TillVAS Till Valley Archaeological Society
TillVAS             Till Valley Archaeological Society

Reports on Events

Members Night


Our final meeting of 2017 took the form of a Members’ Night. Three members volunteered to give a short talk on a topic of particular interest to them. This not only proved enjoyable to the rest of us but informative in a more specialist area.

Allan Colman opened the session with his talk on Deserted Medieval Villages of North Northumberland. He outlined the usual plan of a medieval village with its church, forge, green, common grazing land, mill, manor etc and continued to give explanations why they became deserted. During the 15th -19th centuries the Little Ice Age, although producing average temperatures of only 2 degrees less than average, had a strong influence on people’s decisions to move away from more isolated and remote settlements. Combine this with frequent Border raids, outbreaks of plague, crop failures, natural disasters such as floods, and it was easy to see why people found greater security and prosperity in more populated districts.

Reminding us that the Black Death of 1348 killed 1/3 to ½ of the population which was so much smaller at that time anyway, Allan gave some details of life such as the origin of rhymes such as Ring-a-ring of roses and the custom of wearing masks to prevent infection. Living conditions for most people were appalling by today’s standards with smoke-congested hovels and rats commonplace.

Remains of some of these deserted villages can be spotted by the survival of humps and bumps in the landscape, ruined stone bastles and holloways on routes used regularly in the past. Humbleton, Middleton, Paston and Ancroft are good examples.


This was followed by a talk from Clive Hallam-Baker on the forthcoming Project Carham 10-18 to 2018. The Battle of Carham is certainly not as well known as the nearby Battle of Flodden. It is not known exactly when or where it took place although our speaker had his own views. The Project will be on an ambitious scale and already has strong support. There will be a website, use of social media, A Visitor Centre (on a small scale!), educational resources for schools, talks for the public and a Battlefield Trail. We heard how the battle was reputed to have been preceded by a comet, that there was a line of battle shields in position, axes and short spears were used and that it was of short duration. The prospect of a battle  re-enactment was inviting to those of us who enjoy such spectacles as was that of a grand march through Bamburgh. Note 7-8 July 2018 in your diary now!

The evening was wound up by a presentation on Football- Mayan style by Mike Keating who had recently visited places in Central America where this had taken place. It was invented about three thousand years ago, was the reserve of the aristocracy and had elements of human sacrifice and decapitation. We did wonder if a practical demo would be involved with members of the audience splitting into teams but this proved impractical in the confines of Crookham Village Hall although the heat from the new wood burner threatened to rival temperatures prevalent in Mayan society! Our speaker explained how all Mayan temples appeared to contain a games court of a common design and built of stone. The game could be fierce and boisterous and it was common to wear protection on the eyes and knees. The ball was solid rubber and was not allowed to touch the ground. Players lay on the ground and attempted to hit the ball with their hips.  Amazingly Mike had discovered some archive film of the game which he showed us. Scoring seemed obscure and the game could last for weeks!


Three very different topics from our own members proved a very interesting evening. We feel sure there are more members with their own knowledge and expertise and hope they will come forward and share this with us next year.

Our membership has now reached 118 within a few years. If you are interested in history and archaeology please come along to our next talk which will be on Wednesday 3 January at 7.30pm in Crookham Village Hall when local farmer David Lockie will be talking about Ford Westfield Farm in the 19th century with excerpts from a diary written by John Black, resident there in 1863. Visitors are welcome.


James IV Memorial Lecture 2017


The TillVAS James IV Memorial Lecture was held at Etal Village Hall on Sunday 8th October and given by Jordan Evans, previously a guide at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh and now attached to the Royal Household.   The title of the lecture most appropriately was  “Mary, Queen of Scots”, as she was of course, the granddaughter of James IV who died at the ill-fated Battle of Flodden in 1513.   


Mary was described as a most controversial monarch, a romantic Princess and a Catholic martyr who spent 19 years of her life in captivity.  Born in 1542 she was sent to France where in 1558 she was married to the Francoise, the heir to the French throne.   One year later following his death, she was left a widow and returned to Scotland as the heir to the Scottish throne, but with some opposition as she was a Catholic – “One mass is more fearful than 1000 troops”.   Despite this she was apparently doing a fairly good job until the question of an heir raised the subject of marriage and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley; grandson of Margaret, sister of Henry VII;  was chosen as Consort.    Meanwhile in England, Elizabeth’s right to be Queen was questioned as she was possibly born out of wedlock, meaning that Mary and any issue had a better claim to the English throne.


Darnley however proved to be most unsuitable for several reasons, not least the murder of Mary’s favourite, David Ritzio at Holyrood Palace in 1566 and a plot supposedly led by the Earl of Bothwell, James Hepburn, led to his death in mysterious circumstances later the same year, leaving his son, James at 8mths old, the heir to the throne.   Bothwell, previously a champion of Mary and with a good following, also appeared to have designs on the Scottish throne and attempted to persuade Mary to marry him, but following several refusals she was taken to Dunbar Castle, raped and kept there as a virtual prisoner.  Finding that she was pregnant, she finally agreed to marry Bothwell, to avoid giving birth to a bastard and losing the Crown.    This was apparently not an agreeable relationship and Mary wrote to Elizabeth, “I find his doings rude”!   


The Scottish Lords were also concerned at the obvious ambitions of Bothwell and following a battle at Carberry Hill in June 1567, Mary agrees to surrender on condition that Bothwell is allowed to return to Dunbar and eventually go into exile.   Mary is once again a prisoner and taken firstly to Edinburgh Castle and then to Loch Leven Castle where she miscarries.   There she is  persuaded to renounce the throne in favour of her baby son, who became James VI of Scotland.   Dressed as a laundry maid she eventually escapes, raises an army of about 6000 men and marches on Glasgow but the rising is crushed and Mary flees to England seeking the protection of her cousin Elizabeth, with whom she has always been on good terms.


Unfortunately the protection she sought became 18 years of imprisonment in various castles in the Midlands, as Elizabeth, persuaded by her advisors that Mary was a threat, and finally presented with details of a plot to assassinate her by Anthony Babbington, Elizabeth authorises Mary’s trial.    The alternative for Mary would have been another 10 to 20 years imprisonment. Mary appeared at her trial dressed as a martyr and said “I am a True Queen; look to your consciences and remember that the theatre of the whole world is wider than the Kingdom of England”.

This talk gave much insight into the life of Mary and was well received by the capacity audience, who responded with a number of pertinent questions.


The next TillVAS meeting is on Wednesday 1st  November at 7.30pm in Crookham Village Hall when Professor Ian Haynes will speak on the “Roman Temples at Maryport”.   All are welcome, Members FREE, Visitors £4.



 The Story of the Coco Shrub in the Americas


On Wednesday 6th  September, TillVAS welcomed Professor Maria Chester to give a talk on “Following the coca shrub throughout the Americas”. Maria has visited TillVAS in the past and is an expert on all aspects of South America.


She explained that domestication of wild plants is fundamental for food and therefore we need knowledge of wild plants and particularly where they can be found. Coca grows in harsh conditions and can grow well in altitudes up to 2,000 meters above sea level. There are 2 species of coca in South America and both are very potent.


Ancient cultures in South America used coca leaves and some of the oldest mummies found have coca leaf remains in their mouths. Many statues have also been found with a lump in the cheek indicating chewing coca, including one of a shaman with a container for coca leaves which is similar to those used by shamans today.


Today the people of South America chew coca leaves as a mild stimulant and as sustenance for working in harsh conditions. Chewing coca leaves can suppress hunger for up to 48 hrs.which aids work production – a fact exploited in the past by the Spaniards.. They are also used in fertility rituals and religious ceremonies.


Europeans were first introduced to coca in the late 15th century by the Spaniards but the full significance was not fully recognised until the 1970's. Coca leaves are full of vitamins and minerals but this is largely ignored, although some pharmaceutical studies are now beginning.


Coca-cola developed from coca leaves and kola nuts from Africa. It was allegedly first produced by Colonel John Pemberton who was wounded in the American Civil War and looked for an alternative to morphine, although it appears it was already being sold in Paris as a coca wine. Until 1905 coca leaves were still used in it's production!


Cocaine was developed in Germany about 1855 and eventually became the drug of choice in America in the 1980's. This resulted in changing the South American economy forever due to the dominance of the drug cartels and corrupt governments.


In conclusion Maria pointed out that in the Andes it is normal to use coca leaves in everyday life and the population is healthy. It is Europeans who have used the leaves to make cocaine resulting in attempts to prohibit the use not only of cocaine, but also the coca leaves.

Maria summed this up very well with the statement that “Coca is not white, it is not black, it is green”.


This was a very illuminating talk as was apparent from the many questions which followed.


The next TillVAS meeting is the annual “James IV Memorial” lecture at 2:30 on the Sunday 8th October at Etal Village Hall when Jordan Evans from the Royal Household in London will speak on “Mary Queen of Scots”.   This is a ticket event, £5, and these can be obtained by sending a cheque made payable to TillVAS and a s.a.e. to Maureen Charlton, East Flodden Cottage, Milfield, WOOLER, NE71 6JF.   Alternatively Maureen can be asked to reserve tickets to be collected at the door - email maureencharlton910@btinternet.com, or 01668 216091.



Archaeology usually raises more questions than it provides answers but this talk proved that occasionally an excavation can provide a neat and tidy answer. A large audience was privileged to hear Richard Annis talk on this subject at Crookham Village Hall. Richard began his talk on a cautionary note, explaining that it would include graphic photographs of skeletal remains. All felt brave enough to remain for the talk. Richard commented that setting eyes for the first time on a skeleton in situ is always memorable to archaeologists. Sometimes the skeleton is completely intact and easily accessible. This was not to be one of those occasions! As soon as human remains are spotted during an excavation all work must come to a halt and the 1857 Burial Act comes into force. Only after a special licence has been obtained can work resume.

The various buildings surrounding Palace Green at Durham were detailed, almost a history lesson itself, in view of the various periods and purposes they represented. They included the Cathedral, Castle, old Grammar School, the Bishop’s stables, Library, buildings cut through by Windy Gap, an ancient footway through the buildings. The area to be excavated was an overgrown enclosed piece of neglected ground, sandwiched between buildings and difficult to access. Quite a challenge..... In the late afternoon of a dull and drizzly November day, bones were spotted. This was quite unexpected as it did not adjoin the Cathedral’s burial ground.

In order to understand the historical context the speaker proceeded to lead us on a whistle-stop tour of the English Civil Wars 1642-51. It was a time of violent upheaval. Few people realise that more people died in these wars than in WW1.

