pennines famous for his love of its vast industrial dereliction, abandoned mine workings, and the sheer scale of the landscape. He called the area England’s Last Great Wilderness, ‘my favourite place’.

Holiday cottages sprang up from the small-holdings dotted about the valleys, and tourism became an important component of the area’s economy, supplementing agriculture as hill farmers sought to diversify from normal agricultural practises of sheep, cattle, hay meadows and timber farms. But this touristic effort too fell into decay and the area’s hotels and public houses dwindled away towards the end of the 20th century.

Probably at some point during the peak mining industry of Victorian times, a miner picked up a tar bar’l abandoned by the roadside, nearly empty of tar from finishing the road, and lit it. As drunk as he was, he may have been joined by others, dancing around the square on a dare, with the heavy bar’ls on their heads, and together building a huge bonfire to celebrate the end of the old year. Thus the Tar Bar’l Guiser Parade was initiated, and has been a constant feature of village life thereafter, on every New Year’s Eve.

Since the new millenium, tourism has seen a remarkable boom, with holiday cottages and B&Bs emerging from the fell mists with remarkable aplomb. Allendale itself has seen a dramatic transformation that feels particularly sustainable, and the village is a vibrant community facing new challenges with courage and cheerfulness.