TillVAS Till Valley Archaeological Society
TillVAS             Till Valley Archaeological Society

Patron: Rt. Hon. Lord Joicey                                             www.tillvas.com                                       

Hon. President   : Dr. Chris Burgess                                


Latest Newsletter

June 2021

 Our Next (Virtual) Meeting


WEDNESDAY 2 nd June Webinar at 7.30 pm via Zoom Dr. Greg Finch: “The Dukesfield project – and the rise of the North-East’s Lead Industry”.

The lottery funded conservation and heritage project centred on the remains of a large lead smelting mill in Hexhamshire has increased our understanding of the regional lead industry, as explained by historian Greg Finch in this richly illustrated talk. Please remember that you must register in advance for the webinar, preferably a day or two beforehand. If you leave registration until the last hour before it is due to start Heather will not be able to admit you.


Here is the link you need to register: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Af7mYPi4Q6qbb8r8j8yfpw After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.



Writing this headline is quite a moment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but it looks as if we can plan for a more normal summer ahead.


Save the Date! Dig at Mardon: 17th to 31st August 2021 Hooray!


First, some really exciting news for the diggers amongst us. We have a Heritage Fund grant which enables us to undertake a two-week professionally-led dig at Mardon Farm in August, our third and final season there. Radio carbon dates ranging from the mid-2 nd century BC to the late 1st century AD confirm that it is a late Iron Age site with evidence so far of domestic and agricultural occupation. These dates support the intriguing but probably unprovable hypothesis that Mardon and other native settlements in the area (including the fort on Flodden Hill) were abandoned when the Romans arrived. We are currently working on arrangements for the dig. Full details will be given in the July Newsletter.


Modern Farming in an Ancient Landscape Duddo Trailer Tour:

8th July 2021 6pm to 8pm Duddo farmer Frank Dakin has kindly offered TillVAS members a trailer tour in and around Duddo on Thursday 8th July between 6pm and 8pm. He is very knowledgeable about the area and interested in its history. There will be a tour of the farm, with everyone sitting on bales on a flatbed trailer drawn by a tractor, when he will talk about farming, the environment and the historic landscape. He will then take us to the Duddo stone circle and Duddo Tower. We should be back at the farm by 8pm where there will be a cup of tea and a biscuit and a chance to chat or ask questions. Please be aware you will have to be reasonably fit to get up onto the trailers, if you are unsure or want to ask questions please email me - see address below. The tour will be free but there will be a collection afterwards in aid of Ford Church. Numbers are limited so please book early to secure a place by contacting me at suecochraneshaw@gmail.com. Parking will be at the Duddo Farm Steading. If the weather is bad on 8th July the tour will take place on Friday 9 th July.



Most members have already renewed their subscriptions this year, for which many thanks. For any of you who have not yet renewed, it is not too late to do so. We have had some difficulties tracing on-line payments to the members who had made them. If we don’t know you have paid your subscription, your name will eventually be removed from the mailing list and you will no longer hear from us. If you pay on-line could you please always make sure that: • You include your name in the reference on the bank transfer • You also send a membership form to the Membership Secretary, Val Glass.



Ray Clarke organised an excellent hike over countryside which was new to us and to Linda. We started from a lay-by just east of Ford village and walked in an easterly direction, passing the site of a former water mill. There were open views to the Cheviots on our right. Ray said that the mill pond filled only in the winter, limiting corn grinding to those months. The route then took us over Broom Ridge where there are supposedly rock carvings. Despite Ray’s efforts with GPS, none were reliably identified. However we did find 2 attempts had been made and abandoned to cut out millstones from the Fell Sandstone (Millstone Grit).

From the ridge we ascended along the line of Goatscrag Hill and saw the shafts where miners in former times drilled into the rock to insert explosives. We reached a point where there was a significant overhang which could have formed part of a cave in mesolithic times. It made a grand outlook for our lunch stop. Ray pointed out some rock carvings of animals. However, we were not convinced of their ancient origins, as no mention had been made of them during excavations on the site in the early 1970s.

