Part 3 out of 4
Considerable portions of the guard-chambers, one at each side of each
gateway, still remain; and near one of them was found a huge stone
trough, its edges deeply worn by, apparently, the frequent
sharpening of knives upon it. Its use has not been determined; Dr. Bruce
tells us that one of the men engaged in the work of excavation gave it
as his firm opinion that the Romans used it to wash their Scotch
prisoners in! The buildings of the little town--a row of houses against
the western wall, two large buildings near the centre of the camp, with
smaller chambers to the east of them--in which the garrison lived,
worked, and stored their supplies, are still quite plainly to be traced,
although the walls are only three or four courses high in most places,
and of the pillars the broken bases are almost all that remain.
A considerable number of people dwelt outside the walls of this, as of
all the stations, sheltering under its walls, and relying on the
protection of its garrison; the slope to the southward of Borcovicus
shows many traces of buildings scattered all over it. On the northern
side, the steep hill, massive masonry, and deep fosse would seem to have
offered well-nigh insuperable difficulties to an attacking force such as
then could be brought against the camp; yet not only here, but in all
the stations whose remains yet survive, there is unmistakable evidence
that more than once has the garrison been driven out by a victorious
foe, to re-enter and occupy it again at a later period. And when we
consider that the Wall and its forts were garrisoned by the Romans for a
period extending over nearly three centuries, a period corresponding to
the time from the reign of James I. to the present day, it becomes a
matter of wonder, not that such was the case, but that such occurrences
were not more frequent than the evidences seem to declare.
In spite of all the hard fighting, however, the recreations of lighter
hours would seem not to have been forgotten; on the north of the wall is
a circular hollow in the ground, evidently a little amphitheatre, in
which doubtless many a captive Briton and Pict played his part. On a
little rise to the southward, called Chapel Hill, stood the temple where
the garrison paid its vows to the various deities of its worship. Many
remarkably fine altars found on this and other sites have been
preserved, either at the fine museum at The Chesters, or at the Black
Gate in Newcastle. One of the most striking is the altar to Mithras, the
Persian sun-god, found in a cave near the camp, evidently constructed
for the celebration of the rites connected with the worship of Mithras.
The altar shows the god coming out of an egg, and surrounded by an oval
on which are carved the signs of the Zodiac.
The Teutonic element in the garrison is represented by the altars to
Mars Thingsus, the discovery of which caused great interest in Germany,
and by the altars to the Deae Matres--the mother-goddesses, whose carved
figures are shown seated, fully draped, and holding baskets of fruits on
their knees. They are generally found in sets of three; but
unfortunately they have been much mutilated, and all the examples
remaining are headless. The Deae Matres would seem to correspond in some
degree to the Roman Ceres and the Greek Demeter, the bountiful givers of
the fruits of the earth. The majority of the altars found are, as was to
be expected, dedicated to the deities of Rome; chiefly, as shown by the
constantly recurring I.O.M.--_Jovi optimo maximo_--to "Jupiter, the best
and greatest." The varying inscriptions which follow as reasons for
their erection as votive offerings give us glimpses of the life in these
communities clearer than those afforded by anything else. And as most,
if not all, of our knowledge concerning the details of the Roman
occupation of the north-country has to be obtained from the inscriptions
which the garrisons left behind them, the inscribed stones as well as
the altars are of the greatest possible interest and value. One such
stone, found at the Borcovicus mile-castle, states that "the Second
Legion, the August (erected this at the command of) Aulus Platorius
Nepos, Legate and Propraetor, in honour of the Emperor Caesar Trajanus
At "Cuddy's" (Cuthbert's) Crag near Borcovicus is one of the most
picturesque bits of scenery to be found on the whole course of the Wall.
My first acquaintance with it was made on a day of grey mist and
drizzling rain, which completely hid any view of the surrounding
country, and of necessity confined our attention to the stones (and wet
grass!) immediately beneath our feet. But another visit was on a day of
wind and sunshine, and in the company of a group of light-hearted
students. We explored the ruins of Borcovicus, walked along the broad
and broken top of the Wall, and climbed up hill and down dale with it
under the pleasantest conditions, if a trifle breezy on the heights.
June was at her traditional best, which she does not often vouchsafe to
show us; flowers waved all around, amongst the grass and in the crannies
between the stones, and more than once the lines at the head of this
chapter were quoted by one to another. Again and again our progress was
stayed while we admired the glorious view spread out all around, but
especially was this the case at Cuddy's Crag. We looked westward over
Crag Lough, its usually dark waters flashing in the afternoon sun; the
three Loughs were all within view; away to the southward, beyond
Barcombe Hill, and the site of Vindolana, Langley Castle could be seen,
"standing four-square to all the winds that blew"; and further away
again, beyond the valley of the South Tyne, to the southwest the faint
outlines of Crossfell and Skiddaw. Northward it was quite easy to
imagine oneself looking out over the Picts' country still, so far do
the moorlands stretch, and so few are the signs of habitation. Rolling
ridges stretch northward, wave upon wave, clothed with grass and
heather, amongst which Parnesius and Pertinax went hunting with little
Allo the Pict; to the northeast the heights of Simonside showed; and far
beyond them, though more to the westward, the rounded summits of the
Cheviots lay on the horizon.
A short distance westward from the Crag is Hot Bank farmhouse, a place
which most visitors to the Wall remember with grateful feelings; for
what is more refreshing, after a long tramp, than a farmhouse cup of tea
accompanied by that most appetising of Northumbrian dainties, hot girdle
cakes! The Visitors' Book at Hot Bank is a "civil list" of all the most
learned and noted names in Great Britain, and many outside its shores,
together with legions of humbler folk. In this it resembles the one at
Cilurnum, which is the only other considerable station along the line of
the Wall in Northumberland.
This station of Cilurnum, or Chesters, is a little over five acres in
extent, and is quite near to Chollerford station on the North British
Railway. To describe Cilurnum in detail, and the interesting museum
connected with it, filled with a wonderful collection of objects found
on the line of the Wall, would require a book to deal with that alone.
The general plan is the same as that which we have already seen at
Borcovicus, with the same rounded corners, and double gateway with
guard-chambers at each side; the western and eastern walls at Chesters,
however, have each an additional single gateway to the south of the
larger portals. We must content ourselves with a short survey of the
camp, with its two wide streets at right angles to each other as at
Borcovicus, and the rest of them very narrow--indeed, little more than
two feet in width; the remains of its Forum and market, its barracks
and houses, its open shops and colonnades, the bases of the pillars yet
in position; its baths, with pipes, cistern, and flues; and a vaulted
chamber which was thought, on its being first excavated, to lead to
underground stables, for a local tradition held that such were in
existence, and would be found, with a troop of five hundred horses. The
vault, however, did not lead further, so that the tradition remained
unproven. Notwithstanding this, there was a grain of fact in it; for
Chesters was a cavalry station, and five hundred was the full complement
of the _ala_, or troop (_ala_ being a "wing," and cavalry forming the
"wing" of an army in position).
Outside the walls of Cilurnum are traces of the usual suburban
dwellings; and here, near the river, stood the villa of the officer in
command of the station. The excavation of all these buildings and many
others took place in the forties and fifties of last century, and were
due to the energy of Mr. John Clayton, the learned and zealous
antiquary, in the possession of whose family the estate still remains.
To Mr. N.G. Clayton we owe the Museum at the Lodge gate, which he built
for the reception of the notable collection it contains of antiquities
gathered from all the various stations in Northumberland. A very fine
altar brought from Vindolana at once strikes the eye, and may be taken
as a type of many others, though not many are so perfect. The gravestone
of a standard-bearer, from the neighbouring station of Procolitia, shows
a full-length carving of the dead warrior. Other inscribed stones are of
great interest, though unfortunately most of them are but fragments;
still these fragments not infrequently contain a few words which enable
students of them to confirm a date or a fact concerning the garrisons,
which must otherwise have been a matter of pure conjecture. For
instance, it might seem very improbable that the same regiments should
have been quartered in certain stations for over two hundred years; yet
one of the inscribed stones proves that such was the case at Cilurnum.
The inscription states that the second _ala_ of the Asturians repaired
the temple during the consulate of certain persons, which is found to be
about the year 221. In the _Notitia_, which was not compiled until the
beginning of the fifth century, the second _ala_ of the Asturians is
given as the garrison of Cilurnum.
