Historical Maps of Alnwick & Alnmouth

The Historical Map was a joint project between the Alnwick Civic Society and the Historic Towns Trust. It was created during 2021 by a team of local volunteers. The map has been published, and is available at £9.99 in many local outlets, including Bailiffgate Museum and The Accidental Bookshop on Narrowgate.

The image on the map cover is a watercolour, painted by John Wykeham Archer and included in his portfolio entitled “Drawings of Ancient Buildings in Northumberland”. It is called “Hotspur-Gate, Alnwick”, and dated September 1855. It is in the collection of the Duke of Northumberland, who kindly gave permission for its use.

The man on crutches standing by Bondgate Tower in the painting is belived to be Billy Conolly or, more correctly, William Cleghorn. “Billy” is a strange mix of fact and fiction even having his own Wikipedia page. He was resident in Pottergate at his death on 9 August 1860, at the age of 83, and is buried in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church. Local newspapers carried news of his death with the Newcastle Journal giving a detailed obituary: “Mr William Cleghorn, more generally known as “Billy Conolly.” He is almost the last of the old eccentricities of the town. He served his time to be a leathern breeches maker, but for many years he led a wandering life, selling the ballads and stories of Cattanach, of Seven Dials, London, who was also a native of Alnwick. He is said to have been the veritable King of the Beggars in St Giles*; and at one time he was kidnapped and carried to France, and exhibited as a dwarf, being very diminutive in stature. He was liberated on complaining of his treatment to some of the authorities of a town who had come to see the English dwarf. In his latter days he earned a livelihood by selling nuts and oranges, and was well patronised by the public.”

This is likely legendary, drawing on the story of Billy Waters, who was famous as a beggar and violin playing busker, entertaining theatre-goers in London. In later life, he was popularly elected ‘King of Beggars’ in St. Giles parish in London, due to his fame and the regard of his peers. He died in the St. Giles workhouse in 1823.

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