Cobbles have formed a major part of the floorscape of Alnwick for at least two centuries and most likely for very much longer. An Engraving in Davison (1822) by James Kerr of the Market Place and Bondgate Hill beyond clearly shows some form of cobbles or setts in the former and less clearly the steep slope of the latter, stretching from the highway at a constant angle to the doorways of properties on the south side of Bondgate Within. Davison appears to confirm their use: “The streets are in general tolerably well paved; but in some parts they present a ruggedness of surface prejudicial to the cleanliness and general appearance of the town, and incompatible with the ease and convenience of passengers.” Nineteenth century reporters such as Tate(1864-8) and Percy Forster (1831, in Middlemas 2011) had nothing significant to report on the cobbles, but by 1887, the surveyor to the Alnwick and Canongate Local Board of Health, Geoffrey Wilson, had produced a plan to alter the layout of Bondgate Hill. This came to nothing but he reported again to the successor to the Board of Health, the Alnwick Urban District Council, in January 1901, with a slightly updated scheme. Both plans involved steps from the footpath down to the Carriage Road, which would have been a single width at the Bondgate Tower end, widening to two-way in the centre section. A low kerb, topped by a fence or wall, would have separated the carriageway from the lower part of the cobbles throughout its length, broken by several crossing points, aligned mostly to the lanes. Postcards from the early 20th century show Robertson’s Fountain (1890) and they illustrate the addition of the fourth floor and dome on what is now Bailey’s Corner. More importantly, they illustrate that most of the “cobbled” area consisted of a mixture of random cobbles and setts, which were only altered in the vicinity of the new Carriage Road. This was ideal for horses and carts, reducing the risk of the cart tipping over as it was unloaded on the slope and even providing easier access to the platform of the cart from the widened pavement. Some crossing points for pedestrians may also be discerned, their presence confirmed in effect by Wilson’s plans. In the event, although the implemented changes were less ambitious than Wilson had proposed, they stood the test of time for much of the 20th century.
In the late 1980s, the whole of the Bondgate Hill cobbles apart from the Carriage Road and a strip abutting the highway were relaid with round whinstone cobbles as a part of a Youth Training Scheme project. The work done then has not stood the test of time, largely because of deterioration of the material used to bind the cobbles in place. Various attempts have been made since to “repair” the cobbles, with limited success.
Poor condition, and continuing deterioration of cobbles, resulting in uneven surfaces that those with limited mobility find difficult to navigate safely.