After lunch we circumnavigated Ford Moss, during which Ray gave us a fascinating account of the history of coal-mining in the area over the centuries. As the coal was of poor quality, the mining was probably made profitable only because of very cheap local labour. We saw the fenced-off entrances of several shafts, some reaching 20 fathoms (120 feet). There was also the remains of a wheelhouse.

We then went to where one mine owner had proposed a very practical scheme for transporting coal from a number of local mines to the Wooler/Cornhill turnpike road, using a railway in which the full downhill trucks pulled back up the empty ones. However, the various mine owners and landowner could not agree on shared costs, hence the scheme was never developed. It was an excellent day out and great credit and appreciation is due to Ray for not only his excellent route leadership, but as a fountain of knowledge on wildlife, the history and terrain. The small group size meant that discussions were wide-ranging and enjoyable. Who knew (and could identify) bog myrtle and its use in beer making? The contrasts between industrial relics, such as a large brick chimney, and rural Northumberland in all its spring glory made it a most memorable hike. Christine & Peter Blenkinsop



On 20th April, our Chairman Ray sent an excited email to your Committee. In exploring the area around Ford Forge, he and Alan Urwin had found on land now occupied by the Heatherslaw Light Railway, close to the site of a former saw-pit, the remains of a “timber bob”, a horse-drawn device used to transport raw timber to the sawmill. One or more horses might be used, depending on the size and weight of the timber. The timber bob as found, was about to be buried in vegetation, including brambles and nettles on the brink of rapid growth. He was keen to make precise measurements and drawings of the parts, but this would have to be done soon, or deferred until the autumn.

The large circular iron object is the outer rim of one of the wheels, 64 inches in diameter. It is HUGE. The other large iron object, which fitted over the log being transported, was attached to the middle of the two wheels held in place by wooden hubs each fitted with iron rings. The ironwork is almost complete (one of the four rings is missing). The timber was clearly past saving, but there was enough left to allow measurement of felloes, spokes, hubs etc.

On an unusually cold grey April morning, four of us gathered at Ford Forge to carry out the work. Numbers had to be limited to permit social distancing in a relatively confined space. Access was a little tricky, with a fence to climb and scrubby vegetation to avoid. Luckily the rain held off. We cleared the weeds to expose the remains. Alan took detailed measurements and Ray took photos. A search for the missing hub-ring, though assisted by a metal detecting device, failed to find it. By early afternoon, the task was finished and we left the remains in place, a reminder that in its most recent incarnation as industrial premises, Ford Forge was the sawmill for the Ford & Etal Estates.

Sue Shaw




Border Archaeological Society


Monday 7th June at 7.30 pm via Zoom Dr. Rob Collins: “The Genesis of Northumbria”



Northumberland Archives


Thursday 17th June at 7 pm via Zoom

“Perfectly happy and exceedingly poor: the Life of Thomas Creevey”

One of the archivists will talk about the life of Thomas Creevey 1768-1838, Member of Parliament and Regency gossip, and the correspondence and papers relating to him held in the Archives.


Thursday 24th June at 7 pm via Zoom Richard Atkinson: “Mr Atkinson’s Rum Contract: the rise and fall of a slave-owning family”.


The Northumberland Archives talks listed here are free and can be booked on Eventbrite. This link should take you straight to them. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/northumberland-archives-3077043980


June 2021 Border Archaeological Society


Monday 7th June at 7.30 pm via Zoom Dr. Rob Collins: “The Genesis of Northumbria”.



