Reports from 2019
Deserted Medieval Villages
Our speaker, Allan Colman, explained that the mediaeval period is now considered to stretch from as early as the 6th century to the end of the fifteenth century, including the Anglo Saxon and Viking settlements of Britain, as well as the Norman era and the later Middle Ages up to 1485.
Allan started with a general overview of life during those Middle Ages relating to details of housing, religion, animal husbandry, food, socio-economics, clothing, education, and more. The most powerful local men and their families, who under the Normans were ‘lords’ who held one or more ‘manors’, had often substantial houses, comprising a great hall with high narrow windows, for which glazing was an expensive luxury few could afford, and a gallery at first floor level. Decorative tapestries, also acting as insulation, might adorn the walls. The ground floor of stone was strewn with rush matting. The peasantry survived in very basic, unhealthy, damp and smoky huts, and later in cottages. Most buildings had roofs of local thatch, very prone to destruction by fire. (Indeed, in far more recent times, many of Northumberland’s smaller market towns, including Wooler, suffered severe destructive fires spread by heather thatching.)
The church had great influence both socially and economically, its religious traditions having a huge impact on life: for example, it was forbidden to eat meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and no eggs could be consumed in Lent. Most households kept a pig, much smaller than current breeds. Sheep provided meat and clothing, while laying hens did not provide sufficient flesh to be worth slaughtering for food.
The wealthier classes got their income from the land, the law, the church, trade and warfare. The Norman Domesday book didn’t cover Northumberland, but it shows that the proportion of freemen and the unfree peasants, including villeins, bordars and cottars, varied in different areas of the rest of the country. There were many highly skilled trades, and we can still admire the work of , among others, medieval metalworkers, embroiderers and stonemasons. The villeins, bordars and cottars were obligated to work for the lord of the manor and scraped by, cultivating their small share of strips in the ‘open field’ system and using the common for grazing any livestock. The right to gather firewood for fuel was also granted by the Lord of the Manor. Dress was highly regulated and very much denoted status.
We heard that following a warm climatic period in the 11th and 12th centuries when vineyards thrived in Britain, and Greenland was colonised, the weather began to cool in the 1300s in what we now call the Little Ice Age; life would have become even more of a struggle, sometimes leading to famine.
In Glendale, many once thriving, more populated villages (owned by known baronries) have been largely deserted over time; we now know them as hamlets. They include: Humbleton,
Akeld (where a bastle house may still be found), Ancroft (with Saxon origins), Doddington (with its later, 16th century bastle ruins), Ewart, Lanton, North Middleton, Pawston, Old Yeavering, Weetwood, and Duddo (with remains of a tower or pele).
The early settlement of Ad Gefrin at Yeavering, which later moved to the more fertile Milfield basin, is now represented at Maelmin where interpretation boards describe life in the Anglo-Saxon period.
The causes of depopulation include changes in the climate limiting food production on marginal land, and particularly the Great Plague or Black Death which swept through the country killing almost a third of the people.
Glendale Local History Society’s members will enjoy a tour of several of these deserted sites in the often-warmer weather of late March
Wallington Hall and its Residents
A talk by Elizabeth Finch, a volunteer speaker from the National Trust.
Buildings consist of more than stone and mortar. Over time they absorb an essence from occupants and events to become imbued with ‘a Spirit of Place’.On 13th February Elizabeth Finch, a volunteer speaker from the National Trust, gave a talk to in which she brought the spirit of Wallington Hall to life – a spirit of politics, intellect, learning and enquiry.
The story of Wallington is essentially a story of three families – the Fenwicks, the Blacketts, and the Trevelyans – which runs from the late 17th century to the present day. Between them these families provide a cavalcade of the local and national life of that period.
Sir John Fenwick, third baronet, came of a landowning Northumbrian family of ancient lineage. He acquired Wallington by succession in 1676. He was an MP and Jacobite who plotted against William III. Financial difficulties forced the sale of Wallington to Sir William Blackett in 1688. Money was not the only thing Fenwick lost – his machinations against William led, in 1697, to the loss of his head.
Sir William Blackett was responsible for building the hall that we see today. The Blackett family was prominent in trade in Newcastle and were Jacobites/Tories. Sir William’s son, also a William, started as a Tory then later stood on a joint interest with Matthew Ridley, a Whig. This may have been because he was heavily implicated in a failed Jacobite plot and, threatened with arrest on a charge of treason, he kept a low profile for the rest of his time!
The next incumbent was William’s nephew, Sir Walter Calverley Blackett. A gentle character, he loved his dogs, his tenants and his estate, and brought about many improvements both in the agriculture of his estate and the living conditions of his tenants, including building Cambo village. In contrast with the rumbustious political antics of his forebears, he was the epitome of an enlightened country gentle man. He also employed a young neighbour in his gardens – a young man who went onto greatness as ‘Capability Brown’.
After the Blacketts, ownership passed to the Trevelyans.
The Trevelyan family is the one that put the greatest of that spiritual input into the building. As a family renowned for their intellect and independence of mind, they were not afraid to put their beliefs and political principles down on paper or into public service.
Charles Edward Trevelyan was a reformer who believed in the free market and the operation of natural causes. It is this last point that has caused much controversy because he was the government minister responsible for famine relief during the Irish potato famine: his role in that event has left a legacy that is still argued over, overshadowing his considerable reforms of the civil service and public administration.
His son George Otto gets a more even press. A historian, classical scholar, Liberal MP, writer and statesman, his political career lasted for thirty years, serving in all of William Gladstone’s administrations. He died at Wallington in 1928 aged 90.
George was succeeded by his eldest son, Charles Phillips Trevelyan. Handsome, intelligent, wealthy and of high social position, he was described by his friend and fellow socialist Beatrice Webb as “a man who has every endowment”. He sat for Newcastle Central in the House of Commons and served in Labour’s first governments in 1924 and 1929. His chief interest was education. He died in 1958 aged 87.
Wallington Hall and the estate then came into the ownership of the National Trust under an arrangement made by Charles in 1942.
Wallington stands today as a vibrant living testament to values that can seem somewhat anachronistic. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and the notion that those who have wealth are custodians and that privilege brings with it great responsibilities are ideas that, in a more cynical and materialistic time, are often overlooked.
After Elizabeth’s talk her audience was left with the feeling that those Blacketts, Fenwicks and Trevelyans would have approved of what the house has become.
The Northern Pre-Raphaelite: William Bell-Scott and his Art
Michael Thomson spoke on this northern artist, who showed the history of the North-East through his art.William Bell-Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1811. He was the seventh son of Ros Bell, an artist and sculptor, and Robert Scott, an engraver.The Edinburgh scene at the time was dominated by empire builders. Realism and New Science was very popular in the Victorian era, for example, advances in geology proved that the Earth was much older than had been previously estimated.Bell-Scott rejected the classical realism of the French School of painting, and was influenced by the realistic British painting. The ‘dark satanic mills’ of industrial Britain were widely featured in the art of the time, as were the Arthurian legends.In 1843 Bell-Scott was residing in London. He entered some of his sketches into a competition for decorating the interior of the recently rebuilt Houses of Parliament. They were rejected, but the Board of Trade were sufficiently impressed with his work to offer him a job as Director of the Government School of Design in Newcastle upon Tyne. He remained in this post from 1843- 1864. As well as lecturing he was very influential in the art of the North.As a northern Pre-Raphaelite he mixed with Ruskin and Rosetti. Rosetti was particularly fond of wombats and introduced them to his friend Bell-Scott, who produced a sketch of Rosetti holding one of his beloved wombats.
Bell-Scott’s best-known works are to be found at Wallington, where his murals and paintings adorn the magnificent central hall. His series of paintings, produced between 1857 and 1861, mainly depict Northumbrian history and the iron and coal industries. Some of his works also feature members of the Trevelyan family, who had inherited Wallington. There was apparently an element of competition between the Trevelyans and the Armstrongs of Cragside. One of the Armstrong’s daughters is portrayed by Bell-Scott reading a Mathematics book, indicative of the major part that scientific progress played in their lives. After the ground floor was completed in 1861, he had to wait two years before he was commissioned to paint the upper section with the story of the Battle of Otterburn from the Border ballad ‘Chevy Chase’. His most significant work includes ‘The Death of Bede’ which is full of symbolism and based on one of Bede’s letters.
Bell-Scott liked to express things in the context of the time, to create an image as realistic as possible. He painted an iconic image of Hadrian’s Wall at the time of the Roman occupation, and a very accurate portrayal of Tynemouth Priory, and of Grace Darling on a rescue mission in a lifeboat with the Farne Islands with birds swooping. In later years the Newcastle shipping industry is featured in his work.
Towards the end of his life his eyesight deteriorated and he started to write odes to sonnets and medieval-style ballads. He died at Penkill Castle in Ayrshire in 1890.
This talk gave us a fascinating and informative insight into the life and works of this northern artist.
Deserted medieval villages outing
A group of 12 members and visitors went on a tour of four villages in the Glendale area, lead by Allan Colman as a follow-up to his talk on deserted medieval villages in January.The first port of call was Doddington. The name ‘Doddington’ is Anglo-Saxon and probably means the ‘ton’ or township of ‘Dod’s’ people. or else it was named after nearby hill, Dod Law.
Fine weather prevailed as we walked around the village, now much reduced in size from earlier times. We started by the tower and bastle house within the thick and high stone walls of the now South Farm, then passed by a former smithy and a corn mill to reach the church.
The main church building dates from the early 13th century and retains a Norman font. There was originally a school room on the west side. In the 19th century the church was renovated, unusually with the altar facing west; this may have been arranged by Horace St Paul who used the old road from his Ewart Park mansion, built on the site of a substantial medieval village, to attend church. As he came from the west, he would have crossed Cuthbertson’s hog-backed stone bridge, which sadly collapsed in March this year. The churchyard has a watch-house to guard against Edinburgh body-snatchers.
The group continued onward to pass the Victorian school house in Drovers Lane. On the southern side of the village is a large area of desertion with substantial earthworks of former tofts and crofts, and evidence of ridge and furrow cultivation. We passed the former large mill pond of South Farm on the left, now a modern housing development, and proceeded back to the main road. On the eastern side is the former toll house, the market cross of 1846 adjacent to the ‘Dod’ Well, then another area of desertion and the remains of the old Cock Tavern hidden in the undergrowth.
We then headed north to the village of Ancroft, our arrival coinciding with that of a vigorous cold front that brought squalls of rain and plummeting temperatures. Ancroft possibly gets its name from Aidan’s croft. St Anne’s Norman church was built by the monks of Holy Island around 1145, possibly on the site of a former Saxon church. Although the church is much altered, the original Norman entrance can still be seen along with the 13th century pele tower, unusual in that it is attached to the church, and also a projecting medieval buttress. Inside the church there is plenty to read on the history of the village, church and farming practices.
Ancroft was laid waste by the Scots in the 14th century then rebuilt to the south of the church in a field now known as Broomey Field. This post-medieval village was burnt to the ground following a severe outbreak of plague in the 17th century, the bodies of the victims being covered in broom then set-alight along with their houses in an effort to contain the disease. A hollow-way and substantial earthworks are still to be seen.
The village expanded again in the 18th Century, specialising in shoe and clog making for the army and navy, with no metal parts that could spark and ignite gunpowder. Legend has it that the line of trees at the back of the Broomey Field commemorates these cobblers. At the western end of the village beyond Town Farm was once a large limestone quarry, which had fallen into disuse by 1890.
We then drove via Duddo and Greenlaw Walls to the ford at Etal. We passed the castle which was the former home of Robert de Manners who obtained a licence to crenellate in 1341, to help repel the border raiders. Etal Castle was taken by James IV, the Scottish King, on his way to the battle of Flodden in 1513. The English deposited his colours at the castle following his death on Flodden field.
We looked at the sites of the old Etal ferry, the weir, the corn mill and suspension bridge, before proceeding along the carriage drive to the remains of the 12th century St Mary’s chapel on the right bank of the Till, where travellers using the river would have stopped to pray for safe passage onwards. Adjacent to the chapel are some pipes and derelict buildings associated with the spout well, a former water source for the village which originally lay on an east-west axis between the 18th century manor house and the castle. The route of the old road, diverted during the early 19th century, can be discerned along a lime avenue, passing much closer to the manor.
The tour finished at Maelmin, on the outskirts of Milfield, where in worsening weather we visited the reconstructed dark-ages house, and looked at the open field on Milfeld Plain which is the site of the large Anglo-Saxon settlement and royal palace which moved from Ad Gefrin in the 7th century.
A good lunch was enjoyed at the Maelmin Café at the end of the tour.
The King's Shilling: Old English folk musicians
In the last meeting of our season of talks, on 10th April Glendale Local History Society members were treated to a presentation by the folksong and history group, Old English. They described the experience of those who took ‘The King’s Shilling’ by joining the Army in the 18th and 19th centuries and of those who recruited them.
