Tuesday, 10 October 2017

1552 Blyth Measures of Defence Against Reivers

Wallace in his history of Blyth 1862 describes how in 1552 the gentry of SE Northumberland collaborated to plan measures of defence against the border reivers of the more lawless parts of Northumberland of Tynedale and Redesdale, near the border with Scotland.

A clan society had built up in these areas where the residents had developed an allegiance to their surname rather that their country or monarch. They lived by plundering and extortion and their raids often came deep into SE Northumberland.

Much has been written of this unique society and for further research Tom Moss' website www.reivershistory.co.uk will probably answer all your questions and provide inspiration for heritage trails. The DVD "The Reivers and the Making of the Borders" by Alistair Mofatt and Fiona Armstrong is entertaining, and Hexham Old Gaol Museum is a must visit. I visited recently and took these pics as well as conducting a short heritage trail round the Debateable Lands in search of my Little ancestors who were allied with the Armstrongs.

This is what Wallace wrote:

"Blyth Nook is mentioned in an old border law, 1552, which enjoined that Shotton-dyke-nook should be watched nightly by two men, inhabitants of Shotton and Hartford; another watch to be kept at the north side of the Down-hill, with two men of Horton and Bebside; and the watch at Lorakin-hill to be kept by two men of Blyth Nook and Cowpen. The first two places directed to be watched still retain their names ; but we have no guide to Lorakin-hill. Indeed there does not seem to be a place in either the township of Cowpen or Newsham that can be called a hill, unless it refers to some of the sand hills. George Morton was setter and searcher of the three watches, and Liall Fenwick and John Bell overseers. 
The object of the watches at Shotton and Down-hill was evidently to prevent the thieves getting into the country on the south of the Blyth, a district well stocked with cattle, and for that reason very liable to a visit from the freebooters. Bedlington being an important town, that circumstance, in conjunction with the absence of fords, would render it a rather dangerous experiment to cross that part part of the river; but by making a detour through Bedlingtonshire, by the south of the Wansbeck, and coming along the links, they, at the right time of people in the western part of this county continued for many generations to live by plundering their neighbours, and that all the power of the government was unable to destroy the evil. But so it was.
This state of things continued so long, and operated so injuriously in retarding the improvement and prosperity of this part of the country, that it really demands more than a mere passing allusion, and unfortunately there is no lack of materials for this purpose. It were easy to fill volumes from the most authentic sources, but it will suffice for our present object to adduce a few facts illustrative of the state of affairs at the period referred to. In a letter written to Cardinal Wolseley, then Bishop of Durham, by the Bishop of Carlisle, dated Newcastle, 17th of June, 1522, he says, "the Lord Ross, Sir "William Paxton, Sir Richard Ellercar, and Sir Richard Tempest, departed from Newcastle this morning with five hundred men to Alnwick, where the Lord Dacre meets them. The Scotch under the Duke of Albany, we hear, are coming to the borders, but there is more theft, more extortion, by the English thieves, than there is by all the Scots in Scotland. There is no man, that does not abide in a stronghold, that hath any cattle or moveables in security throughout the bishopric, and from the bishopric till we come within eight miles of Carlisle. the bishopric till we come within eight miles of Carlisle. And all Northumberland likewise, Hexhamshire worst of all, for in Hexham itself, every market day, there come fourscore or a hundred thieves, and the poor man and the gentleman too seeth their goods, and the men that did rob them, but dare not complain of them by name, nor say one word to them. The thieves take all their cattle and horses, and their corn as they carry it to sow or to the mill to grind. And at their houses they bid them deliver what they have, or they will be fired and burnt. By these proceedings not being looked to all the country goeth to waste. We want, for the borders about Carlisle, one thousand bows and as many sheaves of arrows." 
In a book written by Grey, called a Survey of Newcastle, 1549, speaking of the borderers, he says, " There are many dales, the chief of which are Tynedale and Redesdale, a country that William the Conqueror did not subdue, retaining to this day their ancient laws and customs. These highlanders are famous for thieving ; they are all bred up and live by theft ; they come down from these dales to the low country, and carry away horses and cattle so cunningly that it will be hard for any to get them or their cattle, except they be acquainted with some master thief, who for some money may help them to their stolen goods." He adds, " there are many of them brought to the gaol at Newcastle, and at the assizes are condemned and hanged, sometimes to the number of twenty or thirty at a time." So that we are not to suppose that the authorities took no measures to repress those disorders ; various means were used, but without any permanent result. In 1524 Lord Surrey sent Sir Ralph Fenwick with eighty horsemen not to suppose that the authorities took no measures to repress those disorders ; various means were used, but without any permanent result. In 1524 Lord Surrey sent Sir Ralph Fenwick with eighty horsemen into Tynedale, to apprehend Will Ridley, a noted chief of the freebooters; but Will Charlton, another master thief, hearing that Sir Ralph had come into the dale, hastily gathered his followers, of whom it is said he had two hundred, who were bound and sworn upon a book.
The watches thus appointed were a portion of a scheme of defence against the moss-troopers, that was devised by. a commission appointed for the purpose, the articles of which were afterwards agreed to and signed by all the people of rank, property, and influence in the county. 
The measures of defence which they entered into a formal agreement to adopt throw considerable light upon the state of the county at that period. The lands were all open and unenclosed. This was considered to afford great facilities to the borderers in carrying out their depredations. The aspect of the country then must have differed widely from its present one. In the midst of moor-lands or extensive woods, there was every here-and-there the large open pasture and cultivated fields of the village; instead of each farmer's land lying altogether as at present they were all intermixed. There was one large cultivated field, where each tenant held his own portion of arable land, under the name of "ox- gangs" these were without hedge or any division, save a strip of grass which bordered each tenant's holding, and beyond that was the pasture where the cattle fed in common under the charge of the village herd. The first measure they devised was to defend the towns villages, &c, by enclosing the adjoining lands and dividing them into small closes or crofts of not more than two acres each. The roads were to be made narrow and crooked that the enemy may be met at corners, where a few men may be able to resist and annoy them by the bow. The enclosure to be well defended by a ditch four feet deep and six feet broad, and planted with a double quickset hedge and some ashes. The second thing to be done was that all the town fields for tillage, meadows, and pasture, were to be severed from each other, so that every owner or farmer's land was to lay together, and hedged and ditched in like manner. After these there were directions for enclosing commons and repairing castles, and the agreement is followed by a schedule of all the lords, freeholders, &c., in the county, that have agreed to the execution of the articles, which state, " such of them as can write have hereunto subscribed their names ; and such other as cannot write have hereunto set their mark, and caused their names hereafter to be written." 
And of the one hundred and forty-six persons of rank, and property, and influence, who signed the above document, only fifty-four could write their names. Among those who could not write their names were John Ogle, of Newsham, and his son-in-law, Lancelot Cramlington, of Blyth Nook. Now, when John Ogle could not write — whose father was a knight, and his mother a Delaval — what would be the state of education among the poor?"
It seems the watch was not always kept as diligently as had been hoped. This piece is from the Northumberland County History citing the Seaton Delaval manorial court records:

"Provision was made for watch and ward. The Prior's Banks, a locality probably to be found near the village of Holywell, where the main road crosses the Seaton Burn, were watched nightly by two of the inhabitants of Seaton Delaval, Newsham and Holywell. The tenants were obliged, by order of the lord of the manor, to keep horse and armour and be in readiness to serve their sovereign in the field; but how inadequate was the sanction provided in the petty fines of the manorial court is shown by the following instructive entry in the Seaton Delaval Rolls.
1582. Memorandum that it was inquired by the steward of this court this 7th of May in the 24th year of majesty Elizabeth, of Matthew Ladley and Thomas Matland of Holywell whether 10 shillings were too grievous an amercement (fine) to pay for default of not keeping an able horse and furniture etc. but they would make no answer thereto, but only that it was lawful for the lord of the manor of Seaton Delaval to make the amercement at his pleasure. And the like question being demanded of John Hall a freeholder there in Holywell, and of John Read an inhabitant there and tenant, and th'eires of one James Bayle also a freeholder there, they answered that if they would be excused at the lord's hand of the said manor for the payment of 10 shillings for their default in not keeping able horse and furniture etc they would not be at charges with the keeping of a good horse for her majesties service, but had rather pay the 10 shillings than keep an able horse." [In other words the fine was less expensive than providing the watch service required of the residents.]

Was there any evidence of these means of defence like the twisty narrow lanes, mentioned by Wallace, around the Blyth Valley area, despite the lands having been developed and the open fields enclosed into the farms we can see today, and the length of elapsed time? A contender could be the ancient and largely unused Hathery Lane which runs between Horton and Bebside, which has lots of twists and turns. But a study of old mapping indicates that the road follows the boundary line between Cowpen and Bebside townships and this could be the reason for the course of the road.

Hathery Lane Bebside

Beacon Lane to the West of Cramlington

But Beacon Lane in Cramlington could be a stronger contender. This is no longer used for major vehicular traffic and is no more than a path. Not only does it have some inexplicable sharp bends but the beacon in its name is possibly a clue to its importance in the 16th century. A chain of beacons were lit at various locations to warn of impending raids. The beacon at the top of Capheaton Castle, near the source of the River Blyth, is well documented. Less well known is a cairn which carried a beacon at Higham Dykes, near Belsay. Beside Beacon Lane is a cropmark indicating an archaological feature which has so far been unexplored. Could it be the foundations for a structure carrying a  beacon? There does not seem to be any evidence of enclosure of the open fields at this time into the two acre fields as recommended. Hartley was enclosed in the 1570s but this appears to be down to the Delaval landholders wanting to convert to the more profitable sheep farming rather than as a measure of defence. Cowpen township was not divided into individual holdings until 1619.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Wansbeck Norman Frontier

The River Wansbeck and its tributaries play host to some impressive medieval structures. There remains, from sea to source, a castle at Bothal, at Morpeth a gatehouse to a castle, and the motte of an earlier defensive structure, the ruins of a castle at Mitford and the other earthwork remains of other defences and villages at Bolam, South Middleton and Hartburn.

Just a little to the South of the Wansbeck in the valley of the River Blyth there are many stately homes and they are usually built on the site of medieval, defensible pele towers: Belsay, Capheaton, Blagdon and Matfen for example. These were demolished to make way for stately homes when times became less turbulent in the 17th century.

Although some stately homes were built on sites along the River Wansbeck valley, such as Wallington and Mitford, they were not exactly on the site of these castles. The structures at Bothal, Morpeth and Mitford can definitely be described as castles, although they were not quite the size of the mighty Alnwick and Warkworth, which came at a later date.

So, why the abundance of baronial centres and castles along the line of the Wansbeck? Richard Lomas in "North-East England in the Middle Ages has suggested that the River Wansbeck may have been the first frontier line when the Normans began to inhabit and directly rule Northumberland after the Conquest. The sites were strategically important, being on major routes and crossing points of the river. The geography of the sites also offered some natural defence and building materials.

Medieval defensive sites on the along the Wansbeck valley. Click to enlarge.
To view stand-alone interactive map click here



[This is a piece from an earlier blogpost introducing the conquest in Northumberland which serves a similar purpose here.]

William I tried to rule Northumberland by a continuation of native and then Norman earls after 1066. They were often murdered. The policy was not working. There was a succession of rebellions and uprisings which had to be brutally put down by William leaving the county in a desperately impoverished state. After William de Mowbray's rebellion in 1090 William II (Rufus) suppressed the earldom and granted the lands of Northumberland to his Norman followers as had been the case in the southern counties which had featured in Domesday Book.

Before Walcher was made Bishop of Durham in 1071 there had been no Normans settled north of the Tees. Newcastle was created in 1080 to guard a river crossing by the Normans when returning south after suppressing a revolt.

The king imposed the feudal system whereby he installed his great magnates (barons) in strategic places from which to build a castle and control the surrounding area. These were termed baronies. The lands of a barony could be separate parcels held over a wide area. These were self-contained agricultural areas with a village at the centre called a township. The centre of a barony, where the lord was based, was known as the caput. The barons held direct from the king as tenants-in-chief in return for military service and loyalty. The barons often granted the distant townships to lesser Normans (knights) also in return for military service.

Historians often say there were three estates in medieval society: those who fight, the dukes, earls and barons of which there were 21 in Northumberland in 1166, the knights, esquires and gentlemen of which 64 in Northumberland 1166; those who prey and interceded on behalf of the souls of the workers and fighters, there being many types of monastic orders often providing hospitals and shelter for travellers; and those who work, most often unfree bondmen, bound to the their lord owing services for their land but as a community being mostly allowed to manage their own affairs. The lord didn't want the inconvenience of looking after the peasants but as a fighter it was his duty to protect. This feudalism declined over time with military service being commuted for rent payments and more of the workers becoming paid fighters when necessary. In fact by the time the baronies and townships were being established in the North-East this was already happening..

The evidence is patchy as to the creation of these baronies. William I (Rufus) was said to have invested Guy de Baliol with Bywell barony in 1093. Possibly at the same time Morpeth, Mitford, Bolam and Callerton were also created. Richard Lomas states:

"It seems sensible to conclude that on both sides of the Tyne some enfeoffement of Normans took place between the death of William I (1087) and the accession of Henry I (1100) although it extended no further North than the line of the Wansbeck."

Henry I probably created 15 baronies including Bothal, Whalton and Mitford.

Roland Bibby has said:

"The early (Rufus) baronies were closely linked to the castle at Newcastle. The greatest of the new baronies was granted to Guy de Baliol and it consisted of the estate represented by the parish of Bywell St Peter, great forest tracts and the townships of Bothal, Woodhorn, Newbiggin and Cresswell.
The new baron of Bywell had to provide constantly thirty men for the garrison at Newcastle while the other barons had to provide 26 in all with the exception of those at Morpeth and Bolam and were obliged to build and maintain houses within the bailey of the new castle. Thus Rufus anchored his Norman barons to his royal fortress and maintained its garrison."

Barony - Township

Bywell - Holywell, Bothal Woodhorn Newbiggin
Whalton - Horton, Burradon, Hartford
Morpeth - Shotton, Plessey, Longbenton, Killingworth, Blagdon, Weetslade
Bolam - Cowpen, Bebside, Hartford
Ellingham - Hartley, Cramlington
Callerton - Seaton Delaval
Tynemouthshire - Earsdon, Backworth, Seghill, Murton, Whitley, Preston, Monkseaton
Bedlingtonshire - Choppington, Cambois, Sleekburn, Netherton, Bedlington


A Tour of the Sites along the Wansbeck

This early motte and bailey castle is now in ruins, although it remains an impressive site as you turn off the beaten track and head into the small, hidden, leafy and picturesque village of Mitford . The earthworks of the mound and defensive ditches tower above the village and although it can be visited it is not a tourist attraction. Only fragments remain. What is now most visible from the road is the remains of a shell keep standing almost to full height. It is a steep climb. No path or stairs have been constructed and at the height of summer the interior is all but impassable due to nettles. It is, however, an important, and perhaps, overlooked monument having a rare survival of a pentagonal tower and shell keep.

