Saturday, 24 March 2018

1317 Middleton Rebellion

Ruins of Mitford Castle

The Middletons of the much visited tourist attraction Belsay Hall and Castle fame were descended from Richard Middleton who was Chancellor to Henry III. His grandson Sir Gilbert Middleton took part in a rebellion against Edward II in 1317. This took place around the castles of Mitford and Horton, near Blyth. Middleton was eventually captured and executed, but not before he had caused havoc in what was one of the most notorious episodes in Northumberland's history. This is the story from the Northumberland County History:

"Gilbert de Middleton II was born on August 1st, 1279, and consequently attained the age of twenty-one in 1300. He was initiated into a soldiers life in August of that year, when he served in the kings army in Scotland as squire to his old guardian, Sir William de Felton. [Felton is on the A1 just North of Morpeth.] Nothing further is heard of him for thirteen years. He was then, in 1313, one of the captains of the garrison of Berwick-upon-Tweed, from which position he rose to be a warden of the marches, and was entrusted with the custody of Mitford castle by Aymar de Valence. [Earl of Pembroke, who had purchased the estate from the Crown. Mitford Castle is now very ruinous and difficult to access, but it was one of the first to be  built by the Normans in Northumberland and probably the first guarding the crossings of the River Wansbeck. Middleton was appointed Captain of the Castle.]

[The Wars of Scottish Independence between England and Scotland began in 1296 and initially the English were successful under the command of Edward I, having won victories at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) and at the Capture of Berwick (1296). The removal of John Balliol from the Scottish throne also contributed to the English success. The Scots had been victorious in defeating the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. This was countered, however, by Edward I's victory at the Battle of Falkirk (1298).[10] By 1304 Scotland had been conquered, but in 1306 Robert the Bruce seized the Scottish throne and the war was reopened. Edward II of England came to the throne in 1307 but was incapable of providing the determined leadership that had been shown by his father, Edward I, and the English position soon became more difficult. Stirling Castle was one of the most important castles that was held by the English as it commanded the route north into the Scottish Highlands. It was besieged in 1314 by Robert the Bruce's younger brother, Edward Bruce, and an agreement was made that if the castle was not relieved by mid-summer then it would be surrendered to the Scots. The defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in that year opened up the north of England to Scottish raids.]

The years that followed were the most disastrous that ever befell the northern border. Continual Scottish invasions forced the men of Tynedale and Redesdale from their allegiance to England.  Scarce a soul, in the words of a monkish chronicler, dared to live in Northumberland, unless it was near to some castle or walled town. For fifteen years the county remained desolate, without human life,  abandoned to beasts of prey. Adam de Swinburne, sheriff of Northumberland in 1317, ventured to inform his sovereign as to the state of the marches, and did not choose his words too carefully, but spoke to the point. Edward II laid him under arrest. So at least ran the tale told by Sir Thomas Gray of Wark.

Swinburne was a relation to Gilbert de Middleton on his mothers side, [Sir Arthur Middleton's detailed account 1918 of the rebellion disputes this relationship however] and the news of his arrest decided Middleton to break his fealty and to head revolt. He pledged himself to win Northumberland for the Scots. Perhaps he meditated reviving in his own person that semi-independent earldom of which memories still lingered. The Middletons and Swinburnes
accepted him as their leader; the Mauduits of Eshot, and many other of the smaller gentry of the county, discredited officials, condemned felons and Scottish adventurers, flocked to his standard. News of an act of rare audacity suddenly startled the kingdom, and came as the first intimation that insurrection had broken out.

