TillVAS Till Valley Archaeological Society
TillVAS             Till Valley Archaeological Society

Reports on Events

On 8th January, Cameron Robertson told TillVAS members and visitors the fascinating story of William Cowe and Sons, founders of the well-known shop on Bridge Street famous for Berwick Cockles.

William Cowe had started a tea and grocery business in Marygate in 1848. When he died in 1867 his wife ran the business until his children came of age. The business grew, and when the Weatherhead family decided to sell their larger premises on Bridge Street in 1886, Mrs Cowe bought it. Mr Weatherhead had been a confectioner making a speciality boiled sweet called a Berwick Cockle and the recipe was passed on with the purchase of the shop.

The business flourished, thanks partly to the shop being in prime position for visitors to Berwick. Everyone crossed by the old bridge and passed the tempting window displays showing not only groceries but tins of cockles and bags of ‘Cowes muck’ – the scraps of sweet left after the cockle shapes had been sieved. Two vending machines had to be installed close by to prevent visitors going home disappointed when the shop was shut.

The family was also very skilled in advertising, mentioning their sweets as ‘original cockles’, implying their superiority to those made by their local rivals. By about 1900 they were able to add ‘By Royal Appointment’ to their slogan thanks to Princess Mary Adelaide. While she was unlikely to have ever eaten them she was well known for being a bit short of money. It may have been beneficial to both parties to register her approval of the cockles!

The actual workshop where the cockles were made was very modest, providing work space for a master and his apprentice. When Andrew Hay, master Cockle maker, was imprisoned in Germany during the war he came home to find the workshop in a dangerous state. He made repairs and began work again. When the business up and running again it was helped back onto the map by a visit from Richard Dimbleby on ‘Down Your Way’.

Perhaps for a number of reasons cockle production ceased in 2002. The shop closed completely in 2010 and in 2013 the building was bought by ARCH. It was in a dangerous condition and had to be demolished but the frontage and other artefacts such as the original door were retained. To help understand the story of the building, the demolition was documented by photographer Cameron Robertson.  Many artefacts were found including the moulds for the cockles and photographs showed the two hooks for pulling the hot sugar mixture, one for the master and one for the apprentice, still on the wall. The history of the building was revealed in more detail with evidence of a very early thatched structure and a fireplace of the 1500s.

The audience responded warmly to this excellent talk which for many was also a walk down memory lane.



                                              Iron Age Day


Following two years of successful digging at the Iron Age enclosure on Mardon farm, TillVAS held a special event at Etal Village Hall earlier this summer. This was a completely free event, giving opportunities to share what we had learned about the Iron Age and engage the community with their local culture and heritage. Early crafts and skills were demonstrated and visitors were allowed some hands-on experience of what life might have been like for those living at Mardon. We were pleased to welcome visitors of all ages who joined in enthusiastically with the activities, displays and demonstrations offered.


Building a replica Iron Age roundhouse proved one of our most popular activities and thanks go to Jane Miller and her team of helpers and young archaeologists for a splendid demonstration of what can be achieved by willow, straw and team work.


Bread making was another popular activity and must have been successful as barely a crumb was left afterwards. Replica Iron Age artefacts were displayed by costumed re-enactors and the real finds on display were very popular.

A loom and spindles were available for visitors to try weaving and spinning. There was a good supply of charcoal and ochre to make pictures of animals around in the Iron Age and a steady queue of children made replica beads. Dressing-up outfits were available for the braver visitors, including a roman soldier or two. A special thanks go to Byr Reeds for all her hard work and Peregrini for lending their dressing up box.


Another great success was pottery making where both children and adults could make small pots using locally sourced clay. The results were very good, some even being decorated using sticks and feathers. Other dried pots, made on a pottery course earlier in the year, were fired in an adjoining field using Iron Age technology.


We were blessed with fine weather and had between 250 and 300 visitors on the day. It was gratifying that a number of people asked whether we would do it again next year.  The answer is yes, we would like to do another similar event linked to future excavation and research, but perhaps in two years time when we might be looking at a different era of history.


Many thanks go to Ford and Etal Estates, who were very supportive of our event and thanks also go to Mattia at the Black Bull who provided a simple light meal using ingredients available at the time. Lastly thanks to Richard at the Lavender tearooms for allowing us generous access to the hall to prepare for the day.


Trevor Howie 


Vikings in Scotland


Standing room only at Crookham Village Hall was narrowly avoided when Trevor Cowie spoke to members of Tillvas recently. His topic was Vikings in Scotland for which he selected 3 examples of evidence from the west coast, drawing on his work for the National Museum of Scotland. His presentation was enhanced by carefully-selected photographs.

The first example was Kiloran Bay on Colonsay. Discovered by the brother of the local laird in the late 19th century when archaeological procedures were in their infancy, we cannot be certain that the finds were preserved as they would be nowadays. A slab-lined enclosure was found among the dunes around a sandy bay along with quantities of clinker nails. Within was a crouched burial, various weapons and other grave goods including a sword, axe head and magnificent scales and weights of bronze, iron and copper. Excellent evidence that creatures of “fearsome reputation” had visited! The remains were that of a male about 40 years old. Sadly, poor conservation of the day may have destroyed some of the original features. However, the finds were painted in water-colours in 1883 and have fortunately survived as they preserve the state in which they were found. An important feature is that it was discovered that an inverted boat had been placed over the grave forming an early example of a Viking boat burial in this country.

The decorated hilt of a sword, typical of 9th century Norwegians, with twisted silver wires and a chequer pattern of silver, was notable among the grave goods. Others were a long-handled pan and a folding knife. The scales and weights were in better condition when found, the weights being decorated with metalwork probably made from recycled loot. £ Anglo-Saxon coins minted in 9th century Northumbria were also present. Outside the enclosure was the skeleton of a horse and further boat nails.

The second example was found on Lewis in 1979 by campers who spotted bones on machair. The Procurator Fiscal investigated immediately before archaeologists were called in. It proved to be the burial of a young female accompanied by an antler comb, brooch, needle case with needles, buckle, knife and whetstone. Later children found a skull which led to the eventual identification of a cemetery.

Trevor’s final example was of Balnakeil in Sutherland, like the other sites, set on a sandy bay. Human remains were spotted amongst sand dunes. Although the feet and legs had disappeared, the grave goods were in place. Included were an iron sword in its scabbard, an antler comb, gaming pieces, beads, pumice stone, knife and fish hook. The remains were of a boy aged 8-13 years about 4ft 11” tall. 3D modelling was used for facial reconstruction and we were shown a photograph of the face.

The audience enjoyed this visit along the western coast up to the northern end and many were envious of the holidaymakers who had chanced upon such amazing discoveries.

The next Tillvas talk will be on Wed 5 June when Lindsay Allason-Jones will enlighten us on Roman Cavalry Gravestones. This will be the last talk before September but watch out for further information on the IRON AGE DAY  Tillvas is organising at Etal on Sat 22 June.


Alex Sotheran -  The Nightingale Project


Before the talk by Alex Sotheran on Wednesday 6th February, TillVAS Members and Friends took a few moments to remember Tom Turnbull of Branxton and Gerald Tait Coldstream, both highly regarded members who sadly passed away recently.


Alex began by explaining that he was part of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation who play a vital role supporting the many different aspects of the M.O.D., including the repair and maintenance of the training grounds, buildings and environment and more recently the rehabilitation of injured servicemen by introducing them to archaeology.   The training grounds which cover many thousands of acres, are scattered throughout the UK and contain a wealth of archaeology, from the prehistoric to more recent times and the remit of the four archaeologists currently employed is to maintain the historic environment and support those who work and visit.


Among the main sites in the UK are Portsmouth, Catterick, Fort George, Otterburn and Salisbury Plain and as they were established many years ago, have not been affected by modern agriculture or urbanisation.  Working mainly in the north of England, Alex has first-hand knowledge of the Warcop area near Catterick, Otterburn, Kirkcudbright and Spadeadam, and it is not unusual to find cup and ring stones, hillforts, medieval ridge and furrow and a deserted medieval village quite close to military installations.  In the Warcop area are the remains of the Skeldale Mines, which were severely damaged in the floods of 2008.   These have now been conserved using the veterans from Operation Nightingale with interpretation boards for the public.  During the work a stone carved with a Pictish dragon was found in a stream and also in the area a Viking house and prehistoric hut circle.   Accidents can happen and the Military has been warned off the Deserted Medieval Village and Kings Fish Ponds!!


Spadeadam in Cumbria is unusual as although only fifty years old it is now a scheduled monument.  There are many sheilings; the sites of medieval summer grazings in the vicinity; but is also the home of Blue Streak, the first intercontinental missile.


