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John Douglas of Newcastle



John Douglas, (bef 1689 - aft 1708) seemingly arrived in Northumberland from Scotland. He was initially employed as an agricultural worker in Matfen. He afterwards removed to Newcastle, and obtained the situation of clerk to Mr. Oley (1), an attorney. Mr Oley must have been a major influence, as John named his son after him.

By the 1670s, he was closely associated with Newcastle's company of Hostmen, intimately connected with coal mining, a profession his son, Robert, was to pursue. John Douglas owned the pit at Kenton. He was described as a hostman when he was admitted, in 1675, to the Freedom of Newcastle, and four years later he was appointed clerk of the company.

In 1682, he was chosen to act for the city's Merchant Adventurers in a dispute concerning the rights of Newcastle's drapers. The following year, he was admitted to Barnard's Inn, indicating he may by then have been a solicitor.

We next learn that John became an advocate. He was admitted to Gray's Inn on 26 Apr 1702, at the same time as his son, Oley. Later, he was Town Clerk of Newcastle, 27 Sep 1699 - 13 Apr 1709, resigning in favour of his son, Joshua, who held the position between 13 Apr 1709 and 4 Oct 1742. This position provided John with lucrative opportunities. He was involved in the introduction of the town's water supply.

We possess an unrecorded chapter in connexion with the water supply of old Newcastle. Before the arrangement between William Grey, author of the ^^Chorographia," and the Corporation in 1647, there can be no doubt that the Newcastle people drew their main supply from wells. The conduit in Pandon Bank would continue to supply the wants of the town in a great measure, but towards the end of the century this was found totally inadequate to meet the growing needs of the consumers. At that time one of the leading men in Newcastle was John Douglas, a solicitor, who subsequently became town clerk. During his visits to London, Douglas became acquainted with William Yarnold, a water engineer, whom he invited to Newcastle with a view to ascertaining if means could be devised for increasing the supply. Yarnold came up to the north in the summer of 1697, and the same year he made a, proposal to the Mayor and burgesses ** to supply the inhabitants with good and wholesome water by bringing it in main pipes and trunks through the open streets, to the intent that from the said pipes by smaller branches the said water might be carried into all and every the dwelling houses or places whre the owners or occupiers thereof should be willing to take in and pay for the same.'* Yarnold secured all the available springs inside and outside the walls, and erected cisterns on columns in different parts of the town, and into these he forced the water with an engine. The agreement between Yarnold and the Corporation is dated nth Oct., 1697.
Three years later the contractor admitted his friend Douglas, and fourteen other principal townsmen, into partnership, reserving to himself, however, the entire profits connected with the laying down of new branches and the sale of brass cocks, bosses, lead piping, and *' sowder.'' Being unable to personally superintend the undertaking, Yarnold deputed his friend Douglas to manage for him, and he in turn appointed Lionel Moore his deputy. Thus matters progressed till the year 1707, when Yarnold again visited Newcastle and quarrelled with his head agent, with whom he had a costly and protracted action at law.

He became embroilled, 27 April 1710, in a court case concerning failure to pay over to William Yarnold of London, gent, money due to him for branch pipes.

As an attorney, he made a large fortune and purchased a number of estates and properties. He purchased Matfen from the Carnaby family, a branch of the Fenwick family, between 1680 and 1702 as well as acquiring Clarewood in 1686 and Great Whittington the following year.  Matfen (West), for which he paid £950 in August 1680, was a township and well built village; it contained 1,905 acres.  By November 1702 he laid out a total of £15605 in the purchase of land in that area.

In 1695, he purchased Halton Shields and Halton Tower, a pele tower close to Hadrian’s Wall, north of Corbridge, Northumberland. In the late 17th century, John Douglas added the eastern two storey block, this made the castle irregular in plan.  In 1757, Halton passed to the Blackett family when Anne Douglas, John's grand daughter, married Sir Edward Blackett.

The lands in Newton were purchased in 1700 by John Douglas of Newcastle from John Hunter, of Newton, and his sons Thomas and Robert, and from Ralph Scurfield, son and heir of Ralph Scurfield of Newcastle ; the consideration paid to the Hunters was £460, and that to Scurfield £I50. Two years afterwards Douglas sold the lands so acquired to Henry Collinson of Aydon Castle.

Aydon Castle, part of the Aydon estate, was sold by the Collinsons to John Douglas. It is one of the finest and most unaltered examples of a 13th-century English manor house.  Aydon Castle township, situated one mile and a half north-east of Corbridge, contained 893 acres

Various Douglas properties at Henshaw, Northumberland, seem to have passed to the Claverings through Martha Douglas, who married Sir Thomas, and may have been acquired by her grandfather, John.

John Douglas appears as one of the most prominent of the late 17th-century 'Improvers' in Northumberland, enclosing open land and improving the quality of the fields. At Clarewood and East Maften, the central villages were replaced with a number of dispersed farmsteads, each situated within its own farm of small enclosed fields.

John Douglas gave £146 17s. 2d towards a Chapel of Ease in Corbridge church, which was rebuilt in 1706.

He married Alice , 'his master's heiress', daughter of Michael Hutchison of Lofthouse, Leeds, with whom he had issue (at least) seven daughters as well as a similar number of sons.

Of his sons:

  • Joshua succeeded him as Newcastle Town Clerk.
  • Oley became MP for Morpeth, and then attempted to become MP for Northumberland, but failed, consuming considerable Douglas funds in the process.
  • Robert was also involved in coal mining, and in a salt works in Blyth. He was reduced 'to beggary' when properties he owned in Newcastle were destroyed by fire in 1738.
  • Archibald may also be a son, and if so, then
  • John may also be a son.  He was 'killed in the Scottish skirmishes'.

    One of his daughters was Elizabeth, who married first Sir William Douglas, 12th of Cavers, but left no family. She later married Sir Andrew Hume of Kimmerghame, son of the 1st Earl of Marchmont. They has issue.

    Like his date of birth, John Douglas' date death is unknown, but he was alive on 12 Apr 1709. A will made in 1722, and proved in 1723 may be his.

    1. Mr Oley's daughter married John's sister in law, Anne Hutchinson.
    2. A John Douglas was a coroner in Newcastle 28 September 1674 - 14 April 1685 (or sheriff, under-sheriff or coroners clerk)



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    Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017