Edward II had lately forced the convent of Durham to accept as bishop his wife's relation, the courtly Lewis de Beaumont.  He was of good birth, a St. Albans historian observed, but by no means well-read, and as is the case with so many Frenchmen, he was lame in both feet. If the Pope had seen him, he would never have made him bishop. Beaumont timed his first visit to his new see to coincide with the journey northwards of two Roman cardinals, Gauselin and Luca di San Flisco, who had been sent to England with legatine powers for the negotiation of a peace between Edward II and Robert Bruce. The presence of two papal legates was intended to enhance the splendour of the new bishops enthronement, which had been fixed for Sunday, September 4th, that being the great Durham festival commemorative of the Translation of St. Cuthbert. On Tuesday, August 31st, the bishop, with his brother, Henry de Beaumont, constable of Norham castle, and the two cardinals and all their train, reached Darlington, where they spent the night. There they received a message from Geoffrey de Burdon, prior of Durham, bidding them be on their guard against ambush; but the bishop and his brother made light of the possibility of attack, saying that the king of Scots dare not, and this was a trick on the part of the prior to interpose obstacles to the coming consecration. So early next morning, on Wednesday, September 1st, they set out along the road to Durham. They had reached a point near Rushyford, between Woodham and Ferryhill, and in half an hour Beaumont might expect to get his first view of the towers of his cathedral. Suddenly an armed band broke from a neighbouring wood, headed by Middleton and Walter de Selby [The township of Seghill had passed into the Selby family "by marriage or otherwise" sometime between 1221 and 1242. He received a knighthood in 1278. In 1304 Selby had married a Delaval and received the estate of Biddlestone in North Northumberland. It remains the family seat to this day. When the rising eventually failed Selby's lands were seized by the Crown and given to Monboucher of Horton, whos castle he had held by force for several weeks but were restored to Selby on Monboucher's death]. Their business was with the bishop and not with the cardinals, but some resistance was offered, and the whole company found themselves at the mercy of these freebooters. Bags and boxes were rifled. No personal violence was offered to the cardinals; they were allowed to continue their journey to Durham on foot, leaving horses and baggage in the hands of their captors; but Lewis de Beaumont and his brother Henry were carried off to Mitford castle and there held to ransom. The Translation of St. Cuthbert drew nearer, arrived, and passed; and the bishop-elect was still a prisoner; and the Italian cardinals poured their wrath over the loss of their property upon the prior of Durham.

All present thought of continuing the embassy into Scotland was abandoned;  the cardinals gloomily waited at Durham for the arrival of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, who was to escort them back to York, and in the interval pronounced their sentence of excommunication upon the robbers. With admirable effrontery, Middleton chose this occasion to come to Durham in order to have speech with Lancaster, entered the cathedral at the head
of his men, and there demanded absolution from the cardinals, whereby he further enraged them against the monks for suffering this indignity to be put upon them. Service was proceeding, and the monks kept their
eyes fixed religiously on the ground, and failed to see the intruders whom they dared not eject.

Edward II was then at Nottingham. He at once hurried to York, where, on September 8th, he held a council and issued orders for a general muster of forces, to be held on the 19th at that place and at Northallerton. Two days later he sent the Pope a full account of the outrage, informing him of the measures taken for the punishment of the malefactors. Prompt action was needed to restore popular confidence in the strength of the government, and on the 20th it was thought wise to issue a public proclamation to the effect that such action was being taken.

Prior Burdon was left with the ungrateful task of collecting so much of the cardinals property as could be recovered. He indeed found seven shillings in the dusty recesses of a little purse, and carefully forwarded them to York, but nothing else had been left that was of sufficient value to cover the cost of carriage.

Few as yet knew the name of the daring robber. He was generally rumoured to be John de Eure, formerly escheator [A sort of civil servant enquiring into the property of deceased subjects of the Crown] of the northern counties, and, on September 30th, William de Ridell, sheriff of Northumberland,
and Richard de Emeldon, mayor of Newcastle, were instructed to arrest and imprison Eure and his accomplices upon suspicion. But the name of Middleton soon became renowned. Riding at the head of his troops with banner displayed, burning and pillaging, he forced the unlucky people who came in his way to join his standard, or carried them off to Mitford castle, where he held them up for ransom. Others followed his example; Walter de Selby at Horton, and John Quoynt with his companions at Aydon hall, occupied positions from which they  ravaged the surrounding country; while John de Cleseby raised insurrection in Richmondshire, and Annandale in the west and
Cleveland in the south felt the ravages of Middleton and the bandits or shavaldores who owned his leadership.