In Kirkcudbright where the film “Wickerman” was made, are cup & ring stones, medieval ridge and furrow and a hillfort at Doon Hill which incorporates a hidden tank firing platform from the 1950’s - now scheduled, as well as the remains of medieval churches and manor house with accompanying ridge and furrow. 


Otterburn is the largest training camp in the north where 1917 WW1 trenches were excavated  in 2006, again using the veterans, which uncovered the wooden duck boards and post holes which supported the breastworks.   WW2 Observation posts still remain, with a mock-up Afghan village, which looks from a distance not unlike the Roman marching camps found along Dere Street, and in a remote corner, the shrine to Coccidius, a Roman War God, close by a spring in a landscape almost unchanged since Roman times.



The huge white balls of Fylingdale Early Warning System were once a familiar sight and we were shown images of their construction.  These have now been replaced by more sophisticated equipment, but the cost of scheduling the originals was prohibitive.  On the same stretch of moorland not far away, are ancient stone crosses! 


St.Kilda is an R.A.F. Radar Tracking Station and is also part of the D.I.O.   Overseen by the National Trust for Scotland, Alex worked there recently with GUARD from Glasgow University, when old accommodation blocks were demolished prior to rebuilding, and it was the first opportunity for any excavation on the island.   Deserted in the 1930’s after the population became unsupportable, any interference with the ethnology of the island is forbidden and the remains of the village, the cleets for storage, the St. Kilda Wren and St. Kilda Field Mouse are unique to the island.


As previously explained, Operation Nightingale supports servicemen injured in battle, often by IED in Afghanistan.   Many of them have worked on Barrow Clump on Salisbury Plain at a Saxon burial mound damaged by badgers.   One completely novice digger unearthed a Saxon skeleton complete with sword, spear and shield boss, items now in the British Museum – I wish!


Barry Buddon near Dundee, is a WW1 trench complex similar to that at Otterburn, excavated by a team of Operation Nightingale volunteers and professionals from Wessex Archaeology and thought to be possibly a model of the Hindenburg Line.   This was a unique site for the veterans as a quantity of spent shells dated to 1911 were found.  Obviously from  WW2, mess plates dated 1940/1943 were found, together with an army shovel and the “Barry Buddon Hoard” of rusty food tins!


Breaking Ground Heritage is part of Operation Nightingale and a group of volunteers has recently worked at the WW1 battlefield at Bullecourt on the Hindenburg Line; a disaster for the Australian Imperial Force;  excavating the remains of a tank destroyed in the battle.   At Alex’ request, in lieu of any expenses, a donation was made to Breaking Ground Heritage.


TillVAS will next meet on Wednesday 6th March, 7.30 pm in Crookham Village Hall, when Dr. Chris Fowler will speak on “Bronze Age Burials in NE England and SE Scotland”.   All welcome.   Members Free, visitors £4.


Ford Castle by Paul Thompson


There was a large audience for our first talk of 2019 in which Paul Thompson told us about Ford Castle. Several people had looked around the castle earlier last year when it was open to the public and were keen to know more about the various stages of building and adapting the castle. Our speaker, Paul Thompson, was well-suited to this task, having been employed there for many years. In addition, his association with the site stretches back a long way through his ancestry, with relatives who were also employed there.

Through a series of carefully-selected images he demonstrated the structure of the building and how it had changed through the years. It was erected at a strategic position, defending  a shallow crossing-point of the River Till. In some parts the walls were 5ft thick. The earliest image shown illustrated the castle as it was in 1560, shortly after the Battle of Flodden. Dating back to the 14th century or earlier, when a licence to crenellate was issued by Edward lll to William  Heron, it has experienced a chequered history including being captured by the Scots, becoming a ruin and undergoing several restorations  under such owners as Sir John Hussey Delaval, Lady Waterford and more recently the Joicey Family. It has served as a Red Cross Hospital during WWll and a centre for children of the county to further their studies of the area. Nowadays it caters for Outdoor Pursuits for youngsters.  Its military use ceased after 1716. Its defensive use was retained, however, for example, a Civil Defence bunker within the tower was in use into the present century.

Several of the images shown depicted artists’ impressions of the castle and it was fascinating to see how these varied. The castle had no crenellations at the back owing to the Delavals’ money running out after large expenditure on new “Strawberry Gothic”  features but the former were put in place during the 19th century by Lady Waterford. She undertook the “degothification” of the castle and replaced it with a “Jacobethan” element.

