In around 1805, Isaac Holden was born into a poor family of lead miners living at Redheugh in the Mohope valley. As an eight year old he started work processing the piles of lead ore on the washing floor of the nearby mine. When he reached his early teens he became a lead miner.
By the early 1830s the downturn in the wider lead mining industry was evidenced by a steady decline in terms offered to miners like Isaac, who was working at the Keirsleywell mine. Isaac was forced to look for another livelihood – he became a tea seller.
Isaac married Ann Telfer and together they opened a grocer’s shop in Allendale. While Ann ran the shop, Isaac sold tea to the outlying farms and hamlets. During this period he was consumed by a powerful religious conversion to the Methodist faith. As he walked the valleys and moors selling tea, he was driven by his desire to do ‘good works’. To help raise money for his projects, Isaac sold a postcard sized photograph of ‘his likeness’ for sixpence, and this image graced many a mantelpiece throughout the North Pennines.
Isaac’s fund-raising helped finance chapels; establish a clothing fund; fund Isaac’s Well in Allendale to provide clean water for the town; and pay for a hearse for the West Allen valley. He also supported the Allendale penny savings bank. A Hearse House, near Ninebanks Church, was built to house the hearse.
The locations on the list of some of Isaac’s customers and well-wishers have helped shape the circular walk of Isaac’s Tea Trail. His ‘likeness’ forms the distinctive red and green trail logo. The Hearse House still stands as a walkers’ shelter, near the tea trail. (Its restoration was financed by the National Lottery and completed in 2016.)
The 36 mile tea trail starts from Isaac’s Well in Allendale’s Market Place. It links Allendale with Nenthead and Alston, to return by way of Isaac’s childhood home at Mohope. Along the route there are signs of the fascinating lead mining heritage within the vast North Pennines landscape.
Isaac Holden died in 1857. More than 600 people contributed to the fund that financed his memorial, an obelisk in St Cuthbert’s churchyard in Allendale. The memorial bears the inscription: “for his untiring diligence in originating works of charity and public usefulness.”
You can take a closer look at the trail itself by following Anne Leuchars’ blog, in which she pioneers the short distance approach to long distance walking: https://walkingisaacsteatrail.wordpress.com/
Also look out for A Guide to Isaac’s Tea Trail: Hidden Heritage in England’s North Country, and Isaac’s Tea Trail. Both booklets are available from outlets in Allendale and Allenheads and directly from Allenheads Trust Ltd, Heritage Centre, Allenheads, Hexham, Northumberland, NE47 9HN
The BBC website contains a brief entry on Isaac Holden: