Keys to the Past

Local History

Whittingham and Callaly (Northumberland)

Boundary stone near Callaly Crag.
Boundary stone near Callaly Crag.

The parish of Callaly lies just beyond the south-eastern fringe of the Cheviots in central Northumberland. It stretches from rolling countryside in the west to the hills and crags of Callaly Moor in the east. The upland parts of the parish contain a wealth of upstanding prehistoric remains from cairnfields to settlements.

Although there may have been earlier inhabitants, the first evidence we have for human activity belongs to the Neolithic. This comes from a stone axe found at Callaly Mill and a cup and ring marked stone from Yetlington Lane. These are isolated discoveries and the remains of any Neolithic settlement will probably have been destroyed long ago through continuous farming in the area. With the arrival of the Bronze Age comes our first evidence of human settlement, agriculture and burial practices on Callaly Moor. A small hut circle lies on the moor together with an extensive cairnfield. Amongst the cairns, most of which were probably created to clear the surrounding land for farming, are cists and a few likely burial cairns. A rare burnt mound attests to further Bronze Age activity and the crags around the north-western edge of the moor are home to more Bronze Age remains including a small cairn cemetery at Hob's Nick.

In the Iron Age period evidence for settlement is much more abundant with a group of four hillforts near Callaly Castle, Callaly Castle, Dancing Hall Farm and High Houses in the northern part of the parish. These are largely oval enclosures, defined by at least one rampart of earth and stone, with the remains of prehistoric houses evident in one of them. None of them appear to have been reused in Roman times, indeed there are no Roman remains known from the parish at all.

Like many parts of Northumberland there are also no monuments known from the early medieval period. It is only after the Norman Conquest that we can once again recognise remains of the past at Callaly. A group of monuments, unique in Northumberland, is a group of four medieval boundary stones near Callaly Crag. They are thought to mark the boundary of the ecclesiastical sanctuary belonging to Brinkburn Priory and still lie on the present parish boundary with Whittingham. Callaly was only one of a number of medieval settlements, including Lorbottle and Yetlington. The reason for the decline of the latter two villages is unknown, but at Callaly the medieval houses were probably cleared away when the parkland of Callaly Castle was enclosed in the early 18th century.

The medieval and post-medieval periods were troubled times in the Border regions of England and Scotland, with countless raids and skirmishes. The tower of Old Callaly Castle and that at the core of Callaly Castle attest to the insecurity felt by the inhabitants in the medieval period, but there are no examples of bastles in the parish. The development of Callaly Castle as a country house in the 17th and 18th centuries and Lorbottle Hall shows the growing confidence of the area at this time with large investments made in non-defensive homes and surrounding parkland, for example at Callaly.

As well as agriculture, other economic activities in the parish included bell pits on Callaly Moor, probably dug to extract coal. The 18th and 19th centuries saw a period of new building at local farms in response to new inventions and farming methods, for example at Lorbottle where a planned farmstead was built in the mid-19th century. This period of innovation is also reflected in improvements made to Callaly Castle which has a very early example of an electric power house built for a private supply.

Reference number:N13003

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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.