Brief History of the Newbigin Family, A

A Brief History of the Newbigin Family

This brief history of the Newbigin family has been compiled from many years of research & involving hundreds of names. It is an attempt to trace a surname distinctive to the North Country and to outline the main branches.

Herein is revived the memory of successive generations who possessed this earth for their short period. Some figured briefly in local affairs, others found a new life in distant lands but mostly they were content to lead peaceful lives amid familiar surroundings never far from the waters of Tyne.

It may be that their descendants on reading of their story can find a sense of kinship with these Northumbrian forbears of bygone days.

Douglas Whitely Smith
one of the ‘saddle’ Newbigins


The Name NEWBIGIN derives from Old Norse – a new ‘bigin’ being a building or dwelling. Several places in the North and in Scotland bear this name while its use as a surname occurs in scattered references throughout the Middle Ages.

In the 13th Century there was a family deriving their name from Newbiggin-by-Sea in Northumberland; another near Midridge in Durham. A William de Newbigging was one of the outlaws who kidnapped the unpopular Bishop of Durham in 1317. John de Newbiggin ordained at Corbridge in 1335, was bearer of a letter from the University of Oxford to Winchester in 1333 and subsequently Rector of Gateshead; another John was Bailiff of Newcastle in 1397. Adam de Newbigin described as a Scottish knight, agreed to Border laws in 1249, whilst what is perhaps the earliest reference to the name occurs with Robert de Newbegyng of Newburn who witnessed a deed in Newcastle in 1166.

Other families with this surname appear in Newcastle in the 17th century, at Belford in the 18th and Edinburgh in the 19th. A Sunderland family in the mid-nineteenth century originated it would seem from Norfolk where the name also is to be found.

As a surname, Newbigin is rare and distinctive to the North Country – only one individual bearing this name appears in the entire list of householders enumerated in the Hearth Tax for Northumberland in 1664 and from him we can claim direct descent. The spelling of the name takes every possible variety from the mediaeval struggles with Neubighying and Newbiggynge to the rustic Nowbidggam (Mitford 1575) and Newbekin (Hexham 1745) of Northumbrian tongue. Certainly by the middle of the eighteenth century when Joseph Newbigin, founder of the Ryton branch, began to sign his name with a single ‘g’ to distinguish it from a place-name it had become a matter of pride to his decsendants who have followed the tradition since.

The late Mrs Howard of Craster, herself eldest of this line recorded a tradition of a Westmorland origin. This may have some real foundation for a family called Newbiggin were living at Kirby Thore where there is still a Newbiggin Hall, in the reign of Henry II. They bore the arms: “Or, a chevron between three mullets pierced azure.” By the time of Edward III they had married into the ancient Crackenthorpe family and the name disappears. Is it possible that at some early date one of this family made his way into Northumberland and settled there?

Our Northumberland family as far as can be traced with accuracy, were living from an early date in Hexhamshire. Their place of origin was the wooded hamlet of Newbiggin at the junction of Dipton Burn and Devil’s Water, a place first mentioned in documents in 1355. From here it would surely seem the family name derives and only a few miles further north in the Wall Country there appeared towards the end of the Middle Ages what we might term our ‘first ancestor’.

In 1496 John de Newbigging arrived at the North Door of Durham Cathedral seeking sanctuary. The details concerning this fugitive were carefully recorded by the monks in the “Sanctuarium Dunelmense” a volume still extant in the cathedral muniments and which I have been privileged to handle.

The entire entry covers only a few lines of much abbreviated latin, which translated runs:

“John de Newbiggin of Errington in the chapelry of St. Oswald in the parish of St. John (Lee) in the county of Hexham came to the Cathedral Church of Durham on the 7th July AD 1496 and thereupon the ringing of the bell was immediately given immunity; before this on the 12th June, that is the Sunday after the feast of St. Barnabas the Apostle recently passed, he made insult to a certain Gerard Still of Hexham, freeman, and struck the said Gerard in the chest with a semi-lance called a spear-staff, from which the said Gerard died; for which crime he is given immunity and freedom. Presented by Thomas Tyndall of Brancepeth. James Hyne of Durham, smith, and Robert Androwson.”

Photo caption – The Sanctuary From Painting by Ralph Hedley.

We know from more detailed entries the procedure adopted in such cases. Admitted by the ‘watchers’ stationed in a room above the door, the fugitive confessed to his crimes before witnesses and a bell was rung as a token of his claiming sanctuary. Given a black gown with the Cross of St. Cuthbert on the shoulder, he was conducted to a place enclosed beside the midnight stairs. Here with food and bedding he was immune for thirty-seven days from arrest but at the end of that time he was to abjure the realm, taking ship at a nearby port. In what country John de Newbiggin ended his days we can only speculate, or why in the first instance he chose to seek refuge at Durham rather than at the Hexham fridstool. It may be he felt safer far from the civil powers of the York archdiocese which obtained in Hexham town. The Durham records show that it was not uncommon for folk from distant counties, even after a long lapse of time, to find sanctuary from St. Cuthbert.

So our ‘first ancestor’ – hot tempered and with spear makes his appearance by the chance survival of a document from the close of the Middle Ages. Had he been held in the place of sanctuary today he would surely have derived some comfort from the modern window above. It depicts St. Oswald at Heavenfield amidst the countryside of his own locality!

