Keys to the Past

Local History

Coanwood (Northumberland)

View across Lambley Viaduct. Photo by Northumberland County Council.
View across Lambley Viaduct. Photo by Northumberland County Council.

Coanwood is nestled in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Archaeological remains in the parish date from the Roman period through to more recent times, but its strengths, archaeologically speaking, are for bastle houses and nonconformist chapels.

There are three sites, which may date to Roman times. Near Lambley an enclosure containing the barely visible remains of circular houses can be discerned on aerial photographs. Another less well-preserved enclosure can be seen near Dykehead. The site has not been excavated, but it appears to be typical of farmsteads used by local people during the time of the Roman occupation. There are hints that another Roman site may be hidden below the ground at Trowsbank Farm where the local farmer claims to have found a number of Roman coins. The area also contains the Roman Road known as Maiden's Way and it is in such good condition that it is possible to see it from an adjacent right of way.

The area was settled in medieval times, with a priory at Lambley and a chapel at Sandiburnesele, which belonged to the priory. A village certainly existed at East Coanwood in the 17th century and probably before, but less certain, is the evidence for a villageat Ashholme. Coanwood was not without its medieval castle either. On Castle Hill a natural mound has been cleverly altered in medieval times to create a defended site, most probably an early type of castle.

The need for defence unfortunately extended into the 16th and 17th centuries when this area saw much unrest and fighting between different border families. It became necessary for those who could afford it, to construct special defended farmsteads, now known as bastles. Coanwood parish has a number of ruinous bastles at Lambley, Lingyclose and Yont the Cleugh, which serve to remind us of these dark days. Even when lawlessness reduced, the tradition of bastle building continued in an albeit modified form and this can be seen at Stonehouse bastle.

With increasing security, people were able to invest more in their surroundings, so as we move into the 18th and 19th centuries, we see a number of industrial activities taking place such as coal mining at Featherstone Colliery, Crystallwell Colliery and Coanwood Colliery, lime burning to improve the land, and of course the introduction of the railway. Lambley Viaduct is a very fine example of railway architecture. With increasing industrialisation, new approaches to Christianity developed in many of the industrial cities and in time these ideas spread into the North Pennines where lead mining, amongst other industries, 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. Coanwood has possibly the best nonconformist chapel in Northumberland; the Friends Meeting House at Coanwood is an unaltered chapel in excellent condition and well worth visiting. Many other nonconformist chapels, such as Dykes Chapel and Old Chapel, East Coanwood can be found in this, and surrounding parishes.

Reference number:N13010

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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.