These days, we go to talks to hear about history, or we watch television programmes, listening attentively to a speaker or presenter. Glendale Local History Society members were not disappointed in early January. Paula Constantine, a specialist in creating clothing for living history re-anactments, did not disappoint us as she introduced us to life in post-Roman to Norman Britain, through the medium of the clothes people made and wore. It soon became obvious that, in those days, we would never have had time to just sit and listen. Instead, the business of creating our clothing would have occupied a lot of time in days already busy with many other tasks. Our learning, then, would have been through doing and making things. Instead of formal talks, we would have exchanged knowledge and information among ourselves as we worked on various tasks together. Today, only a few of us have the knowledge and skill to do the many complex tasks involved in producing a 'kirtle' – the smock form worn by men and women from iron age to medieval times.
In her talk, Paula took us through the various stages from initial ingredients to finished garment. The main materials for producing fabrics were flax, fibre from nettle stalks, and, especially in north Northumberland, wool. She explained that it is very difficult to find archaeological evidence of the fabrics as they decay so quickly, but sometimes leave their mark on the back of broaches. Archaeologists have also found signs of ponds used to soak flax and the pith from nettle stalks, as well as durable parts of spinning wheels and weaving looms. It looks as if some of the production of yarns of linen, nettle fibre and wool was organised in a semi-commercial way. Until just before the Norman period, when Flemish weavers brought a new weaving technology to Britain, upright looms were used. Paula told us that at Akeld, there is evidence of considerable weaving activity and speculated that this could have been for the production of rich garments for the royal household at early medieval Yeavering. Some of the cloth found from early medieval times shows a very high level of skill in patterning the fabric and creating braiding which could be used to ornament the neckline, sleeve ends and hems. It was also possible to dye the cloth or thread in various colours, and elites enjoyed brightly coloured fabrics. The resultant clothing took a lot of time to make, so people had to make them last a long time. The braiding helped to protect the edges of clothes from wear and tear. Paula noted that some clothes were sufficiently valuable to be listed as goods in people's wills.
Anglo-Saxon costume women had kirtles made from two straight pieces of cloth, tied at the shoulders with broaches. Working women would have had short –sleeved garments, but elite ladies could allow themselves the luxury of longer sleeves. Ladies decorated their costume with necklaces made of glass beads, and teeth from wolves or boars, as well as small bronze discs. Possibly the discs and the teeth had a medical role in warding off disease and evil spirits. A belt at the waist was accompanied by a pocket bag, the opening made from iron or perhaps elephant ivory. Paula suggested that elephant ivory too had a medical purpose. Clearly such a material would have been imported from far away. Ivory was also used to make needles. Men's kirtles were shorter, worn with trousers, and with an indent in
the neckline. Both men and women's garments were braided, with very complex patterns woven into the braiding.
By the 900s, Scandinavian influence was beginning to be felt in north Northumberland, probably through trade links with Denmark and Sweden. This influenced the style of dress worn by women in particular. Paula demonstrated this by dressing herself in a fine pinafore-style garment, with stretch fabric over the chest and a fine flared skirt below. The shoulder straps were fastened with the classic 'Viking' tortoise broaches, with strings of beads hanging between them. By this time, and especially in the Viking culture, jewellery was worn as a sign of wealth, as was also demonstrated in the cut of the cloth and the colours used. By this time, yarns, cloth and jewellery were being traded on a considerable scale as well as made locally.
Paula brought with her a rich array of materials for us to look at and the fabric specialists among us were especially fascinated by the techniques. But I think we all felt that, through imagining making and wearing the clothing Paula described, we had been transported back a millennia and a half to a time when north Northumberland was at the centre of an important European kingdom.
The Society's next talk will be on 12th February at 7.30 Cheviot Centre, Wooler, when the topic will be North East War Memorials, by Janet Brown.
Glendale Local History Society opened their 2013-14 season with an illustrated talk given by John Nolan of Northern Counties Archaeological Services on "The Barmoor Castle and Estate".
Barmoor has a rich and varied history with evidence of human occupation going back five thousand years. Flints from the Mesolithic era have been found along with Roman pottery and the remains of an Iron Age settlement. Barmoor's proximity to the Roman road - the Devil's Causeway – ensured that it became an important staging post on the journey north. It is probable that roman legions camped there and in the early 14th century Barmoor played host to Edward the second and his army when on the way north to harry the Scots. The Earl of Surrey's army camped there the night before the battle of Flodden. Field walkers and metal detectors have found artefacts, principally coins and pottery shards, which relate to these events.
Barmoor was the medieval home of the Muschamp family and was in their ownership for some three centuries. The Muschamps were Wardens of the Marches and were prominent in Border Affairs. Their fortunes varied. In 1550 the castle was described as "Cast down and not repaired." A George Muschamp did some restoration in the late 16th century but a hundred years later ownership had passed to the Carr family from Etal the Muschamps having become impoverished and fallen out of favour because they supported the wrong side in the Civil War. In the 18th and 19th centuries some famous names – Boscawen, Sitwell – became associated with Barmoor as owners of the estate and agricultural improvers. Again fortunes went up and down with one of the owners being undone because of too great an involvement with horseracing! In the 19th century the castle was given a gothic makeover following plans drawn up by the Edinburgh architect John Paterson. The walls were enlarged and the massive gate tower – arguably the castle's most dramatic feature today – added. The work was completed in 1892 but not all Paterson's plans were brought to fruition because of lack of funds. After a brief flowering in the early 20th century as an Edwardian country mansion the dreaded dry rot began its ravages and by the 1950s Barmoor was once again "Much cast down".
