According to Ptolemy, the people inhabiting the tract of coast stretching from the river Tyne to the Firth of Forth, were called the Ottadini; while to the west, in the mountainous districts, and in Tiviotdale, were seated the Gadeni. Both of these tribes appear to have been either dependent on, or confederated with, the Brigantes, whose extensive territory, lying southward, included some portion of the south-western part of the county. The Romans did not penetrate into this part of Britain until the year 79, when Agricola led his legions into the north, and partly by the terror of his arms, and partly by the fame of his clemency, subjugated the country; to secure which he erected a chain of forts reaching from the Solway Firth to Tynemouth. But this barrier being soon broken through by the British refugees in conjunction with the Britons of Caledonia, the Emperor Adrian constructed a rampart of earth, which, connecting the forts of Agricola, likewise extended across the country from sea to sea. The Brigantes who settled north of this wall appear to have assumed the name of Meatæ, supposed to be derived from the British word meath, "a plain." In the reign of Antoninus Pius, about the year 140, the Meatæ fought several severe battles with the Romans under Lollius Urbicus, who at length re-conquered the whole country as far as the isthmus between the Firths of Forth and Clyde, where the Roman commander, by the emperor's order, constructed a second rampart, after the manner of Adrian's, and upon the same line along which Agricola had previously built a second chain of forts. The district between the two ramparts being again devastated by the barbarians, the Emperor Severus, about the year 207, took the field in person; and entering Caledonia at the head of a large army, compelled the inhabitants to purchase peace by the surrender of a large portion of territory: on his return he repaired and strengthened Adrian's rampart. During his subsequent indisposition at York, the Meatæ and Caledonians re-commenced hostilities, which so much exasperated him, that he resolved upon their utter extermination: his son Caracalla led the army to the north, but on the death of his father, which soon afterwards ensued, he hastily concluded a dishonourable peace, and returned to the southern provinces of Britain, the more effectually to prosecute his claims to the empire.
From this period we find nothing on record regarding this particular district until the year 306, about which time Constantine the Great, having allayed the disturbances on the northern frontiers, entrusted their defence to an officer styled Duke of Britain, who had under him 14,000 infantry and 900 cavalry, being more than two-thirds of the whole Roman forces in the island. In the reigns of the succeeding emperors, the rampart of Antoninus was frequently broken through by the northern tribes denominated Scots, Picts, and Attacotes; and the contiguous districts on the south were depopulated in the most savage and unrelenting manner. At length, the Emperor Valentinian sending over Theodosius with a formidable body of troops, that commander repelled the barbarians, and recovered all the country between the rampart of Severus and that of Antoninus; the tract now received the name of Valentia, and was added as a fifth province to the four into which the southern part of the island was divided. About the year 380, Maximus having withdrawn the Roman forces from Britain, the Scots and Picts renewed their incursions with dreadful success, until the arrival of the legion under the command of Stilicho, which was sent over to expel the northern invaders and to guard the rampart, but which, on the death of Theodosius in 402, was recalled to Italy to oppose the Gothic invaders under Alaric. It was probably during the continuance of this legion in Britain that the wall was added to the former line of defensive works across this part of the country: the wall was a massive bulwark of stone, defended by an outer ditch, and guarded by an interior chain of forts and military stations, extending in a line nearly parallel with Adrian's barrier, and at a very short distance from it. After the final departure of the Romans, several petty states sprang up, which being continually involved in sanguinary dissensions, the barbarians of the north succeeded in carrying their devastations into the very heart of South Britain: the district north of the Tyne, under the name of Bernicia, formed one of those numerous independent sovereignties.