Mitford Castle remains. Shell keep to left of photo.

Mitford Castle.Looking South over bailey curtain wall from shell keep.

Fragment of bailey curtain wall beside bastion looking South.

Mitford Castle water storage and occasional dungeons in main tower

The origin of Mitford is unclear until 1166 when it is confirmed the owner is Richard Bertram, who also comes into possession of Bothal, further downstream on the Wansbeck. Mitford barony consisted of Mitford, Meldon, Ponteland and Felton townships. It was granted borough status, therefore having some autonomy to run its own affairs, at the same time as the building of the castle. A market charter was granted in 1157. In the 15th century 28 dwellings existed in the village. Archaeologists think this may be the first crossing point of the Wansbeck created by the Normans, predating Morpeth. In the 1930s CH Hunter-Blair investigated the development of the castle. HL Honeyman recorded an archaeological excavation which was undertaken there in 1938 which further added to our knowledge of the castle's history. Hunter Blair began his piece with a description of early castles in Northumberland:

"They stand for an organization of feudal service in which the defence of the private castle was at least as important as the provision of knights for the kings armies. It is now universally recognized that moated mounds (O.F. motte ) with attached baileys surrounded by ditches and ramparts of earth represent the fortified houses, of Norman barons—the greater tenants holding in chief of the king by knight service—of the century succeeding the Conquest.
 These private strongholds, to which the rather vague name of castle was given, originated in France about the middle of the tenth century, they passed thence to Normandy, were brought into England by the Norman friends of the Confessor, and after the introduction of feudalism spread rapidly over the country . The name castle was, however, also used to describe the less developed defensive works of lesser men. Some were only earthwork enclosures like that within which the lords of Bolam later built their stone tower.
Many of these smaller works have no recorded history and their shape alone relates them to the castle type of earthwork; they may have been only temporary structures, hastily thrown up for a special purpose and soon thereafter deserted. Those of the developed mound and bailey type, on the contrary, bear evidence of careful siting and of forethought and deliberation in planning as if for more permanent use. The mound varied greatly in height and size, but it was always surrounded by a defensive ditch, or sometimes a wet moat, which also cut it off from the bailey, suggesting that its lord sought protection not-only from foes without but also from possible attack from his retainers within.
The castle was normally of oblong shape, forming as it were the figure 8, the mound making the smaller upper circle. The residence of the lord, often of very elaborate construction, was built of wood upon the summit of the mound, within a stout stockade of timber and connected with the bailey by a flying bridge over the ditch defended both at top and bottom by a fortified gateway. The quarters for the garrison, storehouses, stables, etc., were in the bailey which was surrounded by an earthen parapet, crowned by a palisade of wood, with an outer ditch upon whose counterscarp was a defence which may have been a quickset hedge of pointed stakes intertwined with brambles or some such prickly shrub—the forerunner of modern barbed wire. The entrance gateway, which from early times was sometimes of stone, was normally at the side furthest from the mound. Sometimes there is no sign of a gap in the bailey defences, suggesting that entrance was by means of a wooden bridge from counterscarp to top of rampart. Sometimes, as at Norham, Wark, Mitford and Harbottle, an enclosure larger than the bailey [barmkin] was attached to it, used either for temporary protection for men and beasts in case of hostile attack or for more permanent dwellings gathered around the castle for greater safety. Naturally strong sites, easily made into a castle, were usually chosen and preference was given to places near river crossings or main roads; examples of these in Northumberland were at Norham, Wark, Mitford, Morpeth and Warkworth."
"The largest mottes in England, such as Thetford, are estimated to have required up to 24,000 man-days of work; smaller ones required perhaps as little as 1,000. Taking into account estimates of the likely available manpower during the period, historians estimate that the larger mottes might have taken between four and nine months to build. This contrasted favourably with stone keeps of the period, which typically took up to ten years to build. Very little skilled labour was required to build motte and bailey castles, which made them very attractive propositions if forced peasant labour was available, as was the case after the Norman invasion of England." Wikipedia.
 The chronological history of the castle goes something like this:

Circa 1100 - William Bertram is granted the barony of Mitford. He is the husband of Hawis, or Alice, the daughter of the most powerful baron in the area, Guy of Baliol. A natural, rock-cored hill was scarped and ditched to form a Motte and Bailey castle. It is thought that a fortified village was on this site prior to the conquest. Bertram cleared out the villagers and had a settlement, complete with a church, built on the lower ground to the north west. The weakness with defensive buildings made from timber is they can easily be burned. Bertram tackled this problem by replacing the palisade on top of the motte with a shell keep made of stone in the early 12th century. Incidentally most of the castle seems to have been constructed in high-quality ashlar (shaped and squared) material. Substantial parts of this shell keep still remain. The wooden tower and other buildings were left in place.

