A book for anyone who loves Northumberland
William “Billy” Bell, Redesdale Roadman, Border Bard. His life, times and poetry
By Susanne Ellingham and Johnny Handle
Published by The Heritage Centre, Bellingham, NE48 2DF
Printed by Robson Print, Hexham, NE46 3PU
Print book Edition 2013
The text content of this book is also available as an eBook ISBN 978-0-9575426-1-7
How to buy
Buy the limited edition print book for £8.99 at many local outlets e.g. Hexham Old Gaol, TiCs ; bookshops & the Heritage Centre, Bellingham,
Retailers: use <www.Northern-Heritage.co.uk> ISBN 978-0-9575426-0-0
Buy the ebook version to read on a Kindle (or on PCs/pads using the free Kindle app)
£2.50 Amazon ISBN 978-0-9575426-1-7 Look out for Johnny Handle’s new CD with some of Billy’s best loved poems and songs.
Coming soon: Billy Bell 2: the rest of the Redesdale Roadman’s poems (e-book)
William Bell enjoyed hearing his poetry recited and sung. Please feel free to perform any of his poems or set them to music. In return, please acknowledge Billy Bell of Byrness as the author.
© Copyright 2013 to other sections is held by the authors (Susanne Ellingham, Johnny Handle and Robert Craig’s estate)
Cover photographs to book
· Byrness church memorial window: (courtesy of Revd Dr Susan Ramsaran)
· Catcleugh Reservoir: (courtesy of Northumberland National Park Authority)
All profits shared by the Heritage Centre, Bellingham; The Border Library, Old Gaol, Hexham; Byrness & Horsley Parish and the Black House, Catcleugh. Publication of this book was supported by the Northumberland National Park Authority
Billy Bell (1862 - 1941), the roadman poet of Redesdale, North Northumberland, who died just over 70 years ago, lived just south of Carter Bar. He had links over the border into Scotland as well as across Northumberland. Fred Terry (the famous Actor-Manager and great-uncle of Sir John Gielgud) called him ‘an undiscovered poet - a poet of the mountains.’ This selection of his poetry, mostly written a century ago, showcases the humour, wit and warmth of his writing about the area and its people.
Few people today have heard of Billy Bell. Only a few of his poems are known outside Redesdale - and several poems are now only attributed to Anon. This book has a selection of around a quarter of his poems. A second eBook, containing the rest of the archive, is planned.
‘Billy’ Bell wrote the majority of his poems just over a century ago. He was named the ‘Bard of Redesdale’ by local people and called “an undiscovered poet - a poet of the mountains” by Fred Terry, great-uncle of John Gielgud, and himself a famous actor- manager.
William Bell’s subjects mainly tend to be the natural and social world around him, the landscape and people. Those people included family, friends and neighbours as well as imaginary individuals and events. The main occupation on the open moorlands then was sheep farming. Widespread afforestation only started in the 1920s.
Catcleugh Reservoir was built during his watch. The church memorial plaque in Byrness gives the dates of construction as 1891 to 1904. Several of the poems refer to the people who built it and to the effect, which the dam had on the valley of the Rede.
William Bell was a true son of the Borderlands. His father’s family came from Northumberland and Cumberland while his mother came from southern Scotland. William himself was born just north of the Border and baptised just to the south.