Another thing which strikes the imagination is the sight, after the
lapse of so many centuries, of the erasures on various inscribed
stones--erasures of some emperor's or Caesar's name after his death by
the chisel of a soldier in one of his legions on this far-away post of
his empire. It is one thing to read one's Gibbon, and learn of the
murder of Geta, son of Severus, by order of his brother Caracalla, and
another to see the youth's name roughly scratched out on a stone in
Hexham Abbey crypt; and to read of the assassination of Elagabalus does
not move us one whit, but to see his name erased from a stone in
Chesters museum brings the tumultuous happenings in ancient Rome very
closely home to us.
Here are also several Roman milestones, with their lengthy and sonorous
inscriptions, from various points on the Wall; and a miscellaneous and
deeply interesting collection of smaller articles, such as ornaments of
bronze, jet, or gold, fibulae (brooches or clasps), coins of many
reigns, Samian-ware, terra-cotta and glass, parts of harness, etc., etc.
Of carven figures there are several besides the standard bearer already
mentioned. The best is a figure of Cybele, with elaborate draperies,
but unfortunately headless; another, of Victory, holds a palm branch in
the left hand, but the right arm is missing. A soldier is shown with
spear, shield, and ornate head-piece; and a representation of a
river-god, the genius of the Tyne, is worthy of notice. He is a bearded
figure, after the style of the figures of Nilus, or the representations
in old prints of Father Thames. From Procolitia comes an altar to the
goddess Coventina, a name not met with elsewhere, the presiding genius
of the well in that station. She is shown reclining on a water-lily
leaf, holding in one hand a water-plant, and in the other a goblet from
which a stream of water runs. An elaborate carving of three water
nymphs, most probably meant to be in attendance on the goddess, is one
of the few pieces of sculpture that are not greatly mutilated.
Centurial stones are numerous, having been put up at all parts of the
Wall to record the building of such and such parts by various centurions
and their companies. The mark >, which Dr. Hodgkin supposes to be a
representation of the vine rod, a centurion's symbol of authority, and
the sign C or Q, are used to signify a century. Thus a stone inscribed Q
VAL. MAXI. states that the century of Valerius Maximus built that part
of the Wall. Two or three small altars are inscribed DIBVS
VETERIBVS--"To the Old Gods"; and Mars Thingsus is well represented.
A very important relic of Roman times found at Cilurnum was a bronze
tablet of citizenship, giving this coveted privilege to a number of
soldiers who had served in twenty-five campaigns and received honourable
discharge. There have been only three specimens of this diploma found in
Britain, and all are preserved in the British Museum. There are many
memorial tablets erected by wives to their husbands, and husbands to
their wives, which leads to much speculation as to how these ladies,
high-born Roman, native Briton, or freed-woman, liked their sojourn in a
small garrison town on the breezy heights of a Northumbrian moorland.
Those ladies who dwelt at Cilurnum, however, had not so much cause to
complain, for such natural advantages as were to be had were certainly
theirs, in that sheltered spot. The scenery round about Cilurnum is
quiet, peaceful and pastoral, altogether different from the wild beauty
of Cuddy's Crag, Limestone Corner, or Whinshields.
Having now noticed the two chief stations on the line of the Wall, it
will be interesting to follow the course of the rampart itself
throughout its journey across Northumberland, though to do so in detail
is impossible within the limits of so small a volume as the present one.
Neither would it be necessary, or desirable, for the last word in
detailed description has been said long ago in the two wonderfully
exhaustive treatises on the subject by Dr. Bruce.
A list of Roman officials, civil and military, throughout the empire has
come down to us; in this list--_Notitia Dignitatem et Administratem, tam
civilium quam militarium in partibus orientis et occidentis_--the
portion which relates to the Wall is headed, _Item per lineam
Valli_--"Also along the line of the Wall." The following is a copy of
this portion, as given by Dr. Bruce in his _Handbook to the Roman Wall_.
The Tribune of the fourth cohort of the Lingones at Segedunum.
The Tribune of the first cohort of Cornovii at Pons Aelii.
The Prefect of the first _ala_ of the Asturians at Condercum. The
Tribune of the first cohort of the Frixagi (Frisii) at Vindobala.
The Prefect of the Savinian _ala_ at Hunnum.
The Prefect of the second _ala_ of the Asturians at Cilurnum.
The Tribune of the first cohort of the Batavians at Procolitia.
The Tribune of the first cohort of the Tungrians at Borcovicus.
The Tribune of the fourth cohort of the Gauls at Vindolana.
The Tribune of the first cohort of Asturians at Aesica.
The Tribune of the second cohort of Dalmatians at Magna.
The Tribune of the first cohort of Dacians, styled Aelia, at Amboglanna.
The Prefect of the _ala_ called "Petriana," at Petriana.
The Prefect of a detachment of Moors, styled Aureliani, at Aballaba.
The Tribune of the second cohort of the Lingones at Congavata.
The Tribune of the first cohort of Spaniards at Axelodunum.
The Tribune of the second cohort of the Thracians at Gabrosentum.
The Tribune of the first marine cohort, styled Aelia, at Tunnocelum.
The Tribune of the first cohort of the Morini at Glannibanta.
The Tribune of the third cohort of the Nervians at Alionis.
The Cuneus of men in armour at Bremetenracum.
The Prefect of the first _ala_, styled Herculean, at Olenacum.
The Tribune of the sixth cohort of the Nervians at Virosidum.
Of these stations, with their officers and troops, only those as far as
Magna are in Northumberland; the rest continue the chain of defences
across Cumberland to the Solway Firth. Besides these stations, there
were _castella_ at the distance of every Roman mile (seven furlongs)
along the Wall, from which circumstance they are known as
"mile-castles." They provided accommodation for the troops necessary
between the stations, which were at some distance from each other; and
between each two _castella_ there were also erected two turrets, so that
communication from one end of the Wall to the other was speedy and
All traces of the station of Segedunum (Wallsend) have long since
disappeared; the Wall from there, beginning actually in the bed of the
river, ran almost parallel with the N.E.R. Tynemouth Branch, a little to
the south of it, and climbing the hill to Byker, went down the slope to
the Ouseburn parallel with Shields Road, crossing the burn just a little
to the south of Byker Bridge. From there its course has been traced to
Red Barns, where St. Dominic's now stands, to the Sallyport Gate, and
over the Wall Knoll to Pilgrim Street; thence to the west door of the
Cathedral, and on past St. John's Church, up Westgate Road.
The station at Pons Aelii, it is generally agreed, occupied the ground
between the Cathedral church of St. Nicholas and the premises of the
Lit. and Phil. Society. Following the Wall up Westgate Road, we are now
out upon the highway from Newcastle to Carlisle, which, as we have seen,
is upon the very line of the Wall for nearly a score of miles. At
Condercum (Benwell) the next station, garrisoned by a cavalry corps of
Asturians from Spain, a small temple was uncovered in the course of
excavating, and two altars found still standing in their original
position. Both of these were to a deity unknown elsewhere, given as
Antenociticus on one, and as Anociticus on the other. The former was
erected by a centurion of the Twentieth Legion, the Valerian and
Victorious, whose crest, the running boar, we shall meet with more than
once in our journey.
Westward from here, near West Denton Lodge, faint indications of the
turf wall (generally called the Vallum, to distinguish it from the
Murus, or stone wall), come into sight, and traces of a mile-castle to
the left of the road. After this the Vallum and Murus accompany each
other for the rest of their journey, with but little intermission. The
next mile-castle was at Walbottle, from which point a delightful view of
the Tyne valley and the surrounding country can be obtained. Passing
Throckley and Heddon-on-the-Wall, where the fosse on the northern side
of the Wall is well seen, and also the Vallum and its fosse, Vindolana
(Rutchester) is reached; but there is little evidence here that it is
the site of a once busy and bustling garrison station. Indeed, up to
this point and for a considerable distance further, a few courses of
stones here and there are all that is to be seen of the Roman Wall, its
material having for the most part been swallowed up in the construction
of the turnpike road on which we are travelling. This road was made in
1745 because there was no road by which General Wade could convey his
troops from Newcastle to Carlisle, when "Bonnie Prince Charlie" marched
so gaily to that city on his way southward, and so sadly, in a month,
The Wall now makes for the ridge of Harlow Hill, while the Vallum goes
on in a perfectly straight line past the picturesque Whittle Dene and
the waterworks, until the Wall joins it again near Welton, where the
old pele-tower is entirely built of Roman stones. After Matfen Piers,
where a road to the northward leads to the beautiful little village of
Matfen, and one to the southward to Corbridge, the Wall passes Wall
Houses and Halton Shields, where the various lines of the Wall, road,
and earthworks, as well as the fosse of each, can be distinctly seen.
