Greenhead lies in south-west Northumberland, close to the border with Cumbria, and is partly in the National Park. The parish stretches from the edges of Thirlwall Common in the north, across the valley of the Tipalt Burn, and south to Blenkinsopp Common. The name Greenhead means the high ground at the watershed between the River Irthing and Tipalt Burn. Archaeological remains date from the prehistoric period to more recent times, but Hadrian's Wall is by far the most famous archaeological site in the parish.
The earliest piece of evidence from the parish is a Neolithic stone axe from Blenkinsopp. This would have been used to clear trees and undergrowth, perhaps so crops could be planted. This was a time when people began to look for a more settled way of life and when farming began. Some remains of early cultivation known as cord rig, have been found by aerial photography and probably date to the Bronze Age or Iron Age.
With Hadrian's Wall crossing the parish there are many Roman sites here. The Wall is mostly a stony, rubble and grass-covered mound along this section, but some exposed stones can be seen near Cockmount Hill. As well as the Wall itself there are forts at Carvoran and Great Chesters, and a number of turrets and milecastles. Some of these have been excavated and left exposed, such as Turret 44b. Other features associated with the Roman frontier are the vallum, Military Way, civil settlements at Carvoran and Great Chesters, an aqueduct, cemetery, temporary camps at Chesters Pike, Burnhead and Glenwhelt Leazes and the Stanegate road. A great many other, smaller, elements have also been found in Greenhead, such as altars, milestones and inscribed building stones.
The parish was also settled in medieval times with a village at Walltown. Other settlements have been suggested at Blenkinsopp and Glenwhelt but there is less evidence for these. Some even smaller settlements are shielings probably used in summer by shepherds looking after sheep on high pasture near Hadrian's Wall.
In medieval and early post-medieval times the border between England and Scotland was very unsettled, with battles, skirmishes and raids taking place on both sides. As Greenhead lies close to the Scottish border, there was obviously a need for some defences because Blenkinsopp Castle was built in the 14th century and Walltown Tower in the 16th century. Later, as feuds between border families continued, it was necessary for those who could afford it to build special defended farmsteads that we now call bastles. Two such buildings stand in the parish, at Glenwhelt and Low Old Shields Farmhouse, and serve to remind us of those dark days.
As the Borders became a more settled and peaceful area in post-medieval times it was a fairly prosperous time for this region of England. People started to invest more in their surroundings, new roads were built and new farming methods were introduced. For example, Blenkinsopp Hall was built in about 1800 and Blenkinsopp Castle was virtually rebuilt as a Victorian mansion in the 19th century and parkland was laid out around it. Few industrial activities seem to have sprung up here at this time, other than lime burning to improve the land, with lime kilns at Walltown Quarry and Todholes. However, the 19th century did see the coming of the railway with the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway Company opening a route in the 1830s, although the station at Greenhead is now closed. Today, Greenhead is still a rural parish largely dependent on farming, but with the added bonus of long and dramatic stretches of Hadrian's Wall to visit.
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