By the payment of large sums in blackmail the county palatine of Durham obtained a costly peace, and a ransom suitable to his dignity released Bishop Beaumont from Mitford castle. Middleton neither lacked money nor supporters. Thomas, earl of Lancaster, who might have crushed the rebellion, preferred to connive at it, and commenced a private war in the West Riding against Earl Warrenne. The Scots threatened Berwick and Wark. Middleton attempted to gain Tynemouth. Bamburgh was in the custody of William de Felton, who had been guardian to Middleton and had trained him to arms.

Yet the loyalty of the Feltons remained undoubted. One of the kings first acts on the outbreak of rebellion had been to put John de Felton in charge of the young Henry de Percys castle of Alnwick. It was a serious blow to the royalist interest when, in the latter part of November, John de Middleton, brother of the rebel leader, succeeded in capturing Felton, and released him only upon his engaging to surrender Alnwick upon a certain date.

Before the day came, a bold stratagem had entirely changed the position of affairs. Middletons foster brother, the younger William de Felton, with Thomas de Heton, Robert de Horncliff and others, opened negotiations for ransoming the prisoners in Mitford castle. Part of the money had been paid, and in the third week of December Felton and his friends came to make their final reckoning. Middleton awaited them in the castle; his men had gone forth on a foray. The young men told him that they had secreted their money in the village and asked leave to go out and fetch it. Then, on reaching the castle gates, they turned on the warders, slew them, and gave admittance to a party of soldiers who were waiting outside. Middleton and his brother were surprised and overpowered, loaded with chains, and carried off to Newcastle, where the town rabble greeted them according to their kind.

A few days later Gilbert de Middleton was placed on a vessel in the port of Tyne. At first the wind prevented a passage over the bar, and in the interval, Middleton humbled himself in the priory church of Tynemouth, where he sought pardon for the wrongs he had done to St. Oswin and the monks. Then the wind shifted to the north. The ship set sail, but such a storm blew that the mariners put in at Grimsby, whence Middleton was brought on horseback to the Tower of London.

Walter de Selby still held out with a remnant at Horton Castle, in the parish of Blyth; otherwise the rebellion ended with the capture of its leader. On January 6th, 1318, commissions were issued for the arrest of rebels in Northumberland and Yorkshire. Two days later the Northumbrian commissioners were instructed to receive into the kings peace all those who rose in insurrection against him in the county of Northumberland and the neighbouring parts, and to receive all who, through want of victuals or by force or fear, were in insurrection and who wished to come into the kings grace.

No mercy could be shown to the man who had kidnapped a prince bishop and played Robin Hood with the Popes cardinals. It was January 21st when Middleton reached London. On Thursday the 26th he was brought before the king at Westminster to have sentence of death passed upon him. That same day he was dragged at horses tails to his execution; was hanged, drawn, and quartered. His head was set up in the city, and the poor remains of his body were exposed to view in Newcastle, York, Bristol, and Dover. His brother, John de Middleton, was likewise attained and met the same fate of hanging and drawing.

[Sir Arthur Middleton expands on the period after Sir Gilbert de Middleton's execution: "After Sir Gilbert's death some of his adherents, being still under the ban of the cardinals, and thus unable to obtain pardon, defended themselves as best they could. Trokelowe says that those who had not been captured at Mitford Castle fled to Walter de Selby, who lay hid in the peel of Horton, two-and-a-half miles south-west of Blyth. This he had seized from Sir Bertram Monboucher... It was a strong place, for it held out against the King's forces for ten weeks, causing the King's officers great expense; Here Selby defended himself, accompanied by Roger Mauduyt of Eshot, a place eight miles north of Morpeth, who had been an adherent of Sir Gilbert in the rebellion." The king made a proclamation that he was willing to make peace with the remaining rebels and that the would be pardoned. Horton Castle was surrendered but de Selby somehow escaped and allied himself with the Scots. He took control of Mitford Castle with Scots support and it was from here he accepted a ransom payment made to the Scots. He eventually surrendered sometime in May 1318 and was imprisoned in the Tower of London.]

