Historical description of Northumberland, England

Map of Northumberland

Northumberland, a maritime county in the N of England, bounded on the NW and the N by Scotland, on the NE and the E by the North Sea, on the S by Durham, and on the SW and W by Cumberland. Its outline is irregularly pentagonal, with a long side toward the NW, a short side toward the NE, and long sides toward the E, the S, and the W. Its boundary, on the NW side, is formed mainly by a watershed of the Cheviots and by the river Tweed; on the S side, mainly by the rivers Tyne and Derwent; and on part of the W side, by the river Irthing. Its greatest length, from N to S, is nearly 70 miles; its greatest breadth, from N by W to E by S, is about 50 miles; its circuit is about 225 miles—90 of which are along the Cheviots and 50 along the coast; and its area is 1,289,756 acres. It exceeds in size all the counties of England except York, Lincoln, Devon, and Norfolk. The Cheviots project far within the border; occupy great part of the parishes of Wooler, Kirknewton, Ilderton, Ingram, Alnham, Alwinton, and Elsdon; form masses grouped skirt to skirt, or shoulder to shoulder, like clustering cones, with dome-shaped summits; and rise to altitudes of from 1280 to 2658 feet. The surface from their base, eastward to the sea and south-eastward to the Tyne, may be described generally as a hanging plain, but consists largely of either low tableau or low plain. The tracts in the SW, to the extent of about 25 miles from Highfield and Hareshaw moors to the S border, and from 10 to 28 miles eastward from the W border, are chiefly moor and mountain, beautifully intersected by the valleys of the North Tyne, the South Tyne, and the Alien, much diversified also by verdant hills and hanging plains, and rising at or near the boundaries to altitudes of from 1000 to nearly 2000 feet. Much of the scenery is wild, bare, or monotonous, but much also is richly and variedly picturesque. The chief rivers are the Tweed, the Till, the Alne, the Coquet, the Wansbeck, the Blyth, the Tyne, and the Derwent. The coast is mainly low and little diversified; -Coquet Island, the Fern Islands, and Holy Island lie off it; and the most remarkable of its features are noticed, in order from S to N, in the following lines:—

"And now the vessel skirts the strand
Of mountainous Northumberland;
Towns, towers, and halls successive rise,
And catch the nuns' delighted eyes.
Monkwearmouth soon behind them lay,
And Tynemouth's priory and bay.
They mark'd amid her trees the hall
Of lofty Seaton Delaval;
They saw the Blyth and Wansbeck floods
Rush to the sea through sounding woods;
They pass'd the tower of Widdrington,
Mother of many a valiant son;
At Coquet Isle their beads they tell
To the good saint who own'd the cell;
Then did the Alne attention claim,
And Warkworth, proud of Percy's name;
And next they cross'd themselves to hear
The whitening breakers sound so near,
Where boiling through the rocks, they roar
On Dunstanborough's cavern'd shore;
Thy tower, proud Bamborough, mark'd they there
King Ida's castle, huge and square,
From its tall rock look grimly down,
And on the swelling ocean frown;
Then from the coast they bore away,
And reach'd the Holy Island's bay."

Most of the Cheviots and a few tracts on the coast consist of igneous rocks, chiefly porphyritic trap; the tracts north-eastward and eastward of the Cheviots to the sea, and the tracts south-westward and southward of the Cheviots and of the previous tracts, all within a line drawn south-westward from Alnmouth to Haltwhistle, and thence nearly along the course of the Roman wall to the W border, consist of lower carboniferous rocks, chiefly carboniferous limestone and shale; a considerable belt along all the SE side of these tracts, to Hexham, narrowing thence to Haltwhistle, and bending southward up the W side of the South Tyne, together with a tract around Allendale, consists chiefly of Yaredale rocks and upper limestone shale; a narrower belt along the SE side of that belt, but expanding toward the S, particularly around Matfen, consists chiefly of millstone grit; and the tract between the latter belt and the sea, all down from Warkworth to the Tyne, narrow in the N but gradually expanding toward the S, and reaching from Tynemouth to Bywell along the Tyne, consists of the coal measures. Building stone of various kinds is comparatively plentiful, and is extensively quarried. Roofing, flag, and grind stones are quarried at Byker and other places. Limestone is plentiful throughout the great carboniferous limestone tract, and is extensively calcined for manure. The coalfield is continuous with the coalfield of Durham, and the two together occupy an area of about 700 square miles. The output of coal in Northumberland is nearly 10,000,000 tons per annum. Iron ore abounds in the coalfield, and lead ore in the limestone region round Allendale. Zinc and silver ore are also found. Fishing and fish-curing are carried on to some extent.

Plantations are plentiful enough to give an ornate appearance to most of the low tracts, but native forests or old woods are sparse and meagre. Estates in general are large. Farms generally range from 300 to 1200 acres in the best arable parts, and sometimes extend to 2000 or even 3000 acres around the braes of the Cheviots. Farm tenure is various, but commonly either at will or on twenty-one years' lease. The soils on the seaboard are principally strong, fertile, clayey loam; in the central and SE parts a moist loam on cold impervious clay; on the banks of the Till, the Alne, the Coquet, and the Tyne, variously sand, light gravel, or dry loam; in the mountainous parts a black peat-earth. Agriculture is somewhat variable, and retains in some parts certain usages which cannot be called good; but, on the whole, exhibits a highly improved condition, shows a better advance on old practices than is to be seen in almost any other English county, and is conducted in a skilful and enterprising spirit. A five-year rotation, known as the Northumberland husbandly, is very prevalent—oats in the first year, turnips or potatoes in the second, spring wheat or barley in the third, clover or grasses in the fourth, and pasture in the fifth. Oxen are reared chiefly in the eastern part of the county. Short-horned cattle are used for the dairy, and the Durham and Scotch breed are preferred for fattening. At Chillingham Park there is a race of wild cattle, invariably white with black muzzles. The native Cheviot sheep, a hardy useful breed with a small fleece of ordinary wools, prevails in the uplands; a long-woolled breed, much improved by the introduction of the Leicesters and Southdowns, prevails on the lowland farms. The horses are chiefly of the Clydesdale breed, middle-sized, muscular, strong, and active.

The chief manufactures concentrate on the Tyne, in and near Newcastle, and consist of ships, boats, anchors, boilers, nails, engines, machines, coaches, chemicals, glass, pottery, canvas, linen, and woollens.

According to the census returns issued in 1893, the chief occupations of the people of the county were:—Professional, 8006 males and 4218 females; domestic, 1578 males and 27,047 females; commercial, 24,128 males and 516 females; agricultural, 15,851 males and 3269 females; fishing, 1338 males and 11 females; industrial, 108,949 males and 16,228 females; and "unoccupied," including retired business men, pensioners, those living on their own means, and others not specified, 30,033 males and 139,884 females; or a total in the county of 189,883 males and 191,173 females. The number of men employed in the leading industries was as follows :—Coal miners, 27,155; general labourers, 10,486; agricultural labourers, 7087; and shipbuilders, 6761. The chief occupations of women were—domestic service, with a total of 23,661; millinery and dressmaking, 7033. There were also in the county 376 blind persons, 81 deaf, 339 deaf and dumb, and 1361 mentally deranged.

One railway, part of the main line of the N.E.R., goes from Newcastle northward past Morpeth, and along the seaboard to Berwick; another goes from Newcastle westward up the Tyne and the South Tyne, past Hexham and Haltwhistle, toward Carlisle, with a short branch from Hexham to Catton Road for Allendale; another branches off from Newcastle and Carlisle at Haltwhistle, southward into the SE corner of Cumberland at Alston. The North British railway has a line from Hexham, which goes up the valley of the North Tyne, past Bellingham and Falstone, into Scotland at Riccarton Junction, to proceed thence to Hawick and Edinburgh. The Blyth and Tyne railway goes from Newcastle down the Tyne to North Shields and Tynemouth, and proceeds from the last along the coast to Blyth and Newbiggen, and thence inland to Morpeth; another strikes from the North-Eastern at Morpeth, and goes westward up the Wansbeck Valley, past Cambo to Reedsmouth; another goes from the Berwick and Kelso line into the interior south-south-eastward, past Wooler to the vicinity of Rothbury; another, a short branch line, deflects from the North-Eastern at Bilton, and goes north-westward to Alnwick; and another, the Berwick and Kelso, leaves the North-Eastern at Tweedmouth, and goes up the Tweed past Norham and Coldstream into Scotland at Kelso. The boundaries of the ancient or geographical county and those of the administrative county, together with the county borough of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, are co-extensive. For parliamentary purposes the ancient county is divided into four divisions, and besides which there are the parliamentary boroughs of Morpeth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Tynemouth. Population of the county (1801), 168,078, (1821) 212,589, (1841) 260,020, (1861) 343,025, (1881) 434,086, (1891) 506,030.

The county is governed by a lord-lieutenant and custos, and a county council consisting of 20 aldermen and 80 councillors, and is in the N judiciary circuit, the NE military district, and the diocese of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The administrative county includes the three municipal boroughs of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Morpeth, and Tynemouth, besides the county borough of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into thirteen petty sessional divisions. Berwick-upon-Tweed and Newcastle-upon-Tyne have separate courts of quarter sessions and separate commissions of the peace, while Tynemouth has only a, separate commission of the peace. The administrative county contains 503 entire civil parishes, and the county borough of Newcastle-upon-Tyne contains nine civil parishes. The ancient county is entirely in the diocese of Newcastle, and is divided into 159 entire ecclesiastical parishes or districts.

