Isaac Holden was born around 1805 in Mohope in the Ninebanks grieveship of the West Allen. The family were known to be amongst the poorest and he never attended a school. The Holden’s were lead miners as most others were or employed in processing or transporting the ore. The market for lead boomed in the 1700s at home and abroad but made the miners vulnerable when the trade slumped in times of recession. Born into this way of life Isaac was indistinguishable from his contemporaries. Yet by the end of his life he had assumed almost a legendary status with the grandest memorial in Allendale churchyard with a revealing tribute:
“ISAAC HOLDEN A native of this parish who died November 12th 1857, aged 51 years. He gained the esteem and respect of the public by his untiring diligence in originating works of charity and public usefulness upwards of 600 persons subscribed to erect this monument.”
How he won the respect across the community is the inspiration for Isaac’s Tea Trail and an invitation to follow in his footsteps. Along the way you will discover the hidden heritage of a remote part of Northern England. Even, if the history holds no attraction to you can simply enjoy some of the best of the North Pennines has to offer.
Isaac and Tea
If Isaac had remained a lead miner there would probably have been no memorial or trail. What changed everything was a down turn in the lead trade in the early 1830s and the near exhaustion of ore in the mine where he worked. At his time of acute crisis, from lead miner to be an itinerant tea seller and energetic fund raiser. It is a matter of speculation as the exact circumstances behind his career change. Tea selling was a calling driven only from dire necessity.
He was given a helping hand with advice and access to the tea supply chain. Fortunately, in the year’s ahead tea drinking grew steadily in popularity, as the price dropped with reductions in import tariffs, tea became more affordable and within the reach of most households. In Methodist circuits chapel tea bazaars became the rage at special anniversaries and for raising funds and was encouraged as an alternative to alcohol.
Around this time Isaac experienced a life changing religious conversion and was later described as “pious”. Whatever the reasons behind his conversion such emotionally charged occasions were a powerful feature in the close faith driven communities of the North Pennines. At this already eventful time he married Anne Telfer and before long they opened a grocer’s shop in Allendale.
By then Isaac, dressed in black, had become a familiar figure, uphill and down dale selling tea door to door in all weathers to the mining communities, farmsteads and remote hamlets. Over the years, as he fund-raised for charity and his name became known not only in the Allen Valleys but across the North of England from Carlisle to Newcastle.
For livelihood he peddled tea,
And so went round from door to door;
His tea as good as tea could be,
Though more than tea he kept in store.