By the 16th Century the Newbigin family were firmly established in this area. Because of the constant vigilence [vigilance] needed in the Borders all able-bodied men between the ages of sixteen and sixty were required to bear arms in readiness. The meticulous Muster Roll of Henry VIII in 1538 shows the number of men and their accoutrements – both able foot soldiers and those ‘more able’ having a horse and harness. There appears a concentration of Newbigins in the vicinity of St. John Lee. At Keepwick five of them were “able with hors and harnes to doe the kyng’s servyce.” Another at Fallowfield “hath neither” of these requirements. At Cocklaw where stood the pele tower of the Errington chief, two George Newbegyns appear, probably father and son.

[Map of Hexham and surrounding rivers and towns, showing Newbiggin village]

Formidable folk, these old reivers in steel bonnet and jack-booted and spurred, carrying sword or lance.

And a hardy lot – as Bishop Ridley observed:- “In Tynedale where I was born, I have known my countrymen watch night and day in their harness, such as they had, that is in their jacks and their spears in their hands… and so doing although at every such bickerings some of them spent their lives, yet by such means like pretty men, they defended their country.”

The fray bell of the abbey church at Hexham must often have sounded the alarm for the villages north of the river during Scottish raids. Not only the Scots were regarded as the enemy – much ’shifting’ of cattle took place amongst themselves. United by Hedesmen or Chieftains into ‘graynes’ akin to a clan, this vicious circle of plunder and reprisal gained them such a fearful reputation that the Merchant Adventurers Company in Newcastle forbade apprenticeships from the valleys of Tyne and Rede, a rule not repealed until 1771. The trade of butcher followed by so many generations of the Newbigins was perhaps a logical extension from their early days in cattle lifting!

Hexhamshire, unlike the rest of the county, was administered as a ‘peculiar’ province of the Archbishop of York and very few documents of this ecclesiastical court have survived. One of these is a single Act Book dating from Elizabeth’s reign and it

Photo caption – COCKLAW

Newbigin of St John Lee

John de Newbigging of Errington, St John Lee in the shire of Hexham, sought sanctuary at Durham Cathedral 1496
Edward Newbigin of Fallowfield in St John Lee 1538
John Newbigin of Cocklaw, St John Lee 1538
John Newbegyn of Cocklaw 1538
George Newbiggin of Cocklaw 1538. d. 1596
Jane = …. widow; buried at Hexham 1612
William Newbigin of Allerwash in Warden Parish appears in 1664 Hearth Tax.
William Newbigin of East Boat House, St John Lee, buried 1728
Newbigin of Hexham
Jane m. 1610 Edward Read of Kirkheaton
Catherine m. 1612 Robert Robson of Hexham
Thomas Newbigyn of Kirkheaton living 1618
John Newbigin of Blackheddon, living 1628
? Newbigin of Stamfordham
Agnes m. at Hexham 1579 John Twaddup of Heddon-on-Wall.
Robert Newbigin of St John Lee d. 1597 admin. to sister Agnes.
Thomas, Jerard, Gilberd, Roger & John Newbigyn of Keepwick, St John Lee 1538

records the Administration of goods and chattels on the death of George Newbiggin of Cocklaw in 1596 to his son Robert. Within a year Robert was also dead and his Administration was given to his sister Agnes who married John Twaddup. The estate at Fallowfield was farmed for several generations by a family named Twadupp, later Tulip.

Two other marriages are recorded in Hexham abbey in 1610 and 1612. In 1618 there appears amongst a list of prisoners from Redesdale and Tynedale presented at Morpeth sessions:
“John Hall, son to Ranald Hall of the Leame, a common theafe compounded for divers felonies namelie for sheepe stolen from Thomas Newbygin of Kirkheaton and 4 kine from John Errington of Whittinton and others.”

Also in “a note of partie disbursed since the decease of my brother July 28th 1628 by me W. Shafto, Blackheddon – to Jo. Newbigin for oats £1.3.4d.”

These entries probably refer to the branch of the family settled at Stamfordham for the commencement of the register there shows a number in East Matfen and Hawkwell. In 1666 Dorothy Newbygin appears in the Hearth Tax. She was ‘buried in woolen’ in 1678 leaving a son George who married Elizabeth Fenwick of East Matfen. The Fenwicks were definitely ‘out’ in 1735 – Apart from these scattered references the family name does not come to light before 1700 although the St. John Lee registers begin in 1664. It remains an inexplicable gap since they were still in the vicinity when the name reappears. These villages were laid waste by Scots in 1580.

Photo caption –

Newbigin of Stamfordham

(George) Newbiggin of East Matfen = Dorothy, widow of East Matfen in 1666 buried in Stamfordham Church 1678
George Newbiggin of Hawkwell & Blackheddon 1675 & 1699 = Elizabeth Fenwick of East Matfen marr. 1679 d. 1730 at Ponteland
George d 1650
George of Kirkley Thorne in Ponteland m. 1733 d. 1794 Ann Donkin of Newburn d.1794
Elizabeth b. 1736 m 1770 Edward Turner
Ann b 1738 m 1799 Bartholemew Kent of Spital Tongues b. 1730 Assessor of Craster Towers in 1777
Mary b. 1740 m 1780 John Anderson
Dorothy b 1743 d 1811 at the Leazes, Newcastle.
Jane b 1746 m 1774 William Potts
Jane b. 1682
Dorothy b. 1684 m. 1703 David Gee of Ponteland
Margaret b. 1687 d. infancy
Elizabeth b. 1689 d. 1756
Thomas of Kirkley Thorne 1695 – 1743 m. 1732 Jane Oliver of Gosforth d. 1741
George b 1734
Isabel b. 1737
Thomas b 1742 m 1782 Jane Dodd of St. Johns Newcastle.
Joseph b 1780 Newcastle
Jane 1783
Isabel 1785
Thomas 1788
Dorothy 1791
a dau d. 1691

Photo caption – The ancient tower of Stamfordham Church

It may be that at some time they were part recusant or had suffered in one of the many plague epidemics of the period. Some account must be taken also of the disturbances due to the Civil War as witnessed by a note scribbled in the margin of the Hexham registers:

“Ye Mr. William Lister, Minister of the Church of St. John Lee in those distracted times did both marry and baptise all that made their application to him, while for the which he was sometimes severely threatened by ye soldiers and once had a cock’t pistoll held to his breast and so yt is no wonder that ye Register for these times are so imperfect and besides they are extremely confused.”