After Charles l had been executed and his son  declared king, as Charles ll, in Edinburgh, Oliver Cromwell, leading the English army, was sent north to Scotland to prevent any movement of the Scots who were led by Sir David Leslie. Unfamiliar with the lie of the land and with Scottish tactics, Cromwell faced a much larger but less experienced army than his own. The confrontation took place at The Battle of Dunbar in 1650. It lasted no more than an hour with a victory for Cromwell who captured an amazing 10000 Scots prisoners on their own territory!  So many prisoners posed a problem: this was by far too many to feed, clothe and imprison. Durham and Dunbar are 120 miles apart so moving the men south would not be straightforward.  The number was reduced when he asked the people of Dunbar to take in wounded and dying soldiers who would not be capable of marching. He may also have released some on condition they surrendered their weapons and agreed not to take up arms in the future. 9000 prisoners marched over the Border where Sir Arthur Hazelrigg took over command.

By all accounts these 9000 were in very poor shape. More and more died as they marched south to Durham. Stopping overnight at Morpeth, desperately hungry, they resorted to eating cabbages, leaves and roots which poisoned their bodies and further weakened them. On arrival at Newcastle they were held in St Nicholas’s Parish Church before being sent to Durham and held in the Cathedral, now considered merely a building and no longer a religious place. So many had died en route, many from dysentery, that only 3000 remained. In Durham they were provided with better food and accommodation. Two months after the battle only a few hundred of the original 10000 had survived and men were dying at the rate of 30 per day.

The skeletons found were in a state of disarray. There was no trace of clothing and were arranged in a disorderly manner. Without exception all the prisoners were male, mainly aged 13 to 25. One third had rickets, many had scurvy, sinusitis, teeth damaged by previous illness or possibly through occupations or by smoking. Their bones had been gnawed by rats after death. Only 13 of the 28 bodies had teeth which could be analysed for geographical origin. Of these 5 were originally from Scotland, another 5 from either Scotland or Northern England and 3 from outside Britain. Their bodies indicated their lives had been spent in poverty. Radio carbon dating proved these men had died between 1625 and 1660. It was a short jump to reach the conclusion that they were indeed the bodies of the lost Scottish prisoners of war from the Battle of Dunbar.

Some of the prisoners had been sent as labourers and weavers to other parts of the country. Some were sent to work in the salt pans at South Shields, some to Cambridge to drain the fens and yet others to France and even Barbados. Possibly the most fortunate were those transported to Virginia and New England as indentured servants. 120 left these shores in the Unity for a voyage to Boston and to that country’s  1st Ironworks where they worked as tree-fellers, eventually earning their freedom. The speaker was fortunate to visit that area as part of his research where he was shown the cellar hole of the first dwelling constructed by former prisoners, who by then were marrying and raising families.

 So concluded a fascinating talk on a subject unfamiliar to many of us. Next time you visit Durham; have a coffee in the new cafe built over the burial ground. Admire its recently-installed plaque and new glass roof and think of those men whose bodies had lain undisturbed for over 300 years!


An excellent website with detailed information on this historical event is www.scottishprisonersofwar.com


Valerie Glass


TillVAS – visit to Norham Castle.

 Flodden awakened.

Saturday 6th  May  saw a group of TillVAS members meet with John Nolan at Norham Castle at the request of Dr. Glenn Foard, who gave our James IV Memorial Lecture in October 2016, and is interested in continuing investigations into the Battle of Flodden.  The purpose of the visit was to try to identify any signs of cannon ball damage on the remaining walls of the castle to establish the trajectory of shot and the possible location/type of cannon used.

It was a pleasant afternoon and we set off in various directions with binoculars, and copies of plans to record any possible damage.   There was in fact, considering the size of the castle, very little to find on the inside, because the walls in 15thc were very high, but there is one very distinct mark (like a sunburst) on a stone high up on the western corner of the keep.   There were several other “possibles” which require further inspection.   Leaving the interior, a survey of the outside also revealed a number of “probables” on the rocky foundations on the north side, which had fallen short of target.   Several other features, unconnected with the purpose of the visit attracted our attention, and a report of “carved stone balls” in the river encouraged some intrepid researchers to undertake a “scramble” down through a ravine, booby-trapped with Beech mast and brambles, down to the riverside.    The proper path, eventually found, was followed for quite a distance, but modern technology from an advance party (mobile phone suggesting that it was unsuitable for ladies – humph!) was discouraging enough for us to turn back.   John Nolan did reach the stones and photographs were taken, but there is some doubt as to their purpose or origin.

We concluded the day with a visit to St. Cuthbert’s Church at Norham, built in 1165 at the same time as the castle and on the same site as the first church, built about AD870.   St. Aiden crossed the Tweed at this point and the church was one of the resting places of St. Cuthbert’s coffin on the long journey to Durham following the destruction of Lindisfarne.   The church contains an effigy of an unknown Crusader found during rebuilding and a memorial to Dr. William Gilly, Vicar of Norham from 1831 to 1855 and wrote “The Peasantry of the Borders” in 1841, in order to draw attention to the poor living conditions of agricultural labours at the time.   Well worth a personal visit, but if you can’t, try the website  which has full information.


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Press report for the recent  talk on Bradforn Kaims by Dr Richard Tipping

Dr. Richard Tipping, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science at Stirling University was welcomed at Crookham Village Hall on Wednesday 3rd May.   His subject was “People and Peat - Prehistory at Bradford Kaims” near Bamburgh.   Work here is with kind permission of the farmer, James Brown and sponsored by English Heritage, the British Academy and the Society of Antiquaries in London.   It has been ongoing since 2011, when Dr. Kristian Pedersen, a specialist in microliths excavated several test pits and found a great quantity of the tiny, worked flints usually inserted into shafts to make tools, indicating human occupation in prehistory.   The skeleton of an aurochs was also found.

Dr. Tipping explained how the present landscape was formed by the melting ice cap,the ridges of sand and gravel (kaims) with the prominent very sharp edges and steep sides  remaining.   When the glaziers began to retreat, huge blocks of ice were left behind which melted gradually and formed “kettle holes” which became the lakes and climate changes  caused the formation of peat and marshland.   

More excavations were carried out during the following years by Paul Gething and Tom Gardener but little further evidence came to light.   As much of the area was extremely wet,  excavations became impossible for a time, but obtaining samples from the peat by means of cores was still an option.  A drier period in 2013 allowed further work and in Trench 6, a timber platform, 1.6 m. x 9m. was uncovered.   This was found to have been laid down in several phases, obviously maintained over a long period.    

Cores taken from various places (Dr. Tipping had with him the “coring tool”) showed that climate changes occurred several times:  marl at the bottom of the lakes was up to 2 metres deep – dry, warm period;  and pollen grains indicated the presence of oak and elm woodland and other vegetation.   During this time the “hunter-gatherers” seem to have settled down and became “farmers”, but there is no evidence of clearing the woodland and the fields must have been very small and close to the watersides.    A short distance away from the lake, Dr. Pederson also found a hearth made of flat local stone but there was no evidence of charcoal.  A process known as archeomagnetism has, however, been able to date samples of the surrounding burnt clay to 4468 to 3995BC.   Adjacent to these there are several “burnt mounds” of stone, associated with troughs/pits to hold water.     A  wooden paddle?  possibly used to remove hot stones was found lying on top of another platform, but it was in too poor a state for preservation.   The exact purpose of these has not yet been ascertained, but suggestions include a sauna or sweat lodge , Indian fashion.   A pit underneath one of the mounds has been dated to early Bronze age and a round-wood platform overlying a mound is possibly early Neolithic.

Further coring and other work on this project is continuing - this year from 26th June to 7th July, every day and weekends and volunteers are welcome.   Contact can be made via the website:  bamburghresearchproject.co.uk which also gives much more information, or to Dr. Tipping via Maureen at tillvas.com

There is still considerable work to be done at Bradford Kaims and many questions to be answered.   Hopefully this year’s work will shed more light on a fascinating site leading to another visit by Dr. Tipping.

The next and last meeting until September is on Wednesday 7th June and entitled “Durham and Dunbar – identifying the soldiers at Palace Green”:  to be given by Richard Annis, Senior Archaeologist at Durham University.   All Welcome – Members free, visitors £4 – 7.30pm at Crookham Village Hall.   As parking is limited, please allow a little extra time.

                                          Ford Castle Visit


Members of TillVAS enjoyed a visit to Ford Castle on Friday 21st April. We would like to thank Lord Joicey for a most enjoyable visit.


Thanks also to Colin Wakeling for organising the trip, Heather Pentland and her team who provided tea and cakes afterwards and Maureen Charlton for the excellent photos


The imposing but purely decorative entrance to Ford Castle
Lord Joicey addressing the group at the entrance with the south front of the entrance in the background.
Archaeologist David Reed described the hidden medieval archaeology and the missing second tower.
Enjoying tea and cakes at St Michaels and All Angels

Report by Maureen Charlton on the April 2017 Lecture

The TillVAS Annual General Meeting was held in Crookham Village Hall on Wednesday 5th April with a good attendance.   A special welcome was given to the President Dr. Chris Burgess who was on hand to direct proceedings preceding the election of the 2017/18 Committee.


The business of the evening was followed by a talk by Richard Carlton,  Director of Archaeological Services, who wears many hats.   The topic this evening was “Excavations during 2016” and he led his audience through many events, beginning with the “Routeways to Flodden”.   This was initiated in the first instance by Chris Burgess and was an attempt to find evidence of the route(s) of the Scottish army from Edinburgh to Flodden Field.   The only factual piece being a report of the purchase of an ox to replace a beast accidently killed by a runaway cannon in Dalkeith!   Muster points used in 1496/97 during forays into England were investigated, but none produced any tangible evidence although there were a few items of medieval pottery.  Several of the possible sites examined were found to be of a much later date, but a few, including Windy Winshiels could have been in existence at this time and later modified  for use up to the 19th c.     The condition of “roads” also had to be taken into account as very few were suitable for the huge contingent of the army and accompanying wagon-train (numbers can only be estimated) and many of the route-ways would have been merely tracks.  River crossings also had to be taken into considered as few of the existing bridges would have been capable of carrying the weight of the big guns and ox teams.    Many crossings would have been achieved by the use of fords, which had to have suitable access/egress – not always available.    Work with Peter Ryder on ecclesiastical sites found several with grave slabs which could be associated with Flodden, ie. at Coldingham Priory, the remains of medieval chapels at Abbey St. Bathans and the still elusive St. Ethelreda’s Chapel near Yetholm which would have been on possible routes back to Scotland for survivors of the battle.  There is still much work to be done, for example at Wark Castle where geophysics has shown the existence of a large cemetery not yet dated.


Another local excavation was at the 12thc  Lennel Kirk, near Coldstream, where the building was in desperate need of repair and conservation.   Work began in August 2016 when the interior of the building was cleared of an accumulation of rubble from collapsed walls and years of neglect, and during the next few months the outlines and doorways of the original building began to appear, including an unusual ‘grave-slab?’ incorporated into the north wall.   Conservation work has now begun and should be complete by the early summer.


