The County of Northumberland is full of Public Footpaths, Byways , Bridleways, Green Roads and Lonnens that give a huge amount of pleasure to everyone from the daily dog walker to the keenest long distance trail explorer. At the latest meeting of Glendale Local History Society held on December 11th members learned how our rich network of Rights of Way came about, how to learn more about them and how to discover more to add to the list.
The speaker was Sue Rodgers and in a talk entitled "Restoring the Record in Northumberland – Historical Paths and Tracks" Sue, with the benefit of a lifetime of private and professional interest in the subject made her audience aware that our historic "Rights Of Way" have origins that go back hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. Ancient tracks from pre-history, Roman roads, Drove roads, Packhorse and Peddlers' routes, even paths made by schoolchildren on their way to lessons have all contributed to what we take somewhat for granted. Now mainly part of our leisure activity Sue pointed out that in former times man rarely walked or rode for pleasure – there was usually some purpose behind it. Routes went somewhere significant, perhaps to a livestock fair or a mill and had indicative names such Salter's Drove or Jingling Gate - jingling coming from the bells that driven cattle wore. Ways were often defined by planted trees, hawthorn hedges, walls or embankments. Standing stones or clumps of Scots pines were used as way markers.
Sue then drew our attention to the legal status of Rights of Way. After the second world war, in response to pressure from groups such as the Rambler's Association the government decided upon a Rights of Way Act so in 1949 all parishes in England and Wales were instructed to register all tracks then in use. These were subsequently recorded on Ordnance Survey maps. Further additions and modifications were made in 1981. Since then the situation has remained stable and it was thought that the maxim "once a highway always a highway" would persist forever. However Sue made her audience aware that in 2026 the situation is changing. After then no more Rights of Way will be eligible for registration so her advice was to become "Landscape Detectives" and use the clues provided on the ground and on ancient maps and plans to ensure that our rich heritage of Rights of Way are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.
From Barrow to Bunker.
"The Ministry of Defence Establishment controls one percent of the total land surface of the United Kingdom". This was a statistic given to members and visitors at Glendale Local History Society's latest meeting on March 12th by the speaker for the evening Philip Abramson. Philip is the Defence Estates Environmental Advisor and in a fascinating talk entitled "From Barrow to Bunker" he explained how the MOD takes its role as custodians of the land very seriously. Parts of MOD land are farmed and provide a livelihood for those involved in its care. The MOD estates have their own natural environments and provide a habitat for numerous flora and fauna including some rare and listed species. It has its own archaeological, historical and cultural associations that the MOD is mindful of and takes great pride in. Philip explained that a large part of his job is to liaise with other agencies that have an interest in documenting and recording what the land contains. He pointed out that being on MOD land is not a bad place for a plant or a feature to be. The footfall in such places is low and consequently the chance of being left in peace is high. While rare plants or animals may not be able to stop a war they can modify an exercise and some features are "off limits" to troops. A local example is a Roman camp on the Otterburn moors. Perhaps the only instance where second century soldiers have managed to bring their twenty first century comrades to a halt!
Having such cultural gems under its care has a positive feedback for the MOD. Operation Nightingale is a rehabilitation programme that uses archaeology to help soldiers injured both physically and mentally to come to terms with their situation and prepare them for further work in the military or a move into civilian life. Archaeology and soldiering have a number of skills in common and the cross-over between the two disciplines is beneficial to both. Archaeologists and soldiers survey and read ground, both professions have an interest in what is under the ground and soldiers actually seem to enjoy digging! Philip cited how a dig at Hadrian's Wall had been attended by injured soldiers from the UK, Germany and Cyprus and how Operation Nightingale had helped to restore the participants' self-esteem and improve their social skills. For their part the civilian archaeologists involved had learned to appreciate the culinary delights of army rations and the luxury of standard issue sleeping bags! Operation Nightingale has received recognition from Current Archaeology and Time Team, several participants have gone on to study archaeology at university and in 2012 Nightingale was awarded a special trophy by the British Archaeology Society for its outstanding conservation work on MOD land.
Glendale Local History Society The Press Gang experience!
For its last session of the season, Society members and visitors were drawn into a dark side of the build up of British naval power through song and story. Our presenters were a Singing Group, 'Old English', who provided a commentary, pictures and excerpts from documents, interspersed with songs. They explained that they had been drawn into the experience of the Press Gangs through folk songs about the fear of being 'pressed' and about protest against the system. They reminded us that folk songs had once been rejected as of any historical interest, but now we value them as an expression of the 'complexion of the times', or the 'sound of history', giving voice to ordinary people whose experience would otherwise be lost to us.
