Isaac’s Tea Trail

During my weekly trips to the gym I like to listen to Radio 4 podcasts on my mp3.  Probably my favourite programme to listen to is Ramblings, with Clare Balding.  I love how she meets and chats to so many ordinary people, with amazingly different reasons for walking and I enjoy hearing about different parts of the country.  Last week I was particularly captivated as I listened to an episode broadcast back in March, entitled ‘Isaac’s Tea Trail’.

This is a long distance circular path of 36 miles in Northumberland, and it starts and finishes in Allendale.  During the walk Clare found out more about who the Isaac was who inspired the creation of the walk.

Isaac Holden was born around 1805 in Allendale.  In addition to his grocery business he used to sell tea door to door, visiting the households spread out across the moors.  On his travels, moreover, he also invited donations for worthy community causes, and sold his poems, becoming quite a local philanthropist.  He raised money for a fresh water well to help combat cholera; he set up a clothes store to help the local poor; he founded a savings bank and he also raised money for a horse drawn hearse so that the poor could be taken to their funerals in dignity.  His charitable work was inspired by his strong Methodist roots, and the programme describes how the oldest Methodist chapel in continuous use – Keeley – is near to Allendale.

I was inspired by the programme to see what else I could find out about Isaac.  The first record to come up on The Genealogist was the 1851 census, where Isaac is in Allendale aged 47 with wife Ann and daughter Maria – his occupation given as ‘Grocer and tea dealer’.  A little more delving revealed a marriage to Ann Teailford in December 1834, and then an 1841 census entry for the family with a second daughter, Mary.  By the time of the 1861 census wife Ann was a widow, still living in Allendale with daughter Maria.

I was also able to discover that Isaac had a younger brother Jonathan, who was a witness at his wedding, and who was a lead ore miner.  His brother unfortunately died in 1852.

Switching to Ancestry, I found a death date for Isaac through the link to the Find a Grave site .  He died on 12 November 1857, aged only 51.  There is a photo of the headstone in St Cuthbert’s graveyard, which also records the deaths of his wife Ann in 1872, his daughter Mary Ann in 1846 (aged just 7) and his daughter Maria Forster in 1871 and her two infant sons, named after their grandfather.

If I had a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive I could find yet more about Isaac.  There is a tantalizing snippet in the Newcastle Courant for 22 April 1853, where Isaac had put an advertisement:  “I intend publisling my begging speech and this little poem, and giving the profits to some good cause. If any is wishful to have a copy, at twopence each, I shall feel happy to supply them”.

On the Methodist Heritage site I found a very informative leaflet about the Tea Trail . This indicates that there is a memorial to Isaac in Allendale and that the well and savings bank are still in existence.

Finally The North Penines Virtual Museum at  was particularly useful with further detail on Isaac.  Apparently over 600 people contributed to his memorial after his death.   This site reveals that a Mr Pruddah took his photo in 1853, which Isaac then sold for 6d a copy to raise funds for the hearse project – quite a new way at this time of marketing his cause.  This was obviously a man with a strong community spirit and sense of purpose who was determined to make a difference in his local area.

This episode of Ramblings also mentioned that Isaac had written a tract on the principles of fundraising, but of that I could find no trace during my evening of searching the internet.  Pity – it might have come in useful!

Isaac Holden
Isaac Holden



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