The borough of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was constituted under the Local Government Act, 1888, an administrative county In itself and styled a county borough, and the municipal corporation has the power of a county council. H.M. Prison for Newcastle and Northumberland is in Newcastle, and the County Pauper Lunatic Asylum is at Morpeth. A Reformatory School for boys, primarily for Durham and Northumberland, is at Stannington, near Morpeth; it is surrounded by 300 acres of land which are farmed by the boys, who are taught how to make agricultural implements and other useful trades. A Northern Counties Institution for the deaf and dumb is near Brandling village, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and a Royal Infirmary for Newcastle and Northumberland and Durham is situated at Forth Banks, Newcastle.

The ancient British Ottadeni inhabited the E parts of what is now Northumberland, the ancient British Gadeni inhabited the W parts, and both are supposed to have been in strict alliance with the Brigantes. The Romans under Agricola subdued all the country, together with the part of Scotland S of the Forth and Clyde; they constructed two lines of defences, the one from the Forth to the Clyde in Scotland, the other from the Tyne at Wallsend across the S of Northumberland to Bowness on the Solway Firth ; they restored or remade the old British road called Watling Street, running north-westward through Northumberland, past Corbridge to the Cheviots; and they included all Northumberland in their province of Valentia. Their line of defence from Wallsend to the Solway proved insufficient to resist insurrections and attacks from the N; was strengthened in the time of Hadrian so as to consist of a stone wall with N ditch, an earthen wall or vallum S of the stone wall, a chain of stations, castles, and watchtowers, and lines of road chiefly between the stone wall and the vallum ; and will be described in our article ROMAN WALL. The Picts frequently overran the northern and central parts of Northumberland, and broke through the wall; but they were finally repelled or reduced to quietude in the time of Valentinian. The Romans departed in 446, and left the country a prey to civil discord. The Saxons were invited by the distracted inhabitants to pacify the country; Ebusa and Octa, brothers of Hengist, landed on the coast of Northumberland in 454, but do not seem to have made much impression; Ida, called the flame-bearer, landed in 547, built a castle at Bambrough, and founded the kingdom of Bernicia ; and that kingdom extended from the Tyne to the Forth, took its name from the river Brennich or the part of the Till above Wooler, and was eventually united to the kingdom of Deira to form the kingdom of Northumbria. Edwin, who mounted the throne in 617, introduced Christianity; Egbert, king of Wessex, wrung submission from Eanred of Northumbria in 823, and got entire possession of the country in 828-30; the Danes overran it in 844 and 867 ; Edward the Elder defeated them in a great battle at Corbridge; Athelstan overthrew the combined forces of the Scots and the Cumbrians in another great battle at Brunanburgh; and Edred completely conquered all Northumbria in 942, divided it into baronies and counties, and transmuted its kings into jarls or earls. One of the earldoms took the name of Northumberland, and extended southward to the Tees and northward to the Forth; and the history of it became interwoven with the history of Scotland, but practically terminated in the death of Siward, who dethroned Macbeth of Scotland, restored Malcolm, and died in 1055. Tosti Godvinson, brother of King Harold, nominally succeeded Siward; but the inhabitants viewed him as a despot, and speedily expelled him, saying, "We have learned from our fathers to live as freemen or to die." Copsi, who was assassinated by his rival Osulph, also became nominally Earl; Gospatrick afterwards purchased the title; Bishop Waltheof of Durham, Mowbray the Norman, Prince Henry of Scotland, and Bishop Pusar successively wore it; the Percys got it in 1377, and retained it till 1461; Neville, Lord Montagu, then received it; and the Percys got it again in 1470, and retained it till 1537. The title was afterwards changed to Duke; went to John, Earl of Warwick ; passed in 1557 to the Percys; remained with them till 1670; became extinct; was revived in 1683 in favour of George Fitzroy, and again became extinct. The title of Earl was revived in 1749 in favour of A. Seymour, Duke of Somerset; and the title of Duke was revived in 1786 in favour of the Smithson-Percys.