It is therefore only by reconstruction that these early relationships can be construed, a task impossible with most surnames.

In the 1664 Hearth Tax, William Newbigin was charged with owning one hearth within the East Quarter of the north side of the Constabulary of Allerwash (now Warden). His son was living at Hexham East Boat, an area taking its name from the principal ferry across the Tyne for the town.

Photo cation – Pre Enclosure ACOMB

This is the only occurrence of the surname in the entire Hearth Tax – that list of householders for the county of Northumberland and from this man we can claim direct descent.

The East Boat area directly linked the town with the village of St John Lee and was owned by the Hermitage estate, the house still existing within the park. A ferry boat from here provided a safer means of crossing especially in flood time as illustrated by a traveller’s account in 1634:

“And now when we had thought that dangers were pass’d we met a gulfe too, at the entrance into Hexham over the rapid river Tyne where, for want of a boat or bridge , we were enforced in the vale of the night to passe a swift deep stream, over high great stumbling stones, in such danger both to our horse and to ourselves, as had we not fortunately happen’d on a guide that knew the fording place well, we had there ended our travels.”

The wife of William of East Boat was possibly Mary Newbigin recorded in 1731 as godmother to the infant son of Edward Allsopp. William had nine children, although only the later ones appear in the baptismal records of St John Lee, to be followed by his burial in 1728.

Not surprisingly for this area, there is an old tradition that the Newbigins were ‘out’ in the 1715 Rising. Indeed, the owners of the nearby Fallowfield area, the Erringtons, were dispossessed for their Jacobite leanings at this time. Hexham generally was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause and charges were to appear in the Quarter Sessions for many months afterwards against those who had drank to, or had otherwise shown allegiance to the king over the water.

The first Newbigin baptism to appear is that of Ann in 1719 followed by twin daughters in 1722 and two sons, William and Henry in 1726 and 1727. Four other children seem to belong to this family before these dates. All left the immediate vicinity except William born in 1726. He remained prominent in Acomb affairs where his name appears at the head of the 1762 Militia List. He comes to the fore again during the Great Flood of 1771. On 23rd of November in that year a freak storm after violent rain caused widespread disaster in the space of one night. All the bridges of the north went down including the old Newcastle bridge with its shops and houses. Only Corbridge survived where people could wash their hands by leaning over the parapet. In the low-lying countryside families lost homes and possessions, crops were ruined and livestock perished. The chaos was most evident at Bywell where the inhabitants clung in the darkness to half-demolished rafters or trees, or else were swept along by swirling waters and the debris of the dislodged burial ground.

The scale of disaster prompted an immediate call to alleviate the distress. Petitions were submitted recounting the losses and on several of these documents William Newbigin appears as witness together with the Vicar of Warden and Nicholas Leadbitter Esq. William had also lost his wife aged twenty-five, evidently as a result of the flood: she was buried three days later.


William continued to farm at Nubbock until 1801 when aged seventy-five, the Newcastle Courant reported:

“The 10th inst. Mr. William Newbigin, farmer, near Hexham, while getting some hay in the stackyard, he dropped down and instantly expired.”

That terrible night of 1771 remained in the memories of folk for many years to come. There is an account of a case held at Newcastle County Court much later concerning a miscreant from Paradise Street:

“And how long have you lived in Paradise?” asked the presiding Judge. “Since before the Flood, M’Lord,” he replied.

They understood each other perfectly!


George Newbigin, second son of William of East Boat House was born c. 1710. He married at the age of twenty Margaret Dobson of Acomb in the parish of St. John Lee and they had eight children, all baptised at the parish church except the last who was born at Bywell St. Peter where they had moved in 1750. When in 1754 their aunt Isabell married George, the son of Henry Stobart and Jane Green, this seemed to set the pattern for a number of complicated relationships some of which can still be deciphered on a tombstone at Bywell.

Three children of George Newbigin married into this family. William to Bridget Stobart, his sister Elizabeth to Forster Stobart, brother of Bridget while yet another sister Ellison Newbigin married Ralph Green a relative to the Stobarts.

Ralph Green and Forster Stobart appear in the Militia Roll of 1761 liable for militia service and both declaring themselves blind in the right eye – a suspiciously common complaint in the village according to the returns.

William and Bridget produced seven children. Their eldest daughter Margaret married John Leighton, kin to the John Leighton shot in the Hexham Riot in 1761. Two branches of this Bywell family were established at Broomhaugh and at Broomley, nearly all following the trade of butcher in what was then a populous village. Here they continued until the early nineteenth century when the population of the place began its movement away towards areas of better employment.

