So who were the Sidney family and why were they important to Blyth?
Thomas Sidney, from the South East of England, was a rector and chaplain to Charles II from 1660. He died in 1677. He had three sons.
It was one of his sons, Henry, who purchased Cowpen Hall, and some extensive lands in the west part of Cowpen Township from Stephen Mitford in 1729. He was a barrister.
Henry died childless. He bequeathed his Cowpen estate to his brother Laurence's son Marlow. Marlow was the surname of his mother's family and would continue to be used in the Sidney family for generations. Marlow was born in 1708 and lived to a ripe old age dying in 1804. He was described as being an eccentric character by McKenzie writing in 1825. He also died unmarried and childless. It was believed he used to invest in the smuggling trade which was active in Blyth at this time.
He also left the estate to a nephew called Marlow, son of his brother Laurence. The nephew had converted to Catholicism in 1771 while at Cambridge University after he had befriended a Catholic Priest. The catholic religion was still suppressed at this time and there could be severe penal penalties against those practising the faith. He had to keep his Catholicism hidden especially from his uncle, who had threatened to cut him out of his will without a penny if the rumour he was hearing about his nephew was true. The nephew had also married his cousin while only seventeen years old. He was a bit of a maverick? Marlow resided at Witham House in Essex with his mother, even after his inheritance of Cowpen Hall. He did, however, make occasional visits to Cowpen. The journey took around six days to complete.
On the death of Marlow in 1839 his son, Marlow John Francis Sidney, a solicitor, inherited the estate and moved north to reside in Cowpen. He very soon afterwards built the Catholic church, schools and set about renovating and rebuilding the hall which was in a dilapidated state due to the lack of a resident landholder. He played a prominent role in local affairs as a Justice of the Peace, especially during the miners strike of 1844. The 1851 census lists Marlow JF Sidney esq living in Cowpen Hall, with a retinue of servants. Another male Sidney, a barrister, was living in the nearby Cowpen House, which was also a high-status building.