The Saxon dominion was established in this part of the country about the year 547, when the Saxon chief, Ida, after many obstinate conflicts, having driven the Northumbrian Britons from the vicinity of the coast, became sole ruler in the province of Bernicia; he assumed the title of King of Bernicia, and erected as his principal residence the strong fortress of Bambrough, on the coast opposite to the Farn Isles. At the same period, Ælla, one of the chieftains who had come over with Ida, obtained the dominion of the province or kingdom of Deïra, being the whole of the country lying between the Tyne and the Humber. The two sovereignties were united by Ethelfrith, grandson of Ida, who, having ascended the Bernician throne, successfully invaded Deïra, and thus became the first king of Northan-hymbraland, as it is called in the ancient Saxon tongue, signifying the "land" or "country north of the Humber." This name was contracted by the Anglo-Saxons into Northymbraland, which has since been slightly altered into Northumberland; but in modern times the appellation has been confined to that portion of the country on the eastern side of the island, between the rivers Tyne and Tweed, which was but a small part of the ancient Northumberland or Northumbria. The reign of Edwin, who ascended the Northumbrian throne in 617, was distinguished, amongst other things, by the introduction of Christianity into the north of England, at the instance of his queen, a daughter of the Christian king of Kent, under whose auspices the Romish missionary Paulinus succeeded in converting the Northumbrian sovereign and his people. On the death of Edwin, who was slain in battle, Northumbria was again divided into two kingdoms, and reverted to paganism; but in 634 they were re-united. The see of Lindisfarne was founded soon afterwards, and in a few years the church of Northumbria was fixed on a solid and permanent basis; but various changes in the temporal condition of the kingdom took place during the tumultuous period that ensued, until its union with the rest of England in 828, it being the last kingdom of the heptarchy which acknowledged subjection to Egbert.
The short period of tranquillity it now enjoyed was interrupted by the descents of the Danes, who inflicted upon it a devastation still more horrible than any it had ever before experienced. In 867, Ivar the Dane assumed the government of all the country between the Humber and the Tyne; but in the time of Sygtryg it was reduced by King Athelstan, and annexed to his paternal dominions. The Northumbrian Danes, however, revolted against Athelstan's successor, Edmund, and subsequently against Edred, who desolated their country, and under whom it ceased to be even a nominal kingdom, being reduced to an earldom. In this part of England, the resistance to the Norman conquerors was the most obstinate, and the unsparing devastation which the persevering opposition of the northern English brought upon them from the vengeance of the Conqueror, was such, that Northumberland, in common with the remainder of the district, lay uncultivated and unpeopled for nearly a century afterwards. To this desolation is attributed the omission in the Norman survey, of the counties of Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland, and Westmorland. About the year 1170, however, the county was included in a survey made by order of Hugh Pudsey, Bishop of Durham, of all the ancient demesne lands and possessions of his bishopric, which are recorded in a small folio volume called "Boldon Buke," still kept in the office of the bishop's auditor at Durham.
The period of the Norman conquest may be regarded as the commencement of that long era of rivalry between the English and the Scottish crowns, which occasioned an almost uninterrupted series of hostilities upon the common border of the two kingdoms, until the accession of James VI. of Scotland to the English crown. Of the three marches into which the English borders were anciently divided, the middle march, comprising Tyndale and Redesdale, was within the present limits of Northumberland; the greater part of the western march was included in Cumberland, and of the eastern in Norhamshire, lately a detached portion of the county of Durham, but now a part of Northumberland, and which extends to the mouth of the river Tweed. Each of the marches was governed by a lord-warden, with almost unlimited authority. These border jurisdictions and their laws were abolished in the early part of the 17th century, on the accession of James; but many of the moss-troopers, as the border plunderers were commonly called, still continued their depredations, until checked by an edict which prohibited all borderers, except gentlemen of rank, from wearing weapons. Some of them took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the civil war, in the reign of Charles I., to resume their former mode of life; insomuch that, in the following reign, several fresh statutes were enacted against the moss-troopers, who had then become very numerous. Even at the beginning of the last century, the police of Tyndale and Redesdale was maintained by officers called Country keepers, who, for a certain sum, ensured their respective districts against theft and robbery. Many of the borderers were engaged in the rebellion of 1715. In the course of the last century, however, their ancient peculiarities entirely disappeared, and their habits, manners, and customs, became assimilated to those of their countrymen in general.
The county is contained in the diocese of Durham, and province of York, and consists of the archdeaconries of Northumberland and Lindisfarne, each having several deaneries, and the whole comprising 87 parishes. For purposes of civil government it is divided into the six wards of Bambrough (North and South divisions), Castle (East and West), Coquetdale (East, North, South, and West), Glendale (East and West), Morpeth (East and West), and Tindale (East, North-East, North-West, South, and West); also the districts called Bedlingtonshire, Norhamshire, and Islandshire, all three until lately in the county of Durham. It contains the borough, market, and sea-port town of Newcastle; the borough and market-town of Morpeth; the newly-enfranchised borough of Tynemouth; the market and sea-port town of North Shields; the market-towns of Allendale, Alnwick, Belford, Bellingham, Haltwhistle, Hexham, Rothbury, and Wooler; and the small sea-ports of Alnmouth, Bambrough, Blyth, Hartley, Seaton, and Warkworth. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the county was divided into the Northern and Southern divisions, each sending two members to parliament; two representatives are returned for Newcastle, and one each for Morpeth and Tynemouth. The county is included in the Northern circuit; the assizes are held at Newcastle, and the quarter-sessions by turns at Newcastle, Morpeth, Hexham, and Alnwick. The county gaol is at Morpeth; and there are houses of correction at Alnwick, Hexham, and Tynemouth.
