Keys to the Past

Local History

Akeld (Northumberland)

Akeld Bastle. Photo by Northumberland County Council.
Akeld Bastle. Photo by Northumberland County Council.

Akeld is a small parish on the northern edge of the Cheviots. It was originally a township in the parish of Wooler. The area is rich in archaeological remains, particularly from the prehistoric period. Much of the southern area of the parish is upland, dominated by a number of Iron Age hillforts. The village is situated on the Akeld Burn, where it runs down to the Milfield Basin. The village name is Old Norse and means `river with spring or well'.

The earliest evidence for occupation in the parish dates to the Mesolithic. A small worked flint tool, known as a microlith, was found in the north of the parish. In the Neolithic period evidence for prehistoric religious activity is shown by the cropmark of a henge. This site is on flat land, to the north of the River Glen, and was probably part of a larger landscape of Neolithic monuments found in the Milfield Basin.

Whilst the earliest evidence for prehistoric activity mainly came from the low-lying northern part of the parish, most of the evidence for Bronze Age and Iron Age settlement was found on the Cheviot uplands to the south of the village. This rough moorland pasture contains many upstanding monuments built from the rocks widely available in the area. At Houseledge East is a prehistoric settlement. Circles of stone mark the positions of three early houses. These are surrounded by the traces of a system of fields belonging to the same period. To the north and east of these buildings cairnfields can be seen. Such settlements are typical of the north Cheviots in the prehistoric period and are very well preserved.

A similar site, dating to the Early Bronze Age was found at Houseledge West. This consisted of the remains of over a dozen or more house circles scattered along the 1000ft contour. One of these sites was excavated and showed the remains of a stone house (about 10m across), built over the remains of a smaller wooden one. Several prehistoric artefacts were found, including Early Bronze Age pottery and a flint knife. These site is just one of a group of well-preserved Bronze Age settlements and field systems situated at the head of the valley of the Humbleton Burn. As well as these simple unenclosed settlements, there may have been other forms of occupation. It has been suggested that the outer stone enclosure around Humbleton Hill may have been of Bronze Age date or even earlier.

A number of Bronze Age burial sites have also been found. A large burial cairn at Black Law contained cremated bone, a flint knife and a sherd of Bronze Age pottery. Other burials were found close to the Battle Stone, a Bronze Age standing stone. In about 1881 a stone burial cist containing a bronze tool was found 5 to 10m west of the stone. Other Bronze objects from the parish, such as the two socketed axes found at Humbleton Hill, also show the presence of Bronze Age activity in the area.

In the Iron Age a new type of settlement developed, the hillfort. The most spectacular of these is on Humbleton Hill. An outer wall of stone, which may have been of pre-Iron Age date, surrounded the top of the fort, but the inner enclosure consisted of a stoutly built stone rampart nearly 4m thick. A number of hut platforms can be seen within the enclosure. A slightly different type of fort can be seen at Monday Cleugh. This type is known as a promontory fort, and is built at the head of a deep crag-sided hollow. Three earth and stone banks on the north and west surrounded it, and the ramparts still stand up to 1.2m high in places.

As well as these hillforts, smaller settlements continued to be used throughout the Iron Age and Roman period. However, unlike the earlier periods, these tended to be surrounded by a small enclosure. A good example of such a site can be found on the south-east slopes of Harehope Hill.

Little is known of the area in the early medieval period, though the Old Norse origin of the name of the village suggests a Viking origin. As well as the current village of Akeld a number of other settlements were known in the parish. Deserted villages are known at Ewart and Humbleton, both of which only fell out of use in the 18th century. In the summer months animals from these villages grazed on the upland pastures, and shielings, temporary summer settlements for shepherds, are known near Gleadscleugh and on Akeld Hill.

The troubled nature of the region in the medieval and Tudor times are reflected in the remains of a medieval castle, of a ring motte type at Green Castle, where coins belonging to the 13th century were found. A bastle, a form of fortified farmhouse, had been built by 1522 in Akeld, and was stationed with a garrison of ten men. The issue of defence remained important right up to the 20th century, and a pillbox is known from the outskirts of the village.

The post-medieval period saw a growth in the organisation of agriculture in the area. A series of stone farmhouses and related buildings were constructed, such as Akeld Steads Farmhouse and its associated structures. It was only in the 19th century that the village became less isolated with the arrival of the railway. Although the line is now closed the station and the signal box can still be seen.

Reference number:N12978

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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.