Barmoor is now a chalet and caravan park. The owners actively promote and encourage archaeological and historical investigation of the castle and grounds. This, our speaker reminded us, is a worthwhile project because not only does Barmoor encompass a social history of a great Northumberland estate but in a wider context provides a continuum of Northumbrian history from earliest times to the present day.
The next meeting of The Glendale Local history Society will be on Wednesday 9th October in the Tom Sale room Cheviot Centre Wooler at 7.30pm. Isabel Gordon will speak on "England's Rough Wooing – from Flodden to the 1545 Rebellion". Members free Visitors £2.00.
Having been born and brought up in Alnwick there must be few who know Alnwick better than he. He also contributed to the foundation of Balliffgate Museum, currently being refurbished. His presentation, a wealth of old slides revealing 'collectable' images of the town in yesteryear, was accompanied by his anecdotes. He recalled from memory incidences associated with the many original shops and trades, together with older historical information. Numerous images showed the abundance and variety of shop-keepers who plied their trades, ranging from Jobson's the saddlers, to a bicycle shop where the cycles sold were made on the premises, to a tea broker (where loose tea, was once kept under lock and key) displayed a 'golden canister' suspended above the shop entrance: this can still be seen in Narrowgate today. There also remain, in Narrowgate, features of architectural interest: original telltale 'Yorkshire Sliders' (windows pre-dating sash-windows), together with evidence, from roof-lines and masonry, indicating a previous generation of thatched roofs.
The Great North Road once ran from London to Edinburgh through Alnwick, making it the premier market town in the north-east and able to support no fewer than 52 inns and public ale-houses – some survive but with extensive alterations. The White Swan was the principal coaching inn, where mail coaches stopped regularly. When entering the town from the south one passes through the three-storied arched 'gateway' tower, from Bondgate Without to Bondgate Within: this is the only remaining entrance of four from the era when Alnwick was a fortified walled town. In the 17th-18th centuries it was used as a prison.
The Market Cross, from which proclamations were made, stands in the north-east corner of the Market Place - a focal point situated in the centre of the town. The structure of this cross has evolved over the centuries. Regular fairs and markets with animal sales took place in the square, where bull-baiting also once occurred – a ring, anchored in stone, remains as evidence of this. The Town Hall stands on the west side of the square between the Market Place and Fenkle Street, the two connected by an arch running through the building. Adjacent on the south side stand the Assembly Rooms, now better known as Northumberland Hall. Beneath this building ran the arcaded 'Shambles', once housing the traditional butchers' stalls displaying their meat.
Many old alley-ways and architectural features remain, giving telltale signs of this once mediaeval town. A visit to the newly restored museum, in the future, and a walk around Alnwick, searching out these details, will open eyes but above all we were told to "look up" to detect much of this ancient town's history! Glendale Local History Society was very grateful to Mr Adrian Ions for standing in as speaker at this meeting
Rosemary Bell November 2013
The Society's October talk was a tour-de-force from Isabel Gordon, who provided a rich context for the disputes between England and Scotland, of which the Flodden battle was one episode. She helped us understand how, in the sixteenth century and before, our borderland was an important arena within which the European great powers conducted their struggles. By 1500, she explained, France was the strongest of these powers, but England under the Tudor monarchs was rising in importance and continually challenging French power. The French were very aware that one way to unsettle English power was to foment unrest and invasion through Ireland and Scotland.
In the later middle ages, the English had tried to turn Scotland into an ally. The Scots, and especially the Scottish barons, saw this as unacceptable intrusion on their own power. To secure their interest against such intrusion, the Scottish Kings had a long-standing alliance with France, the 'auld alliance'. As in the mobilisation which led to the battle of Flodden, under this alliance, France and Scotland were expected to support each other in keeping English aspirations in check. Our speaker explained how, during the 15th century, and exploiting a sequence of children who acceded to the Scottish throne, there were repeated outbreaks of Anglo-Scottish conflict. These struggles overlay and exacerbated the more local clan conflicts which made our area such a troubled place in this period.
By the late 1400s, however, Scotland had a capable and cultivated monarch in James IV. He helped to develop Scotland culturally, and sought more peaceable relations with England through marriage to Henry VII's daughter Margaret. This suited the English monarch, as he needed to maximise his support given that his succession to the throne was disputed by many. But he was succeeded by Henry VIII in 1509. Our speaker suggested that this famous English monarch was 'the worst enemy Scotland ever had'. Henry sought to challenge French power, which led among other outcomes to the battle of Flodden at which James IV lost his life. Exploiting the fact that James' infant son (another James) was only two years old, and that there were tensions between the King's mother (Margaret Tudor) and the Regent and presumptive heir to the Scottish throne, the Earl of Albany, English forces were regularly sent to the Scottish borders. Sometimes, they sided with one Scottish faction or another. Or the focus was resisting French incursions. All these skirmishes and wars resulted in extensive burning and pillaging across our borderlands, causing great harm to life, society and economy.