Also in 2016, the Peregrini Lindisfarne Community Archaeology Project began on Holy Island and adjacent coastline, with various walks, research into historic buildings and archaeological excavations.   Among sites investigated were the limeworkers cottages at Cocklawburn, the Kennedy Lime Kilns and The Heugh, where substantial stone walls seem to confirm work done by Brian Hope-Taylor in 1962.   Further work will take place in 2017 at St.Mary’s Church and outlying buildings, the Bastle House in St. Cuthbert’s Square, and at Common Slap near Fenham Moor.   The main excavation this year, from 12th June to 2nd July will focus on The Heugh and there will be other events in June.   If you are interested in taking part in this project, please contact:- lindisfarne@archaeologicalpractice.co.uk or check out the website.

Report by Valerie Glass on the March 2017 Lecture

It was a pleasure to welcome back Dr Chris Bowles, Archaeologist for Scottish Borders Council, to give a packed audience an update on investigations at Coldingham Priory. Chris began his talk by explaining that the site is almost unknown outside the area.

Before the priory existed, there was an earlier building.  It was allegedly  sited on what is now called Kirk-Hill, but is commonly called the Brugh (a corruption of Sax. burh- fort), on the headland at present day St. Abbs, separated from the world by a deep trench and a high palisade. This religious house lasted for about 40 years and was a double monastery of both monks and nuns governed by Æbbe. Aebbe was born about 615 into the royal house of Northumbria and was the sister of Oswald and Oswiu. Cuthbert is believed to have spent time there.  The abbey was accidentally burnt down  between 685 and 700 after Aebbe’s death but was rebuilt. It was later attacked by Vikings and there is a legend that the abbess and sisters mutilated themselves by cutting off their noses and lips rather than give themselves up. Once more the monastery was destroyed.  It was deserted by the time Bede wrote about it in the early 8th century.


 There remains very little to see at Kirk Hill today. It probably moved to its present location around 1100 by which time it was reformed as a community of nuns only and a great cult around Aebbe had developed.  Alcock carried out excavations in 1980 and we know that there was a medieval chapel visible from the sea on the Kirk Hill site. Recent finds include cross bases. The chapel may well have been a pilgrimage chapel associated with the cult of St Aebbe. On the whole, however, the archaeological evidence is weak and even the geo-physical survey may have interpreted features which are natural as man-made.


The original name of Coldingham was Colud-ingas-ham. Bede referred to it as Colud’s Fort. King Edgar of Scotland granted land at Coldingham to the church of Durham in 1098 and a church was built shortly afterwards.  Part of this building is still used as the parish church of Coldingham. In medieval times it was said that Coldingham had more guest houses than Berwick which was at that time the 2nd largest post in Scotland. The lands belonging to the monastery expanded to include a large part of Berwickshire. Several graves and skeletons have been found around the arch. A surviving wall of the original building is known as Edgar’s Wa’ although this may refer instead to a well, more likely to be considered scared than a stone wall. The priory is also the site of St Michael’s Knowe, the location of a shrine to St Michael. A legend tells of a man from Coldingham who, after experiencing visions or  dreams, built a chapel at Kirk Hill which became the source of miracles. It is also said that when the relics of St Aebbe were discovered they were taken from Kirk Hill to the new priory. Berwick Naturalists Society excavated in the 1960’s and 70’s and there are good photographic records from this. More recently carved stones have been found in storage as well as burials under Edgar’s Walls.


Since the 1990’s some of the field has been sold and is no longer accessible. Friends of Coldingham Priory has been set up and extensive metal-detecting taken place. Finds include a buckle, spoon and a musket ball but these are post-medieval. Long kist burials have been found along Fishers Brae.


Finally, our speaker stated  the case for Coldingham being the site of the original monastery and that it could be a multi-phase Christian site, even pre-Northumbrian. Perhaps the well-known story of St Cuthbert and the otters relates to Coldingham Sands. A Border Heritage Festival dig is planned for September 2017.

We enjoyed hearing about a place comparatively unfamiliar to many of us and appetites were whetted for a possible visit in the future. Chris Bowles provided a great deal of information for us to absorb and there is certainly more to come. 

Report by Colin Wakeling on the February 2017 Lecture

Dr. David Petts, Senior Lecturer in the Archaeology Department at Durham University whetted the appetites of TillVAS members and their guests as he described the progress of excavations at Binchester Roman Fort, north of Bishop Auckland in County Durham.


The fort covered an area nearly three times greater than the much better known one at Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall.  Located by a crossing point of the River Wear, it lay on Dere Street, the important Roman highway running north from York.  It also controlled access routes into the north Pennines where the Romans exploited silver and lead deposits.  The site was occupied for more than three centuries from AD 80 onwards.


Its existence had been known for some while.  Coins, known as Binchester pennies, had been found since the sixteenth century, but early finds were kept by the local landowners, one of whom even recycled Roman altars as pit props.  Much of the cut stone from the site would have been taken for local building.  Systematic excavation and recording, from 2009 onwards, has involved a large cast of ‘diggers’, including local volunteers, students from Stanford University, USA, Time Team and Durham University Archaeology Department.


Roman military engineers met their match at Binchester.  Subsidence plagued barrack blocks, occupied at some stages by Spanish horsemen.  Stabling areas were carefully drained.  Heather for roofing material was harvested when it was at its bushiest.   The main bath house, itself subject to considerable adaptation over time, still retained walls some two metres high because rising external land levels had shielded them.  When it had eventually fallen out of use the baths were used as a rubbish tip, which itself revealed fascinating insights into butchery methods used on redundant draught animals.


The fort had a large civilian settlement around it.  Evidence of metal and jet working has been found.  Personal ornaments included rings from the Christian era.  Members were given a preview of the results of the latest excavation of the mausolea in the burial area.

Amber ring from Binchester.

Photo copyright © D. Petts

Report by Maureen Charlton on the January 2017 Lecture

On Wednesday 4th January 2017, TillVAS welcomed David Constantine who gave his talk on “Zoological Material in Anglo Saxon Society”.  David is a Researcher and Practitioner in Medieval Archaeology, specialising in the early Medieval, Viking and Saxon periods.


He explained that bones can give a wealth of information; not only as a source of food but the lives of the creatures themselves, their use after death and environmental changes.   The timescale of the ruin of a building can be estimated via the ‘floor’ of small mammal bones, deposited in the pellets of the particular species of owl which roosted and died there, until the roof timbers rotted and finally collapsed.   The midden of a Roman Fort contained bones of mainly beef,  the remains from the kitchens;  but the drains from the latrines contained small lamb bones and chicken wing-bones,  snacks eaten while ‘taking a comfort break’!    Animal bones can show healed trauma after accidents, or when a domestic animal has been treated following injury, also damage caused by disease such as arthritis which apart from the initial trauma, can cause secondary problems due to additional stress on unaffected  joints.  Sheep were kept mainly for wool and milk and would be retained until they died a natural death, as were horses and cattle,  the lack of butcher’s marks a clue.   In medieval times bones were a valuable commodity, bone-workers and tanneries were often found close to butcher’s establishments, the strong long bones of the forelegs and the hoofs being especially useful.   During the Saxon period there were no ‘standards’ and all shapes and sizes of tool can be found.   Pins, used for fastening clothing can range from 2” to 4”, the longer ones, often curved, following the natural shape of the bone.    Clay moulds have been found for mass production of pins, probably in silver.  Nearer the coast where whale bone was plentiful, it is so oily it would be burned instead of wood, and some items which have no apparent use would have been symbolic or simply for adornment eg. pendants, crosses and belt buckles.   Amongst the exhibits, one item of whalebone, oblong shaped and decorated, has no apparent use and is most likely to be for decoration only.   David emphasised that there is no evidence whatsoever, to indicate that this was a Viking “ironing board” as has often been suggested.


Animal bone cannot exceed its normal size but fish can continue to grow bone, depending on the food supply, so that age can be estimated by the number of ‘rings’ as in the growth of a tree.   Large fish bones from the Mesolithic in Western Scotland suggested that quite long sea voyages in “cockleshell” boats were undertaken to obtain big fish.  Salmon fish bones have been found at York and modern techniques can now tell the quality of the river water, the time of year the fish was caught, whether it was moving up or down stream and as these were from big fish, did they perhaps use different sizes of nets, to leave the younger fish to breed?


Finds of reindeer antler, bones and claws of bears, wolves and even lynx are occasionally found in contexts outside their accepted date range suggesting that these animals existed in this country much longer than previously thought.  From the Viking period, a drain was found containing a great quantity of cat bones, suggesting cat farms, purely for the fur.    Found at Chillingham, there is a set of antlers from the Giant Elk, evidence of considerable climate change.   Many tools can be made of both antler and bone and are especially associated with weaving.


Antler was even more valuable, being three or four times stronger than bone but fallow and roe are unsuitable, the best being from red deer.   The majority of combs of various types found on Orkney were made of antler, and earlier Pictish combs were made from Viking antler.   Combs were found at Bamburgh, but there was no evidence of a workshop, possibly traded from the Baltic region.   “St. Cuthbert’s Comb” is made from elephant ivory!   For full strength (only surpassed by metal) antlers must be shed, not cut, suggesting trade with hunters and game-keepers.   Many antler tools have been discovered on prehistoric sites such as Stonehenge giving an indication of the strength of the antler.   Cow and sheep horn is comparatively small and degrades quickly, but when heated becomes very plastic and after soaking can be flattened, making it useful for small window panes and lanterns, sometimes referred to as ‘lanthorns’.


This was a most interesting and informative talk and the examples of bones and associated artefacts were keenly examined with many questions.

Report by Antony Chessell on the New Year’s Day Walk, 2017

Sun, snow, hail, tussocks, mud and bogs—some not necessarily welcome but nevertheless all part of the experience for twelve stalwart TillVAS members and friends who met at Ingram Haugh for the 2017 New Year’s Day Walk. Led by Hon. Member, John Nolan, an initial steady climb up the field margins on the flanks of Reaveley Hill enabled us to see ancient cultivation terraces that were highly visible on distant and nearby hills. The continuing use of these terraces until fairly recent times was mentioned and the fact that the traditional curved turning ends of the plough lines disappeared by using steam-powered, straight drag lines across the field. The sun shone brilliantly but our boots often sank into gloop, particularly where farm traffic and animals had concentrated at field gates.