It is said that Lady Waterford was so charmed with the kitchen servants singing of Northumbrian songs as they went about their work that she invited them above stairs to sing to her!

Each generation of owners has left its mark on the structure. During the 1930,s Lady Waterford’s sash windows were replaced by leaded ones. Paul Thompson’s talk demonstrated how the owners and events of past centuries have led to the structure having the diverse mix of architectural styles seen today.


Tillvas is a cross-border society for the archaeological heritage of the Till Valley in North Northumberland and the Eastern Borderlands. Our next talk will be on Wed 6 February at 7.30 pm in Crookham Village Hall when Alexander Sotheran will speak about Operation Nightingale, a project which helps rehabilitate soldiers through archaeology. Do come along and learn about this worthwhile project.

Excavations at Derwentwater by Dr Rob Young


For its December lecture the Till Valley Archaeological Society welcomed Dr Rob Young from Newcastle University. Primarily an archaeologist specialising in prehistory, he has also worked for Historic England as Inspector for Ancient Monuments in our region.

    Derwentcote Furnace, built in the 1720’s, was the first furnace in England to produce high grade steel for cutting tools and springs. It continued working until 1880. With evidence of metal working dating back to the mid 1500’s this site, just a few miles north west of Stanley co. Durham, places the north east at the centre of the early Industrial Revolution. The main building at Derwentcote features an impressive dome shaped structure which was restored by English Heritage in 1990.

    Dr Young’s lecture focussed on a neglected and very overgrown ruin near the forge. In 2010 the Time Team Programme visited the site and produced a sketch plan of the ruin which seemed to be a terrace of cottages. English Heritage were interested in opening up more of the site to the public so a project was born which involved archaeology students from Newcastle University and community volunteers (The Land of Oak and Iron Project).

    With the task of clearing undergrowth finished, students and volunteers began recording and deciphering the ruins. What at first seemed to be a terrace of four dwellings and outhouses, as identified by Time Team, turned out to be a building with a complicated history with six phases of construction.

    The remains of domestic fireplaces with a standard 12” width were datable to the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century. A barrel oven was of a similar type to those found in pitmen’s cottages as at the nearby Beamish Museum. One cottage had the remains of a staircase and ceiling beams. Fragments of lino puzzled some students; they had never come across this strange material! Even this lowly material provided research work in that the lino can be dated from makers’ pattern books.

    Internal drains indicated that the cottages suffered from damp; and their covering with crucible fragments indicated a link with metal working. A ‘copper’ in one cottage had been converted from a small furnace. Research showed that a Mr Low had lived there until the mid-1950’s and he had made shovels and spades.

    Careful examination of the wall construction showed that the cottages had not been built as a single construction but had been adapted from a single long rectangular building – first a cottage at one end, a second at the other end, the third a larger cottage in the middle, and then this split into two cottages.  It may be that they started as work places but the end result was a terrace of four cottages.

    So what was the function of the earlier building? A thick floor of industrial slag and a soakaway cut into the underlying clay hints at an industrial use associated with the larger forge building itself.

    Dr Young rounded off his lecture with some social history. Given that the cottages were without running water or electricity the dwellings were cramped to say the least: the 1881 census lists 5 people in one cottage, 6 in another, 3 in another, and 11 in the last!

    The next TillVAS lecture, on Wednesday 2nd January 2019 at Crookham Village Hall at 7.30pm is ‘The History of Ford Castle’ given by Paul Thompson, who was employed at the castle for many years.  Members FREE, Visitors £4.

Excavations at Maryport by Professor Ian Haynes


“The Roman Temples at Maryport” was the subject of Professor Ian Haynes talk on Wednesday, 7th November.   Maryport is at the very end of the Hadrian’s Wall system and according to a modern signpost is 1147 miles from Rome!


The civitas (civilian settlement) associated with the fort is actually the largest complex and the story of the altars began in 1870 when a number of pits were excavated and a total of 17 altars were found, all dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus (Best and Greatest) many of which were erected by Spanish Commanders of the fort, making vows for the welfare of the Emperor and which are now in the Senhouse Roman Museum in Maryport.   These were so well preserved that it was assumed that they had been protected in some way before burial at perhaps an annual event, but subsequent expert examination proved that they were previously exposed for some time before burial.   Existing documents show that there were other pits which did not contain any inscribed stones?


