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.
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.
DURHAM AND DUNBAR: IDENTIFYING SCOTTISH SOLDIERS AT PALACE GREEN
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
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
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.
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.
The report for Mardon has now been completed. See the Archaeology section for more details.
Many thanks to all who attended our AGM and talk where Dr Richard Carlton gave a very good account of the Mardon Dig. For more details see 'reports on events'
Data Protection - please see the new TillVAS policy statement on the membership 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, Maureen Charlton or the Assistant Archivist, Julia Day.
MEMBERS' WRITTEN CONTRIBUTIONS
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.
BRANXTON & CROOKHAM VILLAGE ATLAS PROJECT
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.
ALL MEMBERS OF THE LOCAL COMMUNITY, TILLVAS MEMBERS AND MEMBERS OF OTHER ATLAS GROUPS ARE ALSO WELCOME TO ATTEND ANY OF THESE MEETINGS (except the Steering Committee).
Please click on the Latest Newsletter page to see information for the current month.
PREVIOUS LECTURE AND OTHER REPORTS
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.