            Above the highest fence line, we entered an open, prehistoric and medieval landscape of oatmeal-coloured tussock grass stretching into the distance as we reached the summit trig. point. The view may well not have changed much since the land was inhabited by our prehistoric forebears although perhaps then there was stunted tree growth across these upland slopes. There would certainly have been more signs of human occupation and activity until comparatively times and we were reminded of this as we reached the isolated, ruined Reaveley Hill Cottage with a solitary pine standing guard at the rear. The two-roomed, front cottage, built c. 1860, is still roofed although the open, staring windows, the wrecked interior with broken range and fireplace and the desolate, lean-to scullery provide a poignant reminder of a way of life which was finally ended by illness in 1951. It was also the scene of a tragedy in 1968 when a young shepherd ended his life there. The old house and byre stand in ruins to the rear and we reflected on the labour needed to quarry the stones from nearby workings and to construct these once-solid buildings in such difficult terrain. The outline of vegetable gardens could still be made out on the south-facing slopes below the cottage.

            All across this landscape are dotted the shapes of many Bronze-Age burials mounds that have never been excavated and which probably still contain their stone cists and pottery beakers. This evidence was in our minds as we stepped, and sometimes stumbled, our way across the tussocks and in between these mounds to come across a mysteriously-positioned stretch of stone wall whose origins or reason for existence are unknown but which might have once marked an important boundary of some kind. Also seen were the ruins of White Well Walls, perhaps once a shepherd’s cottage although also spoken of as having been a school. And then on down to the deserted medieval village of Hartside, where the passing of time does not make it easy to distinguish the twelve or so rectangular and probably single-chambered buildings amongst the grass and bracken. This was a reminder that, although appearing isolated now, the village would have been on a well-used routeway leading to the head of the valley and linking with tracks across the hills into Scotland.

            John had planned a dinner stop at a solidly-built sheepfold or stell but this involved a bit of uphill work passing an old boundary stone on the way with an old-fashioned F on one side and an R on the other. This had been placed following a boundary dispute, probably in the 18th century. The stell provided a welcome stop and a chance to examine an adjoining, impressive stone circle with an ‘altar’ at its centre. At the end of our break, there were snow flurries and the sun disappeared behind the clouds. To the north, the sky turned black with encroaching grey and white arcs associated with bands of snow or hail. The party pressed on to the east through even more tussocks and bog contouring around the northern flank of Reaveley Hill followed by a short, steep  pull to gain the reward of what was described to us as a nucleated Iron Age or Romano-British settlement of many houses surrounded by an embankment and ditch; the overgrown embankment of stone and turf could still be seen clearly under the lowering sky. We then took what John described as a ‘boomerang’ route to take us back past more settlement remains to Reaveley Hill Cottage and downhill by the route we had taken in the morning.

            On the way back, we were treated to stinging hail showers in between bright sunshine and a skyscape patterned with every shade between black and white culminating in a brightly-coloured complete rainbow. We returned to the car park feeling that we had accomplished something special and feeling grateful to John for his illuminating ‘lectures on the hoof’. A good start to 2017.


Report by Maureen Charlton on the December 2016 lecture

For the last meeting of 2016, TillVAS enjoyed a joint presentation by Fiona Glover and Jenny Douglas on the history of the Eyemouth Medieval Fort.   Although the location of the fort was well known, very little was known of its history before work was carried out by David Caldwell in 1988.   It was a “wandering” notice board, (sometimes here, sometimes there) which instigated the recent work and encouraged Fiona and Jenny to try to discover more about the fort – who actually built it and why.


The story  began in 1542 with the birth of Mary, the daughter of James V, the nephew of Henry VIII, and after a break-down in diplomatic relations between Scotland and England in 1543, English troops together with Spanish and Irish mercenaries invaded the Borders under the Duke of Somerset, causing great destruction, a period known as the “Rough Wooing”.   Existing records show that the first Italian style fort was built about 1548 with only one pointed bastion, but by 1551 following the Treaty of Boulogne, everything had settled down and the fort was demolished.   As the situation between Scotland and England worsened, in 1557 the French troops began to rebuild the fort, making it much larger than previously with a bastion at each end and a gun battery.   Vast quantities of supplies were sent to the Eyemouth, mostly by sea from Leith and Musselburgh and records show that there could have been up to 900 French soldiers in the area.   By 1558 when Elizabeth 1st succeeded to the throne, this fort was deemed enough of a threat to England that the town of Berwick was ordered to be fortified at great expense, and much of this work still exists today.


Following the establishment of the “Friends of the Fort” in conjunction with the Community Town Council, access to the site was of prime importance and a great grass cutting of the area took place.   Local residents and the staff of “Jus-Roll” from Berwick assisted, so that the ground plan of the Fort became visible for the first time in many years and a detailed historical report on the Fort was obtained.   The University of St. Andrews became involved to advise and oversee the work.   A hexacopter was used for aerial views and geo-physics was carried out to determine what remained below the surface and with the measurements then available, the overall size of the Fort became apparent.   The schoolchildren became very much involved, learning to work with the computer and model in 3D Catching, also an art competition to show life in the Fort and they produced some most accomplished needlework for a wall panel.


An application was made for a grant was made to set up a Virtual Reality booth in the Eyemouth Museum which was successful, and on the “Opening Day” the Border Reivers held a “16thc Re-enactment  Day” when the firing of “muskets” cause much confusion amongst the gulls and townsfolk alike!   The “Friends” were invited to give a presentation at Holyrood, became involved with Historic Scotland (now the Historic Environment Scotland) and a letter of commendation was received from the RCAHMS.


A new information board has now been erected, set on a stone foundation, showing the fort as it would have been in the 16thc and which can no longer go “walk-about”!


Report by Maureen Charlton on the final event of the Flodden 500 Project

Etal Village Hall was the venue on Saturday 3rd December for the final meeting of those involved in the Flodden 500 Project.   There were many familiar faces from the last four years, all listening attentively to the experts who have worked on the project since the beginning.   Missing was the familiar face of Chris Burgess, the original Director of the project who was unable to be there.


We heard from Richard Carlton who continued the programme of excavations at various site across the border, and in conjunction with David Caldwell traced the Scottish “Routes to Flodden”.   John Nolan described the excavation work on Flodden Hill and the surrounding area and Jenny Vaughan displayed and explained some of the various finds - the culmination of many hours of work, both cleaning and cataloguing – with a very little help? from inexperienced volunteers!


Linda Bankier from Berwick Record Office described her work with documentary research and the recruitment of the volunteers for the transcription of these, many of which had not previously been seen or associated with Flodden and a veritable ‘goldmine’ of information.


After a sumptuous buffet lunch provided by Richard and Victoria Baker from the Lavender Tearooms across the road, we were asked amongst other things, what we had most enjoyed during the project and what we considered remained to be done.  High on the lists were the identification of the actual site of the battle and the finding and recording of the burial pits, which although reported more than once during the last 200 years, had never been actually identified.   This was one of the original objectives – to find, record and register these as “War Graves”.   The Scottish army who fought at Flodden did so out of loyalty to their Clan, their King and national pride.   They died only five miles from their homeland and to misquote from “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke, 1887-1918 – “There is a corner in another land which is forever Scotland”.


Many friends were made during the Flodden 500 Project from all over Northumberland and  the Borders resulting in a network of contacts willing to help in many different ways to promote the history of this northern county which many southerners consider to be in Scotland anyway!

Report by Colin Wakeling on the November 2016 lecture

Dr Clive Waddington of Archaeological Research Services kept a packed audience of Till Valley Archaeological Society members and guests enthralled as he outlined the significance of recent excavations at a remarkable site at Low Hauxley on the Northumberland Coast south of Amble.


With the area behind the site substantially affected by open cast mining, and the coast itself under constant threat of erosion, investigation of the remaining ridge of land is a race against time.  More than 30 years ago a walker on the beach noticed a stone cist or (burial box) peeping out of the sand dunes.  This was followed by a sporadic archaeological investigation.  In 2009 Dr Waddington was alerted to the extent of erosion by Jim Nesbitt, a local amateur archaeologist.  Recent work on the site has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Northumberland Wildlife Trust, British Coal, Time Team and local schools.


Until the end of the Sixth Millennium BC Britain was joined to mainland Europe.  A large basin, rather than a sea, bordered the Northumberland coast, but with a number of offshore islands and a large expanse of land, Doggerland, communication with Denmark and northern Europe was relatively easy.  Could the presence of ochre mastic and scraping tools suggest the use of sealskin boats, similar to those still in use in Alaska?  A Labrador ice sheet collapse and a massive underwater movement off the coast of Norway (the Storegga Slide) created a tsunami effect, raising sea levels which made Britain an island.


The site at Low Hauxley had been regularly or seasonally occupied over a lengthy period, from the Mesolithic to the Middle Ages.  Successive layers of wind-blown sand had helped conserve settlement strata.   From early settlers’ reliance on hunting, farming developed and then came a familiarity with metal.  Several thousand flints, both recycled and ‘new’, have been recovered, burial cairns excavated and evidence of habitation identified.  Although well to the north of Hadrian’s Wall, remains point to a significant period of stability and regular trade with the Roman world.  The burial cairns may also have been used to site beacons to warn passing ships away from the Bondi Carr rocks.


On the beach animal and human footprints were found on top of layers of peat (once a forest floor) which were exposed when overlying sand was blown off.  Shafts leading down to coal measures were originally considered as medieval, but disillusionment set in when an old postcard revealed striking miners from Amble had been doing a little mining on their own account in 1912!


The new Low Hauxley Visitor Centre will contain information on the finds which have been deposited in the Great North Museum in Newcastle.  Clive’s book on the ‘dig’, ‘Rescued from the Sea’ is available from the Northumberland Wildlife Trust.  Meantime volunteer walkers are regularly monitoring the site. In twenty years the dunes will have gone and with them a significant piece of our history.


Report by Valerie Glass on the James IV Memorial Lecture held on 9th October 2016 in Coldstream Community Centre

Over 80 people attended the fourth James IV Memorial Lecture at Coldstream  Community  Centre  to hear Glenn Foard speak on The Battle of Bosworth 1485 – a Battlefield Rediscovered. This battle was fought between Henry  Tudor  representing  the House of Lancaster  and Richard III of the House of York.  Glenn Foard is the archaeologist who headed the extensive survey by The Battlefields  Trust  from 2005-9 to discover the actual site of the battle . For many years the site was believed by historians to be at the foot of Ambion Hill and in 1974 the Battle of Bosworth Heritage Centre was built there. Subsequently, however, there was a fierce debate about whether  this designation was accurate.

Glenn detailed the research which took place in order to establish the true site. Ancient maps dating from 1576 showing the assumed site were consulted to determine whether the site had “moved”. The first proper history of the battle was not written until 300 years later in 1788 by Hutton. By the present century numerous alternative sites were being mooted, some up to 6 km distant from the assumed spot.

Work began when funding became available in order to carry out the research. The Battle of Towton in 1461 was a starting point. Large numbers of finds, especially arrowheads, had been found there. Bosworth was viewed as a straightforward case. It proved to be more complex and has changed our perspective on mediaeval battlefields.

