Keys to the Past

Local History

Felton (Northumberland)

Felton Old Bridge.
Felton Old Bridge.

Felton lies in central Northumberland, close to the North Sea coast. The winding River Coquet forms the southern boundary of the parish for six or more kilometres and, to the north, the parish gradually rises towards Swarland and Newton-on-the-Moor. The landscape is one of farmland and old parkland, with traces of medieval fields still surviving in small pockets. The village of Felton gives the parish its name and probably means `field-farm'.

Felton is quite remarkable for the number of prehistoric stone axes that have been found here in the 20th century. Yet, this is not the earliest evidence of human activity in the parish. That title belongs to a group of Mesolithic flint tools found in Felton Park. They belong to a time before farming was introduced and they may have been used to hunt animals and 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. The stone axe heads from Felton show that people were beginning to clear trees or undergrowth. However, we do not know where the people who made these tools lived or were buried.

The Bronze Age was a time of change when people began to make tools out of metal as well as stone. The discovery of a stone axe hammer and a metal axe in the parish show this well. Despite this evidence we do not know where these people lived or were buried. Similarly we have no evidence of any Iron Age or Roman activity in the parish.

Little probably changed in the parish during the years of Roman rule. Felton lies some distance north of Hadrian's Wall, the northern edge of the Roman Empire for much of its time in Britain. Indeed, following the end of Roman rule in Britain in the fifth century, there is no evidence of any human activity in the parish until after the Norman Conquest.

In medieval times, the parish was quite densely settled with villages and hamlets documented at Felton, Old Felton and Acton. This suggests that it was also extensively farmed and traces of ridge and furrow cultivation can still be seen in some of the fields around Felton and Acton. The Church of St Michael and All Saints is one of two medieval buildings here, the other being Old Felton Bridge. Felton's position on the direct road from Newcastle to Berwick meant that the bridge was an important crossing point over the River Coquet. However, these were also times of warfare and unrest along the borders of England and Scotland and, in 1216, the village was reduced to ashes by King John.

Cross-border raids and skirmishes continued into the 16th and 17th centuries. Even at some distance from the Scottish border, the threat was felt strongly enough for a bastle to be built at Acton Hall and at Lanehead. This would have provided protection for a family and their animals against Scottish raids. However, as the 17th and 18th centuries century progressed, the region became more peaceful and these buildings were adapted for a less defensive way of life.

The post-medieval period was a relatively prosperous time for the border region of England. New country houses, such as Acton House and Felton Park, were built and parkland was laid out. Through the 18th and 19th centuries there was a period of new building at local farms in response to new inventions and farming methods together with new farmhouses, such as at Elyhaugh. Other economic activities included a corn mill and saw mill at Felton Mill. A more unusual establishment in the parish was a small 19th century gasworks at Gas Works Farm. Felton still lies on the main road between Newcastle and Berwick, but the A1 dual carriageway now bypasses the village to the west leaving the village for local traffic.

Reference number:N13257

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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.