Netherton with Biddlestone (Northumberland)
The parish of Biddlestone lies on the southern edge of the Cheviots. It stretches from the high moorland of Puncherton Hill and Bleak Law to relative lowland south of Biddlestone. The name Biddlestone probably means the 'valley of Bidel, Bydel or Bitel.' Several streams cut the parish but the deepest valley is that of the River Alwin in the west. The upland areas, especially along the old road called Clennell Street, are rich in upstanding remains of all periods from the Bronze Age to the post-medieval period. Prehistoric and medieval field systems show the importance of agriculture in the area.
Although there may have been earlier inhabitants, the first evidence we have for human activity belongs to the Neolithic. This comes from the discovery of a stone axe on Clennell Hill. The remains of any Neolithic settlement will probably have been destroyed long ago by later agricultural activity in the area. With the advent of the Bronze Age we get our first evidence of prehistoric burial practices with a group of round cairns situated high above the Alwinton Burn near Clennell Street. We also have the chance to see how prehistoric communities may have divided up their land, or marked their territorial boundaries, through the survival of many cross dykes in this area of the Cheviots. Although we do not have any firm evidence of where Bronze Age people lived in this area, several unenclosed settlements have been identified on the hilltops in the west of the parish and may date to this period.
We can be more confident about identifying Iron Age settlements and there are several good examples in the parish. The defensive hillfort on Clennell Hill stands in such a prominent position that it was probably an important settlement in region at this time. Other settlements are less defensive, such as the palisaded settlement on Bleakmoor Hill. Although some of these settlements were reused in the Roman period, smaller farmsteads also began to be built. These mainly consist of small enclosures containing round houses and some have associated field systems. These fields are usually marked by long banks of earth and stone but piles of cairns built from stones cleared from the land are often a good indicator too.
Like many parts of Northumbria there are no monuments or finds from the early medieval period. It is only after the Norman Conquest that we can once again recognise remains of the past in the parish. Biddlestone and Clennell are just two of a number of medieval villages and hamlets in the parish, including Chirmundesden which, although quite well documented, its name and location are not known. In addition to these settlements, at least one medieval farmstead has been discovered in the hills around Clennell and there are extensive areas of ridge and furrow from this period.
The troubled nature of the Border region throughout the medieval period is reflected in the number of fortified tower houses in the parish, with examples at Biddlestone and Clennell. These would have provided some protection during Border raids by the Scots and local outlaws. As times became more peaceful in the 17th and 18th centuries some families felt confident enough to build less defensive homes such as Clennell Hall and Biddlestone Hall. In the 19th centuries came a period of building new farms, such as Elilaw, which is one of a group which mark the break between the Cheviots and the surrounding valleys.
Along the western side of the parish runs the old road called Clennell Street, described on 18th century maps as the road from Morpeth to Kelso. It probably began life as a prehistoric trade route but was later used as a drove road in the medieval period and is one of the best known old Border routes into Scotland.
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