Newbigin of Bywell

George Newbigin b c 1707 St John Lee m 1730 = Margaret Dobson of Acomb 1706 – 1790
William b. 1730 St John Lee d 1809 Corbridge m 1756 Bywell Bridget Stobart 1729 – 1806
Henry b 1757
Margaret b 1759 m 1782 John Leighton of Shotley
Jane 1762 – 1806 m Geo. Hedley of Chollerton
George b 1764
Bridget b 1766 m Wm. Charlton of Chollerton
Elizabeth b 1769 m Robert Turnbull of Hexham
William b 1772
Elizabeth 1733 – 1800 m 1765 Forster Stobart
Margaret 1733 – 1804 m William Turnbull
Ellison 1740 m 1770 Ralph Green
Thomas b 1743 Cocklaw
George b c. 1744 d 1828 m 1780 Margaret Osop 1751 – 1831
George 1781 – 1792
John b 1782 m Elizabeth …
Elizabeth b 1829 Ryton
Margaret 1784 – 1855 m John Crook of Whittonstall
Elizabeth b 1788
John b 1745 died infancy
John b 1750 Bywell d 1825 m 1825 Ann March 1751 – 1798
George b 1773 m 1794 Mary Bell of Shotley
Ann b 1795 Shotley
Mary b 1797 Ebchester
John b 1803 Ebchester
Jane 1794 – 1823 m William Hedworth of Beamish
Margaret 1794 m Wm Elliot of Chollerton
Ann b 1779 m Thomas Nevin of Chollerton
Sarah b 1783 m Phillip Nixon of Bywell
Thomas 1786 – 1839 m 1813 Ryton Jane Robson of Bywell
Isabella b 1814 Bywell
John 1816 – 1889 m Jane Bindis of Slaley
Rose Catherine
Margaret Burdis[Bindis?]
Ann Jane b 1851 m John Watson of Ryton
Mary Oliver b 1857 m Geo. Ullathorne of Walford
Edward b 1820 m Mary … of Hexham
Jane b 1847
George Robson b 1848
Thomas b 1850
Isabella b 1853 Hexham
Elizabeth b 1861 Hexham
Thomas b 1822
George Robson b 1825
William b 1830 of Slaley


Joseph Newbigin, son of William of the East Boat House remains something of a mystery.

He appears “et uxor” in the Ryton Tithe Accounts for the year 1741 and described as living at Blaydon Steaths. Later his nephew, also named Joseph was to follow him into the parish of Ryton.

Two children were born to him before this. A son born at Satley in Lanchester in 1736 and a daughter in 1739 at Medomsley. Here his wife’s name is given as Susan. After the birth of another two children in Ryton he disappears from the record.

A ‘Josep Newgiben’ buried at Ballast Hills cemetary [cemetery] in Newcastle much used by nonconformists, may point to his son in 1797 for he seems to have produced a family in Tanfield and eventually settled in Newcastle.


Henry Newbigin was the last child of William of East Boat House and was baptised at St. John Lee in 1727. He married Ann, daughter of Ralph Kell of Hexham, tailor, a family deeply involved in the ’15 Rising. Indeed amongst those apprehended after that affair we find the sheriff’s men “actually had in his keeping the body of Matthew Kell and that one Joseph Kell of Hexham and several other persons rescused [rescued] him, whereby the said Matthew made his escape into the country.” The Kells also are mentioned in the diary of John Dawson of Brunton during the 1761 Riot.

Henry was a butcher in Market Street, Hexham, as appears from the Militia List for 1762. After this date he took up residence with his three sons (two daughters had died probably from small-pox then raging in Hexham) at Newgate Street, Newcastle, in a family firm. He died in 1812. His son Henry, junior carried on the business and another son Edward had his own premises at Green Court, but was unfortunately to die of Cholera in one of the two cases first identified in Newcastle after the spread of the disease which appeared in Sunderland in 1831. By March of 1832 there were 971 cases. A tombstone (now removed) recorded both these families at St. John’s Church, Newcastle and several of their wills survive.

William, eldest son of Henry, became a butcher at South Shields with a large family. He died in 1838 leaving his daughter Ann appropriately “a silver butter boat marked A.N.” – surely having belonged to his mother Ann Kell. Amongst his goods and chattels went the right to Pew No. 18 in the North Gallery of St. Hilda’s Church. Most of this family were involved with small vessels on the Tyne, being mariners, butchers and innkeepers until well into the 19th Century.

Newbigin of Newcastle & Shields

Henry Newbigin b 1717 St John Lee d 1812 Newgate St N/cle = Ann Kell of Hexham 1723 -1816
William the elder b 1758 Hexham d 1838 butcher & shipowner m 1787 Elizabeth Bowery of Shields
Henry b 1788 So. Shields d. inf.
William b 1791 d 1847 shipowner m …….m Jane Lawson
Robert b 1793 m-mariner & innkeeper m 1814 Mary Jameson of Tynemouth
William Jameson b 1821 freeman’s apprentice
Elizabeth b 1825
Mary Ann b 1826
Martha Elizabeth b 1833
Robert b 1835 tailor’s apprentice
Henry b 1795 m 1826 Sarah Adams of Longhoughton
Ann b 1823 London Innkeeper at Jarrow
Sarah b 1828
Elizabeth b 1837 London m William Ford of Jarrow
Ann b 1797 m James Fairburn, shipowner
Edward 1800 -1849 unmarried butcher of So Shields
Elizabeth b 1802 m….Bowman
William Renton illeg son b 1812
Elizabeth 1760 -1766 Hexham
Ralph b 1762 butcher of Haltwhistle m 1791 Ann Winter of Haltwhistle
Jane b 1794 Haltwhistle
Mary b 1765
Ann b 1767
Henry b 1770 Hexham Butcher of Newgate St. N/cle d 1819 m 1813 Elizabeth Beckley
Jane Wood 1817 -1889 = Henry 1814 -1857 of Jesmond
Henry Wood 1839 d. inf.
Elizabeth Jane 1848
Mary Harriet 1850
Henry William b 1853 drowned boating on the Tyne 1873
Betty 1774 1 day
Edward, butcher of New Market, N/cle b 1778 Hexham. d of cholera 1831. m 1815 Jane Buckly
Elizabeth Beckley b. 1816
Andrew b. 1816
Ann 1818 – 1823
Edward b 1820


