Keys to the Past

Local History

Hedgeley (Northumberland)

View over Hedgeley parish.
View over Hedgeley parish.

The civil parish of Hedgeley is located on the eastern fringe of the Cheviot Hills. The parish is largely upland moorland, descending to the valley of the River Aln at its southern extent and to the Breamish Valley in the north. Most of Hedgeley's population is concentrated in the village of Powburn, although there are a number of hamlets and farmsteads scattered throughout the parish.

More than 6000 years ago, during what archaeologists call the Neolithic period, people carved mysterious designs into natural rocks near Wood House Farm, The Ringses, East Bolton Farm, and on Beanley Moor and Hunterheugh Crags. These cup and ring marked stones, together with a stone axehead found near Percy's Cross, are the only signs left of people who must have travelled through, and probably lived and farmed, in the area we now call Hedgeley.

Some 3000 to 4500 years ago, during what archaeologists call the Bronze Age, people buried their dead in stone cists under cairns. These graves have been found at Beanley West Farm, Titlington Pike, Beanley Moor N3172 and, Hedgeley and Shawdon,. Although no houses built in the Bronze Age have been found in Hedgeley, some archaeologists think that many houses previously thought to be Iron Age might actually be Bronze Age. One of the more puzzling aspects of Bronze Age life are the burnt mounds that have been found at Titlington Mount and Bolton Moor. One of these mounds has been excavated, revealing that it was made of burnt and fire-cracked stones. The remains of hearths and stone troughs were found inside the mound. Burnt mounds are always found near water. One theory is that water was heated in the troughs using hot stones. Perhaps the hot water was used for cooking?

Before the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43, in a period archaeologists call the Iron Age, the native people of this area lived in small farmsteads and defended settlements. Animals were herded on a large scale, moving between different pastures throughout the year. People built enclosures surrounded by deep ditches, which must have held large numbers of animals. Perhaps people brought their animals together before moving them to new pasture? The remains of these enclosures have been found at Shawdon Wood House and Shawdon Hill Farm.

During the Iron Age, some people lived in small undefended settlements like the one at Titlington South. Others lived in defended settlements, often called hillforts, which were used as places to flee in times of danger, as well as permanent homes. The remains of these settlements and their defensive ramparts can be seen at The Ringses, Titlington Mount, Wood House and Beanley Moor.

Hedgeley is north of Hadrian's Wall and was therefore often outside the Roman Empire. However, we know that the Roman army built roads, camps and forts north of Hadrian's Wall as part of their campaign to dominate the north. A Roman road runs through Hedgeley. It is known locally as the Devil's Causeway. After the arrival of the Romans, defended settlements such as The Ringses, Titlington Mount, Wood House and Beanley Moor went out of use. Perhaps this happened gradually because the Romans brought peace? Perhaps the Romans forced the native people out of their hillforts, to prevent rebellions? Life in farming settlements such as West Corbie Crag, Titlington South and Broomhouses continued in a similar way as before, although now food and goods could be sold to the Roman army.

The end of the Roman occupation must have brought about many changes. Perhaps the economy collapsed in upland areas like Hedgeley? The land was probably owned by Anglo-Saxon ruling families, but if any farms existed in the parish of Hedgeley, no trace of them has been found.

There is a tradition of holy wells in Northumberland. A natural spring at Wooperton, known as Percy's or St James' Well may have been a focus of pilgrimage or worship from the early medieval period.

After the Norman invasion of 1066, the land was divided between various lords and barons. Much of Hedgeley became the property of the lords of Wark-on-Tweed. Villages such as Hedgeley, Crawley, Beanley, Titlington, Shawdon and Bolton were founded in the 13th century. Unlike other medieval villages in Northumberland, which flourished and eventually became towns, the villages of Hedgeley remained small. Most of them never grew to anything more than hamlets. Today, most of the deserted medieval villages of Hedgeley have disappeared without trace, or are reduced to a single farm. The only settlement of any size is Powburn, situated on a natural route north, used by the Romans. Hedgeley was so isolated, even in the medieval period, that a leper hospital was founded well away from local people, at Bolton in 1255. The hospital was later converted into a small monastery.

Percy's Cross is a medieval wayside cross built in the 15th century. It was erected to commemorate the death of Sir Ralph Percy, who died in 1464 at the battle of Hedgeley Moor, fighting on the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses.

Like many other areas in Northumberland, Hedgeley suffered from border raiding from the 12th through to the 16th century. This affected the type of buildings people lived in. Defensive farmhouses were built, offering accommodation for animals on the ground floor, and people upstairs, or in attached towers known as pele towers. {Titlington Hall N3160 }, Crawley Tower and Shawdon Hall are all examples of houses built to protect people and property from raids.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, after the open moorland had been enclosed, landowners built fashionable houses such as Shawdon Hall. These houses had landscaped parks, creating an artificial and tamed countryside. Shawdon Park and the park at Hedgeley Hall are examples. Even farms, especially those nearest the lord of the manor's house, were often enhanced with features that were decorative as well as useful. The dovecotes at Dean House Farm and Titlington Mount Farmhouse are good examples of this practice. Bridges, such as the ones over the Aln at West Brizlee and Bolton, are examples of 18th century architectural style.

During the 19th century, a railway was built through Hedgeley. The railway line has since closed, but the railway station at Glanton still exists, although it has been converted into a house.

The people of Hedgeley were defended from possible invasion in the World War II by a single pillbox. Such pillboxes were located along east-west routes to try to prevent a German invasion from the north.

Reference number:N13384

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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.