Passing Carr Hill, the Wall leads up to the station of Hunnum (Halton
Chesters), where Parnesius was stationed when Maximus gave him his
commission on the Wall. It is not easy to recognise the site now, but as
we follow the road we may comfort ourselves with the reflection that at
least we have walked right across it from the eastern gate to the
A short distance further on is Stagshawbank, famed for its fairs, the
glory of which, however, has greatly departed since the days when Dandie
Dinmont had such adventures on returning from "Staneshiebank." It stands
just where the Wall crosses the Watling Street, which enters
Northumberland at Ebchester, and crossing the moors to Whittonstall,
leads down the long descent to Riding Mill; there turning westward to
Corbridge, it comes straight on to Stagshawbank, leading thence
northwestward past the Wall through Redesdale to the Borders, which it
reaches at Ad Fines Camp, or Chew Green, where the solitudes of the
Cheviots and the silence of the deserted camp are soon to be startled by
the rifle-shots of Territorials at practice. West of Stagshawbank the
earthen ramparts are to be seen in great perfection.
As the Wall nears Chollerford, one may see, a little to the northward,
the little chapel of St. Oswald, which, as we have seen in a former
chapter, marks the site of the battle of Heavenfield. Just before
reaching this point, there is a quarry to the south of the Wall from
which the Romans obtained much building-stone, and one of them has left
his name carved on one of the stones left lying there, thus--(P)ETRA
FLAVI(I) CARANTINI--_The stone of Flavius Carantinus_.
At Plane Trees Field and at Brunton there are larger pieces of the Wall
standing than we have yet seen. The Wall now parts company with the
highroad, which swerves a little to the north in order to cross the Tyne
by Chollerford Bridge, while the course of the Wall is straight ahead,
for the present bridge is not the one built and used by the Romans. That
is in a line with the Wall, and therefore south of the present one; and
as we have already noticed, its piers can be seen near the river banks
when the river is low. A diagram of its position is given in Dr. Bruce's
The Wall now leads up to the gateway of Cilurnum, which we have already
visited; and after leaving the park, it goes on up the hill to Walwick.
Here it is rejoined by the road, which now for some little distance
proceeds actually on the line of the Wall, the stones of which can
sometimes be seen in the roadway. The tower a little further on, on the
hill called Tower Tye, or Taye, was not built by the Romans, although
Roman stones were used in its erection; it is only about two hundred
At Black Carts farm, which the Wall now passes, the first turret
discovered on the line of the Wall after the excavations had begun, and
interest in the subject was revived, was here laid bare by Mr. Clayton
in 1873. At Limestone Bank, not much further on, the fosse north of the
Wall, and also that of the Vallum, show a skill in engineering such as
we are apt to fancy belongs only to these days of powerful machinery,
and explosives for rending a way through the hardest rock. The ditches
have both been cut through the solid basalt, and great boulders of it
are strewn around; one huge mass, weighing many tons, has been hoisted
out--by what means, we are left to wonder; and another, still in the
ditch, has the holes, intended for the wedges still discernible.
A mile or so further on is Procolitia (Carrawburgh), where is the famous
well presided over by the goddess Coventina, whose acquaintance we have
already made at Cilurnum. The remains of the station at Procolitia are
by no means to be compared with those at Borcovicus or Cilurnum; very
few of its stones are yet remaining. The well was the most interesting
find at Procolitia. It was known to be there, for Horsley had mentioned
it; but the waters which supplied it were diverted in consequence of
some lead-mining operations. Then the stream formed by its overflow
dried up, grass grew over its course and over the well, and it was lost
sight of entirely. But the same thing which had led to its disappearance
was the means of finding it again. Some lead miners, prospecting for
another vein of ore in the neighbourhood, happened to dig in this very
spot, and soon struck the stones round the mouth of the well. Mr.
Clayton had it properly excavated, and was rewarded by coming not only
upon the well, but a rich find of Roman relics of all kinds, which had
either been thrown pell-mell into it for concealment in a moment of
danger, or, what is more likely, been thrown in during the course of
ages as votive offerings to the presiding goddess of the well. There
were thousands of coins, mostly silver and copper, with four gold pieces
among them; and a large collection of miscellaneous objects, including
vases, shoes, pearls, ornaments, altars and inscribed stones, all of
which were taken to Chesters. The next point of interest on the Wall is
the farmhouse of Carraw, which the Priors of Hexham Abbey once used as a
summer retreat. A little further on, at Shield-on-the-Wall, Wade's road
crosses to the south of the earthen lines, and parts company with the
Wall for a little while, for the latter bends northward to take the high
ridge, as usual, while the road and Vallum continue in a straight line.
The fragments of a mile-castle are standing just at the point where the
Wall swerves northward; indeed, we have been passing the sites of these
_castella_, with fragments more or less in evidence all along the route,
but those which we shall now encounter are much more distinctly to be
seen than their fellows on the eastern part of the journey, many of
which have disappeared altogether.
The high crags which here shoulder the Wall are part of the Great Whin
Sill, an intrusive dyke of dolerite which stretches from Greenhead
northeastward across the county nearly to Berwick. The military road
here leaves the Wall, with which it does not again come into close
contact until both are near Carlisle, though in several places the Roman
road will be encountered near the Wall in a well-preserved condition.
The Wall now climbs another ascent to the farmhouse of Sewingshields,
which name is variously explained as "Seven Shields," and as "The shiels
(shielings, or little huts) by the seugh" or hollow--the hollow being
the fosse. Sewingshields Castle, long since disappeared, is the scene of
the knight's adventures in Sir Walter Scott's "Harold the Dauntless."
And tradition asserts that King Arthur, with Queen Guinevere and all the
court, lies in an enchanted sleep beneath the castle, or at least its
site. Not only is there no castle, but the Wall also has been despoiled
to supply the material for building the farmhouse and other buildings in
the neighbourhood. The Wall climbs unfalteringly over the crags, one
after the other, until the wide opening of Busy Gap is reached. This
being such a convenient pass from north to south, it was naturally used
constantly by raiders and thieves; and such an unenviable notoriety did
it possess, that to call a person a "Busy Gap rogue" was sufficient to
lay oneself open to an action for libel. Climbing the next slope we look
down on Broomlee Lough and reach the portion of the Wall we have already
noted--Borcovicus (Housesteads), Cuddy's Crag, Hot Bank farmhouse, and
The course of the Wall continues, past Milking Gap, along the rugged
heights of Steel Rig, Cat's Stairs, and Peel Crag, till on reaching
Winshields we are at the highest point on the line, 1,230 feet above the
sea-level. Dipping down to Green Slack, the Wall crosses the valley
called Lodham Slack, and begins to ascend once more. The local names of
gaps and heights in this neighbourhood are highly descriptive, and
sometimes weirdly suggestive; we have had Cat's Stairs, and now we come
to Bogle Hole, Bloody Gap, and Thorny Doors. A little further west from
here the very considerable remains of a mile-castle may be seen, in
which a tombstone was found doing duty as a hearth-stone. The
inscription recorded that it had been erected by Pusinna to the memory
of her husband Dagvaldus, a soldier of Pannonia.
Westward from this mile-castle the Wall climbs Burnhead Crag, on which
the foundations of a building, similar to the turrets, were exposed a
few years ago; then it dips down again to Haltwhistle Burn, which comes
from Greenlee Lough, and is called, until it reaches the Wall, the Caw
Burn. From the burn a winding watercourse supplied the Roman station of
AEsica (Great Chesters) with water. Just here the Wall is in a very
ruinous condition; and of the station of AEsica but little masonry
remains, though the outlines of it can he clearly traced. Beyond AEsica,
however, is a splendid portion of the Wall, standing some seven or eight
courses high. Here it climbs again to the top of the crags which once
more appear, bold and rugged, to culminate in the "Nine Nicks of
Thirlwall," so called from the number of separate heights into which the
crags divide, and over which the Wall takes its way.
At Walltown, on this part of its course, is to be seen an old well, in
which Paulinus is said to have baptised King Edwin; but the local name
for it is King Arthur's Well. Now the Wall descends to a level and
pastoral country, leaving behind it the wild moorland and craggy heights
across which it has travelled so long; but unfortunately much of it has
been destroyed by the quarrying operations at Greenhead. Of the station
of Magna (Caervoran) little can be seen at the present day. This station
and Aesica are nearer to each other than are any other two stations on
the Wall, and a line of camps, five in number, stand south of the Wall
and Vallum, from Magna to Amboglanna, showing that a third line of
defence was deemed necessary where the natural defences of moorland
ridge, lough or crag were absent.