1166 - Roger Bertram the son of William accounted to the monarch for the lands which he held by providing five knights for the king's military service. He was married to Ada.

1177 - The lands and castle were held by William Bertram, the son of Roger, who married Alice daughter of Odinel de Umfraville, the mighty lord of Prudhoe and Ridsdale. In 1175 the king of Scotland had stayed at Mitford and granted a charter from here. It was around this time that a curtain wall of stone was built around the bailey to form an outer ward. The North part of the bailey was left with a ditch and bank defence as a barmkin. A church was built on the southern side of the bailey. It overlay a graveyard which was partially examined in 1938. 19th century quarrying had greatly destroyed this part of the castle and the outbreak of WWII meant that large parts of the bailey area remain unexplored. However, it was discovered that the small church, or chapel, the foundations now being buried, was cruciform in shape. Most gravestones were protected by a head, foot and ledger stone although some were just cysts. Seven tombs were examined in total. One male was 6' 2" tall. At the end of this century the construction of a  block house was started on the motte hill but was never completed. This was discovered by excavation in 1938. The foundations were buried by a later building.

1215 - Roger Bertram, the next descendant to hold the castle, took part in the baron's rising against King John. The following year King John was at Mitford in his fierce campaign against the Northern Barons. John used mercenary troops to lay waste the North and its castles. Architectural evidence suggest Mitford Castle was spared but the property was forfeited to the Sheriff of Northumberland, Phillip of Ulecotes, who was described as unpopular but able and energetic. In 1217 Alexander II of Scotland laid seige to the castle for a whole week but was unsuccessful in being in being able to capture it. Bertram was restored to his property in this year after having made peace with the new, and young, king Henry III and also paying a fine of £100 (about £152,000 in 2017).

1256 - Roger Bertram III born 1224 was granted free warren in his demesne lands of Mitford. But in November of this year the King's escheator, for reasons unknown, was ordered to take his lands. He was later imprisoned for taking up arms against the King. He was in great debt and eventually sold all the rest of his baronial estate to the Baliols. After his death his widow married Sir Rir Robert Neville of Raby.

1264 - The castle and lands were confiscated by the King. There was then a complicated series of landholding involving local nobility and royalty.  It was towards the end of this century that a stone tower was built on top of the mound/motte in the inner ward replacing all the previous buildings. The foundations and basement of the tower still remain. What is most visible to visitors are two barrel-vaulted chambers. There was no well to provide water on the castle site so these chambers were used to collect rainwater via inlet spouts. The entrance door was set well above floor level. At times however, the chambers were used for the confinement of prisoners. Graffiti inscribed in Latin on the walls testifies to this.

1314 - The castle and estate was sold to Aymer de Valance, the Earl of Pembroke. The Earl appointed Sir John Evers as guardian of the castle.

1317 - Gilbert de Middleton, in league with Sir John Evers, made the castle his headquarters for his famous rebellion against the King. The castle was eventually recaptured by Sir William Felton and Sir Thomas Heton on behalf of the Crown. Evers was pardoned for his part in the rising, probably through the influence of Earls Lancaster and Pembroke. Middleton wasn't so lucky.

1318 -  Middleton's partner in the rebellion, Sir Walter Selby had captured Horton Castle near Blyth and had been under siege there for some time. He eventually somehow managed to make his escape. He made his way to Mitford where, probably in alliance with the Scots, who where waging a bloody campaign against England at the time, took the castle "by guile". Selby surrendered on promise of a pardon in 1321 and the castle was restored to the Earl of Pembroke, although it was badly damaged by now.

1324 - The castle passed in the female line of Aymer, the Earl of Pembroke, to David of Strathbogie the 11th Earl of Atholl and the Inquisition Post Mortem on the death of Strathbogie in 1326 records the castle site as "wholly burned".

And it was commonly thought the castle was disused after this date, but pottery, both medieval and Tudor, found in the 1938 excavation shows that the castle was occupied until 1617 when a manor house was built on lower ground using stone robbed from the castle. The shards disappeared during the war as the owner would not allow them off site. Valuable evidence was lost. The site wasn't back filled after the dig and much damage was done by the home guard on training exercises and by day trippers desecrating graves. The nettles have since the 1940s provided the greatest protection to the site.  In what state of repair the castle was in is not presently known, or indeed anything of its Tudor life. A survey was made of the castle in the 1810s and showed a greater amount of its fabric to be in existence than what survives today. Quarrying and robbing have taken a toll on the site.

A complete gatehouse, used as a holiday let sits overlooking the town of Morpeth on high ground to the South of the town.