The background to the Press Gang system was the build up of the Navy in the 17th and 18th centuries, as Britain sought to establish dominance in control of the seas. The merchant navy was already expanding as British trade across the world grew, but the country was also involved in many wars with other European powers. This military and commercial expansion needed not only many more ships but also many more men to man them. Many men were drawn into becoming seamen – in the merchant navy and in the fishing fleet, and some might try their fortune by volunteering for the Navy. But we were told that pay in the Navy was less than on merchant ships, and conditions were harsh, with long periods at sea, a poor diet and the risk of disease in crowded boats, to add to that from injury in naval battles and drowning at sea. And the Navy's demand for men was not constant – very high during periods of intense military activity, with little demand during more peaceful times. When a war broke out, the Navy needed to recruit large numbers of men, especially those with some seaborne experience. Many such people were recorded as 'volunteers', though our speakers suggested that some of these may have been very reluctant ones. But this was not enough, so the system of Press Gangs was created to search out sailors to 'impress' into the service of the crown.
Through the songs from the period, and one special composition by the group, we were given a feel of what it was like to be taken by the Press Gang. The river Tyne area was the second most important source of 'pressed men' after the London area, because of the extent of commercial trade and the coal industry, which exported by sea. The system was organised through 'Regulating Captains', who were given a quota of men to provide for the Navy. Under them were lieutenants, who worked with individual Press Gangs and informants to round up groups of sailors – some on shore leave, some standing down after previous periods with the Navy, and some on merchant ships coming into port. Ships and their crews seem to have got quite skilled in finding ways to evade the Gangs. Employers valuing their skilled workers would also try to find ways to avoid their men being impressed. We were told that the keelmen on the Tyne, often at loggerheads over pay and conditions with the coal owners, actually banded together with their bosses to get exemption from the Press Gang, though apparently there were many keelmen at the battle of Trafalgar. There were also instances where local people banded together to fight the Press Gangs, with women being as active as the men in these protests. In one case, a group of men and women tried to seize a ship moored in the Tyne, in which many pressed men were 'imprisoned' before being distributed around the naval fleet. In the songs which 'Old English' sang, a key theme was the problem women faced in sustaining their households if men were taken away, as they never knew if they would see their men again or get paid for their naval service.
We were invited to consider arguments for and against the Press Gang system. For many, it was a bad episode in our history, undermining principles of liberty which were being put forward at the very same time. But without it maybe Britain would not have been so successful in achieving command of the seas during the 19th century. Whatever we thought, we found experiencing history through song in this way provided a fine ending to the GLHS season of talks. The new season starts again in September.
Patsy Healey 9th April 2014
REPORT FROM GLENDALE LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY
Tour of Barmoor Estate and Castle on Saturday 5 April.
After a week of persistent fog thirty members of Glendale Local History Society were welcomed by sunshine when they met for a tour of Barmoor Estate and Castle on Saturday 5 April. Our guide was archaeologist John Nolan who had given a talk to the society some months earlier.
We began by walking around the estate, once substantially larger, now an attractive country park for caravans and lodges with magnificent views to the north. This allowed the castle to be considered in its physical context while John told something of its history. And there was plenty of that! A 14th century core tower house, supplemented by 16th century additions and remodelled in the 19th century, Barmoor may well have had an earlier Manor House and even a Saxon settlement.
Of the various families owning Barmoor, the Muschamps, Carrs and Sitwells are probably the most well-known names.
Our walk took in the old roads now converted into tracks and drives for caravan owners, the former village green and the site of Barmoor town which originally had its own school and chapel. Earthworks of tofts and crofts were visible as recently as 40 years ago. A map from 1772 has survived on which names of tenants appear. Barmoor Woods (where the English army camped before the Battle of Flodden in 1513) were once the source of coal-mining and quarrying which helped later owners develop industries on the estate. Accounts from the 17th century record timber use for fuel and weaving. Brick making also took place.
After John's vivid descriptions of township life in earlier times, it was not difficult to imagine a hive of industry as we peeped over the fence at the stub end of Barmoor Town at the surviving 18th century cottages and dry stone walls.