The Roman way called the Stanegate comes from the eastward almost up to
the station of Magna, which stands a little to the south of both Wall
and Vallum, between them and Wade's road, which here approaches nearer
to the Wall than it has done for many miles.
Another Roman road, the Maiden Way, comes from the South closely up to
the Vallum, quite near to Thirlwall castle. The name "Thirlwall" was
supposed to commemorate the "thirling" (drilling or piercing) of the
Wall at this point by the barbarians, but this is extremely doubtful;
though the difficulty of defending the wall on this level tract lends an
air of likelihood to this supposition. Near here the little river Tipalt
flows across the line of the Wall on its way southward to join the North
Passing Wallend, Gap, and Rose Hill, where Gilsland railway station now
stands, we follow the Wall to the deep dene of the Poltross Burn, which
forms the boundary between Northumberland and Cumberland. The railway
just beyond the burn crosses the line of the Wall; and, further on, an
interesting portion, several courses high, takes its way through the
Vicarage garden. Here we will leave it to continue its way through
Cumberland, and turn our attention to the chief Roman ways which cross
Northumberland, with other stations standing upon them.
The Watling Street or Dere Street, we have already noticed; and the
chief station on it, which has also proved to be the largest in
Northumberland, is Corstopitum, near Corbridge. The recent excavations
since 1906 have resulted in the finding of many interesting relics,
including some hundreds of coins, amongst which were forty-eight gold
pieces, of later Roman date, ranging from those of Valentinian I. to
those of Magnus Maximus. Pottery in large quantities has also been
found, most of it, of course, in a fragmentary condition, but some
pieces, notably bowls of Samian ware, almost perfect, and dating from
the first century. Several interesting pieces of sculpture have been
unearthed; one a finely sculptured lion standing over an animal which it
has evidently just killed; this was, no doubt, used as an outlet for
water at the fountain, judging by the projection of the lion's lower
lip. Another piece of sculpture represents a sun-god, the rays
surrounding his face; and several altars and many inscribed stones are
also amongst the treasures lately revealed. A clay mould of a human
figure was also found, which is supposed to represent some Keltic deity;
but as the figure wears a short tunic not unlike a kilt, and carries a
crooked club, the workmen promptly christened it Harry Lauder! The
buildings in this town, for it is much more than a military station,
have been large and imposing, as is shown by each successive revelation
made by the excavators' spades. The portion of the Watling Street
leading from Corstopitum to the river has also been laid bare.
The Roman road called the Stanegate runs westward from the North Tyne at
Cilurnum, a little to the north of Fourstones railway station, through
Newbrough, on past Grindon Hill, Grindon Lough, which it passes on the
south, and Grindon Dykes, to Vindolana (Chesterholm) another Roman town,
which lies a mile due south from Hot Bank farmhouse on the Wall.
Vindolana stood on a most favourable site, a high platform protected on
three sides, and it covered three and a half acres of ground. Here no
excavations have yet been made, and the site is grass grown and desolate
although the outlines of the station may be distinctly traced. A ruinous
building to the west of this station was popularly called the Fairies'
Kitchen, a name given to it on account of the marks of fire and soot on
the pillars. From the station several inscribed stones and altars have
been taken to the museum at Chesters. One of them is dedicated to the
Genius of the Camp by Pituanius Secundus, the Prefect of the fourth
Cohort of the Gauls, which cohort, as we have already seen by the
_Votitia_, was stationed here. In the valley below Vindolana a little
cottage is standing. It is built entirely of Roman stones, and was
erected by an enthusiastic antiquary, Mr. Anthony Hedley, for himself.
Many of the stones used in its construction have inscriptions on them;
and in the covered passage, leading from the cottage down to the burn,
we come upon one of them inscribed with the name of our old friend the
XXth Legion, and its crest, the running boar. The most interesting relic
of all in the neighbourhood is a Roman mile-stone, standing in its
original position on the Stanegate.
Leaving Vindolana, this road goes on westward to Magna, where it joins
the Maiden Way, another important Roman road, which runs from north to
south. Coming from the neighbourhood of Bewcastle Fells, it enters
Northumberland at Gilsland, and leading eastward as far as Magna, then
turns directly southward past Greenhead.
In concluding this chapter on the Roman remains in our county, _apropos_
of the wholesale destruction of the Wall and larger stations which has
taken place in the last century or two, I will quote the words of two
historians on that subject. Dr. Thomas Hodgkin says: "In the reign of
Queen Elizabeth, Camden, the enthusiastic antiquary, dared not traverse
the line of the wall by reason of the gangs of brigands by whom it was
infested. The union of the two countries brought peace, and peace
brought prosperity; prosperity, alas! more fatal to the Wall than
centuries of Border warfare. For now the prosperous farmers of
Northumberland and Cumberland awoke to the building facilities which
lurked in these square green enclosures on their farms, treated them as
their best quarries, and robbed them unmercifully of their fine
well-hewn stones. Happily that work of demolition is now in great
measure stayed, and at this day we visit the camps for a nobler purpose,
to learn all they can teach us as to the past history of our country."
None, I think, will disagree with these words of the learned Doctor,
whether or not they may go as far as Cadwallader J. Bates, who, in
concluding his chapter on the Roman Wall, gave it as his opinion that
"unless the island is conquered by some civilized nation, there will
soon be no traces of the Wall left. Nay, even the splendid whinstone
crags on which it stands will be all quarried away to mend the roads of
our urban and rural authorities."
SOME NORTHUMBRIAN STREAMS.
"Come, don't abuse our climate, and revile
The crowning county of England--yes, the best.
* * * * *
Have you and I, then, raced across its moors.
Till horse and boy were well-nigh mad with glee,
So often, summer and winter, home from school,
And not found that out? Take the streams away,
The country would be sweeter than the South
Anywhere; give the South our streams, would it
Be fit to match our Borders? Flower and crag,
Burnside and boulder, heather and whin,--you don't
Dream you can match them south of this? And then,
If all the unwatered country were as flat
As the Eton playing-fields, give it back our burns,
And set them singing through a sad South world,
And try to make them dismal as its fens--
They won't be! Bright and tawny, full of fun
And storm and sunlight, taking change and chance
With laugh on laugh of triumph--why, you know
How they plunge, pause, chafe, chide across the rocks,
And chuckle along the rapids, till they breathe
And rest and pant and build some bright deep bath
For happy boys to dive in, and swim up.
And match the water's laughter."
* * * * *
Northumberland is fortunate in the number of rivers which, owing to the
position of the Cheviot Hills, flow right across the county from west to
east. These Northumbrian streams have a distinct character of their own,
and are of a different breed from those of the southern; counties. They
are neither mountain torrents nor placid leisurely rivers, such as are
met elsewhere in Britain, but busy, bright, joyous, and sparkling,
never sluggish, never silent, even when deep and full, as is the Tyne in
its lower reaches. With the Tyne and its tributary streams we have
already travelled; but there are others yet awaiting us, claiming our
attention sometimes for the romantic scenery through which they run
their bright course, sometimes for the historic sites they pass on their
way, sometimes for both reasons. Wansbeck, Coquet, Aln, or Till--each
has its own interest, as has also the Tweed in that score or so of miles
along which it can he spoken of in connection with Northumberland.
The source of the Wansbeck, the only "beck" the county possesses, is
amongst the "Wild Hills o' Wannys" (Wanny's beck) a group of picturesque
sandstone crags which surround Sweethope Lough, a sheet of water which
covers 180 acres. The scenery of this upper course of the Wansbeck is
very striking, from the Lough to Kirkwhelpington, flowing between bleak
moorland and rich pasture, and on to Littleharle Tower, which stands
secluded in deep woods.
Another mansion near at hand, and most picturesquely situated, is
Wallington Hall, lying a short distance away on the north bank of the
Wansbeck. It is one of the most notable country houses in
Northumberland, and especially so on account of its unique
picture-gallery, roofed with dull glass, and containing several series
of pictures connected with Northumbrian history. One of these is a
series of frescoes by William Bell Scott, whose name was for so many
years associated with all that was best in art in Newcastle, and whose
picture of the "Building of the Castle" may be seen at the head of the
staircase in the Lit. and Phil. building. His pictures at Wallington
are:--1. The Building of the Roman Wall. 2. The visit of King Egfrid
and Bishop Trumwine to St. Cuthbert on Fame. 3. A Descent of the Danes.