The surface is much diversified: along the coast it is almost level, but near the middle it rises into large swelling ridges, which are separated by the principal rivers; and the whole of the western side is mountainous and uncultivated. Of this mountainous tract, the parts around Cheviot are the most valuable, in general forming fine green hills, inclosing numerous deep, narrow, and sequestered glens, and occupying an area of at least 90,000 acres; the rest of the tract is not marked by any striking irregularities of surface, being commonly an open, extensive, elevated, and solitary waste, having little vegetation besides heath. The whole of the mountainous districts are included in the wards of Tindale, Coquetdale, and Glendale, and comprise about 450,000 acres of land. Woods growing in a natural state are found on the banks of the rivers, those of the greatest extent being on the North and South Tyne, the Wansbeck, the Coquet, and their tributary streams. The demand for small wood at the collieries and lead-mines has induced proprietors on the Derwent, Tyne, &c., to cut the oak, ash, and elm which they contain, at from 25 to 30 years' growth; birch, willow, and alder, at a somewhat shorter growth; and hazel, for corf rods, once in three or four years: these corves are a kind of large wicker baskets, used for drawing up the coal from the pits. Flourishing plantations on a large scale are spread over the country: of the great variety of trees of which they are composed, the larch is one of the most prevalent and conspicuous. Among the Fish on the coast are the lump-fish and the porpoise; vast quantities of cod are taken; and ling, haddock, soles, plaice, flounders, turbot, herrings, skate, and thornback also abound. Mackerel, basse, gar, sturgeon, and halibut are very scarce. Lampreys are procured near the mouths of the large rivers, and congereels are plentiful in the sea sands. A variety of flat fish is found in the Tyne and other rivers. Crustaceous and testaceous fishes are taken in great diversity on the seacoast; cockles are very abundant along the coast, the best and largest being found at Budle; and oysters of an excellent quality are sometimes obtained among the rocks.
The most important mineral productions are coal and lead. The great coal-field of the north-eastern extremity of England, which extends over the larger part of this county, and that of Durham, forms a most important object in the national economy. The district is included within an irregular triangle, having its apex at Berwick, and the river Tees for its base; it consists of a series of beds, which, including several smaller ones of nearly the same material, amount to 229, and are composed of five different substances, some of which alternate with each other several times, viz., coal, sandstone, slate-clay or shale, limestone, and basalt. The whole district has been divided into two separate formations, the Independent Coal Formation and the Newcastle Coal Formation, and familiarly into "lead measures" and "coal measures." The tract of the lead measures, so called from the veins of lead which abound in a particular part of it, extends from Berwick on the north, to the Tees on the south: its northern part is bounded on the east by the sea, and on the west by the Cheviot hills; and its southern part, on the east by the coal measures, and on the west by a range of high land, of which Cross Fell is the apex. The coal measures stretch from the river Coquet on the north, nearly to the Tees on the south, the length of the tract being about 58 miles, and its greatest breadth about 24; the surface comprises by computation 180 square miles, but the majority of the numerous mines are situated on the sides of the river Tyne, and not far distant from its banks. In these measures, 40 beds of coal have been seen, some of which, however, are of inconsiderable thickness; the two most important are distinguished as the high main and the low main, the former being six feet thick, and the latter six feet six inches. The high main coal is about 60 fathoms above the low main, which, at St. Anthon's colliery, near Newcastle, is 135 fathoms from the surface; between them occur eight beds of coal, one of which is four feet thick, and another three: seven beds have been found under the low main, but the quality is inferior. The great coal-trade of the district has been flourishing for the last five centuries, and constantly increasing with the increasing population of the country.