 So, wrote a monastic chronicler,  ended a year that was barren of every crop but misery, when Northumberland, wasted by the Scots and reduced to poverty by its own outlaws, lay between the hammer and the anvil.

Ransoms and plunder had swelled Gilbert de Middletons personal estate to the large sum of £2,615 2s. 4d. Besides a toft and ten acres of land in Caldstrother, worth 5s. 4d., he held the manor of Briardean and the moiety of the village of Hartley.

Steamships at Blyth


A letter sent by Taylor Winship, who was effectively the managing director of Cowpen Colliery, on 24th May 1819, mentions a steam vessel being at work in Blyth harbour. The majority of the coal from Plessey and Cowpen collieries was shipped from the harbour to ports on the East coast of England and the low countries. CE Baldwin in "The History of the Port of Blyth" explains:

"As the coal was carried entirely in sailing vessels it was no unusual occurrence that considerable delay took place in getting them to sea when there was an unfavourable wind, and consequently the Cowpen owners tried the experiment of having a steam vessel for towing the vessels to sea. The experiment was a great success and 1st June 1819 must have been a great day in the history of the river. The following account from the "Blyth Monthly Gleaner" of that date gives a delightful account of the proceedings:
'Since our last there has been the greatest number of ships in Blyth Harbour that was ever known in the recollection of the oldest inhabtant. On the 8th ult there were 67 sail, 64 laden, two in dock and one in ballast. On account of the wind remaining sometime in the South, the laden vessels could not get to sea and several continuing to come in almost daily caused such a grand display on the above day. A dinner was liberally given by the owners of the Cowpen Colliery at Mr Bowes' to all the captains in the harbour, and the afternoon was spent in the most agreeable manner.
The owners of Cowpen Colliery, in endevouring to obviate the the inconvenience of vessels not being able to get out of Blyth in a Southerly wind resolved to make an experiment with a  steam boat belonging to Newcastle to tow ships to sea.
The boat arrived in the harbour between 7 and 8 in the morning of the 18th June 1819.
In the forenoon the Resolution captain T Hogg, coal laden, was towed as far as the outer beacon, to the great satisfaction of a number of spectators. A brig and a sloop both laden were towed to sea in the same style. The steamer then then returned to the quay, when a party of shipowners etc, went on board and spent the afternoon in great conviviality.'
A steam boat was purchased and the first sailing ships to be towed to sea were the 'Brilliant', 'G Bulmer', 'Master' and the 'Richard and Ann', Stephen Bergen, master being afterwards kept constantly in use."

In 1842 another experimental steamship was to be found on the river. The steamer 'Bedlington' was commissioned by Netherton Colliery at a cost of £4925 [about £500,000 in 2018] built by TD Marshall and Woodhouse at South Shields. It met the colliery wagonway at staiths near the mouth of the Sleekburn. It was a roll-on, roll-off vessel. No unloading of the coal wagons was necessary, a type of ferry rather than a collier boat. It was 277 tons gross and could travel at up to 7 knots on a coal consumption of eight-hundred weight per hour. The vessel was wrecked in 1846. Bedlington was followed by 'QED' , built by John Coutts of Walker. It had only a small engine and the owners were disappointed with the performance, eventually having the vessel converted to sail.

But higher powered steam vessels would soon become the norm.

Remains of Netherton Colliery Staiths at Mouth of Sleekburn


Thursday, 16 November 2017

Water Works

From the mid 19th century maps of South East Northumberland show small reservoirs dotted around the landscape, often near collieries, to supply this industry and the dependant population with water.




