Plenmeller with Whitfield (Northumberland)
Plenmeller with Whitfield parish lies in south Northumberland, in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, on the boundary with Cumbria. Much of the parish is a high moorland plateau dropping to the valley of the West Allen on the east side of the parish. Beneath this plateau lie the mineral resources of the North Pennine orefield the workings of which have left their mark across the parish.
Evidence from early prehistoric times is scarce with a Bronze Age beaker and two axes the oldest finds.
Evidence of life in the Iron Age is equally scarce with one camp known at Oakwood. The Roman period is not known in depth either, though there are hints of activity throughout the parish. These include a hoard from Whitfield and two possible Roman roads. Many 19th century antiquarians suggested that the Romans must have mined the Galena found in the North Pennine orefield but there is currently no evidence to support this.
The oldest settlements in the parish date to medieval times, with villages and hamlets at Whitfield and Ouston. Most were founded in the 12th or 13th century but the reason for their decline is unknown. Few traces of medieval buildings have survived; the Church of St John was built in the 18th century on the site of a 12th century church and a tower house is incorporated into Whitfield Hall and Unthank Hall. Such defensive buildings serve to remind us of the troubled nature of the Border region at this time with wars against Scotland followed by the violent feuds of the Border reivers in the 16th and 17th century. People built defensive farmhouses called bastles to protect their livestock and family against the reivers and many still survive, although now adapted for more comfortable living, at High Ramshaw and West Plenmeller and Black Cleugh.
Until the post-medieval period farming was the main occupation. But in the 18th and 19th centuries other industries were established. They include coal mining in the north of the parish at Plenmeller Colliery and lead mining in the south at Longcleugh mine. The ore was smelted at a smelt mill by the Cupola Bridge. The stone resources of the parish were also valuable and many quarries opened, including a millstone quarry on Watch Hill that is recorded in documents between 1667 and 1840, but could well have been in use before that date. Agricultural improvements of the time were widely adopted, especially the use of lime to improve the soils. To this end many lime kilns, and associated quarries, were built across the North Pennines with fine examples at Agarshill Fell, Parmently Hall and Ouston, the latter of which remained in use till the relatively recent widespread usage of chemical fertilisers from the 1950s. Transport was an important factor in the movement of raw materials and a network of tracks criss-cross the high plateau. In the valleys a number of fine bridges were built in the 18th century, such as Burnmouth Bridge and Cupola Bridge.
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