Edward Newbigin born c. 1705 seems to have been the eldest son of the family from East Boat House. He settled in Hexham town in 1730 when he married Margaret Charlton. The marriage entry is missing from the abbey register but is proved by references in the wills of Charlton relatives. Of their ten children three or four died in infancy. Apart from a son, another Edward, who became a cordwainer, little is evident about the daughters. The eldest son Joseph after the death of his father in 1756 deserted his native town for new pastures at Greenside in Ryton, across the river from the birthplace of his wife Mary White. Here he continued the trade of butcher which at that time seems also to include dealings in cattle.

Newbigin of Hexham

William Newbigin of Hexham East Boat House died 1728 at St John Lee = ( ?Mary Newbigin living at Acomb in 1731)
Edward butcher of Hexham b c 1705 died 1756 m 1730 Margaret dau of James Charlton butcher of Hexham
Joseph 1732 – 1786 butcher of Greenside m 1763 Mary White of Ovingham
Newbigin of Ryton
Jane 1734
William 1736
Edward 1738 Cordwainer of Hexham
Mary 1759
Ann 1740 – 1751
Mary 1742 m 1776 John Chisholm of Hexham
Margaret d 1745
Elizabeth 1744
John 1769
Margaret d 1774
Daniel 1749 – 1750
Margaret 1751
George butcher of Bywell b c 1707 m 1730 Margaret Dobson of Acomb
Newbign of Bywell
Joseph of Blaydon m Susan ….
William 1736 Lanchester
Jane 1739 Medomsley
Elizabeth 1743 Ryton
Joseph 1746 Ryton
Isabel b 1716 m 1754 George Stobart of Bywell
Ann b 1719
Jane b 1722
Mary b 1722 m 1744 Edward Bruce of Newburn
Henry 1727 – 1812 butcher of Newcastle m 1757 Ann Kell of Hexham
Newbigin of Newcastle
William 1726 – 1801 farmer of Nubbock m 1767 Elizabeth Nicholson of Corbridge, died in Great Flood of 1771


Margaret Charlton who married Edward Newbigin in c. 1730, belonged to a long established family in the town of Hexham. Besides being one of the principal ‘graynes’ of Tynedale, the Hexham Charltons were fairly well-to-do butchers and tanners. Reference to them occurs in the manorial rolls throughout the years. In 1667 William Charlton was fined for sending his servant girl to fetch wood upon the Sabbath; two Charltons were summoned for intrigue in the ’45 Rising and marriages of this family are recorded in the Abbey registers from the year 1570.

James Charlton ‘lanio’ was living there in the mid-seventeenth century with a large family. He died 1702 leaving a will which throws some light on his status. His eldest son William had then married Mabell Henderson – her cousin was in grave trouble for drinking the Pretender’s health before Preston – and both of these left bequests to their niece Margaret Newbigin.

Margaret’s father James, junior, had become yet another butcher in the town and her mother was Margaret Leadbitter. Later generations of James Charltons were saddlers. The name recurs during the 1761 Militia Riot when it was reported that the Yorkshire militia were “running their bayonets thrice into a man’s body lying at James Charlton’s shop door” and shop windows in the town today continue to bear the name.


Joseph Newbigin left Hexham after the death of his father and was married at Ovingham Church in 1763 to Mary White of Hedley. The wedding was conducted by the Rector, Christopher Gregson, who had taught the young Thomas Bewick his Latin. The happy couple settled at Greenside and had six children.

John Newbigin, the eldest, became a butcher at Blaydon, extending into cattle dealing during the Napoleonic period. This was the time of the ‘False Alarm’ when it was reputed that Bonaparte was ready to invade England and the good folk of Blaydon had a great many carts in readiness to carry their furniture and effects to Alston Moor for safety. At any rate the period proved a lucrative one for John; his business flourished. In 1786 he married Elizabeth Broddie (? or Brodie). This curious name entered in the marriage register suggests that perhaps she was a natural child for her father was Old Campbell and presumably she was the child in the panniers of the Legend.

They had three children whose names we know and who lived only a short time. Another four died in infancy according to the tombstone inscription which still exists. Only the last child, Edward, survived this terrible toll and he in his turn became progenitor of another branch of the family – the Lesslie Newbigins of Alnwick.

