Hartleyburn parish lies in the very south-west corner of Northumberland, on the county boundary with Cumbria. Much of the parish is the high moorland of Hartleyburn Common with the valley of the Hartley Burn cutting through the centre and the hamlet of Halton-Lea-Gate at the foot of the fells. Archaeological remains in the parish date from prehistoric times through to more recent times and many are clustered around the Kellah Burn.
Archaeologists have excavated some earthworks near the Kellah Burn and found many prehistoric remains. One structure had some pieces of worked flint and may be a Neolithic building or shelter. This was a time when people began to look for a more settled way of life and when farming began. Some cup marked stones hint at the ritual side of life.
People were probably farming in Hartleyburn in the Bronze Age and traces of their fields survive as cord rig. These early fields have been found by aerial photography and by excavation. In order to plough the land it may have been necessary to clear stones away and these piles of stone have now become grassed over and are called clearance cairns. We also have evidence of the ritual side of life in the Bronze Age, with a cremation cemetery and burial cairns. Yet despite all this evidence there are no houses or villages of this date in the parish. Perhaps the remains have been destroyed by later land use or people lived in the neighbouring parishes.
This changes in the Iron Age or Roman period as there is one settlement known here. The Curricks was probably a farmstead, typical of many built by the native people of Northumberland at this time. It still stands as an earthwork enclosure with two yards inside and the remains of buildings probably lie buried beneath the surface. Some nearby clearance cairns may be of the same date. Maiden's Way Roman road runs along the eastern side of the parish and reminds us of the Roman military presence in this area, with Hadrian's Wall lying not far to the north. The road is still in such good condition that it can be seen crossing Hartleyburn Common and in places is used as the route of the Pennine Way. There are also hints that a Roman fort may have stood at Greenriggs.
There seems to have been little settlement in the parish in medieval times, apart from a farmstead at The Curricks and a few scattered shielings near the Kellah Burn. Shepherds probably used these as shelter in the summer months when their sheep were moved to higher grazing lands.
In medieval and early post-medieval times the border region of England and Scotland was sometimes a dangerous place to live with battles, skirmishes and raids happening on both sides. With apparently few people living in the parish at this time, it seems to have escaped the worst of the troubles. But as feuds between border families arose in the 16th and 17th centuries those who could afford it built defensive farmhouses called bastles. Ash Cleugh Farmhouse and Halton Lea Farmhouse are two examples in the parish.
Later, as families settled their differences and the region became more peaceful, people began to invest more in their surroundings. In the 18th and 19th centuries industries began to spring up such as Lambley Colliery, owned by the Coanwood Coal Company. As the country became more industrialised new approaches to Christianity developed in many of the industrial cities and in time these ideas spread into the North Pennines. Known as nonconformists, this new breed of worshippers built plain and simple chapels, such as that at Halton-Lea-Gate. Today, the parish lies in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is on one of the country's most popular long distance walks, the Pennine Way.
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