Meeting Reflections

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The Magnificent Seven – Alan Powell

After an abundance of misdirected mail all to his address in Willington. Alan asked the Post Office to discover there was more than one Willington in the UK – in fact there proved to be seven other Willingtons.

Last year curiosity prevailed, and he set out to visit each one.

Starting in Kent, in the South, the first Willington proved to be disappointing, as it appeared to no longer be a village in its own right but absorbed into the outskirts of Maidstone. The village had been in the heart of a healthy hop farming industry with the evidence of an old Oast House being near the centre; unfortunately the notion of being a separate village had long since disappeared.


Moving North, we come to Willington, Bedfordshire. Because of previous talks about the village, Alan did not elaborate on “our Willington, other than to remind that the village had been named from the old English Tun (homestead amongst the Willows. the village has tended to lose its identity as a Farming/Market Gardening centre and despite being rich in History it was probably best known for Frosts, the Danish Camp and more latterly Sinfield’s Farm Shop, regrettably there are signs that the village could soon lose its identity and become absorbed into the greater Bedford.


Heading 65 miles Northwest he came to Willington, Warwickshire. This proved to be a typical Cotswold Village with most of the buildings being built of Cotswold Stone with a single road in and out. This hamlet of almost 200 people is completely given to farming. When a local resident was asked what was of interest in the village? She said “nothing” that’s why I live here! It is believed the village takes its name from William Willington, a local wool merchant, who changed the village’s original name from Wullvington to Willington.


The next village visited was Willington, Derbyshire. Currently identified as a village with a population of 3,500. It is situated on the River Trent, and at one time was the highest navigable port on the river. The Trent and Mersey Canal also cuts through the village as does the mainline railway between Derby and Birmingham. It also hosts Mercia Marine, which is the largest inland Marina in Europe. The village is probably best identified by the five large cooling towers erected to serve the now defunct Power Station, which provided power to the local area, London and as far as Bristol. The towers have been prevented from being pulled down due to resident nesting Peregrine Falcons. The canal had been built to allow beer exports from the Bass Brewery some five miles away to connect with Willington port. Again, Willington derived its name from being a homestead amongst the willows. This appeared to be quite an active village with a purpose and well worth another visit.


Many miles north, Willington Cheshire can be found. The main backdrop to the village is the ancient woodland alongside the sandstone ridge. There are six iron age promontory hill forts situated along a ridge and Willington sits below one of these, known as Kelsborrow Castle. The hill fort affords visitors and locals magnificent views of The Mersey and Dee estuaries to the West and to the East you can just see the Pennines. The village name derives from “village of a women called Winaflaed,” of Saxon origin. After several name changes the village became known as Willington. This Willington is a place of “What Was”, as almost all of the small enterprises i.e. shops, chapels, school, clubs have closed and everything seems to now circulate around one building. Part of the building is a Public House - ‘The Boot’, but the other half contains the village shop and appears to be a meeting place for the village locals. There is also a Willington Hall, which is now a restaurant and hotel which is also adjacent to a thriving stable. Once again, this village is well worth a visit if walking is your passion.


Moving further up country and over to the Northeast, Willington, County Durham, can be found. Local historians believe that the name was derived from “The town of the sons of Will,” but this cannot be verified. The village was established as a result of Willington Pit with the whole village engaged in mining. Unfortunately in 1967 the coal seams were exhausted, and the pit had to close. Today the 5,500 inhabitants are mostly employed in the local towns i.e. Durham, Bishop Auckland and Crook, there being minimal local industry. The village is situated in the foothills of the Pennines and just a mile away from the River Wear. This Willington is a very proud of its past and on the day, Alan visited they were building an effigy of a Phoenix on the village green, on the basis that the next day they would burn the Phoenix and it would rise as would Willington from the ashes and regenerate again. Despite the drabness of the village and the local countryside, which was covered in spoil from the Pits the residents remain resolute for better times and have produced a book “We are Willington”. Perhaps Willington’s proudest son is a George Burdon McKean, who left Willington for Canada as a young man to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His actions proved exemplary gaining the Victoria Cross, Military medal, Military Cross etc. and his exploits are commemorated in a special plaque in the village.


Alan’s last Willington can be found just north of The Angel of the North on Tyne and Wear. This Willington is situated at the end of Hadrian’s Wall at Wallsend. The place name derives from Wifel’s People to later become Wivelington and then Willington. Today little can be seen of the old village other than the red bricked vicarage and the church of St Mary. Initially the whole area had belonged to the Priors of Durham Cathedral Monastery, until it fell into other hands in 1540. On the Tyne foreshore just south of the old village a ballast shore was constructed for the use of sailing ships, which later became Willington Quay, with Willington Gut established to allow the sailing ships to go alongside the Quay. During the nineteenth century there was a stationary engine on the quay for hauling and tipping the ballast from the ships, managed by a young George Stephenson. He later moved up the road to Newburn where he became a brakeman at Killingworth Colliery. George had a son – Robert Stephenson, whom he taught all he knew about steam propulsion and as history records Robert then went on and became famous for the invention of the steam engine. Willington was a hive of industrial activity from the late eighteenth Century. One notable development was the opening of the first steam powered flour mill alongside Willington Gut allowing the ships to discharge the grain. Unfortunately, the mill was linked to the murder of two women and also a young worker “Mollie” who caught her hair in the mill machinery and was also killed. The Mill is renowned as being the most haunted building in the UK. Alan cannot confirm, nor was He willing to test this fact. Willington also has a long history of rope making, glass making and ship building. Just upstream from the Mill and Willington Gut is Willington Viaduct built in 1838 to carry the former Newcastle and North Shields railway. Today the line is part of the Tyne and Wear Metro. On the 7th June a William Coxon was painting the Viaduct and working from a 7” plank under the bridge when he slipped and fell the full 70 feet. On the way down he landed on the roof of a building, bouncing off to land on the ground below. The fall could have been fatal, but he only sustained a broken chest bone, damage to four rips and an injured left shoulder. This is recorded as being one of the highest surviving falls from a fixed object ever. Being an ex-mariner the area brought back many memories for Alan, but irrespective, he was reluctant to hang around the area, being cognisant of the alleged inhabitants of the mill.

In answer to an obvious question – The only other Willingtons in the world are in the USA. One in Connecticut and the other in South Carolina.

In conclusion the whole exercise proved of the greatest interest, with many wonderful and genuine people met along the way and some fantastic stories.

As Alan Said - Yes, I do have my favourites, but this is not to tell, but for readers to judge, or why not visit for yourselves.