As there were obviously many unanswered questions, with Site Director Tony Wilmot, a  magnetometry survey was carried out in 2010 before excavations began in 2011/2012, with the intention of finding all the pits and re-digging the old ones.   Some of the pits showed the green staining of rotted timber which had not been recorded.   It also became apparent that the altars had been used as ballast to support timbers, possibly supporting a circular roof, as several of them were below other packing stones.   A broken corner found in a pit was a perfect match for a damaged altar in the Museum.


As well as a large circular stone structure with a porch, further excavations revealed the foundations of a rectangular classical temple which is now known to be the most north-westerly classical temple in the Roman world, with an open space in front and the stone base for a large monument.   There was a ditch beneath the floor which yielded the bones of goat, probably an animal sacrifice suggesting previous occupation.  Nearby was a small cemetery, where the burials were very deep and inter-cutting, and both early medieval and Christian.   There were a small number of finds – a bag containing loose beads;  a coin from the time of Hadrian;  and after wet sieving a small piece of textile (carbon dated to 240/340AD);  some small pieces of pot, an earring and a rare back-carved rock-crystal intaglio, of which there are only three possible parallels in the world!


In 1870 mention was made of a particular stony area to the north- east, the highest point in the Maryport landscape and which was never ploughed.   This was found to contain the remains of several rectangular structures, including an altar without a base, dedicated once again to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.   After the circular building and the temple had been recorded it was noted that both buildings faced north-east, towards the highest point and the direction of the rising sun in midsummer!


Maryport now boasts a set of 23 Roman altars and a site occupied from the early Bronze Age, through the first and second Roman occupations until 4th C. AD.   There will doubtless be more work here in the future.


The next TillVAS meeting is on Wednesday, 5th December at 7.30pm in Crookham Village Hall, when Dr. Rob Young will describe the “Excavations at Derwentcote – the 19thc. Workers Housing at Derwentwater Forge, the oldest Steel Forge in Britain.”   Members FREE,  Visitors £4.



James IV lecture 2018- The Mary Rose


On the 7th October the annual “James IV Memorial Lecture”, supported this year by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, was held at the Coldstream Community Centre. To a full house, Dr. Alex Hildred gave a fascinating illustrated talk explaining how and why the iconic warship ‘The Mary Rose’ played an important part in the Battle of Flodden 1513.


Along with Nelson’s Victory the Mary Rose is one of our most famous warships. Many in the audience had watched the extended TV coverage, including the Blue Peter programme, covering the lifting of her from the seabed in 1982.

Dr. Hildred, now head of research and curator at the Mary Rose Trust, was involved in the excavation from the very beginning. She gave a detailed account of the difficulties encountered and techniques developed to save the wreck and its contents.

It seems that wooden warships were in a continuous state of repair and improvement: new rigging, new sail patterns, new woodwork, and new guns. This meant that the ship which sank in unexplained circumstances in 1545 was very different to the ship which unloaded soldiers and cargo at Newcastle in 1513. But, as Dr Hildred explained later, her cargo played a pivotal role in the English victory.


Hidden in the seabed for nearly 500 years, the wreck and its contents have proved to be a treasure trove of life in Tudor times: clothing, medical instruments, horn lanterns, a carpentry chest full of tools, musical instruments, and the poignant remains of 179 individuals. 19,000 objects carefully retrieved and conserved: many of which are on display at the new state-of-the-art museum at Portsmouth dockyard.


So why was the Mary Rose, a seagoing war vessel, so influential in the outcome of a land battle? Artillery was still in its infancy 500 years ago. Bronze cannon were heavy (more than 3 tons), difficult to move, and slow to reload through the muzzle. The army of James IV was encamped in a strong position on Flodden Hill, heavy guns facing south towards the oncoming English army. The English were indeed advancing from the south. Amongst the cannon taken from the Mary Rose were relatively lightweight (just over 1 ton) breech loading iron cannon called Serpentines and Minions. They were neither powerful nor accurate but breech loading cannon had a faster fire rate and could be more easily moved. These lightweight cannon from the Mary Rose were secretly brought across Twizel Bridge during the night by the English army and when dawn broke on the 9th September the Scottish army found that they had been outflanked. The English therefore, attacked from the north and there was no time to move the superior Scottish guns to new positions. The Scots fought bravely but in vain; the lightweight guns from the Mary Rose tipping the balance of the battle.


During the short time remaining, Dr. Hildred expanded on several points raised by a well-informed and appreciative audience. The vote of thanks was proposed by Lord Joicey.





