Keys to the Past

Local History

Kielder (Northumberland)

View over Kielder Water. Photo Northumberland County Council.
View over Kielder Water. Photo Northumberland County Council.

The civil parish of Kielder lies in western Northumberland, on the border with Scotland. Much of the parish is covered by the largest man-made forest in Britain and the largest man-made reservoir in Europe. Many of Kielder's archaeological remains have been affected by tree planting, or submerged under Kielder Reservoir.

Between 4500 and 6000 years ago, people in the area that was to become Kielder buried their dead in long cairns. Two of these cairns have been found in Kielder, at Marven's Pike and Castle Hill.

Metalworking technology developed between 2500 and 4500 years ago. Archaeologists call this period the Bronze Age. The people who lived here buried their dead in stone cists under round cairns. Five Bronze Age burials have been found in Kielder including round cairns at Midfell, on Ravenshill Moor, and near Butteryhaugh Bridge. These people must have lived and farmed in the area too, although archaeologists have not yet discovered the remains of their settlements. Many remain undated, with archaeologists unsure when in the later prehistoric period they were occupied. Other settlements, which appear to be Iron Age in date, may have Bronze Age origins. Although metal tools were developed during the Bronze Age, flint was still an important tool-making material. A barbed and tanged flint arrowhead found in the Kielder Burn and a flint knife blade found near the Kielder Viaduct were both made and used in the Bronze Age.

In Kielder 2500 years ago, people were living in settlements at Gibbie's Knowe, Hall Knowe, Hitch Hill Wood, Gowanburn and Lewie Knoll. Other settlements, such as the Roman period settlement at Gowanburn, may have originally been an Iron Age farmstead.

Kielder lies north of Hadrian's Wall, and would have been outside the Roman Empire when Hadrian's Wall was its northernmost limit. However, Roman activity and influence spread far north of the Wall. This included the building of forts, roads and other structures. In Kielder parish, no trace of these activities has been identified, although surrounding parishes do contain Roman military remains. Life for the farmers, herders and craftspeople of the area would have continued much as it had in the Iron Age. Roman period native settlements in Kielder have been identified at Bran's Walls, Catcleugh, Catcleugh Fold and Gowanburn.

After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Normans took control of England. Archaeologists use this date to mark the beginning of the medieval period. Under Norman government, many written records were created. Many of these documents survive today, giving archaeologists more information about medieval life. Kershope Castle was built in Kielder soon after the invasion. From these documents, and from remains identified by archaeologists, we know that several villages existed in Kielder during the medieval period. Some of the villages may have been little more than hamlets. Today, some of these settlements are reduced to a single farm and others are no longer occupied at all. Archaeologists call these settlements deserted medieval villages. Colour Cleugh, Bells Chapel and Old Kielder are all examples of deserted medieval villages in Kielder. Local tradition says that Old Kielder was the home of a 14th century border chieftain, the Cout (or Colt) of Kielder. Legends claim that his prowess in battle was due to his magical armour, and the mystical holly and rowan leaves he wore in his helmet. Other places that are just farms today, which may have been larger settlements in the past, include Kielder Head, Snowhope, Bewshaugh and Stannersburn. Archaeologists have also identified sites that were farms in the medieval period, including Carry Burn, Deadwater and Gowanburn. Herders grazed their animals on higher ground in the summer, living in cottages built for temporary occupation. The remains of these shielings can be seen in Kielder near the Lewis Burn.

Like many other areas in Northumberland, Kielder suffered from border raiding from the 12th through to the 16th centuries. This encouraged the building of either easily replaced dwellings, or of much more substantial buildings able to withstand border raids. There is no sign today of the defensive tower houses that once stood at Ravenshill and Kielder Head.

Until the agricultural revolution of the 18th century, post-medieval farming in Kielder continued to be based on seasonal grazing patterns, where herders moved to the hills with their animals in the summer months. The remains of shielings from this time can still be seen at Upper Stoney Holes, Willow Bog, Lewis Burn and Archer Cleugh. More permanent farmsteads existed at Deadwater Rigg, Hogswood, Catcleugh, Kennels Field, Fernie Knowe and Old Bower. The remains of structures that accompanied post-medieval farming, such as stack stands, lazy beds and stells, can be seen at Willow Bog, Bar Knowe, White Kielder and Colour Cleugh.

Kielder's location on the Anglo-Scottish border has ensured the presence of sites associated with border unrest and boundary marking. The site of a border skirmish known as Bloody Bush is marked by a stone on the border itself, although it is not clear when the stone was erected. Rows of 18th century boundary stones can be seen at several locations in the parish, including Peel Fell. At one location, a ditch, in addition to boundary stones marks the border. Hawkhope Hole was a village founded by fugitives from the Scottish clearances, which was occupied throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the 18th century, agricultural improvements included widespread fertilization of the soil with lime in order to bring marginal moorland into profitable agricultural production. The remains of an 18th or 19th century lime kiln can be seen at Kielder Link.

Many of the inhabitants of Kielder at this time followed Scottish-based Christian denominations. The remains of a Presbyterian chapel built in 1709 can be seen converted into a hayshed at Lightpipe. In 1874, a Presbyterian chapel was built at Kielder. This has subsequently been converted into a United Reformed Church.

The industrial revolution reached Kielder in the 19th century, with the construction of the Border Counties Railway, which included the Kielder Viaduct built in 1862. Before this, coal was carried between England and Scotland on coal roads. The remains of a border toll house can be seen at the site of the Bloody Bush skirmish.

In 1933, a training camp was built in Kielder for unemployed men to learn skills such as road making. The camp was used for various things in subsequent years, until it was submerged by the creation of the Kielder Dam and reservoir in 1980.

Reference number:N13458

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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.