Topographical clues included the fact that Richard III was known to have been killed at Sandyford and that a marsh existed between the two sides. A ballad had been written with further references. Field names were studied, indicating several  referring to marsh and bog, and a soil survey took place. A study of the fields showed that a marsh could not have existed on Ambion Hill. Local tradition held that Henry VII was crowned on Crown Hill in Stoke Golding but it was significant that before the battle the same hill had been called differently.

The speaker praised the value of local farmers’ knowledge. The tale of a combine lost in a peat bog led Glenn to undertake systematic metal detecting over a period of 3 years. The breakthrough came when lead shot was found in 2009. A single lead ball 30 mm. near the edge of the survey plus another larger one were significant finds with eventually 40 of them found. A gilt object was found where, according to the ballad, the Duke of Norfolk was killed- near a windmill. Burgundian coins and a gold ring were other finds.

It was at this point that documents were re-examined. Roman and other major mediaeval roads proved to be important features in other battles of the Wars of the Roses. Did such a road figure at a stream crossing where Richard was killed? Could Richard’s horse have been pushed back into the marsh and unable to extricate itself? These theories were proved to be more than feasible.

The point was forcibly made in this talk that “accurate location DOES matter if you want to better understand the battle”. The type of terrain can have a significant influence upon the action of the battle. The speaker believed round shot to be the key to investigating 16c battlefields. Other points made stressed that there was no time or money allocated to search for bodies in the Bosworth  survey. A Visitors’ Centre should never be built upon a battlefield as it destroys the landscape. Fortunately the centre erected in recent years now finds itself 2 miles away from the rediscovered site so that is not a problem. This enlightening and stimulating lecture concluded that without metal detecting the true battlefield site of Bosworth would never have been found.


Chris Burgess introduced the speaker and Lord Joicey gave a vote of thanks. 

Report by Maureen Charlton on the September 2016 lecture

Dr. David Caldwell, President of the Antiquaries of Scotland gave the first talk of the new season entitled  “Archaeology of the Medieval Highlands and Islands” to a good company of TillVAS members and friends on Wednesday 5th September.


In 13thc. under Alexander III, Scotland was a kingdom divided by the “Highland Line”, the lowlands primarily occupied by the wealthy chieftains, while to the west, were the “wild and lawless” clans.   Prior to the Treaty of Perth in 1266, the Western Isles were controlled by various Norse/Gaelic rulers who owed their allegiance to the Kings of Norway rather than Scotland. It was during this time that the Western Highlands and Islands became “The Kingdom of the Isles” by Charter from King Harald of Norway.   Following the Battle of Largs,  the Scots began to push westwards and eventually the islands became integrated into Scotland.  The extent of the kingdom is unclear but it certainly included Anglesey and the Isle of Man and was ruled by wealthy chieftains on the mainland.  The Isle of Man still retains the “Tynwald”, the Parliament of the island and many of the place names in the Western Isles reflect the Norse connection.   The European influence can also be seen in the traditional form of the castles with a hall, causeway, keep and bailey.   As the Scots moved west, they began to build defensive castles, eg. Rothsay and Dunstaffnage, with arrowslits and towers, but many of these cannot be dated or no longer exist.


Islay in particular is comparable with the Isle of Man with a possible seat of power at Finlaggan, for Council Meetings and feasting.   Grave slabs on the island show images of Norse warriors and the ships (although compressed to fit the space) are similar to the familiar Viking longships, reflecting a Scandinavian society.   A recent discovery on Skye is a medieval dockyard, complete with entry canal, dry dock, buildings and a tower.   The Dioscese of the Isles gave allegiance to the Archbishop of Nidaros in Trondheim, and drystone churches with graveyards became the norm as at Mingary, Ardnamurchan and Aros on Mull.  The houses of the people are there also, hidden in the sand dunes around the coastline and on Islay there is evidence of lead mining prior to 1229. Midden deposits at these sites show pottery from France and fruit waste, the results of trade.  There was also money available, evidenced in the 1100C. Iona Psalter and the silver-gilt Iona Nunnery Hoard, all probably made by local craftsmen and of course, the famed Lewis Chessmen, made of walrus ivory, which some say must have been “lost” by traders from abroad, but are more likely to have been the property of a local chieftain and left where they were found, all illustrating the culture and quality of life at the time.


The 14th and 15thc. show an increase in wealth and culture, The Dunvegan Cup has been dated to 1493 and Queen Mary’s Harp is from the same era.   There are more sculptures;  art and manuscripts have survived.   On Islay, a James III groat was found, the palace was in ruins and there was evidence of farming communities.   The “Galley” castles around the coasts on Mull, Barra, Jura and Islay had easy sea access for trade, and roads and more houses were appearing.  By the 16thc. during the reign of James VI, there is also evidence of military planning which heralded the beginning of the modern world and in 1580 citizenship was offered to the Celts and Scotland was no longer divided.


Report by Valerie Glass on a summer talk and visit, July 2016



Thirty members of Till Valley Archaeological Society enjoyed this event on one of the hottest summer evenings this year. Steve Pullan from Natural England started the evening off with an interesting talk on George and Matthew Culley who had an enormous influence on agriculture in Northumberland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Born near Darlington, they were sent by their far-sighted farmer father  to be educated in the latest farming skills. They arrived in Northumberland and chose Fenton, near Wooler,  as their first farm to rent. Their main aim was to increase productivity and they did this by bringing more land under cultivation and managing it more efficiently. They spent all they could afford on improving the land by soil enrichment, systematic drainage, introducing new crops and a new rotation system.  A radical new feature was their introduction of water meadows.

These were already used naturally in other parts of the country prone to flooding. Where the Culley brothers stood out was in introducing them to new areas such as North Northumberland. The process involved constructing new drainage systems near a source of water and engineering methods of providing a constant flow of richly-manure water over fields. This produced an early crop of grass at key times, resulting in a higher yield of lambs. It also resulted in the production of more better-quality wool. All this was married with the introduction of the Border Leicester sheep which they bred and became highly sought after.

In a sense this water meadow system was the “high-tech” of its time and now there is concrete evidence of where they applied this method in North Northumberland. This has been obtained by study of documentation – both brothers were prolific correspondents and wrote books on their farming methods- and also by aerial photographs and examination of fields where the remains of their drainage systems survive. Chillingham, Way to Wooler and Crookham Eastfield are amongst these.  

No doubt the introduction of water meadows made a significant contribution to the fame and wealth of the brothers. They went on to rent several more farms such as Crookham Eastfield, Thornington, Red House etc. Eventually they were able to purchase their own farms such as Akeld , Humbleton  and Easington Grange. They travelled extensively, seeking out yet more new techniques in farming.  

The phenomenon of water meadows did not last long in this part of the world, however. It was very labour-intensive and contributed to higher charges for renting farms because of an increased yield. By the 1840’s large quantities of guano was being imported for fertilising and water meadows faded away.

After the talk Tillvas members  were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Crookham Eastfield Farm where owner Andrew Joicey showed the group around. Original pipe work  from the water meadows was brought out for  our examination before  a tour of the old farm buildings around a still partly-cobbled courtyard. Changes in farming practice mean most of these buildings are now redundant. Members of the Historic Buildings Group of the Crookham and Branxton Village Atlas Project could be seen controlling their eagerness to investigate them further ! Cameras were  heard clicking away at  what could be original features of  sturdy stone barns, some of a huge size.

We are very grateful to Steve Pullan and Andrew Joicey for providing this insight into farming practice which revolutionised the path taken by agriculture in our area.

Report by Colin Wakeling on the June 2016 lecture

Adrian Cox from Historic Environment Scotland delivered a fast moving account of the history and archaeology of East Lothian’s Tantallon Castle to a large and appreciative audience of TillVAS members and guests.


Spectacularly sited on a cliff-fringed peninsular with stunning views across the North Sea to the Bass Rock, the Castle’s main feature is a massive curtain wall which effectively sealed off a large inner close.  Its defences were so successfully adapted to changes in warfare, including the advent of artillery, that both James IV and his son, James V, despite substantial siege trains, were unable to overcome them.  Even in a more ruinous state in the mid-17th Century, Cromwell’s forces took several days to force surrender on a handful of moss troopers.


Conservation and discovery on the site is on-going.  Lime mortar is replacing cement pointing.  Old maps and geophysical surveys have been used to identify features which might reward further investigation.  Minimally intrusive small trench excavations have been undertaken, accompanied by an active programme of hands-on community engagement.


An outer ditch yielded substantial traces of General Monck’s siege ditch, including turfs laid to prevent it becoming slippery.  It is a text book feature created by exponents of siege warfare who wrote the book.


The outer close, now featuring only a splendid 1000 bird doocot, was once occupied by a series of ancillary buildings, which were levelled in the 16th Century to site artillery positions protecting the Castle’s flanks.


The inner close revealed the remains of a 17th Century garden, probably created by the Castle’s last inhabitants, making their Spartan existence more enjoyable.


The lively discussion which followed revealed the depth of interest created by the presentation.

Report by Maureen Charlton on the May 2016 lecture

The TillVAS May lecture was given by Dr. Tony Barrow, a Marine Historian, and entitled “Whaling in the North East”.    The whalers from the North East sailed mainly from ports between Whitby and Berwick from 1752 to about 1837 and went north to the whaling grounds in the Greenland Sea, the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay.   They called in at Lerwick on Shetland and Stromness on Orkney to take on provisions and crew for what would be about a seven month voyage, from March to late October and comprised about 20% of the UK whaling fleet.   This left five months for further trading eg. to the Baltic for timber, so that the fleet was not idle.


This was a shore-based industry as the “Right whale” (Baleen whale) with their exceptionally thick blubber could not be rendered down aboard and had to be divided into suitable sized chunks for transport back to shore.  There was a big oil yard at Peterhead on the north east coast of Scotland.  This was in contrast to the American whalers who hunted the Sperm whale in the southern seas and could process the carcass on board to return home with barrels of oil but only after what could be a three year voyage.   The “Right” whales never developed a fear of man and were therefore easy prey for the crews of small boats with hand-held harpoons - the crew consisting of six men including a harpooner and steersman.

The British harpooners had learned their trade from the Dutch and Danish who had been whaling in the North Atlantic for some years.  


There is a complete set of records relating to “The Disko Bay” which sailed out of Newcastle and a harpooner was paid £2/10/- for a voyage in 1786, plus 6/- per ton “oil money” and

half a guinea (11/6d) “fish money” for every whale struck. On this voyage eight whales were struck which provided 118 tons of oil.   The following year only half this amount was collected.    A Muster Roll for the “Sarah” built at North Shields in 1782 held in the National Archives, shows that sailors also paid 6d. per voyage to Greenwich Hospitals and were also members of the Merchant Seaman Trade Unions.   5000 from the North East were employed in British whaling ports and whalers also had protection from the marauding “press gangs”.  