Newbigin of Ryton

Joseph Newbigin b 1732 Hexham d 1786 Ryton m 1763 Ovingham = Mary White b 1738 Hedley d 1824 Winlaton
John Newbigin b 1764 Ryton d 1835 Blaydon m 1786 Ryton
Elizabeth Broddie Campbell 1763 – 1825
Margaret 1787 – 1801
Joseph 1790 – 1791
Elizabeth 1795 – 1796
4 others d infancy
Edward Newbigin b 1797 d 1865 in Melbourne m 1827 Newcastle Mary Ann Lesslie
Lesslie Newbigin of Alnwick
Ann b 1767 m 1789 John Hymers
Joseph Newbigin b 1770 Ryton d 1826 Winlatin m 1802 Ryton Ann Marshall 1777 – 1852
Joseph Marshall Newbigin 1798 – 1854 m Alice .…
Joseph 1828 -30
Ann b 1828
Edward Joseph Newbigin b 1848 m Margaret Nesbitt
Edward Joseph b 1876 m Emma S. Lammin
Edward m M. Woolf
Josaphine m A Etchats of Bilbao
John Lammin Newbigin. Lieut N.Staff d Alamein 1942
George Nesbitt b 1878 m Sarah Crooks
William Nesbitt b 1910
Margaret Eleanor d 1972
Alice b 1881
William 1883 – 1945
Arthur 1888 – 1945 m Charlotte .…
Cecily Charlotte 1918 -1919
John Buddle 1891 – 1947
Robert (son of Anne b 1828)
Sarah Griffith m Wm. Sewell of Ainstable, Cumberland
Mary m John Newton
William Marshall Newbigin 1800 -1871 m Margaret Ann Milburn of Tanfield 1836
Joseph 1840 – 1868 m Alice .…
William b 1861
John b 1862
Margt. Ann b 1864
Joseph b 1866
William 1841 drowned 1875 m 1) Margaret d 1868 2) Ann …
Isabella d 1867
Ann d 1868
Annie d 1873
George William 1873 – 4
Joseph 1870
Jane b 1851
Margt. Ann b 1837 d inf.
Margt. Ann d 1845
Edward Newbigin b 1773 Ryton d 1848 Ryton m 1799 Ryton Jane Campbell 1776 – 1842
The Saddle Newbigins
William Newbigin b 1775 Ryton d. 1862 Greenside m 1811 Ryton Jane Sanders 1784 – 1845
Mary b 1778 d 1829 m 1799 John Cowen of Winlaton
Sir Joseph Cowen of Stella. M.P. 1800 – 1873
Joseph Cowen M. P. 1831 – 1900
Joseph Cowen


Mary White who married Joseph Newbigin in 1763 was the daughter of John White of Hedley and his wife Anne Surtees. Possibly Mary met her future husband at the Ovingham Goose Fair or a local mart and the village is not hard to picture at this date from the description given by Thomas Bewick the engraver in his autobiography. Indeed, his engraved wooden tail-pieces show farmyard scenes of geese, livestock and dogs that must have been everyday scenes.

The Whites had been living here since at least 1586 and most of them married local farmers of the area. A brother of Mary, John White, became a cooper in Stamfordham and finally moved to Sunderland. His eldest son William had moved to Rawden in Yorkshire and became connected with the woollen mills. It was his family who employed Charlotte Bronte as a governess for a time after having risen in the business world of Leeds.

In Sunderland John White prospered and another son, John of Thorney Close Hall became partner in Bishopwearmouth Iron Works and colliery and ship owner. His eldest son “Honest” Andrew of Frederick Lodge in Sunderland and Tunstall Lodge on the outskirts of the town, was in 1832 elected first Mayor of the town and first M.P. after the Reform Bill. Thus it is interesting that the M.P.s of both northern towns were connected at this period. Andrew became bankrupt after speculating and the flooding of his mines but was followed by his brother Richard as second Mayor. His sisters became connected by marriage with a great many of the prominent families of early Victorian Sunderland.

Picture caption – Andrew White Esq. M.P.

Anne Surtees who had married John White of Hedley in 1727, stemmed from the large and well-documented Surtees clan which has given us Robert, the county historian and R.S. Surtees, the creator of Jorrocks as well as the eloping Bessie.

By the 16th Century they had centred in Hedley but their ancestry runs through several generations of Surtees, lords of Gosforth to the first ‘sur Tees’ of Viking blood and his marriage to Etheldritha, a daughter of Aldred earl of Northumberland. Aldred traced his descent from Osulf, earl of Northumbria in AD 947 and according to recent researches by an eminent genealogist, Osulf was likely to have been descended through the female line from the old Royal House of Northumbria itself.

Nevertheless, Anne belonged to but a minor branch of this clan and her husband John White was described as a “poor man” when he died in 1764.


Edward Newbigin, third son of Joseph Newbigin and Mary White settled at Ryton West Farm and Ryton Grange as a farmer with 126 acres. In 1799 he married Jane Campbell, so making a dual link between brother and sister. They had nine children, the latter five being baptised in a batch by his friend the Rector of Ryton.

In 1819 he presented Edward with an inscribed Bible and indeed his farming friend was a respected pillar of the community to judge from the newspaper reports at his death in 1848:

“Death at Ryton on 6 October after a short illness, aged 75, the much deservedly regretted Mr. Edward Newbigin, farmer. He was the oldest tenant on any of the Towneley estates in the county of Durham and had attended 80 rent days without a single interruption.”

The Towneleys, a Lancashire family, had inherited the estate of the Widdrington Jacobites after 1715. But all did not run smoothly with landlord and tenant after the death of Edward. There had been disputes over fishing rights

Picture captions –

Edward Newbigin of Ryton

Ryton Grange, Barmoor Lane

on the Tyne, then in 1861-2 coal was discovered under the farm land. Edward‘s son John who had taken up his father’s tenancy was now edged out; several letters on the archives of the Stella Coal Company testify to this attempt to gain control. Finally it ended in the case of Newbigin v.Towneley in Newcastle County Court on the question of tenant rights. John was awarded costs of £148 but lost the tenancy. His wife Elizabeth had died in 1858 and being now a widower with several children to support, he decided to seek a new life in New Zealand. He arrived in Napier in 1864 and established a brewery there. His descendants continue in New Zealand.

Joseph the second son of Edward the Farmer seems also to have left the immediate neighbourhood for he settled at Tynemouth at the home of his wife.

The third son William, one of those baptised in a batch in 1820, married Jane Robson of Benton and left Ryton for the Hexham area.