TillVAS visit to Ancrum, near Jedburgh.


At the end of July, several members of the Ancrum & District & Heritage Society  welcomed a number of TillVAS members to Ancrum to see some of the interesting archaeological remains in the area.


It was a beautiful warm day and we gathered at the village green at the remains of the Market Cross, moved from its original site, and now mounted on a stone-built plinth.   Regular markets were held here from ca.1490.   We then walked through the village along a narrow track, once the main road into the village, to view the site of what is now agreed was probably the medieval “Bishop’s Palace”, also known as “Mantle Walls”, presently under a cereal crop.   This was suspected to be the palace of Bishop de Bondington of Glasgow in 12thc. (who is known to have died in Ancrum) and appears as an ‘L’ shaped building on an old map from the 1770’s, but strangely, on no other map.   An excavation was carried out by Glasgow University in 2012, who found stone foundations of a substantial building and the site is now scheduled.  


We then drove a short distance to the old Kirkyard.   The original kirk was built ca.1116, but no trace remains.   The present Kirk was built in the 18th c. repaired in 1832 but abandoned in 1890 and now ruinous.    Visible across the river and at the top of a steep hill are the remains of a ‘fort’, easier to  access from the opposite side on another day.


The next stop was the “Monteath Mausoleum” a short drive further north and an outstanding monument, although not readily noticeable.   This is the last resting place of General Sir Thomas Monteath Douglas, KCB (1787 – 1848) of Stonebyres in Lanarkshire, who married the only surviving daughter of Sir William Monteath Scott of Ancrum.   From modest beginnings, he obtained a commission in the army and served with the Bengal 35th Infantry during the first Afghan War.   At the end of his career and having no issue he commissioned the building of the mausoleum and it was completed by 1846, with the instructions that it was kept permanently locked, and a man was specially employed to oversee maintenance.    Unfortunately over time the doors have been broken open and the interior vandalised but funds have been raised and a programme of works to restore the building is due to commence at the end of August this year.  


After lunch at a nearby Garden Centre, our “borders raid” concluded with a visit to Monteviot House, the home of the Marquis of Lothian.   A guided tour had been arranged and we enjoyed the lovely atmosphere of a lived in “big house”, with family photographs and the extensive collection of works of art by various well-known artists.   There was still time for several of the party to visit the beautiful gardens before setting off for home.


Many thanks to everyone at Ancrum who made us very welcome and we hope to continue this friendship in the future.  


For photographs of this trip please look in the gallery where Maureens Charlton's excellent photos have been posted.



On the 5th June Crookham Village Hall was just big enough for the audience listening to Professor Diana Whaley’s interesting and well illustrated talk on Northumberland’s past through its place names.’


Professor Whaley first dealt with the first mention of Northumberland in The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (896AD) of ‘Nornhymbra lond’; translated as ‘land north of the Humber.


The professor emphasised that while place names often have a complex history and undergo unexplained changes they can provide evidence for the history of settlements, social organisation, ecology and use of landscape, archaeological sites and even specific people and events.


We learned that important landscape features like mountains and rivers may have name origins going back to prehistory – unwritten languages like Celtic and Brittonic. Names like Cheviot (ridge), Coquet (red), Till (flowing) may date back to those distant times.


The Romans usually adopted existing Celtic place names and there are few place names along Hadrian’s Wall which have Roman origins. There are a few such as Chesters (Caester = a fort).

When the Romans left in the 5th Century, what is now England became a turbulent place; Professor Whaley summed up this period as ‘pagan war bands to clerical bureaucrats in 600 years.   The spoken language is known as Old English (Anglo Saxon); a Germanic language with regional variations – this area being Anglian. ‘Burna’ is Old English for a stream – Lilburn is an example.   We were told that 90% of place names in England derive from Old English.


Our county has a rich history of Viking raids but it seems that few place names in Northumberland have a Scandinavian origin. An interesting exception is an area of flat land at Carham named the Holme, clearly a Scandinavian term – it should be the Haugh!   A mystery unexplained!   Other names can be argued either way – Crookham could be from the Old English ‘Crucum’ meaning a bend in a river, or it could be from Old Norse ‘krokr’ meaning a bend. Places which we think have a Viking element, with a ‘..wick’ ending (Alnwick for example) are derived from the Roman ‘vicus’, meaning a settlement. Berwick was a settlement trading in barley.