4. Death of the Venerable Bede. 5. The Charlton Spur. 6. Bernard Gilpin
taking down a challenge glove in Rothbury Church. 7. Grace Darling and
her father on the way to the wreck. 8. The Nineteenth Century--showing
the High Level Bridge, the Quayside, an Armstrong gun, etc., etc.
Another series consists of medallions and portraits of famous men
connected with Northumbrian events, from Hadrian and Severus down to
George Stephenson and others of modern times; while yet another depicts
all the incidents of "Chevy Chase."
Some miles further eastward, the Wansbeck receives the Hart Burn--which,
by the way, is larger than the parent stream at this point--and, a
little later, the Font. The lovely little village of Mitford, once
important enough to overshadow the Morpeth of that day, lies at the
junction of Font and Wansbeck. The Mitfords of Mitford can boast, if
ever family could, of being Northumbrian of the Northumbrians, as they
were seated here before the days of the Conqueror, who made such a
general upsetting amongst the Saxon landowners.
The beauty of the two miles walk along the banks of the Wansbeck from
here to Morpeth is not easy to surpass in all the county, though several
parts of the Coquet valley may justly compete with it. William Howitt
has left on record his admiration for this lovely region, and said
Morpeth was "more like a town in a dream" than a reality. Especially is
this so when looking at the town from the neighbourhood of the river.
Before actually reaching Morpeth the Wansbeck waters the fair fields
that once held Newminster Abbey in its pride; now, nothing remains but
an arch or so and a few stones, to remind us of the noble abbey which
Ralph de Merley built so long ago. When only half built it was
demolished by the Scots under King David; but willing hands set to work
again, and the abbey and monastery were completed.
In the town of Morpeth, though newer buildings are stretching out
towards the outskirts, many of the ancient buildings and streets remain,
and the general aspect of this part of it is much the same as when the
Jacobites of Northumberland gathered together here, and the clergyman,
Mr. Buxton, proclaimed James III. in its Market Place. Of Morpeth
Castle, built by a De Merley soon after the Conquest, only the gateway
tower remains, but the outlines of the original boundary walls can be
clearly traced. A company of five hundred Scots, whom Leslie had left as
a garrison in 1644, held out here for three weeks against two thousand
Royalists under Montrose. After the cannonading received during that
siege, the walls were not repaired again, and the castle fell into
decay. The inhabitants of Morpeth have a daily reminder of times yet
more remote, for the Curfew Bell still rings out over the little town
every evening at eight o'clock.
Another walk of three miles along the still beautiful banks of the
Wansbeck brings us to Bothal, another little village of great beauty,
embowered and almost hidden amongst luxuriant woods. Its curious name is
derived from the Anglo-Saxon _bottell_, a place of abode (as in
Walbottle). The name conjures up memories of the knights of old, their
loves and their fortunes, fair or disastrous; for the best-known version
of "The Hermit of Warkworth" tells us that it was a Bertram of Bothal
who was the luckless hero of that tale, though another version avers
that he belonged to the house of Percy.
Wansbeck's fellow stream, the Coquet, has its birth amongst some of the
wildest scenery of the Cheviot Hills, where the heights of Deel's Hill
and Woodbist Law look down on the now silent Watling Street and the
deserted Ad Fines Camp. In its windings along the bases of the hills it
is joined by the Usway Burn, said to be named after King Oswy, between
which and the little river Alwine lies the famous Lordship of Kidland,
once desolate on account of the thieving and raiding of its neighbours
of Bedesdale and Scotland.
Hodgson, in his "Northumberland," says of this region, "All the said
Kydlande is full of lytle hilles or mountaynes, and between the saide
hilles be dyvers valyes in which discende litle Ryvvelles or brokes of
water, spryngynge out of the said hilles and all fallynge into a lytle
Rever or broke callede Kidlande water, w'ch fallethe into the rever of
cockette nere to the towne of alwynntonn, w'tin a myll of the castell of
harbottell." The reasons for the desolation of Kidland are graphically
set forth:--"In somer seasons when good peace ys betwene England and
Scotland, th'inhabitantes of dyv'se townes thereaboutes repayres up with
theyr cattall in som'ynge (summering) as ys aforesaid, and so have used
to do of longe tyme. And for the pasture of theyr cattall, so long as
they would tarye there they payed for a knoweledge two pens for a
household, or a grote at the most, though they had nev' so many
cattalles. And yet the poore men thoughte their fermes dere enoughe.
There was but fewe yeres that they escaped w'thout a greatter losse of
their goodes and cattalles, by spoyle or thefte of the Scottes or
Ryddesdale men, then would have paide for the pasture of theyr cattail
in a much better grounde. And ov' (over, besides) that, the saide valyes
or hopes of Kidlande lyeth so distant and devyded by mounteynes one from
an other, that such as Inhabyte in one of these hoopes, valeys, or
graynes, can not heare the Fraye outcrye, or exclamac'on of such as
dwell in an other hoope or valley upon the other side of the said
mountayne, nor come or assemble to theyr assystance in tyme of
necessytie. Wherefore we can not fynde anye of the neyghbours
thereabouts wyllinge cotynnally to Inhabyte or plenyshe w'thin the saide
grounde of Kydland, and especially in wynter tyme."
These reasons were given by the people of "Cockdale" in the neighbouring
valley, to account for the desolation of Kidland, which lay open on the
northward to attacks from the Scots, and had no defence on the south
from the rievers of Redesdale. The inhabitants of Coquetdale seem to
have been a right valiant and hardy fraternity, honest and fearless,
well able to give good blows in defence of their possessions, for it is
left on record that "the people of the said Cock-dayle be best p'pared
for defence and most defensyble people of themselfes, and of the truest
and best sorte of anye that do Inhabyte, endlonge, the frounter or
border of the said mydle m'ches of England." The traces of these days of
raid and foray are to be found in abundance all over Coquetdale, as
indeed all over Northumberland, in pele-tower and barmkyn, fortified
dwelling and bastle house.
Harbottle Castle would have a good deal to tell, could it only speak, of
siege and assault from the day when, "with the aid of the whole county
of Northumberland and the bishopric of Durham," it was built by Henry
II., until, after the Union of the Crowns, it shared the fate of many of
the Border strongholds, and fell into gradual decay, or was used as a
quarry from which to draw building material for new and modern
mansions. At Rothbury, a pele-tower has formed the dwelling of the
Vicars of that town from the time that any mention of Whitton Tower is
to be found, it being first noticed as "Turris de Whitton, iuxta
Rothebery." Rothbury itself occupies quite the finest situation of any
of the Northumbrian towns. Others, besides it, lie on the banks of a
pretty river; others, too, possess fair meadows and rich pastures; but
none other has the combination of these attractive features with the
finer surroundings of hill, crag, and moorland as picturesquely
beautiful as those of Rothbury. In the old church here Bernard Gilpin,
"the Apostle of the North," often preached; and even the fierce rival
factions of the Borderland were so influenced by the gentle, yet
fearless preacher, that they consented to forego their usual pleasure of
"drawing" whenever they met one of a rival family, at least so long as
Gilpin dwelt among them, and especially to refrain from showing their
hostility in church.
There are in Coquetdale, as elsewhere, memorials of the ancient British
days in the many camps to be found on the summits of the hills near the
town, on Tosson Hill and the Simonside Hills; and not camps only, but
barrows, cist-vaens, and flint weapons in considerable numbers. The
magnificent view to be obtained, on a clear day, from Tosson Hill or the
Simonsides is one to be remembered; to the west and north stretch the
vales of Coquet and Alwin, with the rolling heights of the Cheviots
bounding them; northward are the woods surrounding Biddlestone Hall, the
"Osbaldistone Hall" of Scot's _Rob Roy_, awakening memories of Di
Vernon; far to the eastward a faint blue haze denotes the distant
coastline; while southward, over the dales of Rede and Tyne, the smoke
of industrial Tyneside lies on the horizon, with the spires and towers
of Newcastle showing faintly against the heights of the Durham side of
One of the chief sights of Rothbury is the beautiful mansion of Cragside
and the wonderful valley of Debdon and Crag Hill, as transformed by the
first Lord Armstrong into a paradise of beauty, where art and nature are
so blended as to make a romantically artistic whole. Another lovely spot
on the banks of Coquet is at Brinkburn, where the famous Priory stands
almost hidden at the foot of thickly wooded slopes. A very much larger
portion of this fine Priory is still standing than is the case with many
other religious houses of the same age, for it dates from the reign of
Henry I. The story is told of Brinkburn as well as of Blanchland, that a
party of marauding Scots on one of their forays passed by the Priory
without discovering it in its leafy bower; and so overjoyed were the
monks at their escape that they incautiously rang the bells by way of
showing their delight. The Scots, who had passed out of sight but not
out of hearing, immediately returned on their tracks, and, guided by the
joyful peal, reached the Priory, sacked the buildings, and then set them
on fire. It may well be that the tragedy occurred at both places, on
Farther eastward down the Coquet are two places pre-eminently noted as
centres for the sport for which the river is famed above all other
Northumbrian streams, though some of them are worthy rivals. These two
places are Weldon Bridge and Felton; the old Angler's Inn at the
first-named is a favourite rendezvous of the fraternity of rod and
creel. Fishermen have long known the fascination of these two places,
and I quote from the "Fisherman's Garland" two stanzas written by two
enthusiastic anglers in praise of them. The writers are Robert Roxby
and Thomas Doubleday.