Wednesday 2nd June at 7.30 pm Webinar via Zoom Greg Finch will speak on the Dukesfield Smelters and Carriers Project, discovering the heritage of the Dukesfield Arches and lead carriers' routes between Blaydon and the lead mines of Allendale and Weardale in the North Pennine




Tenth Anniversary Newsletter


We should have been celebrating! TillVAS is now (just over) 10 years old, but a proper celebration is difficult when people can’t meet face to face. Still, this anniversary should not go unmarked and at the moment a special newsletter feels the best way forward. What follows began with a brief history of TillVAS written by Maureen Charlton, TillVAS’s first Secretary, expanded to include a little more archaeology and bringing the story up to date. It also draws on Flodden: Legends & Legacy (including Heather Pentland’s chapter on the beginnings of TillVAS) and The Branxton and Crookham Village Atlas. For those of you who have been with TillVAS from the beginning, much if not all of it will be familiar, but for our more recent members it may not be.



FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS… One evening in early January 2011 a few interested people met in Crookham Village Hall to consider the possibility of forming a small Archaeological Group. This was partly due to local interest in the Flodden 1513 Project to be run by Dr. Chris Burgess, and several of those present had already been involved in the preliminary field walking. Encouraged by Chris, who chaired the meeting and later became our Honorary President, it was agreed that it was feasible and a further meeting to form a Committee would be held in February. It was duly accomplished, with Heather Pentland elected as Chair, Mike Keating as Treasurer, Maureen Charlton as Secretary, also Alan Urwin and Carol Chapman. The basic foundations of membership, aims, and activities were decided. The name of the group would be the Till Valley Archaeological Society to encompass the whole of the Till Valley catchment area and in 2016 this was extended to include the eastern Borderlands. Details of TillVAS were passed on via contacts made with other groups involved in the Flodden Project and as membership began to increase – 28 by April – Alan Urwin became Membership Secretary. Numbers reached 53 by the end of 2011.

Every opportunity was taken to publicise TillVAS by setting up exhibitions at local shows, and at Heatherslaw during the summer. Monthly Newsletters were sent to all Members and a programme of talks and outdoor visits was planned plus an early TillVAS event in Etal Village Hall.

From the start, there has been a great deal of interest in local history as well as archaeology and a number of TillVAS members took part in the community project to review the primary sources for the Battle of Flodden. Little was known about the history of the villages of Crookham and Branxton (the nearest village to the site of the Battle) and it was resolved to collect as much information as possible, from the earliest times to the present day. As most of the area is included in the Ford and Etal Estates we anticipated little difficulty, but unfortunately little was available from the 19th century, so we were starting almost from scratch. Berwick Record Office and Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn were scoured for anything relating to the area, with some interesting details coming to light.

So much was collected that we needed to find suitable storage for all the documents and maps which had accumulated in the Secretary's spare bedroom, and Crookham Village Hall 3 Committee granted permission for cupboards and a map chest to be placed in the main hall. This is still the location of the TillVAS Archives. (A full list of contents can be found on the TillVAS Website.)


PRACTICAL ARCHAEOLOGY Flodden For TillVAS, practical archaeology began with the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden of 1513. The work was supported by generous grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. There were five seasons of excavation on Flodden Hill between 2011 and 2015, usually in late May amidst flowering bluebells. The objective was to look for archaeological evidence of the Scottish army’s occupation of the hill in 1513, as recorded in contemporary accounts and later documents. Although no evidence was found that could be conclusively linked to the battle, it remains possible that the army, or part of it, camped on the hill, leaving no evidence capable of surviving subsequent land use or the passage of 500 years.

A final dig on Flodden Hill in 2019 was focussed mainly on the Iron Age hill fort. In September 2012, test pits and a trial trench were dug in part of the registered battlefield; and further trenches in 2013. These were in part an attempt to follow up a garbled early nineteenth century report of workmen finding a charnel pit filled with human bones. The bodies would have been buried after the battle, but finding evidence of a mass grave five hundred years later was perhaps always a tall order. None was found.