The Lead veins are chiefly situated in a space of about fifteen miles from north to south, and twenty from east to west, the southern boundary of which, lying partly in this county and partly in that of Durham, may be defined to be a line extending about twenty miles eastward from Cross Fell. The only lead-ore procured in abundance is galena, which here contains silver, varying in proportion from two to forty-two ounces in the fother of twenty-one cwt., and averaging twelve ounces. When it is of good quality, thirty-two cwt. of clean ore yield twenty cwt. of lead. The richest fields are at Allenhead and Coalcleugh, which, with five other mines in the parish of Allendale, furnish an annual produce of about 2500 tons of lead. Lead is also found in some of the northern parts of the county; and small veins have been discovered on the coast at Elwick, and on the eastern side of Holy Island. The ore is wrought by a measure containing 800 cwt. of clear ore, called a "bing," most of the proprietors having smelting-mills. Iron-ore is found both in the coal and lead districts; and vast quantities of iron pyrites lie imbedded in the strata of indurated clay through all the coal-field. The iron-works at Leamington are chiefly supplied with iron pyrites from the neighbouring collieries. Ironstone is still more abundant in the shale of the lead-mines; but owing to the comparatively high price of fuel, and the great distance from water-carriage, it cannot be advantageously manufactured. There were formerly furnaces at Leehall (near Bellingham) and Bebside: iron-ore was got about four miles west of Blyth; and the Carron Company were accustomed to collect on Holy Island a part of the ore smelted at their furnaces. The remains of ancient blomeries are found in different parts of the county, indicating that the Romans were acquainted with the iron-mines, which is corroborated by the discovery of a Roman altar, at Benwell, inscribed to Jupiter Dolichenus, the deity who presided over iron.
Basalt is procured both in the lead and coal measures: in the first it occurs in the form of beds interstratified with sandstone, limestone, &c., in veins, and in heaps on the surface termed "over-lying masses:" in the coal measures it occurs in the general form of a long range, crossing the country from south-west to north-east, north of the lead-mines. Nearer the north other masses are visible, and still further the basaltic eminences form a striking feature in the country between Alnwick and Berwick, and have frequently been chosen for the sites of castles, as at Dunstanbrough, Bambrough, and Holy Island. Some of the small islands near the coast are also composed of this rock. The number of basaltic veins, or dykes, traversing the coal measures, is very considerable; the largest in the immediate neighbourhood of Newcastle, is that through Coley Hill, about four miles west of the town, which is twenty-four feet wide, and in which a long range of quarries has been opened, in some places to the depth of fifty feet. Limestone is abundant in all parts of Bambrough ward, and that part of Glendale ward lying east of the river Till; thence it stretches in a south-western direction, through the central part of the county. Freestone, of various kinds, abounds in almost every quarter, and is applied to all the purposes of building: many of the quarries afford tolerably good slate for roofing, and flagstones for floors; and at some of them are obtained excellent grindstones, of which many are exported. Whinstone of the blue kind exists in numerous places, particularly in the district called Bambroughshire; and the tract on the western side of the river Till, including all the Cheviot mountains, yields scarcely any other mineral substance than brown, red, or grey whinstone, which is an exceedingly good material for making roads. Stone marl abounds in many parts near the Tweed, and shell marl is found in a few places in Glendale ward; clay marl is also discovered in small quantities, but in situations unfavourable to its use as manure. Ore of zinc can be procured in abundance in most of the veins producing lead-ore; but the distance from any brassfoundries, and the want of water-carriage, render it of little value. Arsenic occurs in the lead-mines, in which also is a great variety of the different kinds of spar.
The staple Manufactures are principally derived from, or connected with, the coal-trade and mines; they include ship-building and rope-making, and there are numerous forges, foundries, copperas-works, soda or marine alkali manufactories, white-lead works, potteries, glass-works, &c. Hexham has long been noted for the making of gloves, called "Hexham Tan;" and the manufacture of straw-plat is carried on to a considerable extent in the county, much ingenuity being displayed in some of its branches. Besides the astonishing exports of coal, the chief articles shipped from the Tyne are, lead, shot, cast and wrought iron, grindstones, bricks, earthenware, and glass. The exports through the medium of the port of Berwick, are mostly corn, flour, oatmeal, shelled barley, potatoes, eggs, pork, and wool, which are conveyed coastwise. The port of Alnmouth also employs a few vessels in exporting corn, flour, &c.; and, during the summer season, a few are engaged in carrying lime from the neighbourhood of Bambrough to different parts of Scotland. The foreign trade is mainly to the north of Europe. Among the chief imports are corn, flax, hemp, linen, yarn, timber, and iron.