"But we'll awa' to Coquetside,
For Coquet bangs them a';
Whose winding streams sae sweetly glide
By Brinkburn's bonny Ha'!"
_Written in 1821_
"The Coquet for ever, the Coquet for aye!
The _Woodhall_ and _Weldon_ and _Felton_ so gay,
And _Brinkburn_ and _Linden_, wi' a' their sweet pride,
For they add to the beauty of dear Coquetside."
_Written in 1826_
Felton, a charmingly placed little village, on the banks of the river
where they are overhung by graceful woods, and diversified by cliff and
grassy slope, stands just where the great North Road crosses the Coquet.
By reason of this position it has been the scene of one or two events of
historical interest, notably those connected with the "Fifteen" and the
"Forty-five." On the former occasion, the gallant young Earl of
Derwentwater, with his followers, was joined here by a band of seventy
gentlemen from the Borders, and they rode on to Morpeth to proclaim
James III. And thirty years later, the soldiers of George II. passed
over the bridge from the southward, led by the Duke of Cumberland, and
pressed on towards the Scottish moor where they dealt the final blow to
the Stuart cause at Culloden. The interesting old church at Felton,
dating from the thirteenth century, is well worth a visit. After leaving
Felton behind, the Coquet enters on the most marked windings of all its
winding course, until, when it enters the sea at Warkworth Harbour, just
opposite Coquet Island, it has contrived to lengthen out its journey to
a distance of forty miles.
The bright clear stream of the Aln also begins its short journey across
Northumberland from the heights of Cheviot, but in the narrower
northern portion of the county. Alnham, with its pele-tower Vicarage,
ancient church, and memories of a castle, stands just at the foot of the
hills, near the source of the river. Some three or four miles eastward
along its banks, a walk through leafy woods brings us to
Whittingham--the final syllable of which, by the way, one pronounces as
"jam," as one does that of nearly all the other place-names ending in
"ing-ham" in Northumberland, contrary though it be to etymological
considerations--excepting, curiously enough, Chillingham, situated in
the very midst of all the others. The "ing" and "ham" are in themselves
a historical guide to the days in which the various villages received
their names, these two syllables being a certain indication of a Saxon
settlement, the "home of the sons, or descendants of" whatever person
the first syllable indicates. Thus, Edlingham, only a few miles away, is
the "home or settlement of the sons of Eadwulf"; Ellingham, the "home of
the sons of Ella," and so on. How the "Whitt" syllable was spelled we do
not know; most probably Hwitta or Hwitha--for all our _wh's_ were _hw_
originally--_hwaet, hwa, hwaether_ and so forth.
This ancient village is in these days a charming and peaceful place,
lying in the midst of rich meadow lands, and surrounded by magnificent
trees. It had its romances, too, in the course of years; so long ago as
the days of the early Danish invasions a certain widow in Whittingham,
in the reign of King Alfred, had no less a person than a Danish prince
among her slaves; he was ransomed, however, and made king of the Danes
in the North, in consequence of a vision in which St. Cuthbert had
directed the Abbot of Carlisle to see this done. Young Prince Guthred's
gratitude showed itself in a substantial grant of land to St. Cuthbert
at Durham. Whittingham Church is supposed to have been founded by the
Saxon king Ceolwulf, whose acquaintance we have already made at Holy
Island, and he bestowed the lands of Whittingham on the church at
Lindisfarne. It still shows some of the original Saxon work at the base
of the tower, and much more was to be seen before the so-called
"restoration" of the church in 1840. The pele-tower on the south side of
the river, after its days of storm and stress are over, still serves as
a shelter in time of need, for it is now used as an almshouse for the
poor of the village, a former Lady Ravensworth having originated the
quaint idea and seen it carried out.
Whittingham Fair, now Whittingham Sports, a well-known rendezvous of the
whole countryside, has lost some of its former splendour, but is still
looked forward to with great enjoyment in the surrounding district. The
old coaching road from Newcastle to Edinburgh passed through the
village, crossing the Aln by the stone bridge, from whence it went on
through Glanton and Wooler to Cornhill.
In the vale of Whittingham, the little Aln flows placidly along, its
waters murmuring a soothing refrain, a peaceful interlude between its
busy bustling beginning and its ending. Before reaching Alnwick it flows
past the ancient walls of Hulne Abbey, the monastery of Carmelite friars
so romantically founded by the Northumbrian knight and monk after his
visit to the monastery on Mount Carmel. A considerable portion of the
ancient building is still standing, and few sites chosen by the old
monks, who had an unerring eye for beauty as well as safety and
convenience in their choice of abode, can surpass this one, surrounded
by fair meadows, and standing on the green hill-side, with the rippling
Aln flowing through the levels below. In Hulne Park is also the
Brislee Tower, erected by the first Duke of Northumberland in 1781, on
the top of Brislee Hill.
[Illustration: ALNWICK CASTLE]
Alnwick itself, with its quaint, uneven, narrow streets, and grey stone
houses, looks the part of a Border town even in these days; and the grim
old Hotspur tower, bestriding the main street like an ancient warrior
still on guard, helps to give the illusion an air of reality. The tower,
however, was not built by Hotspur, but by his son. The names of the
streets, too, are redolent of the days when the only safety for the
inhabitants of a town worth plundering lay in the strength of its walls
and gateways. Bondgate, Bailiffgate, and Narrowgate, still speak of the
days of siege and sortie, of fierce attack and stout defence.
The magnificent castle which dominates the town stands majestically at
the top of a green slope above the Aln, its vast array of walls and
towers far along the ridge, fronting the North as though still looking,
albeit with a seemingly languid interest, for the coming of the Scots
who were such inveterate foes of its successive lords. The principal
entrance, however, the Barbican, faces southwards to the town, and here
the massive gateway, with portcullis complete, and crowned by quaint
life-size figures of warriors in various attitudes of defence, conveys
the impression that the huge giant is still alert and on guard. The
history of Alnwick is the history of the castle and its lords, from the
days of Gilbert Tyson, variously known as Tison, Tisson, and De Tesson,
one of the Conqueror's standardbearers, upon whom this northern estate
was bestowed, until the present time. After being held by the family of
De Vesci (of which the modern rendering is Vasey--a name found all over
south-east Northumberland) for over two hundred years, it passed into
the hands of the house of Percy. The Percies, who hailed from the
village of Perce in Normandy, had large estates in Yorkshire, bestowed
by the Conqueror on the first of the name to arrive in England in his
train. The family, however, was represented by an heiress only in the
reign of Henry II., whose second wife, a daughter of the Duke of
Brabant, thought this heiress, with her wide possessions, a suitable
match for her own young half-brother Joceline of Louvain. The marriage
took place; and thereafter followed the long line of Henry Percies
(Henry being a favourite name of the Counts of Louvain) who played such
a large part in the history of both England and Scotland; for, as nearly
every Percy was a Warden of the Marches, Scottish doings concerned them
more or less intimately--indeed, often more so than English affairs.