 A motte and bailey castle was built by the De Merlay family by 1095 when it is recorded to have been attacked by William II (Rufus). Pevsner writes: "The NE end of a narrow ridge appears to have been artificially scarped to form a motte guarding the crossing of the Wansbeck." Some archaeology found on the site in 1830 suggests that a stone keep crowned the motte. Apparently this was destroyed by King John in 1215 (Baron's Revolt etc) and never rebuilt.

Another castle close to the motte and bailey on Ha Hill was built in the 13th century. A map of Morpeth from 1604 shows a keep in the middle of a bailey with a gatehouse and an outer ward. The keep has now disappeared entirely and only fragments remain of the rest.

Hunter-Blair writes:
"The mound was cut off from its west part by a deep ditch, the material from which was used to steepen and heighten the natural hill; the west part thus separated formed the bailey, surrounded by the usual stockaded ditch.The castle was well sited as a guard to the nearby bridge or ford. Hodgson, gives a small diagram of the mound and ditch and part of the bailey as seen by William Woodman in 1830 who at the same time dug up, at its east end, some Norman capitals and voussoirs carved with Norman billet moulding; of these Hodgson give s small plans and sections. These stones show that before the middle of the twelfth century a stone tower had been built on part of the site, probably upon the’ hill  itself. This was the castle destroyed by John during his savage campaign of 1215/16 , and Leland is probably right when he says that John burnt downe Morpeth Castle . . . whiche standythe by Morpeth Towne .” Indications of destruction by fire were noticed in 1830. It was not rebuilt. In the fourteenth century another castle was built on the hill to the south where its gatehouse and ruined curtain walls still remain."


The settlement is set some way back from the River Wansbeck on a not particularly defensible site, especially when looking to the North. It is now a very picturesque village with a church and manor house.

It was the centre of the barony of Walter fitz William. The barony later came into the possession of the Cramavilles by marriage. There is no evidence of the Fitz Williams having a residence here, especially a defensible and stately structure. The barony passed to the lords of Warkworth in the 13th century, who had their main residence elsewhere and didn't need a dwelling at Whalton.

Hodgson (1827) suggested that "if the Barons of Whalton ever had a residence upon it, it was probably about half a mile out of the village [now] called the Camp House Farm ... where there are traces of ancient works and some even ground called dead men's graves.


Granted to the monks of Tynemouth Priory in the late 11th century so there was no lordly castle or tower at this location. It must have been an important Anglo-Saxon settlement site however as there was a pre-conquest church already established.

"The monks of Tynemouth ... in the early 12th century built a fortified tower to protect the tithes. Originally freestanding the church was expanded to join it shortly after. The monks lived in the upper floor of the tower." (Dodds 1999)

Later the Knights Templar inherited the estate and between 1250-1312 carried out a large rebuilding program constructing a new tower and vicarage 100 yards North of the Church.


Built on the probable site of an Iron Age hill fort.

Nothing now remains to be seen and there is no indication that this was formerly an important medieval settlement. The site is on high ground with a steep slope running North to the River Wansbeck but is not particularly defensible to the South.

From the North looking up to Bolam Tower site in the distance.

The area is now overgrown with trees but in 1920 the foundations of a square building was still showing. Today nothing is visible of the tower and it is thought the stone was used to construct Bolam Hall which stands a few metres away.

MJ Jackson (1992) thought that a settlement here was adapted into a motte and bailey castle in the late 12th century although a mound has not been identified. The Barony of Bolam was granted to Gilbert de Bolam by King John in the late 12th century. He was succeeded by Sir Walter de Bolam, whose effigy is in Bolam Church. He dates the tower to the late 13th century, built by Robert de Reymes.

By 1323 it was reported to have been completely destroyed by the Scots.

SOUTH MIDDLETON Deserted Medieval Village

Beside the river excellent earthworks (lumps and bumps in the ground) remain undisturbed.

From the North looking at part of the South Middleton site.

The village was fairly typical for this area with two parallel lines of houses facing a broad rectangular green with narrow crofts, or garden areas to the rear. It was surrounded by the arable farm land which now shows as ridge and furrow earthworks of the medieval farming.

"This type of village in Northern England is thought to be the result of deliberate planning by Norman rulers attempting to exert control over a rebellious region during the 11th-12th centuries."

The villagers lived in long houses and there is evidence of twelve at this site. Neighbours were separated from one another by an earthen bank 0.4m deep and from the fields at the rear of the crofts by the same methods.

The lands were granted to a major Norman baron, Hugh de Bolbec. This was a detached township of his Barony of Slaley, on the Tyne, which also included Blanchland, Heddon, Matfen, Wallingon and more.

The township came under the ownership of the Fenwick family. Documents record a gradual fall in population and the village was completely abandoned by 1762.



A very complete gatehouse still remains at Bothal. It is a residence to the agents of the Duke of Portland who is the major landowner of the area. The castle was leased to Welwyn Electrical during the 1970s. It was restored from ruin in the 1830s.

Bothal Castle gatehouse.

