Keys to the Past

Local History

Heddon-on-the-Wall (Northumberland)

Close House. Photo Northumberland County Council, 1956.
Close House. Photo Northumberland County Council, 1956.

Heddon-on-the-Wall lies in south Northumberland, on the boundary with Tyneside, overlooking the Tyne valley. As its name suggests, one of the most famous archaeological monuments in the country runs across the parish, Hadrian's Wall.

The earliest remains in the parish are even older and date to prehistoric times. Small flint tools, made in the Mesolithic period have been found in fields at Heddon Law. They were probably used in hunting and preparing food but where the people who made these tools lived, is unknown.

People began to lead a more settled way of life from the Neolithic period onwards. This was when farming first began to develop and some stone axes from Heddon may have been used for chopping trees down, clearing the land for planting early crops.

A new technology gave its name to the Bronze Age when bronze was used to make tools. The discovery of a crucible and an axe on an island in the River Tyne, may point to this being a bronze smith's working site. The oldest burial place in the parish is a Bronze Age round cairn at Heddon Laws Farm N10867 that was reused in the medieval period as a beacon. Another aspect of the ritual side of life were two standing stones which once stood near Stannerford. Some hut circles seen on Heddon Common and Resting Hill in the 19th century, may be the remains of the earliest settlement, but any remains have been lost to quarrying and housing developments.

More definite settlement remains have survived from the Iron Age when a defended settlement was built at Haughton with a protective ditch and bank around it. Such Iron Age enclosures are common in the county, but few have been found in the Tyne valley.

No trace of the local population in the Roman period has been found at Heddon. Hadrian's Wall was built across the parish in the second century AD with turrets, milecastles and a fort at Rudchester. The fort was equipped with a mithraeum and a civilian settlement, or vicus. Many of the turrets and milecastles lie beneath the Military Road (B6318), built in 1745, but Milecastle 14 survived as a low earthwork until the later 20th century. The vallum can still be traced either side of Heddon village and to the east of the village a consolidated stretch of Hadrian's Wall stands on display to visitors.

There was probably an early medieval settlement at Heddon as the Church of St Andrew has some late Saxon stonework incorporated into the nave. No sign of this village has yet been found.

In the medieval period, people lived in villages and hamlets at Whitchester, East Heddon, West Heddon, Rudchester and Houghton. A chantry was founded at Close House before the 14th century and the Church of St Andrew was altered. In the 13th century a house and tower were built at Rudchester and its remains are now incorporated into Rudchester Hall. It was probably built to protect the occupants against Scottish raids during the wars with Scotland.

The post-medieval period was a more peaceful time and developments were made in farming and industry. One of the oldest houses in the parish is at East Heddon, where a 16th or early 17th century house is now used as farm buildings. Some of the villages went into decline and were replaced by a few large farms. The Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century saw many new farms built such as West Heddon and Heddon Banks. Rudchester Hall was altered, eventually adopting the latest Gothick fashion in the later 18th century as led by the Duke of Northumberland. Close House is a building on an even grander scale, built in 1779 for the Bewicks and surrounded by fine gardens. Nearby are remains of the coal industry east of Heddon and west of Throckley but the most recent extraction has been by opencast methods to the north of Heddon in the 1960s. An unusual monument to `King Coal' is the Skelton Park ironstone pillar showing the thickness of the Main Seam in Cleveland.

Reference number:N13858

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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.