Keys to the Past

Local History

Chollerton (Northumberland)

Chipchase Castle (Copyright © Don Brownlow)
Chipchase Castle (Copyright © Don Brownlow)

Chollerton is a large parish stretching from the River North Tyne to Hallington. There are wooded slopes, pasture and arable, as well as rough grassland fit for cattle and sheep grazing. Part of the parish boundary runs along the Roman road known as Dere Street.

A number of prehistoric stone axes from Fawcett and Chollerton are probably the oldest manmade objects in the parish. People used them in the Neolithic period to fell trees and undergrowth, possibly whilst preparing land for farming. There is also evidence of the ritual side of prehistoric life at Chollerton henge and in the cup and ring marked stones from Blue Crags hillfort and Gunnerton Crags, although neither was in its original setting. The highest standing stone in Northumberland stands in Swinburne Park and this is also decorated with cup marks.

More ritual evidence comes from the Bronze Age. One of the oldest burials in the parish, a cremation, is known from West Hallington and other burials may lie beneath the barrows and cairns that lie around the parish. Several other objects have been found, including pottery as grave goods from burials at Colwell, Chollerton and near Barrasford, as well as a hoard of spearheads and a stone hammer. There is also evidence of the places Bronze Age people lived in the parish, with hut circles at Swinburne Park and north-west of Colwell.

Settlements changed in the Iron Age becoming more defensive and enclosed. Hillforts at Blue Crags and Oxhill Plantation used natural slopes and crags to enhance their defences and a promontory fort may have stood on Gunnerton Crags. Some of these settlements were used in the Roman period too but many new settlements were built in the parish at this time. More than ten Roman farmsteads have been discovered in the parish, many surviving as earthworks. They tend to be squarer than their Iron Age predecessors and built in stone rather than timber. The Roman army made its presence felt when Dere Street was built across the parish on its way from Corbridge to the Antonine Wall. In places, the present A68 road still follows the Roman route. The religious side of life at this time is unknown. Roman altars found at Chollerton were probably taken from the fort at Chesters.

One of the most important Anglo-Saxon burials in Northumberland was found near Barrasford in the 19th century. Although no settlements have been found of this date they were probably small farmsteads, like those of the Till valley in the north of the county, perhaps in time supplying the needs of the developed estate centres of the mid-Tyne valley at Hexham and Corbridge. A late 10th or 11th century Anglo-Saxon cross has been built into the walls of the Church of St Giles.

Many settlements developed across the parish in medieval times, in both the lowland and upland parts. Those in the lowlands seem to have developed into more permanent settlements, as there was protection to be had from castles such as Chipchase. Here, the village survived until the 18th century when parkland was created and the village was cleared way. Most villages and hamlets existed from the 13th century and the reasons for their decline are probably various. At Little Swinburne and West Swinburne the settlements were destroyed by the Scots in the 14th century and although they rebuilt themselves West Swinburne was deserted by the 16th century. Some of the villages had tower houses built for protection against the Scots, such as at Little Swinburne, Gunnerton and Barrasford. Farms were also established at Duns Crags and monastic granges at Colwell and Tolland for the abbeys at Hexham and Newminster. A number of chapels were built to serve the local people, at Great Swinburne and Little Swinburne.

Once the war with Scotland ended another threat came from feuds between local Border families, known as reivers. Those who could afford it built defensive farmhouses called bastles at Colwell Demesne and Colwell to protect themselves and their livestock. As more peaceful times returned in the late 17th and 18th centuries such buildings were converted into less defensive homes and people began to take more of an interest in their surroundings. At Chipchase Castle a mansion was attached to the tower house and at Swinburne the old tower was demolished in the 17th century and a new house built.

The 18th and 19th centuries brought changes in farming, with new methods and practices introduced as well as fine new farms built, such Chollerton Farm. Limestone quarries and lime kilns developed to provide agricultural lime to reduce the soil acidity at Colwell, Gunnerton Burn and Gunnerton Nick. A water mill once operated at Barrasford. The 19th century also saw the arrival of the railway with the Border Counties Railway running along the banks of the North Tyne. Chollerton was also the place chosen by the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company for a series of reservoirs to supply water to Tyneside. Colt Crag Reservoir, Hallington East and Hallington West were connected to Whittle Dene Reservoirs to the south-east by a series of aqueducts and a water pumping station was built near Barrasford in the 1940s.

Reference number:N13009

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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.