Farming and the Railways in Glendale 18th to 20th Centuries
Hosted by the Glendale Local History Society, the Association of Northumberland Local History Societies held a day event at the Cheviot Centre, Wooler, focused on agricultural history in Glendale from the 18th Century. Dr Ian Roberts provided an authoritative overview, underlying the significant role our area played in agricultural improvement, while Dr Bill Fawcett provided an account of how this story linked to the development of the railway network on both sides of the Border.
Dr Roberts set our local story in the context of the overall agricultural revolution in the UK. He recounted how Arthur Young, the great 18th century advocate of agricultural improvement, was critical of what he found in the south of Northumberland on a visit late in the century. He found little evidence of the new breeding practices and crop rotations being promoted elsewhere. He attributed this to the small size of farms and short leases. Landowners near the burgeoning Tyneside industrial complex were more interested in mining opportunities on their land. In contrast, Young reported significant improving zeal in the north of the county. Here landowners granted much longer leases (up to 21 years) for larger units at modest rents, and several looked out for tenants committed to improvement. This attracted farmers, such as the Culley brothers, to move into the area. At this time, the Earl of Tankerville was much more energetic in promoting improvement than the Duke of Northumberland, and there were strong linkages among the landowners and farmers on both sides of the Border. Robert Bakewell's ideas about sheep breeding stimulated both James Robson from Belford in the Beaumont Valley, and the Culley brothers, who started at West Fenton farm in Glendale. They focused both on sheep breeding and improving land quality, especially through liming. The result was a huge increase in the amount and value of both crops and stock, which enabled the Culleys to rent and then buy more farms. By the mid-19th Century, their descendents were significant landowners in Glendale themselves. With John Bailey, the land agent for the Tankerville estate, George Culley wrote the Northumberland volume of the English county agricultural reviews, produced at the turn of the century. Dr Roberts underlined that the Culley and Bailey report was considered nationally among the best of these accounts.
This increase in agricultural productivity in Glendale benefitted centres such as Wooler, where weekly and annual markets were held. The size and quality of farming in the area also enabled it to survive the recession which followed the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 much better than other areas of the country. Commentators reporting on the condition of agriculture in Northumberland in the mid-19th Century noted that agriculture in some parts of the county was in a poor state, but Glendale was praised for its productivity, which in turn increased wages for farm workers and shepherds. By this time, improvers were emphasising the virtues of land drainage, promoted vigorously by the new Duke of Northumberland. As the century wore on, and due to competition from imported grains, especially wheat, there was a significant shift from arable crops to stock. The railway came to Wooler in the 1880s, and an auction mart replaced the scattered markets.
Dr Roberts took the story into the 20th century, when the costs of labour and machinery began to affect profits, particularly after the first world war. Sheep became even more important. There was a brief return to grain production in the second world war, reverting again to stock afterwards. The major shift in this postwar period was the replacement of farm workers by machinery, with all the consequences with which we are now familiar.
So how what was happening with railway investment in these two centuries? Dr Fawcett explained the various projects which were put forward in Northumberland and the Borders, especially by the North Eastern and North British railway companies. The main promoters in these companies were 'improving' landowners and also some traders in places such as Kelso and Berwick. Early schemes were for horse-drawn trucks on rails. Landowners were particularly interested in better ways of moving coal and lime to their estates and exporting their corn. This trade carried on when steam railways were built, and special structures were provided at some stations for storing both lime and coal. But many early schemes did not get built. There were often problems with other landowners, who did not want railways built across their estates, and the 1815 recession affected investment possibilities.
In the end, apart from the east coast line, North Northumberland had only two railways which were actually built – Berwick to Kelso, and Alnwick to Cornhill. Several others schemes were promoted, mostly going north from the Tyne valley. But these never managed to make it across the border. The problem was that the trade was primarily linked to the farming year, which was seasonal rather than regular. In contrast, Dr Fawcett showed how the Newcastle to Carlisle route benefitted not just from moving agricultural produce, but from cutting down shipping routes between the west and east coasts of Britain. This route was completed before the east coast route from Newcastle to London was finished. The Alnwick to Cornhill railway was promoted by both landowners and industrialists, and built by the North Eastern railway company. Some of the stations were very grandly designed and we can still recognise the railway buildings in the landscape today. The line was primarily used for shifting goods and stock, rather than passengers, but increasingly into the 20th Century, livestock and coal were transferred to lorries, and the line was closed progressively after the second world war.
After such an intense morning, ANHLS members relaxed over lunch in the gardens of the Cheviot Centre, and then went on a self-guided tour of interesting sites and buildings in Wooler. GLHS provided a map and notes for the tour and mobilised people to be at the sites to give more information. An informative, friendly and sunny day produced a very positive reaction among visitors to our area!
