Edward ‘Ned’ Coulson was born at Broadstone Cottages, near The Anchor Hotel, Haydon Bridge, in 1754. Ned was an eccentric character – and a supremely talented one at that. He was a superb athlete on the one hand … and as daft as a brush on the other.
Ned was marked out as odd from his earliest years. He didn’t utter a word until he was five and was skitted by his schoolfriends for this ‘backwardness’. He soon caught up, though, and followed his father into joinery and watchmaking; and on reaching maturity he was tall, wiry and very strong.
His most obvious talent was his running, for which he became famous. He competed successfully in races across the North-East, and kept in shape by running around the countryside from job to job pulling a cart behind him. He played the fiddle, too – and could do so behind his back whilst running. Another trick was overtaking horse and carriages, hiding to let them pass, then overtaking them again, to the astonishment of the travellers. On several occasions he ran up to Haydon Bridge old church at the dead of night, mounted the pulpit and read aloud to himself from the Bible.
His athletic ability would take him on extraordinary journeys. Once he was tasked with taking a message on a 50-mile return trip to Stanhope, which he achieved over the course of one winter’s night and the following morning – surprising his taskmaster by presenting him with his return message in an almost impossible timeframe. On another occasion, after walking 65 miles he reached home in time to take a successful part in some athletic sports. But his most famous feat was beating a horse and rider in a race from Brampton to Glenwhelt – a distance of more than ten miles.
Ned was odd in all sorts of ways – far too many to mention here. He would collect strange things, including herbs which he kept in his bedroom, and hoarded bad (damaged) half-crowns. He also had an irrational dislike of pigs.
One source states that Coulson was of Kenyan descent, which would certainly explain his talent for long distance running. He died in 1807 after fording the Tyne when the bridge was out and catching a cold – after which he bizarrely removed himself to Bellingham where he soon died and was buried.