Keys to the Past

Local History

Wooler (Northumberland)

Remains of Wooler Castle. Photo by Peter Ryder.
Remains of Wooler Castle. Photo by Peter Ryder.

Wooler lies in north Northumberland on the edge of the Cheviots and just south of the Milfield Basin. The parish has a mix of high moorland in the south and low farmland to the north along the banks of Wooler Water. The archaeological remains in the upland parts of the parish are extensive and very well preserved.

Prehistoric remains abound in hills around Wooler. The earliest finds are Mesolithic tools called microliths which have been found at Commonburn and on Wooler Common. In the Neolithic, people began to clear vegetation with stone axes, such as the one found near Wooler in 1882, and started to lead a more settled way of life. They also built ritual and religious monuments in the landscape such as the Wooler Henge henge and the mysterious carvings known as cup and ring marked stones. One cup marked stone has been found in a wall in Wooler, but its original location is unknown.

The earliest settlement in the parish is from the Bronze Age. The earthwork remains on Watch Hill and Fredden Hill are extensive and include a hut circle as well as field systems with enclosures and cairnfields. The areas of ground cleared of stone also survive here as smoothed areas of land between the enclosure banks and cairns. The ritual side of Bronze Age life is also present with a {standing stone N3380} and burial cairns on Black Law and amongst the clearance cairns on Fredden Hill.

In the Iron Age, the pattern of settlements began to change and they became more defensive and enclosed. The Kettles stands on a promontory and uses the steep natural slopes to good effect. Life probably changed very little in the Roman period and most people probably continued to live in the same kind of homes as they had done in the Iron Age. The Kettles was occupied in Roman times and the houses changed from timber to stone-built dwellings. Small farmsteads were built in the uplands on Coldberry Hill and on the slopes of Earle Whin as well as in the lowland parts of the parish where a cropmark enclosure survives north of Turvelaws. The discovery of a quern at the Earle Whin farmstead shows that cereal crops were being grown nearby at this time.

There are only hints at an early medieval presence in Wooler. A loomweight and fragment of a cross shaft are the only finds although settlements are known in neighbouring parishes at Ad Gefrin and Thirlings and Maelmin.

In the medieval period Wooler was the centre of the Muschamp barony and as such had a castle and a market. Much of the medieval town is unknown, although a hospital stood somewhere in the vicinity. Medieval burgage plots would have existed to either side of the major roads through the town and some can be traced on old maps. The early castle was replaced in the 16th century with a new tower, built in reaction to disturbances on the English-Scottish border. It became an important link in the chain of forts featured in a plan of the border defences drawn up by Christopher Dacre in 1584.

When peace came to this part of the English borders by the 18th century farming began to develop. Wooler grew to be the only market town in the region of north Northumberland known as Glendale, a region that was at the heart of this agricultural revolution. The town prospered when the main road to Morpeth was turnpiked in the late 18th century and later with the coming of the Alnwick to Cornhill Railway. Many inns were established to cater for travellers along the turnpike, such as The Tankerville Arms, The Red Lion and The Angel Inn. Although the railway closed in 1965 the railway station and crossing keeper's house remain and have been converted to other uses. Small industries sprang up in the post-medieval period, including a brewery, dye mill and carding mill. A fire in the 18th century saw many buildings in Wooler destroyed and new shops and houses were built in their place. In the 20th century, Wooler was defended in World War II by a ring of at least 13 pillboxes and it is now the only example of a completely defended town in this area.

Reference number:N13769

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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.