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.
I have just returned from a visit to the historic town of Alnwick - a visit prompted by an excellent talk
given at the January meeting of the Glendale Local History Society by retired solicitor Cliff Pettit.
Cliff’s talk took us back to a time when life was very different to today. He reminded us that in the
15th and 16th centuries Northumberland was a pretty lawless place and Alnwick, being an important
trading and market town, was at the sharp end. So much so that the Earls of Northumberland didn’t
much care to live there - preferring to spend their time in their properties in the more peaceful (and
warmer!) south of England. Consequently the running of the town was left to the Freemen of Alnwick.
In feudal medieval England the lottery of life dealt three options - Nobility (not many of them),
Freemen (middling numbers of them), and Serfs (plenty of them). The Freemen were essentially a
town council and dealt with all the things that their modern day counterparts handle. Trading
standards, local administration, rents and local taxes were all in their jurisdiction as was the
magistracy and law and order. The Freemen themselves were, in the main, local trades people who
derived their power from the trade guilds. These governed and regulated trades within the town.
They were part trade union, part trade protection with some philanthropy mixed in. For traders who
were Freemen, it was "free" to put up a stall in the Market Square, but other traders had to wait
outside the town walls to be let in and had to pay a fee (to the Freemen!).
In time, the Alnwick Freemen became influential wealthy property owners and the nobility were
content to allow this to happen while they enjoyed their softer lifestyle further south. Then two
things happened . The Union of the Crowns in 1603 led to a lessening of cross border strife and in
1672 the first Duke of Northumberland decided to make his home at Alnwick Castle. Suddenly the
nobility were not comfortable living in a place where Freemen had such influence and wealth and the
Duke began a campaign, mainly through the courts, to reduce their status. This continued into the
19th century and even today the occasional contentious issue arises.
The rivalry between the Dukes and Freeman frequently involved land and property and so it is not
surprising that the Market Square featured in many disputes. Cliff intrigued us by explaining that the
very grand Northumberland Hall was built on one side of the Market Square by the then Duke and
gifted to the town to outshine the Town Hall, owned by the Freemen, on an adjacent side. It seems
that prestige was as significant as commercial advantage in this rivalry.
Cliff told us that to be eligible to become a Freeman you either needed to be the son of a Freeman or
become an apprentice to a Freeman. Since apprenticeships are scarce in modern times, this meant
that succession through the male line had become the only way and women were inevitably
precluded. Around the world there were many men who were eligible to be Freemen, but in Alnwick
there were relatively few and this could lead to difficulties in maintaining the number of Freemen in
The Alnwick Freemen are still concerned with the governance of their town and own property both
within Alnwick and on Alnwick Moor. Cliff entertained us with his account of the Freemen’s
traditional initiation ceremony which used to take place annually. This was not for the faint-hearted as
it involved riding the town boundary on horseback and crawling through a bog containing hidden
Our speaker concluded with a reassurance that relations between the Freemen and the Duke are now
“tolerable”. The vote of thanks was given by the chairman of GLHS Hilda Field.
OF BEES AND MEN.
On 12th. of December members and guests of Glendale Local History Society were introduced to the world of bees by a speaker whose enthusiasm and delight in these little creatures and their world shone through.
Mr. Willie Robson of Chain Bridge Honey Farm was introduced to bee keeping by his father. Mr. Robson senior took up keeping bees after the war and eventually held a government post raising the profile of honey and associated products as part of the post war recovery effort. This job put him in an ideal position to learn from those who had the best in practical experience. Willie himself learnt from his father and building on his accrued knowledge he has for fifty years now developed the honey farm at Chain Bridge.
Bees and man have lived with each other for hundreds of years to the mutual benefit of both. There are references in the bible to the efficacious properties of honey and it was used in the ancient world as a medicine. We were reminded of the quotation on the Tate and Lyle tins “out of the strong came forth sweetness” a reference to Samson’s slaying of the lion and the bees’ subsequent use of the carcass as a home. Aside from lions domesticated bees were housed in hives, called skeps, made from woven straw of the shape that adorns many a honey pot and some hairstyles today! Getting the honey combs from this type of hives must have been a hazardous business necessitating as it did both destruction of the skep and considerable disturbance to the occupants. This changed when in the eighteen fifties the frame hive was introduced from America. Removable frames meant that the honey could be got more easily and the bees remained in their home. Life in a hive is somewhat regimented. We were told how bees work instinctively and to a pattern. Hives can suffer from “low morale”. This phenomenon is well recognised among bee keepers and could be compared to well, low morale in a factory or office. Causes are multiple but adverse weather, unsuitable food, lack of accessible food, poor siting of the hives and poor husbandry generally will result, as with any stock keeping system, in lowered production and death. Willie was at pains to point out that most bee keeping knowledge has come from man’s intelligent observation of their charges over centuries and until recently this knowledge was handed down in a great oral tradition.