The principal Rivers are, the Tyne, the Tweed, the Coquet, the Aln, the Blyth, the Wansbeck, and the Till. The Tyne is formed by the confluence, a little above Hexham, of two streams of nearly equal magnitude, called the North Tyne and the South Tyne; it is a tide river up to a short distance above Newburn, and is navigable as high as Newcastle for vessels of large burthen. Many steam-boats ply upon it between Newcastle and Shields. The conservancy of the river belongs to the corporation of Newcastle, by grant of Edward II.; and their jurisdiction extends to high-water mark on both sides of the stream, from Spar-Hawk, a rock at the mouth of the haven, to Hedwin streams, above Newburn, a distance of nineteen miles. The Tyne and the Tweed have been long famous for their salmon-fisheries, especially the latter; nearly the whole of the fish is sent to London, in pounded ice, by means of fast-sailing smacks of from 70 to 120 tons' burthen, built for the purpose. Besides the numerous tramroads leading from the collieries to the staiths or shipping-places, two great railways have been completed for the conveyance of passengers and goods, one from Newcastle towards the west, named the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, and the other in an eastern direction, proceeding to North Shields and Tynemouth; the course of each is along the banks of the Tyne, and the Carlisle railway passes by the towns of Hexham and Haltwhistle. More recently a line has been opened from Newcastle, by Morpeth, Alnwick, and Belford, to Berwick; it runs along the coast, and extends from the extreme south to the extreme north of the county.
The Roman remains in Northumberland are among the most interesting in the island. The principal are those of the great barrier constructed as a defence against the incursions of the North Britons; and the sites of eleven of the eighteen stations along its line, enumerated as they occur in succession from the mouth of the Tyne westward, are in this county, namely, Segedunum, Pons Ælii, Condercum, Vindobala, Hunnum, Cilurnum, Procolitia, Borcovicus, Vindolana, Æsica, and Magna. These were, respectively, at Wallsend, Newcastle, Benwell, Rutchester, Halton-Chesters, Walwick-Chesters, Carrawbrugh, Housesteads (where the remains occupy a space two miles and a half in length), Little Chesters, Great Chesters, and Caer Voran. Of all of them the traces are more or less distinct; and numerous remains of Roman buildings, utensils, coins, &c., of almost every description, have been discovered among their foundations. The most conspicuous fragments of the wall itself are at Denton Burn, Heddon-on-the-Wall, Harlow Hill, and near Chollerford Bridge on the Tyne. In addition to the stations along the wall, there were stations at Old Town, Bellingham, Corchester, Hexham, Tynemouth, Elsdon, and Rochester, which have also furnished many interesting relics. Besides the paved way that ran from turret to turret, immediately within the wall, another proceeded by the most direct course between the different stations of the barrier; it is still distinguishable in various places. The Watling-street traversed the county from south to north, entering it at Corbridge on the Tyne, and crossing the great wall at Portgate, a mile and a half beyond which it separates into two branches, one running north-north-east, and entering Scotland near Berwick, and the other northnorth-west, crossing the border at Black-Halls. The vicinal road called the Maiden-way, supposed to be a corruption of Madeway, proceeds from Caer Voran, on the western side of the county, to Whitley Castle, and thence to Whellop Castle in Westmorland.
The Religious Houses, probably owing in some degree to the unfruitfulness of a great part of the county, and to the insecurity of its border situation, during the whole period of the existence of those establishments, amounted only to about forty-nine, including hospitals and colleges. There are some remains of the abbeys of Alnwick, Blanchland, and Hulne; the principal, however, are those of the priories of Brinkburn, Hexham, and Tynemouth, and the abbey of Lindisfarne. Of the numerous ancient Castles, several are yet standing either wholly or in part. That of Bambrough is of the highest antiquity; that of Alnwick is the most magnificent, as well as of the most distinguished historical celebrity, and, with its modern additions, enjoys a primary rank among the present mansions in the county. In this class of remains may be noticed several of the border towers, of comparatively small dimensions, but of strong construction. There are medical Springs at Eglingham, Halliwell, Snowhope, and Thurston. On the mountain streams are some cascades of considerable height, but owing to the extreme barrenness of the tracts in which they are situated, they are less picturesque than those of the adjacent county of Durham. Northumberland confers the titles of Earl and Duke on the representative of the noble family of Percy, so distinguished in the border annals, whose chief provincial residence is Alnwick Castle.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.