Keys to the Past

Local History

Brinkburn and Hesleyhurst (Northumberland)

Cup and ring marked stones, Lordenshaws (Copyright © Don Brownlow)
Cup and ring marked stones, Lordenshaws (Copyright © Don Brownlow)

The parish of Hesleyhurst consists largely of upland moorland, descending to the Maglin Burn at its southern extent. The Forest Burn runs from east to west through the parish, dividing Ward's Hill from Garleigh Moor. There are no centres of population within Hesleyhurst. The nearest village is Rothbury, to the north.

More than 6000 years ago, during what archaeologists call the Neolithic period, people carved mysterious designs onto at least forty natural rocks at Lordenshaws East and on a standing stone nearby. These carvings may be related to their religion, or to land boundaries or routes. They are the only signs left of people who must have travelled through, and probably lived and farmed, in the area we now call Hesleyhurst.

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 Garleigh Hill, Lordenshaws, Ward's Hill and Garleigh Moor. Although no houses built in the Bronze Age have been found in Hesleyhurst, some archaeologists think that many houses previously thought to be Iron Age might actually be Bronze Age.

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. The defended settlements are often called hillforts. They were used as places to flee in times of danger, as well as permanent homes. The remains of this type of settlement can be seen at Lordenshaws.

After the arrival of the Romans in AD43 defended settlements such as Lordenshaws went out of use. Perhaps this happened gradually because the Romans brought peace or perhaps the Romans forced the native people out of their hillforts, to prevent rebellions. An undefended settlement was established on the site of the previous hillfort at Lordenshaws.

After the Norman invasion of 1066, England was divided between various lords and barons. There are no records of any villages being founded in Hesleyhurst, but the area still contains many farmsteads whose origins may stretch back to the medieval period. In the post-medieval period, a settlement was founded at Row, but this was probably never much bigger than the group of two farmsteads it is today.

Like many other areas in Northumberland, Hesleyhurst suffered the effects of border warfare with Scotland in the 13th and 14th centuries and later from border raiding in the 16th and 17th centuries. This affected the type of buildings people lived in. Defensive farmhouses, called bastles, were built in the 16th century, offering accommodation for animals on the ground floor, and people upstairs. Earlier, in medieval times, those who could afford it built defended towers to take refuge in. The Lee at Elyburne is thought to stand on the same spot as a previous pele tower. The original Brockley Hall was a 16th century defended farmhouse, known as a bastle and parts of this building probably survive within the later rebuild.

Hesleyhurst has always been a rural area. The land itself is valuable and it is interesting to see how boundaries have been marked throughout history. Perhaps the cup and ring marks of the Neolithic period were symbols of land ownership? Later in the prehistoric period, possibly during the Bronze Age, a cross dyke was constructed on Lordenshaw Hill, dividing a stretch the land into parcels with similar amounts of upland and lowland territory, both with access to water. Although the hollow ways at Lordenshaws were later incorporated into an Iron Age hillfort, archaeologists think these trackways may have already existed when the settlement was built 2500 years ago. On Garleigh Moor, the edges of Iron Age fields were marked with rows of stones, which still survive today. These fields were laid out and cleared of stones by people who lived at Lordenshaws; either when the hilltop was a defended settlement, or later, by the people who built farmsteads there during the Roman occupation. In the medieval and post-medieval periods, new field systems were set out. Before 1586, several enclosures separated by earth banks and walls were built on Lordenshaw Hill. During the 18th century, the land was ploughed, leaving narrow ridge and furrow which is still visible today.

Many lime kilns were built throughout the region in the post-medieval period. Disused lime kilns at a quarry on Ward's Hill were destroyed by quarrying early in the 20th century. However, more examples survive elsewhere on Ward's Hill.

During the 19th century, lead miners dug an adit on Lordenshaw Hill. However, their investigations can't have been very successful. Mining on an industrial scale was never begun here. Also during the 19th century, a railway was built through Hesleyhurst. There was never a station in the parish, and the railway line has since closed.

A pillbox south-west of Ward's Hill was part of the defences built during World War II, between 1939 and 1945.

Reference number:N13386

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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.