amble & northumberland
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Amble was originally located well to the south of the mouth of the River Coquet,
however in March 1764, the river below Warkworth changed its course due to
heavy rain. The river sought its most direct route to the sea and broke its banks
across a broad meander and as a consequence Amble found itself less than one
third of a mile from the new river mouth. This event changed the fortunes of
Today Amble lies at the mouth of the River Coquet on the North Sea coast in mid-
Northumberland. It is located nine miles south of Alnwick and a mile southeast of
Warkworth. The town was built on a peninsula, providing extensive views of the
There are two theories where the name Amble comes from – one is that it is
thought to have derived from Annebelle, an Old English term meaning ‘Anna’s
Promontory’, however Prof Paul Younger of Newcastle University favours a Gaelic
origin from "Am Béal", meaning "the river mouth". Amble and the surrounding
area has been populated for many centuries. Ancient British grounds, have been
found here as well as Roman coins at Gloster Hill, signifying occupation during
different periods of time. (Map below courtesy of
The earliest mention of ‘Ambell’ can be found in 1090
when, after the division of the spoils, the manors of
‘Ambell’ were amongst other grants of land given to
the Tynemouth Priory by the powerful noble Robert
de Mowbray. After the dissolution of the monasteries
in 1536, the land of ‘Ambell’ became the property of
In 1204 the spelling used was Ambell’ and by 1610,
‘Speeds Map’ used the name Anbell’. However by 1769
‘Armstrong’s Map’ was using the modern spelling of
Amble. The name Amble is generally accepted to
mean ‘Anna’s Bill’ or ‘Anna’s Promontory’ – however no
one is quite sure who Anna was!
For a short time in the 1980’s Amble was officially known as Amble-by-the-Sea, however this was dropped in 1985
and the town reverted back to being called Amble (although the Parish is still called Amble by the Sea). Amble
also holds the title 'Kindliest Port' or ‘Friendliest Port’. It is believed that this comes from the 1930s when the RMS
Mauretania was heading on her last voyage to the breaker's yard at Rosyth in Scotland. Some say the ship
stopped for the last time in Amble. However another version of the story is that Amble Town Council (Amble
Urban District Council) sent a telegram to the ship saying "still the finest ship on the seas" and the Mauretania
replied with greetings "to the last and kindliest port in England" Over time, this response has been altered to say
The Friendliest Port!
The earliest recorded reference to Gloster Hill in a twelfth century charter. It records Roger fitz Richard, the baron
of Warkworth who died in 1178, granting saltworks to the Abbot and convent of Newminster, a Cistercian abbey
founded in 1137 near Morpeth.
The salt pans were located between Gloster Hill and the bottom of the Wynd. Initially salt was made by burning
wood, but this resource soon became scarce. It then became a necessity to use coal, of which there was plenty of
stock. A large amount of pit shafts were located between the harbour and neighbouring Hauxley. The mining
around this area was primarily for the salt industry. Records of 1611 indicate that small-scale coalmining and salt-
making were common activities close to Amble and particularly towards the coast at Pans Point hence the name.
Much of the salt was used as a preservative in the local fishing industry. Salt making in this area finally ceased in
The oldest part of Amble is the area at the top of the
Wynd centred round an area called ‘Togston Square’
which no longer exists except for aweathered stone
plaque. The Wellwood Arms pub is one of the oldest
buildings in Amble and was originally a farmhouse
for Link House Farm – one of the three farms, which
made up early Amble (when the population was a
mere 152). The 1842 Tithe records for Amble shows
that Link House Farm and surrounding land was
owned by a Mrs Maria Wellwood – which may be one
explanation for the name The Wellwood Arms.
Another explanation is that the original farmhouse
was served by the Hallbank Well, which was located
in woods nearby.
Definite seventeenth century remains in Amble can be seen at Gloster Hill (which is located on a hill to the left of
Amble going north. Hidden behind a hedge to the east of Gloster Hill Farmhouse are the remains of the old gate
piers which mark the main entrance into a substantial seventeenth century house which was partially destroyed
by fire in 1759 and finally demolished in 1938 to make way for the current farmhouse.
According to sources in 1066, the manor of Amble was given to the Duke of Northumberland in recognition of his
support in the Battle of Hastings. He, in turn, donated some of the land to Tynemouth Priory. The monks built a
Manor House or Grange overlooking the Coquet River which enabled them to levy tolls on in-coming boats which
usually anchored just below this point.