It was the third Henry Percy who purchased Alnwick in 1309 from Antony
Bec, Bishop of Durham and guardian of the last De Vesci, and from that
time the fortunes of the Percies, though they still held their Yorkshire
estates, were linked permanently with the little town on the Aln, and
the fortress which alike commanded and defended it. The fourth Henry
Percy began to build the castle as we see it now; but to call him "the
fourth" is a little confusing, as he was the second Henry Percy, Lord of
Alnwick. On the whole, it will be clearer to begin the enumerations of
the various Henry Percies from the time they became Lords of Alnwick. It
was, then, Henry Percy the second, Lord of Alnwick, who began the
re-building of the castle; he also was jointly responsible for the
safety of the realm during the absence of Edward III. in the French
wars, and in this official capacity, no less than in that of a Border
baron whose delight it was to exchange lusty blows with an ever-ready
foe, he helped to win the battle of Neville's Cross. His son, Henry,
married a sister of John of Gaunt, and their son, the next Henry Percy,
was that friend who stood John Wycliffe in such good stead, when he was
cited to appear before the Bishop of London. Henry Percy, who had been
made Earl Marshal of England, and the Duke of Lancaster took their
places one on each side of Wycliffe, and accompanied him to St. Paul's,
clearing a way for him through the crowd. It does not belong to this
story to tell how their private quarrels with the Bishop prevented
Wycliffe's interrogation, and how he left the Cathedral without having
uttered a word; we are concerned at the moment with his North-country
friend, who, the same year, was created Earl of Northumberland, which
title he was given after the coronation of Richard II. Nor was this all,
for he was that Northumberland whose doings in the next reign fill so
large a part of Shakespeare's Henry IV., and he was the father of the
most famous Percy of all, the gallant Henry Percy the fifth, better
known as "Harry Hotspur." Hotspur never became Earl of Northumberland,
being slain at Shrewsbury in the lifetime of his father, whose estates
were forfeited under attainder on account of the rebellion of himself
and his son against King Henry IV.
King Henry V. restored Hotspur's son, the second Earl, to his family
honours, and the Percies were staunch Lancastrians during the Wars of
the Roses which followed, the third Earl and three of his brothers
losing their lives in the cause. The fifth Earl was a gorgeous person
whose magnificence equalled, almost, that of royalty. Henry Percy, the
sixth Earl of Northumberland, loved Ann Boleyn, and was her accepted
suitor before King Henry VIII. unfortunately discovered the lady's
charm, and interfered in a highhanded "bluff King Hal" fashion, and
young Percy lost his prospective bride. He had no son, although married
later to the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, and his nephew, Thomas
Percy, became the seventh Earl.
Thereafter, a succession of plots and counterplots--the Rising of the
North, the plots to liberate Mary Queen of Scots, and the Gunpowder
Plot--each claimed a Percy among their adherents. On this account the
eighth and ninth Earls spent many years in the Tower, but the tenth
Earl, Algernon, fought for King Charles in the Civil War, the male line
of the Percy-Louvain house ending with Josceline, the eleventh Earl. The
heiress to the vast Percy estates married the Duke of Somerset; and her
grand-daughter married a Yorkshire knight, Sir Hugh Smithson, who in
1766 was created the first Duke of Northumberland and Earl Percy, and it
is their descendants who now represent the famous old house.
At various points in the town are memorials of the constant wars between
Percies and Scots in which so many Percies spent the greater part of
their lives. At the side of the broad shady road called Rotten Row,
leading from the West Lodge to Bailiffgate, a tablet of stone marks the
spot where William the Lion of Scotland was captured as we have already
seen, in 1174, by Odinel de Umfraville and his friends; and there are
many others of similar interest.
Within the park, approached by the gate at the foot of Canongate, is the
fine gateway which is all that is left of Alnwick Abbey. No more
peaceful spot could have been found than this, on the level greensward,
surrounded by fine trees which shelter it on all sides save one, and
near the brink of the little Aln, whose banks are thickly covered with
wild flowers, while the steep slope on the opposite side of the river is
overhung with shady woods. The extent of the parks may be judged from
the fact that the enclosing wall is about five miles long. At the foot
of Bailiffgate, on the edge of a steep ridge above the descent to
Canongate and the banks of the river, the ancient parish church,
dedicated to St. Mary and St. Michael stands in a commanding position.
The present building dates from the fourteenth century, and occupies the
site of an earlier one, whose few remaining stones have been built into
the present structure. Two other reminders of long-past days are to be
found in Alnwick; one is the large stone in the Market Place to which
the bull ring used to be fixed in the days when bull-baiting and
bear-baiting took place; and the other, a relic of days still further
back in the distant years, is the sounding of the Curfew Bell, which is
still rung here every evening at eight o'clock. Altogether there is the
quaintest and most unexpected mingling of the ancient and modern in the
little feudal town.
Between Alnwick and the sea, the Aln winds its way past Alnmouth
Station, formerly known as Bilton Junction, and past Lesbury, a pretty
little tree-shaded village, to the sandy flats by Alnmouth where it ends
its journey in the North Sea.
The Till, by whose side we shall next wander, flows in the opposite
direction, for that historic stream is a tributary of "Tweed's fair
river, broad and deep," and curves from the Cheviots round to the
North-west, where it enters the larger stream at Tillmouth. It begins
life as the Breamish, tumbling down the slopes of Cushat Law within
sight of all the giants of the Cheviot range. The Linhope Burn, a fellow
traveller down these steep hillsides, forms in its course the Linhope
Spout, one of the largest waterfalls to be found amongst the Cheviots,
before it joins the Breamish, which then flows through a country of
green slopes and grassy levels to Ingram. This village possesses an old
church with massive square tower and windows which suggest the fortress
rather than the church. The heights which stretch eastward from the
Cheviots and bound the valley of the Till add not a little to the beauty
and variety of the scenery in this district.
The little stream, which turns northward near Glanton railway station,
moves on in loops and windings past Beanley, which Earl Gospatric held
in former days by virtue of the curious office of being a kind of
official mediator between the monarchs of England and Scotland when they
came to blows; and past Bewick, with its little Norman church buried
from sight amongst leafy trees. The effigy of a lady in the chancel of
this church is said to be that of Matilda, wife of Henry I. This is the
more likely in that the lands of Bewick formed part of her dowry, and
were given by her to the monks of Tynemouth Priory. At Bewick Bridge the
little stream ceases to be the Breamish, and becomes the Till; as an old
rhyme has it--
"The foot of Breamish, and head of Till,
Meet together at Bewick Mill"
Some miles to the northward, the Till reaches the little village of
Chatton, having, on the way, passed a little to the westward of
Chillingham Castle and Park, where is the famous herd of wild cattle.
Roscastle, a craggy height covered with heather, stands at the edge of
the chase, and looks over a wild and romantic scene of moorland and
pastureland, deep glens and heathery hills. The Vicarage at Chatton is
another of those north-country vicarages in which an old pele-tower
forms part of the modern residence. On the top of Chatton Law is an
ancient British encampment, with inscribed circles similar to those on
From Chatton, the loops and windings of the Till grow more insistent,
and the little stream adds miles to its length by reason of its
frequent doubling on its tracks; this, however, but gives an added charm
to the landscape, as the silvery gleams of the winding river come
unexpectedly into view again and again. It flows on through Glendale,
with which attractive region we have already made acquaintance; and on
its banks are the two prettiest villages in Northumberland--Ford and
Ford Castle, as seen at the present day, is chiefly modern, but the
northwest tower is part of the old fortress of Odenel de Forde, which
experienced so many vicissitudes in its time. One of the most famous
owners of Ford Castle was Sir William Heron, who married Odenel's
daughter, and who held the responsible and troublesome office of High
Sheriff of Northumberland for eleven years, besides being Captain of
Bamburgh and Warden of the northern forests. The castle was burnt down
by James IV. of Scotland just before the battle of Flodden, which was
not by any means the only time in its career that it was demolished,
entirely or in part, and restored again.
In the village of Ford, the walls of the schoolroom are decorated by a
series of pictures of the children of Scripture story, for whose
portrayal it is said the Marchioness of Waterford, the artist, took the
village children as models. The late Vicar of Ford, the Rev. Hastings
Neville, has laid all who are interested in the rural life of
Northumberland, and the quaint and traditional manners and customs of
the North-country which are so fast disappearing, under the greatest
obligation to him for his interesting and entirely delightful little
book, "A Corner in the North." Historical records, and matters of
business, ownerships, etc., connected with any special area can always
be turned up for reference when required; but the manner of speech, the
customs of daily life, the quaint survivals of former usages and
half-forgotten lore, being entirely dependent on individual memory and
oral tradition, only too often disappear before any adequate record can
be made. Hence it is a matter for congratulation that such a book should
have been written.
Etal, Ford's pretty neighbour, also boasts a castle, built only two
years after that of Ford and by the same masons. A considerable portion
of the ruins remains, but, unlike Ford Castle, it was never restored
after James the Fourth's drastic handling of it, but was left to decay.