The last recorded link with Ryton Grange is Jane, last of the six daughters of Edward the farmer who was buried in the family grave in 1896 at the age of 78.

Picture caption – John Newbigin son of William and grandson of Edward of Ryton Farm 1841 – 1899

Joseph Newbigin, second son of Joseph and Mary in Greenside settled as a butcher in Winlaton. He married Ann Marshall and from that union a large family derive, this branch continuing in that vicinity until the 1950s.

Descendants include Edward Joseph, the tailor who provided Joe Cowen with his suit of black clothes for his first entry into the Commons. His grandson was Lieut. John Lammin Newbigin who was killed at Alamein in 1942. Members of his family had lived for some time in Bilbao, Spain. Another grandson William Nesbitt Newbigin joined the family gathering in 1971.

William, the last son of Joseph and Mary was born in 1775. In 1811 he married Jane Sanders, a wealthy lady and having one of the oldest names in Ryton, it being recorded there since 1498. William held the charter for th [the] hiring of servants at Ryton Fair and also owned freehold lands in Crawcrook. They had no children. Jane died in 1845 and was survived by her husband for almost twenty years. They lie under an imposing table-top tombstone near the east window of the church at Ryton.

during the Parliamentary Contest occasioned by the death of Sir Joseph Cowen,

Marriage Licence Bond of Edward Newbigin 1799



The youngest child of Joseph Newbigin and Mary White was a daughter, Mary who married in 1799 John Cowen, chainmaker of Winlaton. The Cowens were said to have come from Holy Island and to have worked in the iron foundry of Ambrose Crowley.

Their eldest son named Joseph after his grandfather, served apprenticeship as a chainmaker then specialising in gas retorts and brick-making; later he established his own firm at Blaydon Brickworks. From early days when he marched to the great meeting on Newcastle Town Moor to protest at the Peterloo Massacres, Joseph Cowen was interested in politics. He was elected M.P. for Newcastle and concerned himself much with local affairs having acted for twenty years as Commissioner for River Tyne Improvement and buying the Newcastle Chronicle. Offered a baronetcy by Gladstone he declined, but accepted a knighthood which was conferred by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1872. He died the following year at Stella Hall, a highly respected Member of the Commons known by the soubriquet “the handsomest old man in the House.” He was succeeded both as M.P. and newspaper editor and indeed, his career has been eclipsed, by his extraordinary son Joe Cowen.

Joseph Cowen, junior is well documented in the Dictionary of Labour and of National Biography. Active in both local and national affairs his maiden speech in the Commons, in purest Geordie brought the admiration of Mr. Gladstone and a request for a translation from Disraeli: several others were


convinced he was talking in Latin. But his sympathies fastened upon every aspect of working class life settling strikes, setting up mechanics institues [institutes] and co-ops, aiding the temperence [temperance] movement, interested in the franchise reform, the Irish Question,

His connection and support for European revolutionary movements is perhaps the strangest and most interesting part of his career. He was friend and supporter to Kossuth, to Louis Blanc, Garabaldi, Orsini, and Mazzini besides many Polish and Russian revolutionaries. But his hero was Mazzini and his heart was in Italian Unification. Stella became known in Europe as a place of refuge. More than once his father was refused a passport or had it confiscated because it bore the name of Joseph Cowen.

According to the memoirs of Sir Wemyss Reid, Joe Cowen provided the funds for Orsini’s attempt on the life of Louis-Napoleon. Much of the correspondence on this affair has been destroyed by Joe himself or by his daughter Jane who acted as her father’s secretary. What remains shows some traces of writing in invisible ink. His papers now form the Cowen Collection in Newcastle City Archives. From it,

it is evident that Joe kept up correspondence with relatives who had emigrated – one letter survives to Newbigin cousins at the brewery in Napier, New Zealand.

When he died in 1900 a statue was raised by public subscription to him in Newcastle for this hero of the people. His son, another Joseph and daughter Jane never married. The former was a great benefactor in establishing the Tyneside Scottish battalion in Newcastle during the First World War. Jane is still remembered in the Blaydon district as a respected worker for local charities. She was a fund of stories about the European revolutionaries, most of whom she had met when they visited her father at Stella.

Joe Cowen’s brother, Col. John was responsible for the commercial interests of the family and also has been called “Father of the Blaydon Races” for it was he who revived the races run in front of the Hall at Stella Haughs that have become famous in the Tyneside song “The Blaydon Races”

Yours truly

Jos: Cowen

Letter of Joseph Cowen, MP, 1882 to Newbigins in Australia

To Edward Newbigin, Stella, Punt Rd, Prahran, Victoria, Oct 27th 1882.

Dear Mr Newbigin –

I was very glad to hear from you again, and to learn of your success. I frequently see your sister. She comes out to Stella occasionally, was here with us in London in the spring, and we learn from her generally how you get along. She is in good health and spirits – better than I have seen her for some time. I am very much surprised at you not receiving the “Chronicle”. It has certainly not been stopped at Newcastle and if it has not reached you, it is from no omission here – at least that I know of. I will write to Newcastle, this post and ask them to look to the matter. Anyway, you shall certainly have the paper sent, or a couple of copies if any North countrymen care to read them. I had a letter from John Newbigin’s son lately. He is a manager

at the Swan Brewery, Napier, New Zealand. The brewery belongs to Mr. Swan, a brother of Mr. Swan, of Newcastle, who was connected with Mr Mawson, whom your sister knew very well. You will be glad to hear that the young man is doing well. His sister is married, and is also well; but his brother had an accident which incapacitated him for work. He, too, bears an excellent character. Will you give my respects to your daughter who, I hope, is well.

