Shotley Low Quarter (Northumberland)
The parish of Shotley Low Quarter lies on the southern edge of Northumberland along its boundary with County Durham. In fact, the main settlement of Shotley Bridge lies on the Durham side of the River Derwent leaving the parish of Shotley Low Quarter largely populated by hamlets and scattered farmsteads. The name Shotley is thought to mean `clearing with the huts.' The parish is bound by the River Derwent on the east and south sides, from where it rises to Kiln Pit Hill and Whittonstall in the north. Whittonstall stands on the summit of a ridge that separates the valleys of the Tyne and Derwent.
The earliest trace of human occupation in the parish belongs to the Mesolithic period, a time before farming had been introduced. A number of worked flints have been found at Greymare Hill, the highest point in the parish; as well as several worked flints discovered by the riverside near Ebchester. These tools may have been used to hunt animals and to prepare food. At this early stage in history people lived by hunting animals and birds and picking wild fruits and grains; farming did not become common until the Neolithic period. A polished stone axe from this time has been found at Greymare Hill Farm but nothing is known about where the people who made such tools lived in this part of the county.
There is now a big gap in our knowledge of Shotley Low Quarter, with no finds or sites known from the Bronze Age or Iron Age periods. It is not until the Roman period that we get evidence of human activity again. The parish lies south of Hadrian's Wall and at Whittonstall Dere Street runs through the parish on its way from York to Corbridge Roman fort. Dere Street was a major Roman road that ran ultimately to the Firth of Forth in Scotland. It would have been a busy route for transporting supplies for the Roman army and remained in use throughout the Roman period. Close to the road at Whittonstall lies a probable Roman fort discovered by aerial photography.
Following the end of Roman rule in Britain in the early fifth century, in common with many parts of Northumberland, there is nothing known about the parish in the early medieval period. The earliest medieval reference to the parish is in 1165 when the endowment of Blanchland Abbey included the chapel of Shotley; this now lies beneath the Church of St Andrew. There must have been some settlement nearby but the earliest references do not appear until the 13th century. Shotley was one of a number of settlements at this time, including Black Hedley, Newlands, Whittonstall and Fairley, although they may not all have been nucleated villages or hamlets. Most of these settlements are probably much smaller today than they were in medieval times. Records show that the Scots attacked Shotley in 1346 and this threat to the area may have been why a collection of coins was buried at Whittonstall in the early 14th century. The hoard was discovered in the 1950s and contained over 1000 coins dating to the 13th and 14th centuries. In the medieval and early post-medieval periods, the English and Scottish border region was an area that suffered countless raids and skirmishes. Yet, despite all this activity only one possible defensible building is known in the parish at Allensford Mill farmhouse. Perhaps Shotley Low Quarter was far enough south to escape most of the troubles at this time.
In the post-medieval period industries developed alongside farming. These included extractive operations such as stone quarries, coal mining at Whittonstall, ironstone workings and Silvertongue lead mine as well as processing sites such as the corn mills at Allensford and Shotley Field. In addition, a blast furnace operated at Allensford in the late 17th century and is associated with the Shotley Bridge swordmakers. In the 18th and 19th centuries many farmhouses were built in the parish, such as Black Hedley, Crooked Oak, Durhamfield and Field Head. In addition, planned farm buildings were built at High Waskerley and Whittonstall Hall in response to new inventions and farming methods. Today, Shotley Low Quarter remains an essentially rural parish populated with scattered farmsteads.
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