Keys to the Past

Local History

Simonburn (Northumberland)

Nunwick Hall. Photo by Northumberland County Council, 1956.
Nunwick Hall. Photo by Northumberland County Council, 1956.

Simonburn used to be one of the largest parishes in England. It was divided into many smaller parishes whilst Greenwich Hospital was lord of the manor. The landscape is one of grassland, deciduous woodland, rough grazing, peat bogs and forestry plantations and most of the parish lies in the Northumberland National Park.

Evidence of an early prehistoric presence begins in the Neolithic period when someone carved some mysterious cup mark symbols on rocks at Davy's Lee. A further cup marked stone might have been used later, in the Bronze Age, to make a cairn near Fenwickfield and at King's Crag. Ritual and burial monuments seem to make up most of the remains known from the Bronze Age and include a stone circle in Nunwick Park N7920}, another at Halleypike Lough as well as burials in the Cruises and at Kingscrag Gate.

An Iron Age tribal boundary may have survived in the form of the Black Dyke. Although it is not a continuous ditch and rampart, the ditch lies on the west as if to anticipate an attack from this direction, it runs for several kilometres from the North Tyne to the South Tyne through the parish of Simonburn; the monument is debateable and little known.

The earliest settlements in Simonburn date back to the Iron Age. Several enclosures with hut circles inside are known at Green Hill, Queen's Crag and Fold Hill, where an extended family probably lived in round wooden houses. People might have continued living here in Roman times and life probably changed very little between these two periods. The main difference would have been houses built in stone rather than timber and the Roman farmsteads tended to be squarer than their earlier counterparts. Roman farmsteads survive as earthworks on King's Crags and at Sharpley and another has been discovered by aerial photography at Queen's Crags. This technique has also revealed large areas of early field systems called cord rig, for example at Haggle Rigg and The Carts. Whether or not such sites developed as a response or reaction to the building and garrisoning of Hadrian's Wall is debateable and as yet undecided.

Hadrian's Wall runs across the parish and survives as an upstanding structure and as earthworks together with its associated components of vallum, ditch, milecastles and turrets.

King Arthur legends abound in the parish, especially around Sewingshields. A large stone boulder between King's Crags and Queen's Crags and a cave are associated with this legendary king. More certain Anglo-Saxon evidence comes from the Church of St Mungo where fragments of a cross shaft are preserved and imply a settlement of some importance.

Later medieval settlement is known throughout the parish. There was a farmstead near Stonefolds and traces of medieval ridge and furrow lie around Simonburn village. A series of shielings for shepherds tending flocks of sheep on high summer pastures survive near Little Crag. Many of these temporary structures were built within or beside earlier prehistoric structures and stone was robbed from Hadrian's Wall. In post-medieval times a centurial stone was reused at Sharpley Farm.

A series of medieval earthworks near Sewingshields are of higher status and include Sewingshields Castle and fishponds, a moated site and fishponds at Fozy Moss, and another fishpond between the two. The 13th and 14th centuries were a time of warfare between England and Scotland and those who could afford it built defensive places to live, such as Simonburn Castle, a 13th century tower house, and Simonburn rectory. Later, when feuds between border families spilled in to the region in the 16th and 17th centuries people built defended farmhouses called bastles. At Tecket, the bastle was later altered to a less defensive home once the threat from border reivers had passed in the later 17th century.

The improvements and developments in 18th and 19th century farming have concentrated on the lowlands at the east of the parish. Several lime kilns were built to provide materials to improve the soils at Great Lonbrough, Haggle Rigg and Hemmel Rigg. The agriculturalist Thomas Bates lived at Park End Farm in the north of the parish between 1775 and 1812. Much of the land around Simonburn was owned for some time by the Allgood family, noted for their involvement as 18th century turnpike trustees and for the creation of Nunwick Park. The effects of industrialisation in the 19th and 20th centuries are limited in Simonburn, the distance from railways may have discouraged any large-scale industrial activities, although a lead mine was established near Greenhaugh.

Reference number:N13763

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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.