That beekeeping was practised in Northumberland is evident in local place names. Bewick means place of the bees and our speaker told us that the archaeological evidence suggests that bee husbandry was practised there in the eleventh century. Similarly it is likely that the monks from Lindisfarne had hives at Beal on the mainland because it would have been too windy for the bees on the island. The prospect of Viking raiders may have caused low morale amongst the brothers but the biting north easterly that brought the raiders over had a similar effect on their bees!
So what of the future? As with all husbandry systems intensification brings problems as well as benefits and changes in one aspect of agriculture have a knock on effect on others. Bees
depend for their food supply on plants such as clover and heather. This in turn affects the taste and quality of the honey. The low acreage of clover grown now compared with former times is a serious challenge. Good moor management by selective and sequential heather burning is essential and benefits not only grouse but bees as well. On the plus side the acreage of oilseed rape grown now contributes to the bees’ diet. Hopefully this will ensure our supplies of honey, bees wax polish, medicinal balms, lip salves and of course the bees. After such a history man would surely be worse off without them.
12 December 2012
Alistair Anderson's talk 'History of Northumbrian Music - a lecture illustrated with music' went ahead as planned at 7:30pm at the United Reformed Church in Cheviot Street on 8 December.
The 52 attendees (including 23 visitors) who had been able to brave the sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts were treated to a fascinating and comprehensive talk on the history of Northumberland's traditional music and heard some bravura illustrative performances by
Alistair on the English Concertina and the Northumbrian Pipes. Alistair’s enthusiasm for folk music is unbounded. He is a devotee of the English Concertina and the Northumberland Pipes and has written beautiful haunting music which he performs with a variety of groups and
bands. He set up Folkworks in 1986 working with Northern Arts and was joined by Ros Rigby in 1988, establishing Folkworks as an independent charity that went on to run a huge number of professional tours and education projects. The Summer Schools were great fun, offering workshops for different instruments and for singing and dancing and ending in a big concert. Later Alistair, together with Newcastle University, personally designed and developed the first four year degree course in traditional music in the country.
Alistair made it clear that he was going to concentrate on instrumental folk music and started by telling us about the five generations of Cloughs who were coal miners in the South of the county and all played the pipes. These were the old pipes without keys that would just play one octave. They worked 10 hour shifts, five days a week and an extra half shift on Saturday but were still able to find the time and creativity to make up tunes with intricate variations. He played us a recording of Tom Clough (1881-1964) performing ‘The Keel Row’ that was made in 1929 which had a set of complex variations played with accuracy at breakneck speed. However, in the mainstream of Northumberland folk music, the dominant instrument has always been the fiddle, and the fiddle players have left us their tune books for the dances which go back to the 1690’s. Some of these were in rather strange time signatures such as 3/2 and syncopation was popular as in ‘The Lads of Alnwick’. These books are full of jigs, reels and hornpipes. He explained how the music, the musicians and the dance are linked together and to show this he played the concertina while demonstrating the rant step, making us all want to get up and have a go. Alistair went on to bring to life some of the names on the pages of the Northumberland Piper’s Tune Books such as Jimmy Allen, who it seems was quite a rogue and made his living as he could. Jimmy attracted crowds at fairs with his fiddle playing and got friends to go around their backs picking pockets. He is also said to have fought on both sides in the Napoleonic Wars and to have joined up for the King’s shilling in one town, deserted, then joined up again in another town. Alistair spoke with great affection of Billy Pigg who had been one of his key influences when he first started to play, and, of the three shepherds, Joe Hutton, Will Atkinson and Will Taylor, who played the pipes, mouth organ and fiddle. He ended by playing a beautiful tune he had written in tribute to them called 'Empty Spaces' which evoked the landscape where they were shepherds and also the empty spaces left in the world of Northumbrian music when they died.
Stewart McCormick gave the vote of thanks at the end of Alistair's talk. Stewart recalled how, when he was teaching at Berwick High School, Alistair had contacted him to find if he was willing to co-operate with Folkworks and start up a Ceilidh Band in the school. Classically trained Stewart had been cautious at first but as the project proceeded successfully, he began supporting it enthusiastically. Stewart explained that his conversion was completed when Alistair left a "spare" English Concertina with him over the summer holidays "just in case it was needed".
After dabbling with it a few times he was hooked on the instrument and Alistair had gained another advocate for traditional Northumbrian music.