Keys to the Past

Local History

Melkridge (Northumberland)

The civil parish of Melkridge lies approximately 3km east of Haltwhistle, on the uplands north of the River South Tyne. Geographically, it lies almost halfway between the east and west coasts of England, at the narrowest point in England.

The first evidence of human activity in Melkridge is a field system created by farmers near Allery Burn between 2500 and 4500 years ago. Because metalworking technology was developed during this period, archaeologists call it the Bronze Age. It is likely that people lived and farmed in the area we now call Melkridge in the centuries before the Bronze Age, but archaeologists have not yet found the evidence to prove this.

Many of the remains left by previous inhabitants of Melkridge are difficult to date but are certainly prehistoric in origin. Aerial photographs of Melkridge show at least ten separate areas of fields probably dating to the Bronze Age or Iron Age. An example can be seen at Rasting Gap, where clearance cairns and cord rig cultivation marks survive today.

There is plenty of evidence to show that native people continued to live in the Hadrian's Wall area after the Roman invasion of AD43. However, the remains of Roman period native settlements have not been found in the parish of Melkridge so far.

The area of Melkridge was part of the front line of Roman defences against their enemies to the north. The first century road known as the Stanegate, which ran east-west between Corbridge and Carlisle, passed through Melkridge at Once Brewed. The Roman army built the massive defence and control system of Hadrian's Wall running across the country from the east to west coast. The section in Melkridge includes the remains of three milecastles (milecastle 40, milecastle 41, milecastle 42) and six turrets (turret 39b, turret 40a, turret 40b, turret 41a, turret 41b and turret 42a). The Military Road ran alongside the Wall, next to the vallum. A small Roman camp may have once existed near Howburn Cottages. Other evidence of the Roman period in Melkridge includes an inscribed altar stone, reused in the foundations of a cottage at Hardriding.

After the Romans abandoned Britain, life continued in Melkridge. We know that Anglo-Saxon people settled elsewhere in Northumberland, but archaeologists have not yet found any evidence of early medieval life in Melkridge.

The next significant change came after the Norman invasion of 1066. These changes led to the re-organisation and redistribution of land across the whole country and the foundation of many new towns and villages. The settlement of Whitchester was founded in the medieval period but was later abandoned. At the other end of the scale, very small structures known as shielings have been found at Bogle Hole and on the line of Hadrian's Wall.

Like many other areas in Northumberland, Melkridge suffered during the Anglo-Scottish border disputes of the 12th to 16th centuries. This period of warfare and raiding means that relatively few buildings survive from this period. Those that do are mostly the sturdy towers and bastles built to protect their owners from marauding Scots. An example of this type of building is Melkridge Bastle, built in the early 17th century as a defensive farmhouse.

The relative peace of the post-medieval period allowed greater stability in the area. Arable farming increased in Melkridge and remains of ploughed fields and field systems from this period can be seen in various locations around the parish, including a dyke near Sook Hill and a field system and enclosure near Saughy Rigg.

The agricultural revolution of the 18th century saw the development of lime kilns to provide fertiliser for newly enclosed land. Examples can be seen at Saughy Rigg, Cowburn Rigg and Hallpeatmoss.

In the 19th century, coal began to be exploited on an industrial scale. Blackett Colliery and Melkridge Colliery were sunk during this period.

The landscape of Melkridge today is still dominated by the remains of a frontier built 2000 years ago. However, there is plenty of evidence that people inhabited, farmed, travelled through and exploited the resources of the area we now know as Melkridge, both before and since the creation of this most obvious piece of archaeological evidence.

Reference number:N13398

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.