William the Conqueror encountered great resistance in Northumberland, scourged most of it nearly to desolation, and drove multitudes of the inhabitants into the mountains and the forests, but never got possession of Tynedale and Redesdale. Northumberland then was practically part of Scotland, linking its fortunes with those of the Scottish kings; and it continued throughout William's reign, and throughout the reigns of William Rufus, Henry I., Stephen, Henry II., and Richard I., to be a scene of incessant reprisals and retaliation between the forces of Scotland and those of England. Malcolm III. in 1019 invaded, wasted, and burnt the county as far as Alnwick; David I. in 1138 seized Norham, Alnwick, and Newcastle; and William the Lion in 1174 overran the county, seized its fortresses, and terribly devastated its towns and mansions. William was at last taken prisoner, and carried captive into the presence of Henry II.; Malcolm IV. had previously made a cession of Northumberland to Henry II.; and William subsequently paid homage to King John; yet was not the county saved from repetition of conflicts and disasters, for King John made an expedition into it to punish some disaffected barons, and burnt, ravaged, and plundered its castles and towns. Alexander II. in 1244 advanced as far as Ponteland, but retreated in consequence of Henry III. with an army being at Newcastle. Great events arising out of the unsettled state of the Scottish succession occurred in various parts, particularly at Berwick and Norham. The Scots, in resistance to Edward I., or in retaliation of his measures, in one year ravaged Redesdale and Tynedale, and burnt Corbridge and Hexham; in another year recaptured Berwick, laid waste the country around Rothbury, and menaced Newcastle; in another year, after the battle of Bannockburn, made terrible raids into much of the county, and again burnt Corbridge and Hexam; and in another year, 1318, captured Wark, Harbottle, and Mitford, and again recaptured Berwick, which had been retaken by the English. The Scots also, in 1327, captured Norham; in 1333 blockaded Bambrough; in 1372 won the battle of Carham; in 1385 took the castles of Wark, Ford, and Cornhill; in 1388, on the day of Chevy Chase, were routed at Otterburn; in 1402, after the fall of Wark, were defeated at Fulhope Law and Homildon; in 1436 won the battle of Pepperdean; and in 1448 took and burnt Alnwick. A great battle between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians was fought at Hexham in 1464. Perkin Warbeck devastated the county in 1496. The Scots suffered a disastrous overthrow at Flodden in 1513; they were defeated again at Branxton in 1524; and they invaded England and took Newcastle in 1639 ; and again appeared before that town in 1644, but did not succeed in taking it. Other events are noticed in the articles on the principal towns.

A great multitude of antiquities in great variety exist in connection with the Roman wall, and many of these are seen in the wall's own course, and on the sites of its stations and castles, while others have been collected into local museums and repositories. The Roman Watling Street is partly in tolerable preservation, and has partly been converted into a good modern road; and a station on it at Bremenium, the modern High Rochester, about 22 miles N of the wall, has left distinct traces of ramparts, ditches, and gates, and yielded important discoveries during excavations made in 1852 by the Duke of Northumberland, and since then by the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries. Another Roman station was on Watling Street at Risingham, and another at Corbridge. A branch Roman way went from Watling Street to Alnwick. Two Roman camps were at Tynemouth and North Shields, two also were on the Durham side at the E end of South Shields and at Jarrow; and these four, with perhaps the aid of other works, commanded the Tyne from the E end of the wall to the sea. Ancient camps, which have left some remains, were likewise at Whitton, Whitley, Whitchester, Rosedon Edge, Kirknewton, Black Dykes, Bolam, Outchester, Spindleston, Belford, Rothbury, Castlehill near Alnham, Glanton Pike, Berwick Hill, Greencastle near Wooler, Harelaw near Paston, and Castlestone Nick near Cornhill. The Lords of the East Marches, which comprised all the northern part of what is now Northumberland, wielded vast powers for repelling or punishing raids during the middle ages, and they were aided in the discharge of their onerous duties by royal fortresses at Bambrough and Newcastle, by noble fortresses at Wark, Alnwick, and Prudhoe, by baronial strongholds and peel-towers in many places, by bastel-houses in towns and villages, and even by some fortified ecclesiastical towers, as at Corbridge and Elsdon. Very many of the mediaeval strengths, or considerable remains of them, still exist, particularly at Bambrough, Newcastle, Wark, Prudhoe, Tynemouth, Ogle, Bellister, Thirlwall, Staward-le-Peel, Langley, Willimoteswick, Simonburn, Cockley, Aydon, Halton, Welton, Morpeth, Bothall, Dunstanburgh, Whitton, Harbottle, Hepple, Edlingham, Haughton, Old Rothbury, and Berwick. Remains of abbeys are Hulne, Newminster, Blanchland, and Hexham; remains of priories are at Lindisfarne, Brinkburn, and Tynemouth; and interesting old churches are at Seaton Delaval, Ponteland, Heddon-on-the-Wall, Bolam, Elsdon, Newcastle, and Hexham.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5