Excavations extended to sites in Scotland linked to James IV’s routes to Flodden. Once across the border, he had taken the Tweedside castles at Norham and Wark before establishing his position on Flodden Hill. TillVAS volunteers worked at digs at Norham and Ladykirk between 2012 and 2015, and at Wark in 2013 and 2015. In November 2012, Chris Burgess planted a Commemorative oak tree on the battlefield while a piper played “Flowers of the Forest”. The ceremony, under the theme of peace, was attended by people from both sides of the border, including TillVAS members and several local farmers. The tree, close to the battlefield car park, is flourishing.

No finds from the Flodden work could conclusively be linked to the battle, but many small finds dating from the Neolithic onwards emerged from the fieldwalking and digs, casting new light on the history of the area. These all needed to be washed, identified and catalogued. TillVAS volunteers spent many winter days in Etal Village Hall, carrying out this processing work under the supervision of John Nolan and Jenny Vaughan. John and Jenny ran their excellent two-day finds course twice, giving volunteers an opportunity to enhance their finds identification skills. 


The Branxton & Crookham Village Atlas As work on Flodden neared completion, it was decided that all the local history collected should be combined into a “Village Atlas” based on the two parishes of Branxton and Crookham. With more excavations planned, this was another substantial project, once again supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Surveys of the farms and the older properties were carried out with appropriate photographs so that whatever happens in the future, there is a permanent record of the area in the 21st century. We also sought information from older residents who were often a mine of information. In 2015, 5 test pits were opened in Crookham and 3 in Branxton. They did not reveal much evidence of human activity in the villages before the nineteenth century, but the remains of a smithy and a cottage adjacent to Crookham Manse might be earlier and sherds of mediaeval pottery were found close to Branxton House. The Village Atlas has recently been printed and comprises two substantial paperback volumes. When Covid permits, it will be properly launched at events in Branxton and Crookham Village Halls.


Mardon Hill A D-shaped enclosure site on Mardon Hill, about a mile north-west of Flodden Hill, was known from crop-marks visible on aerial photographs. Under the direction of Richard Carlton, TillVAS conducted digs there as part of the Village Atlas project in 2017 and 2018. On leaving the site in 2018, there was unfinished business and we still hope to return in 2021. Those first two seasons provide evidence for domestic occupation in roundhouses, with an adjacent stockyard and stock enclosures, all within a defensible enclosure. Agricultural activities may have included sheep and cattle husbandry, grain cultivation and milling, wool processing and pottery-making. Nine Carbon 14 dates obtained from Durham University from material recovered range from the mid-2 nd century BC to the late-1 st century AD, putting the site firmly in the late Iron Age.

The dates obtained from the TillVAS digs at the fort on Flodden Hill span a slightly wider but similar period. The Roman general Agricola began his campaigning into Scotland in 79 AD, which raises the intriguing question whether these native settlements were abandoned when the Romans arrived. 5 As Richard Carlton says in his report, very limited material has been studied from North Northumberland sites of this type in this period. We hope that these dates will improve our chances of getting funding for a further season this year to help resolve some of the outstanding questions.


Iron Age Day Iron Age Day in June 2019 was planned as an adjunct to the digs at Mardon and as a family day out. The aim was to give visitors a taste of life in the Iron Age, with a mix of displays and activities illustrating aspects of how our remote ancestors lived and some of the technologies available to them. These included spinning and weaving; pottery making and firing; grinding corn and bread-making. Chairman Ray provided a brew of Iron Age beer for visitors to sample. Members of the Flodden Young Archaeologists’ Club undertook some experimental archaeology, building a small wattle roundhouse, thatched with straw. We were lucky that the sun shone, and visitor numbers greatly exceeded our expectations. The picture shows preparations for firing the Iron Age pots that had been made at the TillVAS Primitive Pottery Day a couple of weeks beforehand.


Other archaeology Etal Barley Mill The Etal Barley Mill, or what is left of it, is near the footpath on the right bank of the River Till north of Etal. Work was started in 2018 to clear out the site with a view to making a plan of the old buildings. Unfortunately, it had to stop due to an unstable gable end, and the conclusion subsequently reached is that the site is too hazardous to undertake much further work. It is now securely fenced off. A lot of archival research has been done, but questions remain. Perhaps the key question is the whereabouts of the old mill lade. Establishing that would lead to a greater understanding of the footprint of the mill and how it functioned. Discussions about the practicalities of a limited dig, within health and safety and any continuing Covid restraints, are still ongoing.


