Tales of Derwentdale is a charming collection of myths, legends, stories and historical anecdotes from the Derwent Valley. I hadn't been aware of it until very recently, but now I'm immersed in researching the author!
It was written and published in 1902 by J.W.Fawcett from Satley near Consett. It turns out he was a remarkable man. Born at Brancepeth in 1867, he was a child prodigy, an amazing scholar with a particular gift for languages. At the age of twelve he was apparently appointed rate collector for Butsfield Township near Consett: even at that age, it is said he could speak 14 languages!
At eighteen he was chosen from 2000 candidates for the post of Army interpreter and spent a number of years as aide-de-camp, interpreter and firm friend of Lord Kitchener in Egypt. The story goes that he was shipwrecked in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and also the Red Sea!
At some point, he studied Law and (it is said) was appointed Chief Stipendiary Magistrate for the town of Kennedy in New South Wales: he also became the town’s MP in the legislative Assembly. He returned to his native Satley and wrote many books about the area as well as many learned papers for different historical societies. He died in 1942 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Satley churchyard. In 2103, a campaign resulted in a headstone being erected in Satley Churchyard, but it seems as though very few people know about the life of this extraordinary man.
An investigation is underway! Whilst I ferret out the other writings, on subjects as various as the flora and fauna of Australia and sheep-branding in North East England, Durham County Archivist David Butler is investigating the records.
As part of the Land of Oak & Iron Project, we hope to republish Tales of Derwentdale, complete with a biography of J.W.Fawcett and a selection of his other works.
The Late J.W.Fawcett by Madeleine Hope Dodds, in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne
Timber Trees of Queensland in the Queensland Agricultural Journal 1st October 1899
Satley's Forgotten Son - an article by Ray Thompson published in the Lanchester Village Voice Sept 2008. P.5.