"For livelihood he peddled tea, and so went round from door to door;
His tea as good as tea could be, Though more than tea he kept in store."
Who was Isaac Holden?
Isaac Holden was a lead miner, an itinerant tea seller and a philanthropist. His native town was Allendale, though he was a familiar figure between Newcastle and Carlisle and also in County Durham from the 1830s until his death in 1857.
Isaac Holden was born around 1805 in Mohope in the Ninebanks grieveship of the West Allen. The family were known to be amongst the poorest and he never attended a school. The Holden’s were lead miners employed in the processing and transporting of lead ore.
The market for lead boomed in the 1700s at home and abroad. However, by the early 1800's, waning demand and competition from abroad meant lead mining was on the decline, this left the miners vulnerable, intermittment periods of unemployment and extreme hardship became the norm. Born into this way of life Isaac was indistinguishable from his contemporaries.
Time for Tea
By the early 1830's, Isaac could how the decline of lead mining had affected his family and community. In fact Isaac himself had recently lost his job as a lead miner. So, unemployed and desperate, Isaac turned to selling tea as a wy of keeping him and his family out of the work house. This change in career was well timed as tea was gaining in popularity and dropping in price. Isaac became a familiar figure within the many villages and hamlets within the Allen Valleys.
Revelation & Conversion
In 1832 whilst at a Methodist revival meeting Isaac Isaac experienced a life changing religious conversion, which was later described as “pious”. Thus began his now famous charitable works. The reminders of his work in Allendale can still be seen at Isaac’s Well and the Methodist Chapels, one of which is s now the library and the other (the old Savings Bank) is now a shop.
A New Life
With his fortunes improved, Isaac was able to marry his longterm sweetheart, Anne. They settled in Allendale and opened a grocer's shop. They also had two daugthers. The future was looking bright for Isaac and his family. However, tragedy was not far from their door.
Tragedy Hits the Holden Family
In the late 1840's, one of Isaac's daughters, Mary, had succumbed to Scarlet Fever and died. Isaac and Anne were devasted by the loss. Isaac beleived that tainted drinking water had been the source of infection and he began work to improve the quality of Allendale's water supply. In 1849 a freshwater spring was connected to Isaac's Well - the name by which the well is known to this day
A Life Well Lived
Isaac dedicated his life to the betterment of his community and can be very proud of what he achieved in his lifetime. In Allendale, you can still see reminders of his good works and the lasting tribute in the churchyards the impressive memorial built from the contributions of over 600 people from the area who wanted to show their appreciation for what he had achieved.
A Lasting Legacy
The works of Isaac Holden remain visible throughout Allendale and surrounding areas, these the Wesleyan Chapel (Allendale), Savings Bank (Allendale), Isaac's Well (Allendale) & Hearse House (Ninebanks). His other charitable works, such as his clothing fund for women and children, contributed to improvements in the quality of life for many people.
Walk in the footsteps of the legendary tea seller Isaac Holden.
Discover hidden valleys and cross wild moors with stunning views across Northumberland and Cumbria.
Isaac’s Tea Trail links Alston, England’s highest town, with Allendale and includes romantic hamlets like Ninebanks and the old lead mining village of Nenthead. The route follows public rights of way where livestock graze, and walkers are asked to follow the country code and keep dogs on a lead at all times. A moderate degree of fitness is required, reasonable navigation skills and clothing and footwear suitable for hill walking in potentially poor weather conditions.
Map extracts are included for guidance only, and Trail users are recommended to purchase Ordnance Survey Landranger 87 [Hexham and Haltwhistle] or OL Explorer Map 31 [Teesdale and Weardale] or download the maps and use a phone mapping app such as Anquet’s OMN.
Isaac’s Tea Trail can be covered in four or more stages, depending on time available. It is not intended as a challenge walk, but an experience to enjoy because of the variety of wildlife and the range of landscapes passed on the way. The hand of history, whether in the shape of chapels, farmsteads, field patterns or remnants of the lead mining industry, is ever present. Details of visitor facilities, the availability of refreshments (including tea!) and accommodation are included for each section of the walk.
A photo lead guide to Isaac's Tea Trail can be found here and here