The Normans added more complexity by introducing some Latin and French to our language. As with the Romans, the Normans tended to use original place names but more complexities slipped in and Old English became Middle English.


We were given an excellent bibliography and an account of how the first Ordnance Survey mappers of the mid 1800’s dealt with the question of what was the correct name for even the tiniest hamlet. Place name books were produced and those covering Northumberland are currently being digitised.


Professor Whaley’s talk was peppered with examples, often raising more questions. In an extended question and answer session we found out that Coldmartin was cold in 1195, and that a sense of humour and irony can be detected in place names: Make-Me -Rich, Blawearie, and – the farmer who didn’t like his neighbours – Glororum (Glower over them).


The next TillVAS talk is on Weds. 5th September at 7.30pm in Crookham Village Hall when Dr Brian Moffat  from Edinburgh will tell us about ‘Medieval Medicine and its use in the present day’.

Six members of TillVAS went to the Durham University laboratories to see how and where our finds from Mardon were processed. It was a really interesting trip and we learned a great deal. Our thanks go to the members of staff who were kind and patient enough to show us around and answer our many questions. Thanks also go to Dr Richard Carlton for organising the event. We have now had our finds returned to us and look forward to adding to them around September when we dig at Mardon again.


Photos courtesy of Brian Reeds


A hob nailed shoe or boot stepped onto a roman clay tile before it dried.

Heather Pentland examining charcoal under a microscope. The patterns for each species were very different.

Looking at a sample of finds from other digs.




“Skeleton Science - how human remains can unlock hidden histories.”


The May meeting of the Till Valley Archaeological Society was a talk given by Dr. Kirsty McCarrison, an Osteoarchaeologist and presently a Learning Officer with Culture Durham.   The title was “Skeleton Science - how human remains can unlock hidden histories.”, a fascinating subject which attracted a very attentive audience.   Kirsty firstly explained the different aspects of Osteoarchaeology  (all with rather long names) but most important was that human remains of any age, shape or form must be treated with respect.


Soft tissue is required to give an exact cause of death but damage to bone structures can show evidence of trauma that can also do this, and in some cases that the individual has even recovered from an old injury as osteoblasts can create new bone tissue around a  damaged area.  Gender can usually be ascertained by the size of the pelvis, skull, mastoid, cranium and eyebrow ridge etc. which are much bigger in men and the jaw is often more square.  In the course of her work, Kirsty has often asked her audience for possible reasons for this, with varying answers:  including that females can dance?; do the splits? and do the housework?? which caused some hilarity.   There can be differences in the skeletal structure, eg. there may be a hole in the sternum which is found in some individuals but does no harm.   Kirsty explained, and demonstrated with plastic models how diseases can be identified from a skeleton, eg. rickets, which can also be the cause of fractures;  scurvy, arthritis and osteoporosis; and in the skull itself evidence of leprosy and syphilis.   A certain of form of cancer can cause changes in the cranium which appears rather like a fungus.   Bone fractures can heal perfectly with nothing more than a faint line to indicate the site, but if the fracture is not set, or not set correctly, the bone can heal out of alignment possibly causing shortness in a leg, leading to more stress on the opposite leg.


Untreated dislocations can cause the formation of new bone, and decapitations can be identified by the obvious cuts on the spine.   Projectile wounds are also distinctive, the size and shape giving a clue as to the instrument used.   As far back as the Iron Age and Roman times there is evidence of trepanning, where the skull is opened by either scraping, drilling or cutting to relieve pressure inside the skull and there is evidence in one instance that this was done several times with the ‘patient’ surviving each time.   Amputations are identifiable but can cause regrowth of bone, and  blunt force and sharp force trauma are easily identified.


The age of an individual can often be ascertained by the extent of growth in children and the advance of degeneration in adults.   Teeth are also a good indication of age although it has been proved that the use of beeswax can halt the advance of caries.   Abscesses can cause holes in the bone, often seen in the jaw when teeth have caused infection.  Hardened calculus on the teeth can give much information about the diet of the individual and even some indication of where he had lived.  More modern methods of osteoarchaeology include X- rays, carbon dating, isotope analysis and DNA but in this case there can be contamination problems due to the handling of the skeleton during excavation.


The plastic examples of the skulls and bones used to illustrate  various points were closely examined at the close of the talk, which although it all sounds rather gruesome, was  most interesting and generated many questions.