Digging with other groups TillVAS now sits firmly within the archaeological community in Northumberland and the Borders. The foundations for this were laid by the need for more volunteers for the Flodden work, and it was achieved mainly due to the contacts and recruitment skills of Chris Burgess, John Nolan and Jenny Vaughan. As a valuable quid pro quo, TillVAS members have had many opportunities to join other archaeological projects in the area. Notable examples include: the Coquetdale Community Archaeology digs in Upper Coquetdale, first at Barrowburn recovering the remains of a thirteenth-century fulling mill, and more recently at Linbrig; the Bamburgh Research Project’s work at Bradford Kaims, a waterlogged Mesolithic to Iron Age site, featuring Bronze Age burnt mounds; the Peregrini project work, including digs on the Heugh at Lindisfarne, which recovered foundations likely to be those of a pre-Conquest church; digs in 2018 and 2019 by the Bunkle and Preston History Group, with a loan of TillVAS equipment, looking for the lost village of Bunkle in Berwickshire; the conservation of the old Lennel Kirk near Coldstream; and the excavation of the twelfth century palace of the Archbishop of Glasgow at Ancrum.


TALKS Monthly meetings with guest speakers have been held in Crookham Village Hall. At first there was some difficulty persuading speakers to come, as we were unknown, but soon speakers from both sides of the Border were happy to give talks, summaries of which were submitted to the local press. A few of the more outstanding speakers have been: Richard Annis on the discovery at Palace Green in Durham of the remains of Scottish soldiers captured after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650; Clive Waddington on the rescue dig at the Mesolithic site at Low Hauxley, in the face of erosion by the North Sea; Brian Moffat on Medieval Medicine at Soutra Aisle in Midlothian; and Kristian Pedersen on Vikings in the North Atlantic. Annual lectures named after King James IV of Scotland began in 2013 with “The Search for Richard III” by Dr. Richard Buckley, leader of the team who found the king’s remains beneath the Greyfriars Car Park in Leicester. This lecture was a major coup, attended by an audience of 150 people in Coldstream Community Centre, burnishing TillVAS’s crossborder credentials. More recently, the 2018 James IV lecture was given by Dr. Alex Hildred on “The Mary Rose”.

The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 put a stop to talks in village halls. After a month or two, we became aware of other societies, bigger and better resourced than TillVAS, planning to put their talks on-line, and we began to explore the possibility of doing this too. Having established that it was technically and financially viable, and that speakers were willing to adapt to the new format, we used a membership survey to check that members would welcome it. The webinars began last October with a King James IV lecture on Doggerland provided by Wessex Archaeology, who also handled the technical side. We then continued under our own steam, master-minded by Heather Waldron. It is 7 too soon yet to decide whether talks in Crookham Village Hall could and should resume in September. Whatever the format, we have speakers lined up.


VISITS Over the last 10 years, visits have been made to excavation sites at Bamburgh Castle, Barrow Burn in the Coquet Valley, Lindisfarne and most recently to Ancrum where remains of the twelfth century Bishop's Palace once more saw the light of day, and where we had previously enjoyed a guided tour of the village. TillVAS were delighted to be able to visit Pallinsburn House, Marchmont House and Monteviot House, not to mention Ford Castle, and an organised visit to “Old Newcastle” with John Nolan was a great success. We were also privileged to enjoy a tour round the exterior and interior of Barmoor Castle with John. He had undertaken a detailed building survey for the owner, so we could have had no better guide. We are exploring the possibility in the coming autumn of a visit to Traquair House, whose owner and archivist gave us an excellent talk in March.