The Sitwells owned the estate from 1791 until the late 1970's. There were several colourful characters amongst them including one known as Frank the Gambler who became MP for Berwick and left huge debts for succeeding generations. They were known on the whole as good landlords who looked after their tenants. However, this did not prevent them from demolishing most of the township in 1825 in order to make the view from their remodelled castle "more agreeable"! Our circuit through the grounds completed and our appetite for further exploration definitely whetted, we were led inside the castle itself after health and safety warnings. In 1540 it was described as "in extreme decay and almost ruinous" and since then a number of improvements have been made. In 1801 the present building was designed by John Paterson, a pupil of the Adams brothers. It is best described as a castellated Gothic Revival mansion. The present owners made it a priority to ensure the building remains watertight though it is not yet habitable. We were shown different architectural features which have survived, some in surprisingly good condition, such as
glass domes and plasterwork, other less so. Old bread –ovens and fireplaces remain as do the main staircase with ornamental metalwork and the servants' stairs. Hooks from the ceiling from which candelabra once hung are still in place in the Billiard Room. We admired the revolving fireplace which allowed a newly-laid fire to be instantly swung around for lighting at breakfast time following all-night gambling sessions.
The fortunes of the Sitwells began a downward slide mid-19th century and they were compelled to vacate the castle in order to lease it out while they moved into nearby Barmoor House built about 1780 from estate bricks. During the 20th century most of the estate including several farms had to be sold off. The last member of the Sitwell family continued to live in it until the 1960's and photographs from then show the interior to be quite habitable. Sadly that is no longer the case. It appears on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register and it is to be hoped that substantial grants will be available from national sources in order to conserve this unique and important building,
Our thanks go to the Lamb family who kindly allowed us to visit and to John Nolan who led the tour and shared with us his impressive knowledge of the castle's history. We would also like to thank Jenny Vaughan who provided an interesting display of archaeological finds from the estate including mediaeval pottery, buttons and buckles, and to Alistair Mackenzie, who showed us hundreds of coins, badges and other items he had found locally with the help of his metal-detector.
This was a very special outing for members and we came away feeling privileged to have such an in-depth tour.
Visit Report 19th April – MoD Otterburn Ranges
A gloriously fine day greeted 28 GLHS members and friends for their tour of the Ministry of Defence Otterburn Ranges on Sat April 19th. It couldn't have been a more appropriate visit as we remembered that soldiers would have been training in this very landscape 100 years ago in anticipation of what became the Great War.
Our group travelled along the old Roman road, Dere Street, built in 71-81 AD as a thoroughfare from York to the north. From this track evidence of 4 or 5 Roman camps could just be detected by a discerning eye. As we entered the 'danger area', used for live firing practice and night training, it became apparent there were no stone walls, sheep stells, or barbed wire fences – thus reducing the risk of ricochet. We were privileged to be taken into a forbidden area littered with dozens of historic tanks now used for target practice. We also saw two small 'railway' track systems which were still used for targeting moving objects. Along with more modern day bunkers we viewed 'Ridless' Bronze Age burial cairn which, situated on high ground, had high status and commanding views.
The bulk of this remote, desolate land (now comprising 32,000 hectares) had been purchased in 1911 from the Redesdale (Mitford) family and has been used for military training for 104 years. It comprises undulating moorland with ridges and basins of which 95% is now designated National Park. The area is farmed as upland grazing with the lambing season protected by a 'no firing' policy. A wealth of protected wildlife and archaeological remains is to be found. The highlight, regarded as the most evocative site ─ more than the older Bronze Age and Roman sites ─ is the protected Scheduled Monument W.W.1 Trench system. These trenches were dug, when strategic changes were needed as the War progressed, to initiate new recruits into the type of warfare they would face. An archaeological excavation in 2005 concluded it was unlikely that soldiers of the day had lived in these trenches; however, they had been constructed according to the manuals of the time. Their design included a Front Line, Support Line, Communication Trench and Reserve Line. It is likely that they were used to train gunners and for artillery practice from miles behind the reserve line, in practice for firing over trenches to enemy lines. After the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force (which numbered far less than the French and Germans armies) and the British Forces saw a million men join up, occupation and fitness were required in readiness until these new recruits could be deployed; trenches were dug all over England - on beaches and farmland – to fulfil this purpose. The Otterburn trenches, however, are unique.
We were very grateful to Philip Abramson for guiding our tour and sharing his extensive knowledge. To conclude, eighteen of the group enjoyed lunch at Otterburn Mill, which itself has a rich heritage, reflecting the rise and passing of the industrial revolution ─ the main buildings dating back to the mid18th century, when Otterburn was a thriving woollen Mill.
This proved a special day enjoyed by all. Rosemary Bell: April 2014