Keys to the Past

Local History

Lunedale (County Durham)

Lunedale is the rough east-west valley through which the river Lune runs eastwards towards Teesdale, where it joins the Tees. It is remote upland area with no big villages. The River Balder joins the Tees nearby. The River Lune and River Balder, form a kind of `miniature lake district' in their upper valleys, comprised of the Selset, Grassholme, Balderhead, Blackton and Hury reservoirs. Baldersdale is divided from Lunedale by the moors of Hunderthwaite and Romaldkirk,

Unlike Teesdale and Weardale, little evidence has been found for early occupation in Lunedale. This is probably not because there was no prehistoric occupation. It is more likely that it reflect the smaller amount of research and fieldwork carried out in the dale. It is probable that in the Mesolithic period small groups of hunters travelled up into this area to hunt large wild animals during the summer. In the colder months they would probably have moved down to the lowlands. During the Neolithic and Bronze Age period the earliest inhabitants of this region would have begun to farm here, creating simple fields and domesticating animals. They are likely to have lived in simple stone round houses.

Although the Romans who arrived in the 1st century AD had forts at the edge of the North Pennines at Stainmore Pass, Bowes and Greta Bridge, they had little impact in the upper reaches of the valleys. Life would have probably continued as normal for most of the population. They would have seen little of the Roman army, except possibly the occasional visit to the forts or the arrival of rare army hunting parties.

The area remained a quiet backwater throughout the Anglo-Saxon and medieval period. No villages are recorded in the Domesday book or Boldon Book. Instead there were probably occasional small upland farms. It is likely that shepherds would have taken their sheep up to higher pastures in the summer, where they would have lived in small, temporary huts known as shielings.

It is really in the 18th and 19th century that life in Lunedale really began to change. This was caused by the rapid growth of the lead mining industry. The first mines, such as at Lunehead, were owned by the London Lead Company, who had their headquarters down the valley at Middleton-in-Teesdale. Other London Lead Company mines are known at {Maizebeck, where the remains of hushes, shafts and a mine shop can still be seen. The growth of these lead mines meant that the road up the valley was improved and new bridges were built, such as {Grains'o'the'beck Bridge D4479} and Rennygill Bridge which are of early 19th century date. In 1817 the Company rebuilt the road, which went as far as Brough, as a turnpike road.

Lead mining was not the only industry to grow up in the 18th and 19th century. Stone quarrying became increasingly important - sandstone was quarried at sites such as Easterbeck; the stone was used for construction and road building. In the 19th century a coal mine was established at Kelton, though it did not survive into the 20th century. More unusually at Widdy Bank are the remains of a slate mill and quarry, where slate pencils were made.

Despite the rise of these industries sheep farming remained the mainstay of life in the Dale. There are still many 19th and 20th century traces of sheep farming up on the moorland slopes, many of which are still used, such as the sheepfold at Merrygill Beck, Balds Crag and Knot's Farm and wash folds at Fish Lake and Black Scar.

Reference number:D6857

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Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.