Plenmeller Halt

The Original Daguerroetype image taken in 1853 by W.M. Pruddah a chemist in Hexham.

Gelt Bridge

Isaac’s Hearse House at Ninebanks after restoration with help from the Allen Valleys Landscapes project

Title page of the Wear Valley Extension Railway plans of 1845

Isaac Holden’s memorial in the churchyard of St. Cuthbert’s Parish church Allendale.

The Tortie Stone
Original Location: Keenley Thorn Farm, near Allendale
Current Location: Private Collection 
Theme: Social
Period: Post Medieval
Date: 1853

What is it?
The Daguerreotype image of Isaac Holden aged 49 was taken in 1853 by W.M. Pruddah a chemist in Hexham. The photograph was sold widely for 6d a copy to raise funds for a hearse in the West Allen Valley. A couple of lines from one of Isaac’s self penned “poems”, are also shown:

“I sell my portrait for some good cause
While in my saviour I do repose"

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
Isaac was a native of the Allen Valleys though the families’ origins can be traced further back to Alston Moor. As a lead miner, he faced acute hardship during a severe slump in the lead trade and he turned to make a living from selling tea in the 1830s. The change in livelihood had an unexpected outcome which resulted in this photograph when his face was used as a form of brand to reach the public in a way that marks him out from his contemporaries. Isaac Holden had by then made a name for himself as an itinerant tea seller and fund raiser; this photograph was to be found above the range in the homes where he made deliveries. When he died in 1857, over 600 people contributed to his memorial.

Isaac’s life has since been the inspiration for Isaac’s Tea Trail between Allendale and Alston which was described by The Independent newspaper as “England’s last great wilderness trek”. The trail logo is shown throughout the distance of 36 miles and is derived from this original photograph. The Hearse House at Ninebanks for which he raised funds has recently been restored and will be used as a walkers’ shelter with a display of information about Isaac.

 Why is it important?
The circumstances behind the printing of the postcards provide an interesting example of how charitable funds were raised in the mid nineteenth century. In response to an advertisement placed by Isaac in a Newcastle newspaper, two London business men with local connections suggested that he contact Mr. Pruddah “to have his likeness taken”. Of the 1000 of the images printed at a cost of £10 (@£650 today) only one is known to have survived.

Isaac Holden’s activities provide insight into the lives of ordinary people living in the North Pennines in the 1850’s when economic and social conditions were changing rapidly. His good works were in response to the deficiencies in welfare and health provision at a time of great social upheaval and demonstrate that there was scope for an individual to make a difference. However the autobiographical tract he penned of the trials and tribulations of a fund raiser reveals this was a tough challenge.

Further Information
    Text References:
  • Morris, R (2008) Isaac’s Strange Gift
  • Morris, R (2001) Isaac’s Tea Trail
  • Morris, R (2013) A guide to Isaac’s Tea Trail: hidden heritage in England’s north country
  • Judges, Liz Isaac Holden: a selection of cross curricular activities for 5 to 9 year olds. Inspired by a skills based approach by Chris Quigley (2000) (2014)

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