Grange was a country house with productive farm
Today all that remains after the dissolution of the
monasteries in the 16th century is a part of the
wall of the Monastic Manor House is a remnant
of an arched window and lights. The wall fragment
is fifteenth century, is set at right-angles to the
escarpment above the Braid and measures 4m
in length and a maximum of 2m high. It is about
1m thick, made up of roughly dressed inside and
outside stones with a rubble stone filling between.
It also contains a decorative window of two lights
which faces toward the west. This can be seen in the
small Calvary garden to the side of the Catholic church.
Excavation in 1897 indicated that this was the wall of a
service wing which adjoined the hall which lay to the west.
On a terrace below the manor house ruins is the medieval Hallbank Well. Although the well is of medieval origin,
the exposed part is from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The well system now contains a partly-
subterranean cistern and the remains of a flushing tank. Hallbank Well (to the right and down the rise and path
from the Sacred Heart Church) was described in early manuscripts as ‘a spring of sweet water’ and was the
original water supply for Amble at the time when the Benedictine Monastery stood on the site of the Manor
House. An underground reservoir was added in Victorian times to provide fresh water for the growing
population. Unfortunately at the present time Hallbank Well is hidden by dense undergrowth.
Amble owes much of its growth and early prosperity to the 19th century coalfields from which it used to ship coal
to southern England and the Continent. As collieries were opened; Amble’s location at the mouth of the River
Coquet, and its railway links to the Northumberland coalfields, made it a centre for the transportation and export
of coal. Today, the collieries in Northumberland are all closed (the last, Ellington, closed in 2005), and the railway
no longer serves Amble.
Other industries, such as ship building and repair, and sea fishing, expanded with the growth of the town,
although traditional Northumbrian fishing vessels such as cobles have sheltered in the natural harbour here for
many centuries previously.
To the north of the town, along the riverside land known as The Braid was originally the site of a shipyard. Boat
building began in Amble at the end of the 18th century when the ‘Chevington Oak’ was built with wood from
nearby Chevington Woods. There was also a joinery yard and sawmill on the Braid on the site where the Marina
Arms now stands.
Later Concrete vessels were built in the shipyard to replace ships lost during WWI but the venture failed
as the technology was not sufficiently advanced.
A survey carried out by English Heritage examined
aerial images in the estuary of the River Coquet
adjacent to the Braid and discovered four unknown
shipwrecks on mudflats near Amble. Although the
existence of these wrecks was known, their exact l
ocation has until now been unrecorded. At low tide
many of these shipwrecks can be clearly seen from
The 1897 OS map recorded further changes in Amble as it became more industrialised. All parts of the town had
been extended, except for Gloster Hill which had stood still. Old Amble had filled out with development along the
north side of High Street including a new Methodist chapel because the old one had become a school and there
had been the creation of a new street (Bede Street) to the south of Amble House with new terraces and a
Queen Street had doubled in length and was now completely built up on both sides for the whole of its length. A
parish church (in 1870) and a church school had opened up between Queen Street and Church Street and a
Rectory had been built in its own grounds opposite the church. There was still some undeveloped land between
the end of Queen Street and the harbour but there is evidence of terraces being built from both sides of the
The harbour had a brickworks, boatyards, and an extensive network of high-level railway lines serving timber
coal staithes around the harbour at the Radcliffe and Broomhill Quays. The town’s railway station was built in
1878 and was approached by a sloping ramp from Church Street. A station hotel was also built close by (now
known as Fourways Centre)
To the south, more fingers of terraces reached out to fill the area between the branch railway line, the old
settlement and Queen Street. Finally, more stone terraces were developed in a group immediately south of the
harbour. There is no evidence of any development at all beyond the north escarpment of the town except for
By 1920, the space between the old town and the branch line was filled by stone terraces and allotments, and
development was almost continuous between the harbour and Queen Street. Fingers of stone and brick terraces
were for the first time, being built at the west end of the town. The regular rail passenger service was still in use
but it would close within ten years; the last passenger excursion from Amble to Newcastle took place in 1939 and
by 1969, the branch line closed completely. Development was also appearing on the Braid but still close to the
steep escarpment behind the High Street.
Today, Amble is Northumberland's most important fishing centre north of the River Tyne. The fishing industry
survives, although it has reduced numbers of vessels now, as does a small marine industry - mainly concentrated
around the construction and repair of yachts and other pleasure craft. Leisure sailing has also become important
and, as well as the marina, the town has a vibrant yacht and boat club. A small industrial estate is located to the
southwest of the town.. Amble also has a number of good shops including Tesco and Boots, gift shops, and many
restaurants, pubs and fast food outlets. Tourism now forms an important sector of Amble’s economy and there
are several caravan parks, guest houses and B&Bs as well as many holiday cottages in the town catering for the
numerous visitors who come to the Northumberland coast every year.