James V, when he reached maturity, swung to the auld alliance by marrying a French princess. By this time, Henry VIII had 'reformed' the English church, so struggles with the Catholic church were added to his hostility to Scotland's French orientation. Failing to persuade James V to take Scotland away from Catholicism, he launched a force against the Scots which won a decisive victory at the battle of Solway Moss. James V died of a fever a few weeks later, six days after the birth of his daughter, Mary Queen of Scots. After this, Henry set out to get control of the infant queen, and
proposed a marriage with his young son, Edward (later Edward VI). But the Scots rejected this offer, preferring the French connection through Mary's mother.
This enraged Henry, who from 1544 launched brutal attacks on Leith and Edinburgh. This was followed by systematic laying waste of the lands between Edinburgh and Berwick. There were further raids in 1545, when English forces pillaged abbeys and towns along the Tweed valley. From a diary of one of those involved, it is possible to identify the scale of the destruction – 7 monasteries, 16 castles, towers and peles, 5 towns, 243 villages, 13 mills and 3 hospitals. Then in 1547, the English attacked Edinburgh again and defeated the Scots forces at the battle of Pinkie. Finally, in 1550 some kind of truce was negotiated. It is this period, from 1544 to 1550, which is known as Henry VIII's 'rough wooing' of Mary Queen of Scots and the Scottish people. Although our border area began to become more peaceable after the Union of the Crowns in 1603 under James VI/I, as our speaker underlined, this brutal period has lain in Scottish memory ever since, and helps to reinforce Scottish identity and suspicion of English intentions.
The next meeting of the Society will be on Wednesday November 13th (7.30, Cheviot Centre, Wooler), when speaker will be Jane Bowen, on the topic: 'Mauchline Ware: Victorian souvenir woodware and its connections with the Borderlands'.
WAR MEMORIALS: a stone cross in a prominent place? Yes, but village halls, hospitals, community clinics, playing fields, plaques, fountains, gardens, seats, nurses' homes, statues, fountains, and boats or trees being named in memoriam, were just a few further examples.
Those present at Glendale Local History Society meeting in February soon realised that Janet Brown knew her subject thoroughly. It was she, and a small team, (under the auspices of the Association of Northumberland Local History Societies) who were responsible for initiating and setting up the North-East War Memorial Project – the envy of the Imperial War Museum, London. It now has an extensive website, thanks to Janet.
There exist 4,500 war memorials between the Tyne and the Tweed, commemorating those who lost their lives in the Great War. Janet hailed the end of the Boer War as an occasion which captured the public imagination, inspiring rows of houses, built as memorials, in Co. Durham as examples for posterity. Sixteen years later, following WW1, we heard that the Government had no plans for any particular grand memorial. However, the Cenotaph was unveiled as the body of the Unknown Warrior was brought past to be buried at Westminster Abbey.
Thereafter, each community became responsible for initiating its own war memorial(s). The inevitable financial issues provoked ingenious ways of fund-raising, encouraged by the slogan: "For those who gave their lives freely, give freely". Committees were set up and the revenue raised dictated the type of memorial and of what it might be made. Often rural communities, with land-owning benefactors, proved wealthier than those in poorer towns, with land or memorials being given to honour their own lost sons and heirs. Working Men's Clubs excelled at putting up memorials; so too did the Freemasons. In 1923 an Act of Parliament dictated that each Local Authority must donate one penny in the pound, from rates, towards the cost of war memorials. This act was amended after WW2, allowing names of those fallen in this subsequent war to be added.
Numerous decisions had to be made: to add names or not, to add the rank of the individual or not, to place names in order of seniority, alphabetically, by Christian name, chronologically, or by length of name - to fit with the style of the memorial – and so on. Commonly names appear on more than one memorial but it also happens that some names do not appear at all. We heard that in the post-WW2 period with gradual 'improvements' and prosperity, with greater change from the 1950s onward, and for many other reasons, memorials were under-valued so that in many cases they were lost or destroyed. Many people wanted to forget, or deny, the traumas and hardships that war had brought.
Quotations on war memorials are numerous, sources varying from biblical, Latin, poetical or literary texts. Jilly Cooper campaigned for the erection of a memorial in Park Lane, London, to animals who served in the war - it states: "I had no choice".
The North-East War Memorial Project took five years of detective work (and remains ongoing), including the study of newspapers (for information on memorials, some long since gone, and social comment), diocesan faculty books (for additions to the interior of churches), photography, cataloguing and more. Janet hopes that all are recorded but this cannot be guaranteed and in many cases details remain missing. In addition, currently, an initiative 'Every Name a Story' aims to add details of names on every North-East War Memorial. Please visit: www.newmp.org.uk and communicate any additions.
"Lest we Forget" Rudyard Kipling
Rosemary Bell February 2014