During her talk Kirsty mentioned the 2013 excavations at Palace Green in Durham which uncovered the skeletons of some of the Dunbar soldiers after the battle in 1610 and many of the audience recalled the talk given at TillVAS by Dr. Richard Annis in June last year.   There will be an exhibition – “Bodies of Evidence” covering this excavation with more information about the soldiers themselves, at Palace Green Library, from 9th June to 7th October 2018 - so a date for your diary.


The TillVAS final talk of the season will be on Wednesday 6th June, when Prof. Diana Whaley will speak on “Place Names in Northumberland –  particularly the Till Valley”.  As usual – Members FREE, visitors £4.


Lady Waterford Bicentenery


There was an opportunity to explore Ford Castle on the weekend of the 14th and 15th April when Lady Waterford's contribution to the Ford and Etal estate was celebrated. There were various displays showing the history and development of the castle and a chance to see local metal detecting finds from as long ago as the Roman era. TillVAS also created several information boards reflecting member's research on the school, church and various buildings on the estate. The attendance was very good. Visitors enjoyed walking around the castle and church and listening to a number of short talks.




Till Valley Archaeological Society AGM and talk by Dr Richard Carlton


Prior to the talk to be given by Dr Richard Carlton on 4th April at Crookham, TillVAS held their AGM. The meeting was well attended and membership numbers last year were a healthy 125. Those present were reminded that committee members are always needed to help run TillVAS and to consider coming forward.  George Farr was proposed and accepted as an honorary member.


Dr Richard Carlton’s excellent talk was about the 2017 dig at Mardon. After describing the process of choosing a suitable dig site for the Village Atlas project, Richard went on to explain the reasons for deciding on the Iron age hill top feature at Mardon. There was clear evidence of a rectangular enclosure from aerial photographs and the area had never been excavated before. He outlined what was already known about similar sites across the country including what artefacts, if any, might be found.


David Astbury had laid a grid to help identify where the digger should begin clearing the top soil. These large cleared areas were then ‘cleaned’ using mattocks and trowels to enable archaeologists to choose where to place the trenches. TillVAS were pleased to welcome the valuable help given by a band of volunteer diggers, some of whom had travelled many miles to support the dig. At this stage it was easy to identify the location of the enclosure ditch terminals, a circular feature within, an area of dark material and cobbling, plus other areas of interest.


The ditch terminals at the enclosure entrance were each split into two for some metres, which was very unusual. All the ditches were deep, particularly that on the north side, and very productive in terms of datable material including cattle bones and turf or bedding. The deposits at the bottom were almost certainly laid down when the ditch was in use. All of this evidence is being analysed and the results are due soon. The ditch sides showed signs of being re-cut several times and would have been a serious undertaking for the builders of the day.


Two smaller trenches were also opened at the North and North West side of the enclosure (across that part of the ditch furthest from the entrance) and although the perimeter ditch was found, it contained no datable evidence. Again the trench sides were steep and showed evidence of being cleared or re-cut etc during their useful lifetime.


The circular feature was actually only a semi circle. The shallow ditch where small groups of stones were found could have contained posts to hold a structure or a fence for shelter or protection. The area of dark material and areas of cobbling were perhaps where animals had been kept, leaving rich dark soil as evidence. There was also a small flattish area of ‘hard standing’ which would have created a drier area for working ie shearing, or a stack stand. A plough share was found embedded in these stones and must have caused some anger when it broke perhaps a hundred years ago or more. Some small shallow post holes were also excavated.


The finds were richer than expected and included a small cup marked stone, iron-age pottery, shaping stones, ochre, and a beetle found at the bottom of the deep trench. Given the success of the 2017 dig and the support received by land owner George Farr, Dr Carlton felt it would be worth revisiting the site in 2018.


Heather Waldron



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.



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


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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 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 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!

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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Aspects of Buildings & Monuments: Branxton, Crookham, Etal, Ford

by Antony Chessell & Gwen Chessell. Price £10 pbk 214pp.

Foreword by Rt. Hon. Lord Joicey

ISBN 978-0-244-75069-5


More information about this second publication by TillVAS can be seen on the Publications page.



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


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The Society operates a bookstall at all its meetings.

Items for sale include:-

1. The Society's first two publications by Antony Chessell and Gwen Chessell; Breamish and Till: From Source to Tweed  and Aspects of Buildings and Monuments: Branxton, Crookham, Etal, Ford   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 and Aspects of Buildings and Monuments: Branxton, Crookham, Etal, Ford , both written by Antony Chessell and Gwen Chessell, 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.