Using a mixture of talk and song, the Group gave us a feeling for the ‘Recruiting Officer’, a common figure in the period. In contrast to the Navy, which required capable seaman, army recruiters just needed able bodied people. Recruiting parties went round the country, enticing people with the offer of the King’s Bounty, worth much more than the pay of a farm labourer, and, according to the sales patter, with a freer lifestyle and access to ‘wine, women and song’. Some recruits were attracted by the thought of escaping family obligations, and unattractive apprenticeships. Yet despite this, the Army was not popular. It had a reputation for corruption. Some army recruits were put off by the calibre of others. So the Recruiting Officer had to work hard at the arts of persuasion. They dressed in a colourful way, cultivated a good sales talk, and went to many of the less respectable places of the time in search of recruits. Not surprisingly, the character of the Recruiting Officer featured in folksongs and in plays of the time, usually as rumbustious figure of fun.
Life was not so easy for the army recruit. The reality of army life was not quite as the Recruiting Officer described. Many folksongs are laments about leaving loved ones behind. There were a good few deserters. One song described a roguish piper from Rothbury, who signed up, then deserted, and then signed up again, a repeated pattern which allowed him to get the King’s shilling each time he signed up. But many were killed and, unlike the world wars of the twentieth century, there were no war memorials to remember them. Reflecting the class divisions of the time, the ordinary soldier was disposable manpower. Only casualties of the officer class were remembered. At times of great need of army recruits, especially during the Napoleonic wars, additional volunteer infantry militias were created. The Duke of Northumberland’s tenants were expected to join the Percy Tenantry Volunteer Infantry. But the more affluent could buy their way out of this commitment by paying someone else to take up their obligation. This practice was greatly resented by the poorest groups, especially as these militia were deployed after the Napoleonic war to put down riots and other disturbances among those experiencing the high cost and scarcity of food supplies.
The Old English group illustrated the talk with slides and with many songs, encouraging us to sing the choruses. This proved a very enjoyable way to end our season.
May 29th 2019
Wooler’s new oak tree ─ commemorating sacrifices made by many during WW1
Glendale Local History Society hosted a celebratory gathering following the planting of an Oak Tree to commemorate the end of World War 1 and the coming of peace at that time.
Members of the Society, together with invited guests from Lilburn Estates and Wooler Parish Council, heard Professor Patsy Healey OBE, newly elected chair of GLHS, thank all concerned “… for bringing this project to realisation over the past year”, Lilburn Estates for generously providing, planting and guarding the fine Quercus rubor standard tree and Wooler Parish Council for agreeing the planting site on their riverside land beside the A697. Patsy hoped, “The tree, in time, will grow into a stately feature in the landscape” and with the plaque (thanks to retiring chairman, Mike Allport) to remind and remember sacrifices made by many during WW1.
Society Secretary, Pam Ratcliffe, explained the consequences of WW1 ─ dubbed “The war to end all wars” – and discussed how it had shaken Europe and the long-established order of European life, hostilities on 11th November 1918 with the hope for lasting peace. She explained the Paris Peace conference, which lasted 12 months, proving a huge investment to make the world a better place for 27 countries, all with competing claims and complaints and with seemingly intractable problems. The four Allied heads of government present for 5 months (cf summits such as the G7 now) were from France (Clemenceau), USA (Woodrow Wilson), Italy (Orlando) and Britain (Lloyd George); Japan’s prince absented himself from matters not directly relevant to Japan.
She highlighted international legislation – e.g. on waterways, railways, aviation, finance. The League of Nations was formed to resolve international disputes, by considering when nations have a right and duty to intervene and to validate and resolve competing claims for territory where there are groups of mixed identities. The conference also had to deal with bolshevism, actual & threatened revolutions, ethnic nationalism, public opinion, reparations and immense change in the social and economic systems, including labour, class and the role of women, plus the then current problems: violent strikes, revolutions (Russia, Hungary, Bavaria) and threats of revolution (Romania, Ireland). The ratification of treaties took time e.g. the Treaty of Versailles: Germany - 28th June, St Germain: Austria - September 1919, Neuilly: Bulgaria - November 1919; treaties with Turkey and Hungary were finally agreed in 1920. Pam concluded by giving the audience an imaginative mental image of end-of-war celebrations held in Wooler, by describing details from an original programme ─ “a procession of floats decked as ‘Allies’, a fancy dress competition, an evening fancy dress ball, all concluded with a much later evening, hilltop bonfire”.
Finally, before refreshments were enjoyed, the reading of three poems, by members of the Society (Eileen Lyons, Allan Colman and Frank Mansfield), reflected on remembrance of wartime and the coming of peace.
The new season of talks and other activities starts on the 11th September.