Here in Northumberland I have been quenching my thirst for contemporary art with regular journeys across to Newcastle to visit the Baltic (they’ll be hosting the Turner Prize later this year) but I still feel a little too removed from a contemporary art scene. And if it’s not the 2 hour journey to the nearest contemporary gallery that’s making me feel cut off it’s the fact the working 50 hour weeks is leaving little time for art making. (Even this blog has taken me over three weeks to write now, every morning jotting down a quick sentence/notion between slurps of tea.)
(Nevertheless) I’ve begun the hunt for the She-wolf in rural Northumberland.
One particular wolf is of local legend here, and although apparently meeting an untimely end on the rail tracks west of the village here in 1905, I still hear people warn others about wandering around the forests at night in case they meet the wolf.
A quick google search of my home town ‘Hexham’ and ‘Wolf’ brings up articles from Mysterious Britain.com and The Fortean times.com – the world of strange phenomena vividly describing the wolf attacks at the turn of the century and even the peculiar case of the Hexham Heads in the 1970s. ‘a pair of Celtic stone heads were dug up in a garden not 10 minutes walk from the woods of the wolf. These uncanny artefacts were seemingly protected by an animalistic presence that would crash about in whichever house the Heads happened to inhabit. Interestingly, witnesses of this bizarre primal presence described it as being half-man, half-beast; the beast part was a wolf.’
However the scholar in me will not allow myself to put much faith in these Internet articles, and I’m curious to know how these wolf tales began.
It’s this curiosity (and I think a desire to feel like ‘a scholar’ once more) that led me to walking up the winding metal paint flecked staircase to the upper floor of my local library where the ancient microfilm scanner lurks. The dark wood panels library and cavernous dark brick ceiling makes this the kind of library where you are surprised the books aren’t completely moth eaten and disintegrate when you pick them up. Unsurprisingly there’s not a single book on contemporary art in their collection (actually there is very little that’s not romance, crime fiction or local history) but fortunately for me this week they do hold every single copy of my local paper, ‘The Courant’ on microfilm.
I begin pulling reels of film out of the metal cabinet, loading them on the machine and start scanning through pages of articles on local farming and adverts ‘NOTE! NOTE! NOTE! 1 CABINET free of all charge!. I have a good idea where I need to start looking but still a disappointing half hour went by and I found no trace of the wolf. I began to conclude the story had been sensationalized with the previously mentioned reporters banging out weird stories without any actual fact checking.
But then something came up.
Friday December 10th, pg 8, amongst notes on the Russo-Japan war; ‘BIG HUNT IN ALLENDALE: The Search For The Wolf’. I begin eagery scribbling down notes ‘Killed 4 sheep, severely injuring 2’ ‘Sighted in Sipton Wood, then Killop Law then across to Weardale’. In the weeks after more articles pop out as the hunt for the wolf catches the public imagination. After a couple of hours I have lists of notes following the exact movements of the wolf sightings over a couple of weeks as well as a few more humorous anecdotes , one regarded an unfortunate farmer who ‘was standing at his door when the wolf suddenly appeared which so unnerved him that he ran into the house and threw a cat out at it’.
And some articles that struck a particular chord with me noting ‘peculiar costumes have been worn’ while tracking the wolf, men wore ‘white dresses’ and how the ‘ornamental appearance of the hunters (was) enhanced by wearing ‘hoggers’ ‘
(Although still no sign of that main front page headline of ‘Wolf At Large In Allendale’ like the man from Mysterious Britain promised)
Now I wonder if I can find anything in the 1970s papers about those weird Hexham Heads?
Back to the library
when I get another day off.