Keys to the Past

Local History

Kilham (Northumberland)

Howtel Tower, Kilham. Photo by Peter Ryder.
Howtel Tower, Kilham. Photo by Peter Ryder.

Kilham parish lies at the very north of the Cheviot Hills on the England-Scotland border and has few natural boundaries. These slopes make up most of the parish but there is a limited fringe of lowland between the hills and the River Glen and north-east towards Milfield. The survival of archaeological remains varies accordingly and date from the early Bronze Age to post-medieval times. A wide range of important prehistoric and medieval sites are preserved as earthworks in the upland parts of the parish.

Finds of flints made by Mesolithic people have been recorded in the parish, although not in any great quantity. Such finds have been made during forestry work at Pawston Hill and Shotton Hill. There may have been settlement in Neolithic times but no trace has yet been found. However, in the neighbouring parish of Kirknewton there are a number of Neolithic ritual sites at Hethpool stone circle and cup and ring marked stones at West Hill and north of Yeavering Bell showing that people were living nearby.

With the arrival of the Bronze Age the range of archaeological remains in Kilham increases. Early Bronze Age cairns on Coldsmouth Hill have been excavated, the south cairn revealing two phases of use. The north cairn is unusual in having a fragment of bronze from the Bronze Age, a rare survival in the Cheviot Hills. The cairns, though on a comparatively low hill, are visible on the skyline from many parts of the parish ' a particular characteristic of the Bronze Age. Other Bronze Age finds in the parish have included a rapier and further ritual cairns are known on Kilham Hill without any grave goods, and at Kilham with pottery. Some Bronze Age settlements are known in the north Cheviots but so far none have been found in Kilham.

A number of Iron Age settlements lie in Kilham. These include scooped settlements and rounded hillforts. Although many of these settlements were long thought to be defensive recent survey work has revealed that many were not constructed for defence. Example of hillforts in the parish include Pawston Camp Hill and Ring Chesters in the Cheviots with others, such as Bowmont Hill, facing them across the River Glen.

In the Roman period people built a number of settlements in the parish. Many are known only as cropmarks, discovered by aerial photography, and these lie mostly in the lowland parts of the parish. They are matched by settlements that survive as earthworks in the hills. Generally, these farmsteads were rectangular with two or three huts facing a yard, although earlier settlements might have continued in use, such as at Hetha Burn. Early fields called cord rig are known to survive in the hills, especially around the College Burn catchment but the lowland equivalent may have been destroyed by continued farming in this area.

As with much of the Cheviots, early medieval inhabitants, are unknown in Kilham. However, Gefrin, a palace site in neighbouring Kirknewton parish, may have depended on small farming settlements around Kilham and the place name element 'ham is thought to be Old English. Little else is known until the later medieval period.

The border between England and Scotland had grown up in that time and defensive buildings called tower houses at Howtel, Paston and Kilham. They were built to protect the local families and their wealth. The various valleys of the parish, including the Kilham Burn, were used for raids ' Kilham being raided a number of times. A shrunken medieval village is known at Shotton and a deserted medieval village at Heddon. Temporary settlements known as shielings lie near the Border and were used by shepherds working on the summer pastures.

Development of farming in the 18th and 19th centuries is contrasted from one side of the valley to the other. Sheep farming dominated the Cheviot slopes and arable the opposite side as can be seen at Elsdonburn Shank hill farm and the farm buildings at Pawston House. Mechanisation of farmsteads was aided by the sloping ground in several parts of the parish, allowing water-powered threshing machines to be used, reliant upon millpond, leat and sluices.

The Industrial Revolution developments are best summarised by the continuing changes in farm organisation and mechanisation. A further addition was the Alnwick-Cornhill railway of the 19th century that brought industrial supplies from further afield. Despite the closure of the line in 1965 two keeper's crossing houses survive at Kilham and Langham Bridge.

Reference number:N13758

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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.