British ship owners were paid £2/ton to build and equip whalers for the Arctic whaling grounds several of which are known to have been built on the Tyne, including the “Lord Gambia”, “The Cove” at South Shields, “The Lady Jane” at North Shields and the “Phoenix” and “Camden” at Whitby, which were the last two wooden whalers to be built in the North East.   Palmers Yard at Jarrow built three iron hulled whalers between 1857 and 1859 but they were quite unsuited to the Arctic and two sank on their maiden voyages.    Whale-oil  was used extensively for street lamps in Newcastle, Wooler, in miner’s lamps, churches and lighthouses; a number of which were being built at this time.


George Harrison, a whaling Captain from Hull married a girl from Berwick in 1826.   He was twice trapped in ice while Captain of the “Norfolk” suffering severe frostbite and later became Harbourmaster at Blyth.   John Patterson, born in North Shields went to sea aged nine, and continued for another fifty years.   After being trapped by ice he saved his crew by dragging the small boats overland until they were rescued.   William Scoresby and his father were the most successful whaling captains out of Whitby.   He attended Edinburgh University and became the first Arctic Scientist, recording meteorological data, flora and the ecology of the whale.


By 1820/30 the whaling industry had begun to decline partly due to over-fishing;  40 ships were wrecked in 4 years and there were severe losses amongst the crews due to scurvy - despite the fact the preventatives were available, there was no requirement they should be carried aboard ship.   Coal gas had also become more available and was a cheaper alternative.


Excellent images were shown of a number of paintings of whalers - some by Carmichael – at Burnmouth, Berwick;  Staithes near Whitby; at Robin Hood’s Bay and Cullercoats and concluded a most informative and fascinating lecture which was greatly appreciated by the audience.


Press Report by Valerie Glass on the April 2016 lecture

There was an excellent attendance for this year’s AGM and over 50 people attended the talk afterwards in the comfort of Crookham Village Hall’s roaring fire. President Chris Burgess was warmly welcomed back after his recent illness.  Although the society is only 5 years old it achieved a membership of 124 last year and already we have several new members this year. Tillvas was set up as a result of the early digs at Flodden when local volunteers were keen to develop their knowledge and skills by means of ongoing practical activities and a programme of lectures. It is a cross-border organisation having members on both side of the border and its interests comprising  the catchment area of the River Till and the eastern Border lands.

John Nolan delivered an informative update on Flodden Hill work. The excavations forming part of the current Flodden Project began in 2009 and some of the early trenches were reopened last year for samples to be taken and further investigation. The samples are currently being carbon-dated. Each year has yielded new discoveries although these have often been not what was anticipated. For example a new trench in 2015 delivered at some depth 2 codd bottles marked Border Breweries Berwick which was operating late 19th/early 20th century. Obviously the ground had been disturbed in the early 20th century for some purpose.

Trench 5 on the eastern rampart of the inner enclosure on Flodden Hill revealed 3 curious stone features, possibly artificial fox-earths. Another trench nearby was riddled with animal burrows. Despite all the work carried out it has still not proved possible to date the inner enclosure.


Richard Carlton dealt with the other sites involved in the Project which included places the Scots Army had visited before the battle. Norham Castle had already provided strong evidence of some form of industry, most likely lead working and the production of ordnance. It has been speculated that this area could have been the outer ward of the castle. Compacted cobbling was also found as was a hollow-way leading to house platforms from 17th/18th centuries.

Results from Ladykirk were disappointing- features were found to be the remains of 19/20 century farm buildings. Mediaeval pottery was found on a nearby site.

At Wark a surprisingly large wall was uncovered between the site of the castle and that of St Giles Chapel.

The Flodden Project is now turning its attention to “Routes to Flodden”, the passage of the Scots army as it assembled  from various parts of the country. Further work will focus on the Staw Road from West Newton to Yetholm and locating the site of St Ethelreda’s Chapel.

Richard also spoke about the testpits dug by members at Crookham and Branxton.

The audience greatly appreciated these reminders of work carried out in previous years which surely must have whet the appetite for this year’s excavations.

Report by Colin Wakeling on the March 2016 lecture

Members and guests filled Crookham Village Hall last Wednesday to hear Kristian Pedersen from the University of Edinburgh discuss Norse exploration of the North Atlantic and settlement in the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland and America.  He cited fascinating archaeological evidence to support our understanding of these migrations.


Although the attack on Lindisfarne in 793 has attracted much attention, there is evidence of a Viking presence on the Shetland Islands a century or so earlier.  It is possible that Norse adventurers were first invited to settle by a Pictish king to counter the influence of the kings of Dalriada, at a time when coastal lands had been depopulated following a prolonged period of stormy weather.  From the Scottish islands, the Norse Vikings extended their presence into the Irish Sea and across the North Atlantic.


The majority of these seafarers came originally from the Hordaland area around Bergen and the Norwegian coastal fjords, where agriculture was at best marginal.  Landless young men satisfied their wanderlust and sought opportunity to the west.  The Scottish islands offered agricultural land at least as good as that of their homeland.  However, unlike the Danes, who had established a centralised kingdom, which also sponsored overseas raids, Norwegian society remained relatively fragmented and controlled by local warlords.


They used trading ships (knarr) which could carry up to two tons of cargo albeit open to the elements, rather than warships.  Whilst the Vikings covered large areas, theirs was not a mass migration.  The settlers, generally, did not possess great wealth or power. Their society was far from equal, composed largely of tenant farmers, although powerful figures, but not commanding royal personages, did emerge.  Their migrations coincided with the Warm Medieval Period which would have enhanced agricultural prospects in marginal lands. 


In the early years of the 9th Century, Norse settlers began arriving in the Faroe (Sheep) Islands, possibly following earlier trade routes.  Many came from Norse bases in Scotland.  Their presence probably upset any Celtic monks who had already arrived in the Islands, seeking a life of quiet contemplation.  The Faroes were a difficult area to occupy, but the Norse introduced livestock and established stone farm houses, very similar to Highland Black Houses, and protected by turf cladding.  Present settlements in the Islands are often located on top of the earlier ones.


After the Faroes, settlers, again including many from Scotland often with their Scottish partners, moved on to Iceland which was uninhabited and offered a more productive landscape.  Remains of a larger house, the likely scene of ritual animal sacrifice, have been found in northern Iceland, but in 1000 AD the Island became Christian by democratic vote.  After initial success, agriculture suffered a sharp drop in productivity. 


Eric the Red, exiled from Iceland, made his way to Greenland, which we assume he knew of already and established a presence in the south and west of the island.  He then invited other farmers to create viable settlements.  Farming remained pastoral, but arid summers necessitated irrigation systems to sustain it.  A lot of materials had to be imported in exchange for trade goods. By the 15th Century, and coinciding with worsening climate conditions, these settlements had largely been abandoned.


Eric the Red’s son Leif Erikson certainly reached America where there is archaeological evidence of a Norse interaction with the Inuit from the 10th / 11th Centuries, and a settlement in Newfoundland at L’Anse aux Meadows which seems to have lasted for some 50 years before being abandoned.


There remain many gaps in our knowledge of these significant population movements and new evidence is likely to emerge to change our perceptions.  Lively questioning from the audience testified to the interest the subject had aroused.


Press Report by Valerie Glass on the February 2016 lecture

There was an excellent turnout for a talk by Tillvas member Lady Caroline Douglas-Home, MBE on the Dial Knowe excavations at the Hirsel during the 1970s and 80s. It all began when a ploughman at the Hirsel spotted unusual stones when ploughing the north end of a field. The possibility of a religious site arose and the University of Durham Archaeology Department became involved. It was known that a stone coffin had previously been found on the site but details were not known. The Statistical Account of the area for 1841 also referred to great quantities of human bones having been found in earlier times. The scene was set for further investigations!


During the next few years from 1978 Professor Rosemary Cramp led various excavations and our speaker was fortunate to be able to join the team as an amateur.  A team of 20 students undertook the excavations. The last excavation took place in 1984, since when an Archaeology Room has been set up at the Hirsel. There was certainly plenty to investigate with the final report amounting to over 350 pages. Balloons and light aircraft were used to photograph the site. Finds from several different periods were discovered. A palisade-type trench from Neolithic times was located, as well as pottery, flints, animal bones, hearths, a fragmented pot, door frame, roof tiles, medieval glass, over a thousand nails and several  human skeletons. Quite a list!


Well over 260 graves existed. Earlier skeletons were found in shorts cists and covered by stone slabs and later ones in dug graves. Orientation of the graves varied as did the position of the skeletons.  One skeleton had scallop shells indicating a possible pilgrim to Santiago di Compostella. Interesting grave goods included a buckle and a fastening pin. Analysis of bones revealed evidence of disease and injury including arthritis, TB and spina bifida in some cases. Many of the skeletons were of children and young people. There was even a mass grave but the reason for this has not been established. There were also some empty graves. Head and foot-stones were evident. Other finds included tweezers, glass bead, bangle, and a board for playing Nine Men’s Morris, numerous spurs, horseshoes, arrowheads, bell and a bell-casting pit.


A perimeter wall of the burial ground was located and a church/chapel next to the burial ground had started as a small structure about 4.5metres square. It was extended many times and the walls strengthened. The original structure has been dated to the middle of the 12th century. From the 15th century it was used for secular purposes and a small domestic structure was built over it. Further study of archives indicates that the chapel had belonged to Coldingham Priory.


Fortunately the site has now been scheduled to prevent further ploughing. However, our speaker assured us that there was plenty more to discover there. One could almost see members of the audience fantasising about wielding a trowel there in years to come! We very much enjoyed this talk, particularly fascinating because of its proximity to us.

Press Report by Maureen Charlton on the January 2016 Lecture

Despite the efforts of the River Till to cause disruption on Wednesday 6th January, the Till Valley Archaeological Society was able to begin 2016 with a talk by Dr. Chris Bowles, Scottish Borders Council Archaeology Officer.


The title of the talk “What we remember, what we forget” was thought provoking in itself.   It was defined and probably well understood by those present, how objects, sites, and monuments invoke memories and feelings from the past, which during conversations can be sustained.   This may not be factual as traumatic past events can sometimes be twisted by the memory so that the imagination takes over, leading to romanticism.   Ruins in particular inspire mystery especially when left in their natural state.   Their original use has probably been long forgotten, but subsequent events at the same place continue to prompt the memory.


Dr.Bowles mentioned Durrington Law, visible for miles around the Borders area today and now only a great vantage point, but beneath the heather there are a number of undated burial mounds, obviously a place revered in times past.   Three iron-age forts overlook Durrington Law, which by medieval times was a forgotten site, but in 18th/19thc.  a cross was erected on Middle Law, unrecorded and also now forgotten.