In 1095 the manor was granted to Guy de Baliol as part of the Barony of Bywell on the Tyne. Baliol was the most powerful of barons to have been granted land in Northumberland at this time. It is thought, however, that the estate was owned by a high-ranking Anglo-Saxon lord. The name of Gisulf has been put forward and a whole pedigree published. But there is some serious doubt as to the authenticity of Gisulf and his ancestry. Roland Bibby has speculated there is enough circumstantial evidence to say Bothal was an important Anglo-Saxon royal estate. It is not until 1161 that there is evidence of de Baliol, or his successor, granting out Bothal to his grandson Richard Bertram, the holder of Mitford Barony. This was probably after the death of "Gisulf", De Baliol having showing some deference to his status.

Richard Bertram's brother, Robert, became the resident lord here, but it was not until 1343 that a license to build a castle was issued. There is no evidence that the hill where the castle now stands was ever consolidated with an artificial mound therefore we can only speculate on the type of defensive settlement the Bertrams inhabited.


It would seem the first theories on this being a frontier line of defences may be wrong. Only Mitford and Morpeth can be defined as castles in the sense of having a bailey and curtain wall. Even Bolam and Whalton, the centre of baronies, do not show any sign of having an early motte and bailey defence and remained only lightly defended. It is interesting that Morpeth and Mitford castles sit astride the A1 road and even then it was probably the main route between Newcastle and Scotland and needed to be heavily defended. Hunter-Blair in his 1944 article "Early Castles of Northumberland" gives the founding of other baronies and castles in Northumberland as around the same period as the Wansbeck ones. If the Wansbeck was a frontier it was surely short lived, but it did have some importance to the early Normans in Northumberland.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Blyth Farms

The map shows the areas and locations of farms in Blyth around the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, based on a 1787 and 1840 survey.

To view this as a stand-alone interactive map click here... Blyth Farm Map

The farms seen here had probably come into existence during the early 17th century or even during the late 16th century. There are documents of rental from the late 17th century which show individual farms to be in existence and probably close to the same ones shown on this map, but with different names at that stage. Cowpen farms, to the North of this map, came into existence in 1619.

In the Middle Ages townships such as South Blyth and Newsham consisted of large open fields divided into strips and farmed in common between the peasants. By the 16th century this method was not conducive to an efficient system of agriculture. Landholders sought to consolidate their holding into one single block. They would enclose this holding with hedges around the boundary and individual fields.

Blyth was owned by one single landowner during the early-modern period: first the Cramlington family, then the brother of the Earl of Derwentwater and in 1723 the Ridley family of Blagdon. This meant the creating of individual farms for rent was a much easier process than when several landowners had to negotiate a division between themselves and why I believe enclosure may have taken place earlier than 1619. Considerable amounts of this farm land have now given way to urban development. Approx 1178 acres in total for the township.

Wagon Way West Farm
194 acres. 9 fields. Tenanted 1785 by Timothy and Joshua Dukesfield.
Replaced by housing and a railway by the 1860s.

Newsham West Farm
120 acres. 10 fields. Tenanted 1785 by Timothy Dukesfield Jnr.
Disappeared off the maps by 1897. The colliery village of South Newsham was built on the farmhouse site. Some of the lands were probably absorbed by the newly-formed South Newham Farm.

Newsham Middle Farm
114 acres. 8 fields.  Tenanted 1785 by Joseph Clarke.
By 1897 replaced by Newsham South Farm which probably also incorporated Newsham West Farm.

Newsham East Farm
130 acres. 10 fields. Tenanted 1785 by William Bennett.
Marked as Newsham Low Farm on the 1st Edition OS map of 1860s. Known in modern times as North Farm.

Wagonway East Farm
143 acres. 11 fields. Tenanted 1787 by John Watson.
Marked as Low Horton Farm on 1840 estate survey and known as Barrass farm on 1860s mapping and thereafter. By 1924 the triangular nook to the North of Plessey Road was occupied by a school. Replaced by housing and a garage by 1960.

Link Farm
166 acres. 10 fields. Tenanted 1787 by Ellstob and Hogg.
Gone by the time of the 1924 mapping. Replaced by Wellesley site and allotments.

Blyth Farm
Tenanted 1787 part by Mrs Marshall and part Clarke and Watt.
Largely completely built upon by 1895.

Link House Farm
Belongs to Nicholas Ridley (a junior member of the main Ridley family of Blagdon)
154 acres. 14 fields.  Tenanted 1787 by Margaret Dobson.
Buildings are still standing although fell out of use as a farm in the late 20th century.

Ancient hedges still in existence at South Beach which one marked the boundary between Newsham East and Link House Farms

Friday, 14 July 2017

Lordenshaws Hill Fort

Just to the South of Rothbury is a hillfort on a ridge of high land. The views over Rothbury and the Cheviot Hill are incredible. And as a prehistoric monument this is a real gem and easily accessible, a car park being sited at the foot of the hill. In fact, among all the the prehistoric monuments in the National Park it is probably the best and a first port of call. It is not the largest however. This distinction goes to Yeavering Bell, near Wooler, which has over 130 dwelling huts recorded within the interior. There are some others of note listed on the National Park website in the Breamish Valley near Ingram and the Clennel Valley near Alwinton.