A reservoir still exists at Blyth although it no longer provides the water supply to the residents. It is now used by an angling club. It was from the 1850s, though, part of a water works. Adjoining the reservoir is the foundations of a building with rows of toilet cubicles inside. This probably dates from the 1970s when the site was used as a caravan park. The toilets were built within what were two disused cottages, presumably built  for the Water Works staff.

Suggestions have been made on social media that the reservoir was used to supply locomotives on the Blyth and Tyne line with water. There was a railway line here, but this was not the primary function. The rail line ran right to the engine house and was used to supply fuel and other supplies to the works. The engine was used to pump water from the water table into the reservoir and then pump the water to the users.

Wallace in his History of Blyth how the landowner constructed a water works following an act of Parliament in 1847 (Water Works Clauses Act).

"1854  Oct., extensive works for the purpose of giving the town a pure and plentiful supply of water, undertaken by Sir Matt. W. Ridley, were brought into successful operation, superseding the bringing of water to the town by carts, and the yet more primitive mode of females carrying water on their heads in skeels from the " far pit," — the almost universal practice 50 years ago. Nov., a meeting of rate-payers agreed to light the streets with gas."

Leases on dwellings often specify that water had to be obtained from Ridley's Water Works as part of the agreement.

By the late 19th century the piecemeal system of local government, sanitary authorities - outside of Government control and administered by volunteers -  and utility provision was no longer adequate. District Councils had come into existence by 1894 and sought to improve provision as this article illustrates:


Morpeth Herald 18 May 1895
South Blyth Water Works

"The South Blyth Council is engaged in consideration of one or two large undertakings at the present time. The general  sanitation of the district has been discussed at some length since the Council's formation; the question in regard to the main roads has been taken up; and the Council is advancing in the direction of making a new road to Newsham. These are all big items. But the Council now shows a disposition - as those who read the report at the last monthly meeting would perceive - to engage in a more important undertaking perhaps than any it has tackled, namely the purchase of the Water Works from which the South Blyth district derives its supply. The resolution was passed - that a committee make full inquiries into the matter - does not of course commit the Council to any definite line of policy; indeed it may be said that the motion was nothing but a formal one. Still the probability is that the idea will naturally develop, and the result will be that the South Blyth water supply will be in the hands of the local authority. There will of course be two sides to the question as to the town acquiring control of the water supply; but there can be no doubt that the advantage arising from such a proceeding is an obvious one - if possession can be obtained on fairly easy terms and it can be worked at a reasonable profit.

Blyth Water Works Location

The Local Supply

Unquestionably there is no more important matter for any local authority than the means of supplying the district under its charge with an adequate supply of pure water. It is the essential part of their work, for although a district may go without artificial light for a pretty lengthy period - we have heard of places being in this predicament - it cannot do without water. The full importance of the matter is recognised by the South Blyth, the Cowpen and the Bedlington Urban District councils. The Cowpen councillors have discussed at some length the water question - it has always been a serious one with them - and on Thursday week they had an interview with an engineer in reference to the laying of of the proposed line of pipes from Healey Wood to Bebside. The details of the extensions were considerably elucidated by the interview, and further explanations will given later when the Council and the engineer will meet together at the Water Works. The Bedlington council is evidently not troubled by the apprehension of its water supply running short just at the present time, for negotiations are being made to supply the NER Company with twenty million gallons for their works at North Blyth."


OS 1897

OS 1978

By the time of the 1961 Ordnance Survey mapping the Water Works was no longer in use. The 1978 map shows a camp site.


An interesting case held at Tynemouth Petty Sessions, in the development of water supply, was reported in the Morpeth  Herald 5th April 1884. The local sanitary authority were suing seven pitmen from Burradon Colliery for non-payment of rates.

The pitmen had previously agitated for a water supply to be brought to Burradon instead of relying on the colliery's supply. The reasons for this is not stated. The pitmen were found not to be liable for payment as the Water Works Clauses Act of 1847 stated that occupiers were not the ratepayers. The pitmen were tenants of the Colliery.

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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. 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 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.