In 6th/7thc.  all villages were part of Christian parishes centred on churches, but in 12thc. King David 1st of Scotland built many new churches, on top of the originals .   A map of Ancrum in 1770 shows a church, now non-existent, but known as the “Bishops Palace”, the seat of the ground contains a “hog-back” grave stone and at nearby Harestanes there is a huge stone circle, overgrown and completely forgotten.


Dere Street, the Roman Road which crosses the Border line near Pennymuir follows a line of undisturbed burial cairns and small stone circles along the ridge.   These were obviously respected by the Romans who quarried the stone required for the road and there is no history of any problems with the local tribes.   The settlement on Trimontium has no parallel  in Scotland and was also undisturbed, as the Roman Camp at Newstead was built at the foot of the hill and only a signal station has been identified on the summit.   The need for the security of hill forts declined with the birth of Christianity and culture change with a more pacifist population allowed the use of the more fertile lower ground.


Dr.Bowles reminded us that Roxburgh Castle possibly contains prehistoric remains.   The 12thc.  castle and township became the capital of Scotland, but all was  demolished in 1540.   The remains can be clearly seen from Floors Castle across the River Tweed, the seat of the present Duke of Roxburgh  – a reminder of times past?   The remains of Hume Castle can also be seen from Manderston House.   The 18th/19thc.  saw the building of ‘follies’  and many medieval houses were extended to incorporate the old within the new.   Sir Walter Scott is well-known for his romantic works based on the houses and history of the Borders, encouraging archaeologists to investigate further.


Reuse of ancient stones was common practise and they have been found built into the walls of early churches, field walls etc.  The ‘Yarrow Stone’, a 6thc. monolith commemorating the burial place of two princes with an early Christian inscription in Latin, was used as a capstone and laid face-down over a grave containing bones.   Was it just a big handy stone or was it laid face down for a reason?   The cross-base presently in the garden of Queen Mary’s House in Jedburgh was moved several times from one place to another before finding a permanent home – lost, then found again.   A cross from Coldingham Abbey was found in a church cold store in 1970 – found, and then forgotten about.   Old Melrose and St. Cuthbert’s Chapel, a monastery founded soon after Lindisfarne and once as important as Iona, Whithorn and Portmahomack, eventually lost the pilgrim’s chapel and the monastery became a tower house.   Only the chapel mound remains with three undated graves.   Occasionally churches are ‘moved’ for a variety of reasons and the churchyard becomes disused as at Crailing and Lennel, where amongst the undergrowth the old gravestones still lean.


After Flodden in 1513 the March Wardens more or less cleared the Borders;  monasteries, churches and villages were laid waste, leading to a return of general unrest.  By 19thc.  the wanton “digging-up” of remains was a popular exercise, so that much of history was lost, but present day archaeology/technology, together with historic records and memories is gradually “putting some flesh back on the bones”.


Perhaps when we visit such sites in future, we simply do some homework, ignore the rather basic ‘Information Boards’ and let our senses take over.


John Nolan's Walk Notes and Research Notes for the New Year's Day Walk 2016 from Old Bewick to Blawearie and reproduced here with his kind permission.

Copyright © John Nolan 2016


John's notes have been set out in full because of the detailed and interesting history and archaeology that attaches to every site that we visited and which he decribed to us at strategic points along the route. This was TillVAS in Antiquarian Society mode.


Old Bewick.


'Bewick' in OE means 'Bee-farm' – and bees are still kept on the moor north of Blawearie!


Earliest recorded lord of the manor is post-Conquest - Morrel of Bamburgh, Sherrif of Northumberland. He took part on Mowbray's abortive rebellion and went into exile. His estate, including the manor of Old Bewick, was granted to the prior and convent of Tynemouth. Became a member of the 'Liberty' of Tynemouth.


Holy Trinity church stands ½ mile NE. Present building is 12thC (belonged to Tynemouth monastery) with 14C alts. and restored 1866-7. Why so far away from settlement?  Some A/S masonry in north wall, incl. remains of a cross, implying existence of a pre-Conquest church, but no obvious signs of settlement immediately around it. However there are cropmarks of a settlement near New Bewick to SW - excavated evidence is Anglo-Saxon, including a grubenhaus.


1253 – Henry III grants right to hold a market on thursdays, so implies some importance. Market cross was found near the church in 1874, north of the memorial to J.C.Langlands.


1292 – valued for taxation at £30.15.6d. Including a flock of 340 sheep.(Fraser 1968, 103)


1296 - Lay Subsidy Roll.  Sixteen households taxable, for £17.9.2 ½d. Included Thomas the clerk, Alexander the clerk, William the sergeant, Nicholas the reeve, Richard the shepherd, John and Adam Littel, and Agnes Hund. (ibid.)


1332  - Thomas Tilli and John son of Thomas of Bewick farmed the mills of Bewick. The later mill dam/pond is visible on right of track from the hamlet to Blawearie. Mill 'lead' or leat runs east along the boundary of the improved fields.


There was a tower – certainly existing c.1514 when captained by Gilbert Collingwood, and was a 'hold' for a garrison of 40.


1539 - 'the stone tower - kept entirely for the defence of the inhabitants in time of war'. 1541 - part of the roof had been covered in lead but out off repair.


1550 - Bowes and Ellerker's survey: 'At Bewyke ys a good tower...late  belonginge to the subpressed monastery of Tynemouthe. A parte therof is newley cov'ed wth lead & the other pte ys not well cov'ed nor in good repa'cons'. Recommeded to be kept in repair. Could hold a garrison of 50.


1584 - a ruin, recommended for repair. Mentioned again 1608 and 1614; last occupied c.1676. Road later built over its foundations.


1595 – Old Bewick could muster 13 tenants under Gawen Collingwood for defence.


1625 - Great Bewick and New Bewick granted by Crown (owner after the Dissolution) to private owner - Ramsey, who became Earl of Holderness. Included in the manor were properties in Wooperton, East Lilburn, and Eglingham. The Mill was worth 66/8d. Total value £56.7.0. Estate descended, through marriage, to William Delaval.


1665 - Book of Rates: Bewick Old Town,  Mr. William Delaval of Dissington, £114. Ownership came into dispute and passed to Ralph Williamson who repaired the chapel


1680 – Bounds of the manor ridden, attended by 19 men form Old Bewick and two from Bewick mill.


1730s – manor passed to the Harveys, then Willam Sadlier Bruere in 1795, finally coming to the Cresswell Bakers in 1827.


Hanging Crag As long as Hanging Crag shall stand

There'll aye be a Ha' on Bewick land

(Tomlinson 1888, 501)


Homestead. Romano-British Iron Age. Nearby is an low-banked enclosure – roughly square with a central division. Date unknown, possibly medieval or post medieval stock enclosure?


Climb the hill to gate in wall, go through, noting source of the mill lead by fenceline – go on to


Cairn. Engulfed in heather, but showing kerbstones. Probably BA.


Cross the valley of the Stock Burn, noting


Grey Mare's Crag – glacial erratic balanced on an outcrop; Corbie Crags

and vestiges of scrub woodland, prob. similar to the prehistoric landscape, based on pollen evidence fro m excavation at Blawearie cairn..


Harehope Burn – a bi-vallate fort, unexcavated. Outer ditch and bank not really concentric- perhaps enclosing and 'annexe'? Presumably late BA/IA.



Name – origin unknown though usually taken to be descriptive. Weary has been interpreted as in the sense of troublesome as in 'weary Carlisle'. Prefix Bla- is Old Norse for dark or Blar – blue. There are other Blawearies – one at Kirkbean, Dumfriesshire, another near Tranent, a farm at Huntly (Ab.) and a remote cottage near Roberton.


At least 4 phases of main building range:-

1 - the house, at the east end of the range. Possibly 18C. ?+ 'porch'.

2 - a byre/stable added on the west end

3 - a further byre abutting the west end of 2

4 - enclosed yard to the south of 3.


1828 - Old Bewick belongs to WS Bruere Esq. No mention of Blawearie (Parson & White). Nor in Pigot 1829, Wheallan 1855.


c.1860 - OS 1st ed. (surveyed 1856) where it is called 'Blowweary' and builds 1 – 3 seem to be in existence.


1865 - Earliest mention is Maclauchlan where it is called a shepherd's house. Mr. Rogerson was at one time a shepherd at Blawearie, and was present at Canon Greenwell's excavation of 'Barrow CC' (the cairn to the west).


1886 - T.F. Bulmer's Directory (p.825) has Wm Hogg, Farmer, Old Bewick and Blaw Weary, and Robert Rogerson, Shepherd, Blaw Weary.


“At Blawearie is a sheep-pen of considerable size whose walls are of solid rock some 15 feet high. On the top of this huge wall is the large and well-cultivated garden of the obliging occupier. Natural arches, winding steps, tool house and garden seats are all cut out of the solid rock.” (Rev. E.J. Wilson 1886. Eglingham, pp.7-9).


1888 - Blaw-weary, a sheperd's house, romantically perched on an outcrop of sandstone, with a sheep pen enclosed by walls of rock, fifteen feet high, and a garden, approached by winding steps cut out of the solid rock. (Tomlinson).


1893 -  Berwickshire Naturalists Club visit: 'At last Blawearie itself was reached. As the heat was now very great, the fine crystal well was a welcome sight, and more so were the draughts of milk which the shepherd's wife so kindly dealt out. The view from here was charming, and all the strangers were delighted with the romantic situation of the rock-bound sheep-folds, and the well-kept garden of Mr. Rogerson.' (BNC 1893, 211).


1898 - “To the north-west (of Old Bewick) in an exposed position on a pile of rocks in the moorland, is a shepherd's house, its name Blow Weary, being very suggestive of its position”. (E.Bogg  Two Thousand Miles of Wandering in The Border Country, Lakeland and Ribblesdale.1898)


1922 - revision of OS3rd edition published 1925. Shows full length of building range and outshot on north-east. (6” Sheet 25)


1935 - On the moor is the small isolated farm of Blawearie...(then quotes Rev. Wilson 1886)...The rocks remain but the garden is no longer there. (VCH 14, 425)


1940s – Military use of area. .303 cases around the farm, some rifle, some Bren gun. One cartridge case dated 1941. Bullet pocks on a rock near the rock garden.


1941 - The Rogerson collection: finds by members of the Rogerson family 'in the neighbourhood of Hebburn Moor and Old Bewick during the last 80 years, where the Rogerson family were until recently farming'. Mr. Rogerson was at one time shepherd at Blawearie...he later moved to Quarry House...and two of his sons farmed  at Quarry House and Barramoor. Collection included a Borrowdale axe and a finely-polished fragment in green silurian greywacke from the southern uplands of scotland, both found at Blawearie.

