Keys to the Past

Local History

Henshaw (Northumberland)

Hadrian's Wall, near Hotbank Crags (Copyright © Don Brownlow)
Hadrian's Wall, near Hotbank Crags (Copyright © Don Brownlow)

Henshaw civil parish lies in west Northumberland, on the border with Cumbria. It stretches from the banks of the River South Tyne northward into the remote lands of Wark Forest and the banks of the River Irthing. For the most part, only the southern part of the parish has any settlement in it today and this is largely concentrated along the very southern edge in the Tyne Valley. Archaeological remains date from the Bronze Age onwards, but the most famous are probably those of Hadrian's Wall.

Some 3000 to 4000 years ago, in the Bronze Age, the people living in this area buried their dead in stone cists and covered them with a mound of earth and stone. One such grave still exists near Codley Gate. However, at Chatley Crags they used a different type of grave and built a ring cairn. Instead of a stone cist, the cremated remains were probably buried in a pit. Archaeologists have not yet found the houses of these people, but cord rig plough marks near Gibbs Hill and Sycamore Gap show us that later prehistoric farmers were growing food in Henshaw.

After the Romans invaded Briton in AD43 they headed north, eventually drawing their frontier along the road now known as the Stanegate. They built a number of forts along it, including Vindolanda at Chesterholm. This is one of the most famous places in Roman archaeology and is best known for the extraordinary writing tablets which have survived buried for nearly 2000 years and record the daily lives of some of the people who lived here. The Romans stayed in this part of the country for over 300 years and built Hadrian's Wall as a more permanent frontier. In Henshaw the Wall runs along dramatic outcrops of the Whin Sill and is still eleven courses high at Sycamore Gap. This section also includes several turrets and milecastles which archaeologists have excavated. Some have been left exposed for visitors to see, such as Milecastle 39 and Milecastle 40. Other features of this frontier include a tower at Peel Gap, the Military Way, the vallum and many temporary camps. Most of the camps are still visible as earthworks such as Seatsides 1 and Seatsides 2. A great many other, smaller elements also show the Romans were here, including altars, an inscribed stone, a milestone and a tombstone.

Despite all this military activity, native people continued to live in the Henshaw area. Although it is difficult to know how the Romans affected their daily life we know that they continued to live in round houses on small farmsteads such as the one at Milking Gap.

After the Roman army left Britain little is known about Henshaw until after the Norman Conquest in 1066. The name Henshaw can be traced back to the 12th century but there don't seem to have been any villages or large settlements in the parish. There were probably scattered farms and from fields of ridge and furrow we know that people were cultivating the land here. There were also lots of small buildings called shielings that shepherds used as shelters whilst tending their animals on the summer pastures.

In medieval and early post-medieval times, the border region of England and Scotland was a very unsettled and sometimes dangerous place to live. There were battles, skirmishes and raids taking place on both sides and an obvious need for some defences. The only medieval example in Henshaw is a tower at Peel Gap on Hadrian's Wall.

Later, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, as feuds between border families arose, some people built special defended farmhouses called bastles. There are several examples in the parish, including Bradley Hall, Tow House, Stone Hall, Hillcrest, Town Head and a ruin near Stone Hall Farmhouse.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, when more peaceful times returned to this part of the country, people began build new farms such as East and West Twice Brewed and Causeway House and convert the old bastles into less defensive homes. There is even a rare example of an old threshing barn with a heather thatched roof at Tow House. Even though farming continued to be the most important part of the economy of the parish, some industries also sprang up at this time. These included a small quarry at Dean Crags, a lime kiln at Causeway House, Bardon Mill woollen mill and fireclay works, Bardon Mill corn mill, and Bardon Mill colliery by the River South Tyne. As the country as a whole became more industrialised, new approaches to Christianity developed in many of the industrial cities and in time these ideas spread into the countryside. Known as nonconformists, this new breed of worshippers built plain and simple chapels such as the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel at Henshaw.

Henshaw and neighbouring Bardon Mill both prospered when the Newcastle to Carlisle railway was built in the 1830s and Bardon Mill Station actually lies in this parish. Today Henshaw is a gateway for visitors to Hadrian's Wall country.

Reference number:N13382

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Disclaimer -

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.