Cornhill-on-Tweed lies in north Northumberland and, as its name suggests, lies alongside the banks of the River Tweed which here forms the border with Scotland. The name Cornhill derives from 'corn-haugh' and was described as a place in the midst of rich cornlands in the 19th century. The main settlement of the parish is the village of Cornhill, although there are numerous farmsteads spread across the land here. The concentration of arable farming in this area has led to the discovery of many archaeological sites through the technique of aerial photography. This has revealed cropmarks of new settlements and enclosures as well as land boundaries, such as pit alignments, in the west of the parish. Although their precise date is unknown, in many cases they are probably later prehistoric.
Although there may have been earlier inhabitants in Cornhill, probably the first evidence we have for human activity is a Neolithic stone axe. It is a one-off discovery and continuous farming in this area will probably have destroyed the remains of any associated settlement long ago. With the arrival of the Bronze Age comes our first evidence of burial practices and possible settlement sites. Several burial mounds were discovered in the 19th century but none has survived as an upstanding monument. A stone cist found in the 18th century at the old chapel site contained human bones and pottery vessels. The evidence for their settlements is less certain, but is suggested by some palisaded enclosures, again found by aerial photography.
The people of the Iron Age and Roman period have left plenty of evidence of where they lived, although none is visible on the ground. It has all been found by aerial photography and survives as cropmarks that can only be seen from the air. The settlements range from a probable hillfort to a curvilinear enclosure with a hut circle inside. A single Roman coin is reputed to have been found on Kippie Hill when a mound was excavated there in the 19th century.
Like many parts of Northumberland there are no monuments known from the early medieval period. It is only after the Norman Conquest that once again remains of the past can be recognised at Cornhill. Cornhill is only one of several medieval villages known in the parish, including Heaton and Tillmouth. However, there are no traces of these settlements today and we only have documentary records to suggest how big they were. What we do have are remains of cultivation terraces, a bridge and two 'castles'.
The medieval and post-medieval periods were troubled times on the border between England and Scotland, with countless raids and skirmishes, as well as battles. Cornhill Castle on the banks of the River Tweed, suffered many knocks and blows between the 14th and 16th centuries and was rebuilt several times. Despite being described as a strong castle in 1549 it was in ruins less than 40 years later and today not a single stone survives. On the other side of the parish stood Heaton Castle, destroyed by James IV in 1496. All that survives today is parts of a later defensive building or strong house of about 1600AD showing the continued need for such protection in the early post-medieval period.
Growing peace in the Border region at this time is reflected in the appearance of buildings such as Melkington House and Cornhill House. Here, a growing confidence in the region led to a less defensive building being built around a 16th or 17th century strong house. This confidence can also be found in the creation of country houses and landscaped parks and gardens, such as Tillmouth Park from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The 19th century also saw the arrival of the railway, with Coldstream Station being built on the English side of the border at Cornhill. It operated until 1965 when the line was closed. Today, Cornhill lies on one of the main road routes between England and Scotland.
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