(AA4, 19, 104-116 and AA 9, 40 -42).


1946 - ?Paul Brown's visit. Mr and Mrs Faill, farmers.Surely this was pre-war.


 2013 The 19th century house was the home of the Rogersons, and is thought to have been abandoned before the second worls war. Names of the familiy's children are in the log books of the former school at Old Bewick. (Journal 27/72013)



Late Neo-Early BA, first dug by Canon Greenwell in August 1865 - finds incl pottery food vessels, flint knives and a jet necklace of 30 disc beads and 2 barrel beads. Re-excavated by Beckensall 1984-8, now largely a reconstruction. Four-five phases of use. Kerb enclosed rubble over a central burial pit and 5 secondary cists. About 10 satellite cairns. Paleoenvironmental remains give no evidence for arable farming nearby, suggest a part wooded part open landscape with birch, hazel and alder.


Cross moor towards improved pasture (not access land). Note earth and stone dyke, pposs. Medieval/post-med boundary.


Old Bewick.

Ascend the hill – passing 2 cup-and-ring marked rocks. 'What appear to be natural grooves and hollows in association with artificial carvings occur at OB main rock' (AA16, 45). Deep hollow-way along edge of escarpmant may be connected with millstone quarrying.


Unusual spectacle-shaped complex, defended on S by steep scarp of Fell Sandstone series. Presumably late BA-IA. Possibly one represents and extension, whole then enclosed by a 3rd rampart and ditch. Some distance beyond to north and NE  are traces of a 4th  line which appears to be related. Entrances on SE. Faint traces of possible huts in the western one, shallow scoops near escarpment edge are millstone extraction hollows. Small excavation in 1934. (Jobey, 43).


Pillboxes – part of the Alnwick-Wooler stop line, following the high ground and facing south and east. (Rudd,  Tyne & Tweed). One facing N has been adapted – original loops for two heavy machine-guns have been narrowed to rifle slots. Note the bullet scars on the north faces – evidence for use as military training either later in the war, or even post-war. (see also AA 9, 37 and AA 10, 128)


Point out obvious millstone extraction hollow, showing chisel marks and sinkings for pinch-bars used to lever the stone out. Example of exploitation by millstone quarrying of exposures of the Fell Sandstones, running from Kyloe Hills in arc to include Harbottle Crags to Byrness Hill in Redesdale. A number of overgrown extraction hollows on plateau above Hanging Grag and west of the forts, others inside the forts, with 2 abandoned millstones. One obvious reason for this snmall-scale extraction are the documented mills at Old Bewick. Millstone quarry on Bewick Moor in 1769 mentioned by Wallis (Vol.1, 60). Maclauchlan seems to show an extraction hollow as a hut circle. BNC (BNC 22 1912-15, 369) speculated on the origin of those in OB. (AA14, 54, 61,75).


Harehope Hill millstone quarry mentioned (AA14, 75).

Press Report by Maureen Charlton on the “JAMES IV MEMORIAL LECTURE”.


On Sunday, 11th October in Etal Village Hall, Max Adams, author, historian and archaeologist, gave the TillVAS “James IV Memorial Lecture” to a capacity audience.


By way of introduction, Max described Britain as it was in the 5thc, with a number of “kingdoms” ruled by self-styled “kings” – in the north, Goddodin, Strathclyde,  Deira and Bernicia, with Rheged to the west.  Although boundaries have changed, geographical features can still be easily identified.   Britain at that time was a brutal place of kill or be killed; the many battles, if not due to petty rivalries were for the acquisition of land and a way to reward warriors with plunder to keep a battle-force in the King’s pocket.   In 604, Aethelfrith defeated Dal Riata, the finale of a long-running war, causing that kingdom to become another tributary to Bernicia, and consolidating his position as overlord of North Britain.


Oswald Iding, born 604, eldest son of Aethelfrith, King of Bernicia and Deira, was overlord of North Britain.   His wife Acha was the daughter of Aelle, King of Deira, who was deposed either by Aethelric (Oswald’s grandfather) or Aethelfrith himself.   Acha had two brothers, Edwin, the eldest, therefore became an atheling without a homeland, a free-lance warrior and of great interest to Aethelfrith, who attempted to have him killed on several occasions.   The tables turned however when in 616 Aethelfrith was killed at Bawtry in East Anglia by Raedwald, with whom Edwin had taken refuge.   Edwin therefore reclaimed the two northern kingdoms for himself, but Acha, fearing for herself and young family, fled to Dunadd, in Dal Riata for safety.


King Edwin brought Christianity to the North and he and his family were baptised by Bishop Paulinus, followed by a mass baptism in Yorkshire and at Edwin’s new palace of Yeavering in Glendale.   This is described in detail by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History and excavations by Brian Hope-Taylor in 1950/60s confirmed the existence of the “palace”.   Bede also wrote “There was a great peace in Britain wherever the dominion of King Edwin reached….”   However, in 632, Edwin was killed in battle near present day Hatfield, along with his son, by the combined forces of Gwynedd and Mercia, led by Cadwallon and Penda, who during the following two years ravaged Bernicia and the northern kingdoms.   Edwin’s family and Paulinus were forced to flee to Kent for safety.


Oswald and his brother Oswiu had been growing up in Dal Riata where they had kin, training to be warriors, and being a sea-board kingdom, they would have become familiar with the use of boats.   They had also been tutored by the community headed by Columba on Iona, who had a great influence in the area, had been baptised and become thoroughly Irish.   It may be that the monks thought to send Oswald home to set up a “daughter house” in Northumberland at Lindisfarne.  By 632 Oswald would have become a skilled warrior and had already earned himself the nick-name “Flashing Blade”.


No doubt fully aware of the situation in his homeland, Oswald sought assistance from Dal Riata to recover his kingdom of Bernicia and it was likely that he used the Solway as the easiest route south, there obtaining horses and moving east along the Tyne Valley to where Cadwallon had set up camp near Corbridge.   Arriving at a place near to present day Heavenfield just north of Corbridge, Oswald had a vision of St. Columba and interpreted this as an omen of success.   As a result, according to Bede, a cross was set up and the whole war-band promised, after the battle, to accept the faith and be baptised.   Cadwallon was apparently ignorant of the impending clash, possibly due to local sympathies lying with Oswald.   The battle supposedly took place at Denisesburn, now identified as Devils Water near Corbridge where Cadwallon was killed.   Oswald had no difficulty regaining control of his kingdom of Bernicia, so in the following year, 635, he sent for Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona to convert Northumbria to Celtic Christianity, and established a monastery on Lindisfarne, followed by others at Melrose, Hartlepool and Coldingham.   During the following years, Oswald embarked on a capital revolution.   Funded by tribute, he began to gift lands and treasure to churches and his warriors;  cemeteries and townships appeared and trade links were established across to Ireland.


In 642, Oswald, a battle-hardened commander of repute at the height of his powers, and with a following of elite warriors, died on a battlefield somewhere near Oswestry, in a campaign against Penda of Mercia and a King of Powys.   Such was the slaughter, none of his close companions survived to retrieve his body, which “on the orders of the king who slew him” was dismembered and displayed on stakes, thereby depriving the Bernicians of the accustomed funeral rites.   Oswald was succeeded by his brother Oswiu who in 643 went back to Oswestry to bring back the body parts presumed to be those of Oswald.   Several unexplained  mystical events were associated with the area around the battlefield, including visions and healing.   Oswiu collected “arms”, which were interred at Bamburgh and a “head” was given to Lindisfarne.   A skull, reputed to be that of Oswald was found in St. Cuthbert’s coffin.  The last time this was opened by Canon Greenwell in 1899, the fragments of the skull were examined in detail, and showed clear signs that its owner had been felled by an edged weapon, leaving a huge gash across the brow.    Such was his renown, various other “pieces” of Oswald can be found in many places on the continent.   Oswiu followed in his brother’s footsteps and despite several incursions by Penda and others, survived until 670, aged 58.


Much of the history of the time was recorded by the Venerable Bede, one of the greatest of early historians, who wrote “the stability of a kingdom depended on land, warriors and defence, but most importantly, knowledge.”


As a bonus to a most successful afternoon, it was with great pleasure that we welcomed our  President, Dr. Chris Burgess, and Nevenka, “on leave” from hospital where he has been recovering after taking ill earlier this year.   He spoke for a short while, expressing his appreciation of the multitude of cards and messages of goodwill he had received during this time.   We look forward to seeing him again in the near future.


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Wed, 4th April followed by update on Mardon dig from Richard Carlton.


All nominations or volunteers for committee members and office bearers and any items for the agenda by 19th March please

The Blyth Battery Story

18th March 2.30 pm

Ferguson Hall, Belford

The Willington Wagonway. Find out what has been learned since its rediscovery in 2013. Discovery Museum, Newcastle, 23rd March, 11 - 3. Free

Thank you to everyne who supported the TillVAS Coffee Morning at


See gallery for photographs

Glendale History Society

Our next talk is on March 14th, 7.30pm, with refreshments from 7pm as usual.

Our speaker will be Dr Stephen Platten, who will give an illustrated talk on the Alnwick and Coldstream Railway.

Symposium - new light on old metal. 24th February, in the museum of scotland from 10 - 17.00. To book phone 03001236789. £40 including lunch.

We now have a grand total for our Mardon Dig Appeal. Thanks to donations and ur coffee morning you have raised a magnificent £1060.48. We would like to offer our sincere thanks for all your support.

 Newcastle University press release: Preserving rock art at the touch of a button at http://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/news/2017/11/rockartapp/. The app and project highlighted in the release about safeguarding rock art may be of interest to your broader membership

The app is downloadable free from

<< New text box >>

A new list of photographs of Branxton have been added to the archives.


See Archaeology News for information about our dig at Mardon



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, Maureen Charlton or the Assistant Archivist, Julia Day.


Please see a new section on the website—click on the appropriate tab above.  Please let us have your thoughts, in prose or in verse.


There are some important meetings of the Activity Groups scheduled over the next few months. Please click on the appropriate tag above, which will take you to the Village Atlas page and give you all the dates, times and places of the meetings.


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


Click on Reports on Events, above, for detailed accounts and press reports.


The Society operates a bookstall at all its meetings.

Items for sale include:-

1. The Society's first publication Breamish and Till: From Source to Tweed at £10 per copy and

2. Vivian Wilcock's Andrew Todd 1844-1908 ( with research input by TillVAS members) at £5 per copy.

See the Publications page for more about these books. Copies of Breamish and Till are also available in Cornhill Village Shop and the Lavender Tea Rooms and Village Shop in Etal.


There are also archaeological books and journals for sale. Net proceeds of sale go to TillVAS funds.