WALKS Walks have been infrequent, but popular. Jim Herbert led an evening walk round the Edwardian and Elizabethan walls of Berwick in the summer of 2012. A series of New Year’s Day walks started when Chris Burgess and his dogs, Mortimer and Myrtle, led us to Goats Crag and Routin Lynn in 2013; and in subsequent years in the College Valley. John Nolan guided a New Year walk around Old Bewick and the abandoned farmstead of Blawearie; and also a summer walk in the Breamish valley. We are currently planning some local walks during the next few months as, hopefully, we emerge from Covid. The first walk at least should be announced in the May Newsletter.


MEDIAEVAL MEAL This was new and ambitious venture for TillVAS, master-minded and led by “Head Chef” Val Keating, and much enjoyed by those lucky enough to attend. Held in Crookham Village Hall, four courses each comprising several dishes catering for both vegetarians 8 and carnivores were based on recipes taken from the 14th century Forme of Cury, the earliest surviving cook book in the English language. FORD FORGE TillVAS has recently acquired new premises at Ford Forge, part of the Heatherslaw Heritage Hub, on the east bank of the Till opposite Heatherslaw Mill and adjacent to the Heatherslaw Light Railway station. They comprise much of the first floor of a building used mainly for the purposes of various rural industries for more than two centuries. That said, there is evidence that the larger of the two rooms we now occupy was used for about a century as a Baptist chapel. In addition to storing TillVAS equipment, we can use these premises as a workshop and exhibition space. This new home is spurring further research into the building’s past history, the industrial activities on the banks of the Till at this location and links in to work already done on the surrounding area, including Etal Moor, where there are many old coal shafts and deserted farms and cottages.


LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE After Heather Pentland stood down in 2014, TillVAS has been chaired by Antony Chessell, Colin Wakeling, and currently Ray Clarke. In 2017 Lord Joicey agreed to become our Patron and takes a keen interest in our work. The rest of the Committee has also changed but TillVAS is still thriving, with the monthly meetings having capacity audiences until the outbreak of Covid-19 caused the cancellation of all indoor events. From October 2020, the talks have resumed via Zoom and are well-attended. Like all local societies, TillVAS’s normal activities have suffered a major interruption from Covid. The last unprecedented year has not been easy and now we have to plan to continue in the post-Covid world the journey that began in 2011. One of the consequences of Covid is likely to be difficulty in obtaining funding for professionally-led digs. Some changes may have to be made, but they need not be for the worse. We shall not stop digging, but may not be able to do as much as in our first ten years. With the help and support of our members and friends, we need to find new sources of funds, new things to do and new ways of doing them. TillVAS has come a long way, supported throughout by archaeologists: Chris Burgess, our President; Richard Carlton; John Nolan and Jenny Vaughan and by estate owners, principally Lord Joicey and Mr and Mrs George Farr. We've learned new skills; experienced the highs of exciting finds and the disappointments of empty test pits and trenches; visited some wonderful houses and walked over some of the most beautiful countryside in England. Most important of all are the friends and contacts made, from all walks of life, but all fascinated by the tantalising glimpses we find of the history y and archaeology of the Till Valley and the Eastern Borderlands

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Upcoming Webinars




Wednesday 2nd June at 7.30 pm Webinar via Zoom Greg Finch will speak on the Dukesfield Smelters and Carriers Project, discovering the heritage of the Dukesfield Arches and lead carriers' routes between Blaydon and the lead mines of Allendale and Weardale in the North Pennine


Northumberland Archives



Border Archaeological Society


Monday 7th June at 7.30 pm via Zoom Dr. Rob Collins: “The Genesis of Northumbria”.




North Northumberland Genealogy Group




The Society has an extensive collection of documents and photographs held in its secure archives. These are invaluable for members wishing to study the local history of the area or wishing to gather information for e.g. the  Village Atlas Project. Please click on the tag above to see the catalogues. Anyone wishing to access the archives should contact the Society's Archivist, Julia Day.

Please click on the Latest Newsletter page to see information for the current month.


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