Keys to the Past

Local History

Warkworth (Northumberland)

Warkworth Castle (Copyright © Don Brownlow)
Warkworth Castle (Copyright © Don Brownlow)

Warkworth lies on the coast in mid-Northumberland with the River Coquet running west-east through the parish. The most prominent and well known monument is Warkworth Castle but there are important prehistoric remains as well.

The earliest remains are prehistoric with two possible Mesolithic finds: a small stone hammerhead from near Hartlaw and an axe from South Side. Unfortunately, it is possible that both may have been brought to the parish from elsewhere in road-building materials. Nonetheless, the river mouth area of the Coquet, despite the changes in sea level, is likely to have been a favoured spot. Mesolithic hunter-gatherers could have hunted winter wildfowl and other migrating species.

Warkworth is famous for an unusual Neolithic cup and ring marked cliff that rises from the River Coquet at Morwick. The mysterious motifs contain rare spirals forms as well as simple cup marks. Their meaning is unclear but could have been religious or linked to tribal boundaries.

The oldest burials are some Bronze Age cists found at Hilly Law and near Sturton Grange. These funerary monuments may originally have had covering mounds of earth or stone, forming a barrow or cairn over the top. Another burial site is that of a ring ditch at Walkmill. So far no settlements have been found of this period.

It has been suggested that in the Iron Age there was a promontory fort on the site that is now occupied by the medieval castle. Although there are parallels at other places in Northumberland for settlements dominating both the coast and guarding the entrance to the Coquet this idea has still to be proved.

Warkworth lies well north of Hadrian's Wall and although no Roman settlements or other sites have been found there a number of finds. They include Samian pottery from a Warkworth garden, a small statuette, some coins and an altar from Gloster Hill. How they came to be in Warkworth is not known. A quern from Warkworth Moor shows that grain was being processed and probably grown nearby although no farmstead has been found. However, a series of cropmarks could be Iron Age or Roman settlements such as those on the steep banks of the Coquet, near Morwick, near New Town and east of Morwick Hall.

It is often assumed that there was an Anglo-Saxon settlement at Warkworth. The evidence for this relies heavily upon the fragments of a cross found in the Coquet, historical and artefactual evidence for a church and the tradition of a palace for the Northumbrian king at a site now overlain by the castle. Although this is not improbable, no trace has yet been found.

Warkworth flourished in the medieval period when it was a harbour and market town. It lies in a loop of the River Coquet and still retains an essentially medieval layout, with a medieval defended bridge and gatehouse at the north, leading up to the castle on the highest point at the south end of the village. The Church of St Lawrence is a fairly complete Norman church and quite unique in the county. An elaborate cave hermitage across the river from the castle is one of the best preserved examples in Britain. There was also a deer park, whose boundary bank survives in places as an earthwork, but other sites connected to the castle, such as a foundry and salmon fishery, are only known from historical documents.

Outside the medieval town there were rural settlements, including Sturton Grange which belonged to the Cistercian Newminster Abbey in Morpeth. Newminster was also granted a saltpan at Warkworth although the site is unknown. Plans for a new settlement at Birling were begun but it didn't last long. Other villages and hamlets stood at Low Buston and Brotherwick.

The threat of Border reivers elsewhere in the county in the 16th and early 17th century may have influenced the building of a bastle at Butlersdon House. Later, it was converted into a less defensive house.

In the post-medieval period the landscape changed in a number of ways. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, the Sturton Grange area was divided between a number of landowners. Later, in the 18th and 19th century most of the buildings seen in Warkworth today were built. This was also a period of new ideas in farming practice and, as these developments spread, many fine farmhouses and farm buildings were built to incorporate them, including Maudlin, New Barns, Northfield, Southside and Sturton Grange.

Beyond farming and now tourism, Warkworth has changed little. The railway came through the parish in the 19th century and, although the station is now private houses, the East Coast main line still crosses the Coquet on a fine viaduct. More modern defences may seem puny against the might of Warkworth Castle but a small pillbox near Gloster Hill played its part in the defence of Britain in World War II (1939-45).

Reference number:N13832

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.