Not far from Lordenshaws hillfort are excellent examples of cup-and-ring rock art and burial cairns from the prehistoric period. But are all these features connected and what is a hillfort?

Lordenshaws is a circular structure with an outermost defensive ditch about 140m in diameter. When the fort was in use the ditch was up to 2.5m deep and 9m wide.

There is also an inner ditch which may be from an earlier period in the lifespan of the fort and there is some evidence of ramparts between the two. There are two entrance ways, one to the east side and another to the west, which simply cut through these ditches on a straight line. They are flanked by large boulders.

The inhabitable area on the inside of the fort is roughly 70m in diameter. One feature is clearly identifiable as a dwelling. It was a roundhouse made of stone, the walls being 1m high. The roof would have been constructed from turf or thatch. The floor was sunk into the ground, which is not completely typical for this period.

Other sunken features are also to be found within the fort, but they are considered too small to be huts. There has not been a huge amount of archaeological work done on this site, so perhaps in the future the secrets of these features may be unlocked.

Hill forts belong to the iron age period which is roughly from 600BC to around AD100 when the Romans inhabited Britain. The main dwelling of the Iron Age continued to be the roundhouse which had persisted throughout the earlier Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. However, what was different in the Iron Age was that the dwellings were being grouped together and enclosed behind palisades and defensive ditches. The religious and ritual structures of the previous periods, such as henge monuments and cup-and-ring marked rocks, were no longer constructed. The elaborate funereal practices were also abandoned. These included placing cremations in stone-lined cists and burial in long barrows or cairns. Funerals seem to have become much simpler in the Iron Age. Archaeologists know much less about death rituals than from previous times.

The presence of cup-and-ring marked rocks and cairns indicates that Lordenshaws had a use and significance before the hillfort was constructed.

The precise function of the hillfort is not known. But pressures on land were increasing and with it the insecurity of communities. Hillforts became numerous throughout Northumberland, and indeed Britain. Northumberland has the highest recorded concentration of hillforts of any county of Britain. However, it has been suggested they were built for powerful chiefs and they were as much as a status symbol as they were functional, something like a medieval castle. They also had a practical purpose of protecting stored grain or the sheep that were farmed on the hills.


The climate was getting increasingly warmer and the growing of crops was possible on higher ground than previously. But lowland settlements were also numerous and becoming increasingly more defensible. Burradon in South East Northumberland was one such example and the site was excavated in the 1960s.

In the mid-1960s aerial photographs were taken of Burradon and Camperdown. Crop marks indicated three sites, or former settlements, of archaeological interest. The first was in a field immediately to the west of Front Street, Burradon. (The housing estate of Means Drive, Shillaw Place and Attlee Close now stands here.) The settlement was rectangular in shape, with slightly rounded corners. The sides were approximately two hundred feet long, with an entrance facing east. HER 308

The second site was about two hundred yards south of the first. This was a single ditch enclosure, the date of which is uncertain. Only part of the north and west sides were showing, the remainder having been built over. HER 309

The third site is located about one hundred and seventy yards west of the abattoir - which was the former site of Burradon Terrace on the farm track. The previous two sites had been covered by a housing development, so when it was discovered, in September 1968, that this third site was threatened by the removal of clay for a major new road archaeologists were eager to excavate. Permission was obtained from the Ministry of Public Building and Works and also from Mr. William Younger the farmer of the land, whom it was acknowledged was most helpful. The work was carried out under the directorship of George Jobey from Newcastle University.

Pottery found suggested that an unenclosed site could have been in existence here as early as the fifth or sixth century BC.  Excavation of the next more recent layer discovered a traditional early Iron-Age settlement. This site was enclosed by a ditch 10m wide and was roughly square in shape with slightly bowed sides. It measured about three hundred feet in length and had an entrance to the east. Small quantities of Iron-Age pottery were found and evidence of eight to eleven round timber-built huts, although probably only three were in use at any one time. HER 305

Superimposed on this settlement was another enclosure one hundred and twenty-five feet square with one round timber built house about forty feet in diameter. The enclosure ditch was about 15ft wide and about 8ft deep with an internal bank This was thought to be occupied during the second century AD Both entrances to these two settlements were aligned on the east side. Romano-British pottery was found, although only nine sherds of Roman pottery; this would seem to indicate trade with the Romans. The pottery was of local manufacture. Fragmentary remains of dogs, cattle, sheep and pigs; as well as Oak, Ash and Alder trees were discovered. Coal was found in the hearths of the second century settlement. It was thought this coal probably came from an outcrop near the sea and was not sea-coal.

This has been a brief summary but these sites listed give a more detailed guide to prehistoric Northumberland including reconstruction and virtual reality 3D models of sites:

Time Team's Timechester book also is a good introduction to the period