Connie

There are three ways to Throckrington – along rough tracks and a three-gated road, circumnavigating Colt Cleugh Reservoir; through Little Swinburne and Short Knowes, more rough tracks and, I am told, five gates; or, the single-track road (with no gates), signposted ‘Throckrington 1 Mile’ off the B6342, Colwell to Little Bavington road. I have walked the first and ridden the last. So many ways of reaching nowhere.

Rough road from Colt Cleugh
Set high on a spur of the Great Whin Sill

The settlement comprises nothing more than a sizeable farm and St Aidan’s church which once towered over a village, elevated on a spur of the Great Whin Sill. In 1847 a returning sailor brought cholera, the residents were wiped out and the houses destroyed. If anyone travels to Throckrington today, it is for the church and its graveyard. There is the farm but, nothing else.

The sloping graveyard has headstones etched with the names of the Border Reiver families – the Armstrongs, the Milburns, the Robsons and the Shaftoes, the latter celebrated by a too obvious granite obelisk. It is an odd ambition, to have the grandest memorial in the graveyard and perhaps galling that it is not the Reiver families that attract visitors.

Connie’s swimming stone is bottom left

Among the old bones, there are some surprising more recent incomers of note. At the north west of the graveyard lie the remains of Lord and Lady Beveridge beneath two unpretentious, arched headstones. William Henry Beveridge, 1st Baron Beveridge, KCB (5 March 1879 – 16 March 1963) was a British economist and Liberal politician whose 1942 report, Social Insurance and Allied Services (known as the Beveridge Report) provided the basis for the NHS and UK welfare state established by the 1945 Labour government.

The Lord and Lady Beveridge headstones are third and fourth from the left

A yet more modest memorial, a simple stone carved with the initials CRL marks where Constance Ruth Leathart is laid to rest. Connie flew Spitfires in World War II and was one of the first women with a pilot’s licence. According to Wiki she was born into a wealthy family on Tyneside and started flying lessons in 1925 at Newcastle Aero Club. She wrote her name as “C. R. Leathart” on the application form and was accepted before the club realised her gender. When she received her flying licence in 1927, Leathart became the first British female pilot outside London, and one of the first 20 overall.

She started an aircraft repair business, Cramlington Aircraft, with Walter Runciman, later Viscount Runciman, participated successfully in air races with him, and was one of a group of flying socialites. She was one of the first women to fly over the Alps, in a de Havilland Tiger Moth and was the first in Great Britain to design and fly a glider.
When World War II broke out, she was working in the map department at Bristol Airport and volunteered as one of the first members of the Air Transport Auxiliary, female pilots who delivered aircraft from the manufacturers.
After the war ended, she became a United Nations special representative to the Greek island of Icaria and received an award of merit from the International Union for Child Welfare. She reluctantly gave up flying in 1958 and retired to a farm in Little Bavington, Northumberland, where she cared for rescued donkeys.

The stone that marks Connie’s grave is the step taken from her unheated swimming pool which she used regardless of the weather. A simple memorial to a remarkable life.

Connie’s memorial in the foreground, the Shaftoe memorial in the background.

Finally, there is Tom Sharpe, the satirical novelist best known for Blott on the Landscape and Porterhouse Blue. Except he is not there – some of his ashes, along with a bottle of whisky, a Cuban cigar and a pen, were buried without permission and were later exhumed by the Vicar of St Aidan’s. Maud’s gardener would have been up in arms.

The view south west

11 comments

  1. J.D. · April 27

    Something about that church and graveyard surrounded by all that space. Lonely, but defiant. It’s the perfect place for a lady like Connie to be buried. I wonder if the rescued donkeys are buried nearby. Looks like you’re having an adventurous spring, Robin. I’m starting to feel the itch to explore again after a very long slump. Your words and images are an encouragement.

    • northumbrianlight · April 28

      Hi Julie – I would guess the donkeys were buried on her farm at Little Bavington which is just a couple of miles east of Throckrington. We are at Swanage on the south coast at the moment, a holiday let postponed from May 2020. With no hotels open, we had to do the 388 mile drive in one go – no fun on busy UK roads. It was definitely worth the effort though – I hope you can get to explore again soon. All the best, R.

  2. Aviationtrails · April 28

    What a remarkable and remote place with so many famous people buried there. It must be quite popular with visitors I guess.

    • northumbrianlight · April 28

      It is typical of so much of Northumberland – a remarkable place to be on a sunny day, bleak in winter. I would guess they might see the occasional one or two visitors in a week but, fortunately not many. I am told they have increased a little recently because of renewed interest in Beveridge and the NHS.

  3. socialbridge · April 28

    A fascinating gathering.
    I love Connie’s step.

    • northumbrianlight · April 28

      Hi Jean – trust you are keeping ok. Yes, remarkable for where it is. Judging by other, earlier images, Connie’s step seems to be slowly sinking, trying to join her. All the best, Robin

      • socialbridge · May 2

        Maybe that’s fitting?
        Doing pretty okay thanks.

  4. brownanthony1outlookcom · April 28

    How brilliant
    Love the Photographs & the information
    How good is the church our deserted village church is falling into ruin
    Black & white is outstanding
    Regards Tony

    • northumbrianlight · April 28

      Many thanks Tony – very kind! Trust you are keeping ok and enjoying the return to golf. Must admit I am pleased with the new WHS handicap – doesn’t change much at AGC but will help enormously elsewhere 🙂
      All the best, Robin

  5. ChrisB · April 29

    I enjoyed those stories, Robin. I now know where Tom Sharpe (might have been) buried, a little known fact. I’ve read Spitfire Women, which probably had Connie in it, but it was so annoyingly written that I had to get rid of it. I’ve put it in the informal library (the old telephone box) in the village, about 200m north of our house 🙂

    • northumbrianlight · July 4

      Sorry Chris – I have only just seen this – I have been neglecting WordPress of late, too much else to do. Shame that Spitfire Women does not do them justice.

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