Keys to the Past

Local History

Allendale (Northumberland)

Wooley Farmhouse bastles, Allendale. Photo by Peter Ryder.
Wooley Farmhouse bastles, Allendale. Photo by Peter Ryder.

View across Allendale.
Photo by Harry Rowland.
View across Allendale. Photo by Harry Rowland.

Allendale parish lies in south Northumberland, in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has a variety of archaeological sites dating from prehistoric times to the 20th century. The most numerous remains are associated with the post-medieval period and they include important monuments and buildings connected with the industrial past of this area, from lead mines and smelt mills to lime kilns and nonconformist chapels.

The first evidence of human activity in the parish comes from small pieces of flint found on Allendale Fell at Flow Moss. Over 1000 pieces of Mesolithic flint have been discovered here. Finds from the Neolithic period begin to suggest that people were adopting a more settled way of life. For example, a stone axe head would have been used to help make clearings in the vegetation to plant crops. Several arrowheads from the area also show that prehistoric people were hunting in the area and a cup and ring marked stone hints at the ritual side of life. Only a few Bronze Age finds have been discovered in Allendale, for example a bronze axe. So far there is little or no evidence of the structures these prehistoric people lived in or the places in which they buried their dead. However, a few Bronze Age cairns have been recorded and a possible stone circle that together provide a hint of the ritual side of life.

The Iron Age and Roman periods are equally scant in evidence. Old Town has long been claimed as the site of a Roman fort and to be on the route of a Roman road between Whitley Castle and Corbridge.

The main settlement in the parish is Allendale Town whose origins lie in the medieval period. Records show there was a settlement here from at least the early 12th century when, together with the wider area known as Hexhamshire, it was granted to the Archbishopric of York. A chapel stood in Allendale in the late 12th century, was rebuilt in the 14th century and eventually pulled down in 1807 to be replaced by St Cuthbert's Church. Other small medieval villages are also known at Old Town and Keenley. Although farming was the way of life for most people at this time, some worked in the lead mines of the North Pennines. The earliest record of lead mining in Allendale is in 1230 but the industry did not begin to develop in the area until the mid-16th century.

The Border region of England and Scotland was a troubled place to live in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although Allendale lies well south of the border, the threat of the reivers was enough for those who could afford it to build defended farmhouses, or bastles, to protect themselves and their animals. Indeed, about 40 bastles, or bastle-type buildings, are known scattered across the parish, many now incorporated in farms and their outbuildings, such as Old Town, Burnlaw, Monk, Housty, Nine Dargue, Sinderhope Shield, Hayrake and Moor Houses. A slightly different group of buildings stand defensively around a triangular-shaped yard at Wooley. The oldest building is the farmhouse, which may originally have been a longhouse, the west range contains a bastle and the north range a bastle-type building. Seventeenth century records show that Wooley carried some status when compared to other farms in the area.

As the struggles of the 16th and 17th centuries settled down people began to look to a less defensive way of life. Some of the bastle-type buildings can never seriously have been built for defence and others were adapted and extended, such as Low Broadwood Hall and Rowantree Stob.

In the late 17th century mining activity was revived and developed as a profitable industry through the 18th and 19th centuries, dominated by the Blackett and Beaumont families. Between them they owned the Allenheads lead ore works and smelt mill, Holmslinn lead mine, Beaumont mine and the Allen Smelt Mill amongst other interests. In the mid-19th century, the mine agent, Thomas Sopwith, was encouraged to develop what was almost a model village at Allenheads and Dirt Pot with a school, estate office, shop, public house, and houses for workers and staff of the mining company, as well as Allenheads Hall for himself. A similar spate of building occurred in Allendale Town. As well as mining lead, the miners often lived on smallholdings high on the valley sides, supplementing their income by farming the marginal lands. The 18th and 19th centuries saw farming develop more productive and innovative methods. Perhaps none is quite as evident in this area as the use of lime with at least 18 lime kilns across the parish. Some are only known from early maps, but others have survived more or less intact, although they are no longer working, such as Allenheads Slag Hill and Swinhope Row. A number of fine farmhouses and planned farms were built, such as Beacon Rigg, Low Huntwell, Bishopside and Low Frosthall.

With increasing industrialisation, new approaches to Christianity developed in many industrial cities and in time these ideas spread into the North Pennines at the same time as lead mining was growing. This nonconformist version of Christianity resulted in a large number of small, unpretentious chapels being built, designed to contrast with the extravagant and ornate churches associated with the Church of England. Some 20 chapels were built across the parish, from Allendale Town to the remote setting of Pry Hill, showing how important it was that every community had access to a place of worship. Unusually, some of these chapels are quite grand in their design, with the Italianate Trinity Methodist Church and the Gothic Catton Methodist Chapel.

Other industries also sprang up, such as quarrying, coalmining at Cat Pits, a brewery and tileworks, but after the lead industry closed at the end of the 19th century Allendale went into decline. Sipton Mine seems to have been the only working mine in the parish in the 20th century and was still operating in 1985.

Today, the pattern of settlement has changed little, although some farms now lie abandoned. Allendale Town remains the focus of a parish which contrasts river valleys and high moors in the stunning scenery of the North Pennines.

Reference number:N12979

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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.