I am in good health, though bothered a little with my eyes still. Mrs Alison is wonderfully fresh for her age, and lives at Hexham.

Yours very truly
Jos Cowen

To Rev. M. Davis, 4, Mawson Row, Chiswick, Oct 30th, 1882.

Dear Sir – I read your letter, and have looked over the pamphlet; but I don’t see how it is possible for me to serve you in the matter. I am not a member of the


William Newbigin, last son of Edward the farmer of Ryton Grange was born in 1816. He married in 1840 at St John’s Church, Newcastle, Jane Robson who came from Long Benton. After about eighteen months at the Lambton Castle estate, he settled as a game breeder at Walwick, near Humsaugh.

Thus he reversed the centuries old trend of the family to move Newcastle-wards by returning to the very area his distant ancestors had known. William and Jane had seven children, the eldest of whom was John Newbigin born in 1841.

John lived at Nunwick in Simonburn parish until his death in 1899. He married a widow, Isabella Appleby Smith and they had three children: John, Jane and Thomas William. John had moved to Chester-le-Street where his family continues. Thomas married a Hexham girl and in latter years removed to Belford where he died. One of his sons Joe Newbigin, served two successive Trevelyan baronets at Wallington until his early death and his son is at present an eye surgeon working in Canada.

Jane Newbigin taught at Simonburn Village School until her marriage to Henry Samuel Whiteley of Old Silksworth and grandparents of the present writer.

Picture captions –

John Newbigin of Nunwick 1847

Published March 1885 by W. Morison Alnwick

Lesslie – Newbigin

Edward Newbigin 1797 – 1865 emigrated to Melbourne 1854 = Mary Ann Lesslie 1797 – 1850 d Newcastle
Mary Ann Lesslie 1827
Elizabeth Jane 1828
James Lesslie of Alnwick 1830 – 1905 m Emma France
Lesslie 1885 m Minnie Bohum
Mary Lesslie 1885 m Walter G. Howard
Alice Louisa m W. Peter Carpenter
Simon James 1956
Emma 1859 – 1938
Edith Lesslie 1860 m Geo. Limont
Edward Richmond of Newcastle 1863 – 1940 m Annie Ellen Affleck
Agnes Jane Waugh
James Edwd Lesslie. Bishop m Helen S. Henderson
John Lesslie
Frances E.A.
Marion Isabella 1869 – 1934
Henry Thornton1864 – 1928 m Alison E. Brown
Thomas m Dorothy Parkins
James T. m Nelly Horden-McKay [?]
Ralph Jas.
Keith Adrian
Harold m Winifred Parke
Robert m Edith
Florence Margaret 1866 – 1940
Maude Eliz. 1872 – 1947
Hilda France 1876 – 1951
William Johnstone 1874 – 1927 m Rita Reynoldson
Stephen m Alex. Forrest
Celia Everard
Merida Everard
Alice Mary Septuna 1878 – 1947
Margaret 1832 – 1864 m Edward Eccles
Mary Ann 1833 – 1838
Ann 1834 d inf
John Campbell 1836 – 1903 d Melbourne m Mary …
Marion d 1931
John d 1934
Edward d 1934
Edwd Lesslie
Thomas d 1925
Thomas Lesslie 1837
Edward d 1908 Melbourne m Eliz. Harcourt
Emily Maude 1870 m Wm Robb
Adalaide Louise Lesslie 1873 – 1902 m G. Parker
Edward Lesslie 1877 – 1904
Harold Vernon Harcourt 1882 m Fanny Haywood
Agnes 1841 d inf
Thomas Lesslie 1842 – 1867 d Australia


The only survivor to the children of John Newbigin and Elizabeth Broddie Campbell was Edward, born in 1797. He had become a butcher like his forbears with a shop in Blenheim Street, Newcastle, when he met the daughter of a baker on Gateshead Fell. Mary Ann Lesslie was the child of James Lesslie and Ann Johnstone,coming from Burntisland in Fife. Edward married in 1827 and the two surnames have become associated since that date. When Mary Ann died in 1850 leaving eleven children, her husband decided to emigrate taking with him the three youngest: John Campbell, Edward and Thomas Lesslie who arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1854. There they settled and put down roots which continue to the present day. A grandson of Edward – William Johnstone and also a great-grandson, Harold, were later to find a home in Australia. Edward the pioneer died in Melbourne in 1865.

His second son meanwhile, had remained in England and James Lesslie became a reputable chemist in Alnwick. He too, had eleven children some of whom persued [pursued] distinguised [distinguished] careers.

A memoir of the eldest – Edward Richmond Newbigin, appears in the journal of the Newcastle Antiquaries Society at his death in 1940. Another was Dr Marion Isabella, editor of the Scottish Geographical Magazine and publishing some eighteen books in the early part of this century. Florence her sister was an artist. Another


sister, Maude, was the principal of a training college.

The son of Edward Richmond is Lesslie Newbigin who in 1947 became Bishop of the Church of South India. He represents the eldest of all the long line of the Newbigins stretching back to William Newbigin of East Boat House near Hexham in 1664.

And it was due to the generosity of another member of this family, Jim Newbigin, that in 1971 there took place a gathering of twenty-five Newbigins at his home in Newcastle. Few had met each other before but all were descended from that eighteenth century marriage of Joseph Newbigin and Mary White of Ryton.

D.Sc. (Lond.), F.R.G.S.

a new beginning!

Original digital file


Date published


Creator / Author

  • Douglas Whiteley Smith

Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.