Keys to the Past

Local History

Cheviotside (Northumberland)

Surrey House in 1968. Photo by Northumberland County Council.
Surrey House in 1968. Photo by Northumberland County Council.

Ilderton parish lies in north Northumberland on the edge of the Cheviots. It stretches from the lower reaches of the Lilburn Burn in the east to the heights of Harehope Hill in the west and lies partly within Northumberland National Park. The upland slopes of the parish are covered with an amazing number of earthworks of prehistoric settlements and field systems, with a remarkable concentration on Brands Hill.

People were probably living in this area more than 6000 years ago, during a period archaeologists call the Neolithic. So far, archaeologists have found a possible henge, flint arrowhead, a piece of pottery and flint flake, and a cup and ring marked stone near Middleton Dean. Far more evidence comes to light from the Bronze Age when we can find out more about how and where our ancestors lived and died. Several hut circle settlements survive in the uplands, including Langlee Crags, Brands Hill, and Rackside, where there are also remains of field systems with enclosures and clearance cairns. The areas of ground cleared of stone also survive here as smoothed areas of land within the field systems. Evidence for the ritual side of Bronze Age life is also abundant, with a cremation cemetery near Middleton Dean, a long cairn on Dod Hill, a round cairn cemetery by the Lilburn Burn, and a stone circle at Threestoneburn. As well as these remains there are many isolated or small groups of burial cairns scattered across the hillsides. Some stand undisturbed in prominent positions on hilltops, such as on Dod Hill, whilst others have been found in the lower parts of the parish by ploughing in the 19th century, such as on Ilderton Farm.

In the Iron Age the pattern of settlements began to change and they became more defensive and enclosed. Promontory forts at Middleton Dean and Harelaw Burn use steep natural river cliffs to enhance their defences and The Ringles uses a natural knoll. An unusual stone enclosure on Brands Hill has been likened to a Scottish dun and is surrounded by field systems, cairnfields and round houses. Fields with cord rig plough marks at Easter Dean show that late prehistoric farmers were growing food here. Iron Age people probably lived in the lower lying parts of the parish as well, such as at Harborough Camp, Blackborough Camp and Roseden Edge where cropmarks are all that survive.

Little seems to have changed in the area during the years of Roman rule. Ilderton lies north of Hadrian's Wall, the northern edge of the Roman Empire for much of its time in Britain, and most people probably continued to live in the same kind of homes as they had done in the Iron Age. A common difference between these settlements is their overall shape; in the Iron Age they were usually roughly circular, but in Roman times they are often more rectangular or square. There are more than twenty farmsteads and settlements known in this area and some also have remains of field systems nearby, such as on Brands Hill. Many of the farmsteads on Brands Hill seem to be connected with each other by long winding trackways, such as the settlement south-west of Broom Crook Plantation, the settlement west of Middleton Old Town, another settlement west of Middleton Old Town, and the settlement south-east of Carey Burn Bridge. Yet, perhaps some of the most outstanding survivals anywhere in the County are the farmsteads on the northern slopes of Brands Hill where an entire village and field system stand as prominent earthworks.

After the Roman army left Britain only one piece of tantalising evidence survives from the early medieval period in the form of a small Anglo-Saxon bead. Unfortunately we know nothing of who might have owned this bead or where they lived.

In medieval times people lived in villages at North Middleton and Ilderton. At Ilderton a church was built in the 13th century to serve the local people. There were also other settlements and farmsteads such as Whinney Hill and a moated site, as well as smaller settlements called shielings. Shepherds used shielings in summer months whilst looking after sheep on high pastures, such as near Langlee and South Middleton.

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 and skirmishes taking place on both sides and an obvious need for some defences. A tower once stood at Ilderton and was probably used for a few hundred years as a refuge in times of trouble. The oldest parts of Surrey House are said to belong to a house in which the Earl of Surrey stayed before the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and a spur is rumoured to have been used in a nearby battle.

The border family feuds of the late 16th and early 17th centuries do not seem to have left their mark in Ilderton with no bastles recorded here. As more peaceful times descended on the area in the 18th and 19th centuries people began to invest more in their surroundings, building fine houses at North Middleton and Ilderton, a garden house near Surrey House, and restoring the Church of St Michael. The 19th century also saw the coming of the railway as the Alnwick to Cornhill line was built across the parish and Ilderton was provided with its own station.

Today, Ilderton contains some of the finest archaeological monuments in the County and is a gateway to the Cheviots.

Reference number:N13675

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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.