Opposite Ford and Etal, on the left bank of the Till, is Pallinsburn
House, referred to in another chapter, and the village of Crookham; and
beyond the woods of Pallinsburn, Flodden ridge, with its memories of the
disastrous field on which James was slain.
The mansion house of Tillmouth Park, owned by Sir Francis Blake, is
built of stones from the ruins of Twizell Castle, on the northern bank
of the Till; the castle was begun by a former Sir Francis Blake but
never finished. Between the two buildings the Berwick Road crosses the
Till by Twizell Bridge, over which Surrey marched his men southward on
the morning of Flodden. Not far from this bridge, to the westward, is
St. Helen's Well, alluded to by Scott in his account of the battle, in
"Many a chief of birth and rank,
St. Helen, at thy fountain drank."
Sibyl's well, from which Lady Clare brought water to moisten the lips of
the dying Marmion, is beside the little church at Branxton. Tillmouth,
however, has older memories still; for it was to the little chapel there
that St. Cuthbert's body floated in its stone coffin from Melrose,
dating the course of its seven years' wandering, ere it found a final
rest at Durham.
"From sea to sea, from shore to shore,
Seven years Saint Cuthbert's corpse they bore
They rested them in fair Melrose,
But though alive he loved it well
Not there his relics might repose,
For, wondrous tale to tell,
In his stone coffin forth he glides,
A ponderous bark for river tides,
Yet light as gossamer it glides
Downward to Tillmouth cell.
* * * * *
Chester-le-Street and Ripon saw
His holy corpse, ere Wardilaw
Hailed it with joy and fear;
Till, after many wanderings past,
He chose his lordly seat at last
Where his cathedral, huge and vast,
Looks down upon the Wear."
_Sir W. Scott_--MARMION.
The "stone coffin" was boat-shaped, "ten feet long, three feet and a
half in diameter, and only four inches thick, so that, with very little
assistance, it might certainly have swum; it still lies, or at least did
so a few years ago, in two pieces, beside the ruined chapel at
Tilmouth."--_Sir W. Scott's Notes to "Marmion."_
Three or four miles from Tillmouth, south-westward up the valley of the
Tweed, and just beyond Cornhill, lies the village of Wark, near which
the remains of the famous Border castle are still standing. The castle
was built on a stony ridge of detritus called the _Kaim_, which
stretches from Wark village towards Carham. In the reign of Henry I. all
those who owned land in the North were seemingly animated simultaneously
by a lively desire to secure their Borders; Bishop Flambard began to
build Norham Castle, Eustace Fitz-John, husband of Beatrice de Vesci,
built the greater part of Alnwick Castle, and Walter Espic raised the
mighty fortress, the great "Wark" or work (A.S. _were_ or _weare_) on
the steep ridge above Tweed, in "his honour (seignieury) of Carham."
From that time the castle of Wark went through a greater succession of
sieges, assaults, burnings, surrenders, demolitions, and restorations
than any other place in England, except, perhaps, Norham Castle or
Berwick-upon-Tweed. In an age and situation where hard blows given and
returned, desperate adventures and equal chances of life or death were
the common-places of everyday existence, Wark was probably the place
where these excitements were to be had oftener than anywhere else.
The romantic episode which gave rise to the establishment of the Order
of the Garter is generally allowed to have taken place at Wark Castle.
The young king of Scotland, David Bruce, had "ridden a raid" into
England, and ravaged and plundered on his way as far as Auckland, after
having burnt the town of Alnwick, amongst others, but having been
repulsed before the castle. King Edward III. was at Stamford when he
heard of the invasion; but hurrying northward he reached Newcastle in
four days. The Scots, retreating before him, passed Wark Castle, which
was held by the Countess of Salisbury and her nephew, in the absence of
her husband. The young man was loth to let so much English booty be
carried off under his very eyes, so he fell upon the rearguard, and
succeeded in bringing a number of packhorses to the castle. On this the
whole Scottish array turned back, and a siege of the castle began; but
the Countess spiritedly held out, and Edward meanwhile drew nearer. Some
of the Scotsmen were captured, and from them the Countess's nephew
heard that Edward had reached Alnwick. He stole out of the castle before
dawning in heavy rain, to let the King know where his help was urgently
needed; and by noon of the same day Edward was at Wark, only to find his
quarry flown, the Scots having retreated a few hours earlier. The King
was joyfully received and thanked by the grateful Countess; and he in
his turn was much struck by the beauty and grace of the high-spirited
lady, and showed his admiration plainly. In the evening, according to
tradition, a ball was held, at which the incident occurred, so often
related, of the accidental losing of her garter by the fair chatelaine,
and the restoration of it by the King, with the remark, as a rebuke to
the smiling bystanders,--"_Honi soit qui mal y pense._" This he
afterwards adopted as the motto of the Order he established in honour of
the beautiful Countess.
The Garter is the most exclusive of Orders, and consists of the reigning
Sovereign and twenty-five Companions, of whom the Prince of Wales is
always one; and it takes precedence of all other titles, ranking next to
royalty. It is a matter of great pride to all Northumbrians that perhaps
the only instance of its having been bestowed on any except a peer of
the realm or a foreign Sovereign, has occurred recently in the bestowal
of the coveted decoration on Sir Edward Grey, a member of the ancient
and important Northumbrian house of that name.
Every King of England from Henry I. to Henry IV., seems to have been at
Wark at some time during his reign, with the exception of Richard
Coeur-de-Lion and Richard II. After the Union of the Crowns, Wark, like
most other fortresses in the north that were not in use as the dwellings
of their owners, was allowed to fall into decay. From Wark to Carham is
a walk of only two miles along the road which follows the course of the
river, and ultimately leads to Kelso. Carham has the remains of an
ancient monastery; and here the Danes, after having plundered
Lindisfarne, fought a battle in which the Saxons, led by several
Bishops, were defeated with great slaughter. From Carham, having reached
the last point of interest on the Tweed within the Northumbrian border,
we must retrace our steps to Tillmouth, and follow the Tweed through
pasture land and level haughs, until we come in sight of the steep
cliffs and overhanging woods by Norham Castle.
Naturally here, the words of the opening canto of "Marmion" are recalled
to our memory--
"Day set on Norham's castled steep,
On Tweed's fair river, broad and deep,
And Cheviot's mountains lone
The battled towers, the donjon keep,
The loophole grates, where captives weep,
The flanking walls that round it sweep,
In yellow lustre shone."
The "castled steep" is still crowned by a massive fragment of the old
fortress that has braved, in its time, so many days of storm and stress.
A good deal of the curtain wall, too, is standing, and the natural
defences of the castle are admirable, for a deep ravine on the east and
the river with its steep banks on the south made it practically
unassailable at these points. It was built in 1121, as we have seen, by
Bishop Flambard of Durham, as a defence for the northern portions of his
diocese. The necessity for its presence there was soon made apparent,
for it was attacked by the Scots again and again; and by the time thirty
years had passed. Bishop Pudsey found it necessary to strengthen it
greatly. When Edward I. was called to arbitrate between the claimants
to the Scottish throne, he came to Norham and met the rival nobles, who,
with their followers, were quartered at Ladykirk, on the opposite side
of the Tweed. It was known as Upsettlington then, however; the name of
Ladykirk was bestowed upon it long afterwards, when James IV. built the
little chapel there, in gratitude for an escape from drowning in the
Tweed. Edward held his interview with the Scottish nobles in Norham
church, and announced that he had come there in the character of lord
paramount, and as such was prepared to make choice of one among them.
Edward did not by any means make up his mind quickly, and the various
places in which the successive acts in the affair took place are widely
scattered, for he met the nobles at Norham, some time afterwards
delivered his decision at Berwick, and finally received the homage of
John Balliol at Newcastle.
Norham, like Wark, has also its romantic episode--or rather, an episode
more conspicuously so in a series of them to which the name might with
justice be applied. It occurred during the time that Sir Thomas Gray was
holding the castle against a determined blockade of it by the Scots in
1318. A certain fair lady of Lincolnshire sent one of her maidens to a
knight whom she loved, Sir William Marmion (whose name probably
suggested to Sir Walter Scott the name for the hero of his tale of
Norham and Flodden). Sir William was at a banquet when the maiden came
before him bearing a helmet with a golden crest, together with a letter
from his lady bidding him go "into the daungerust place in England, and
there to let the heaulme be seene and knowen as famose." Evidently it
was well known where "the daungerust place in England" was to be found,
for the story laconically says "So he went to Norham." He had not been
there more than a day or two when a band of nearly two hundred Scots,
bold and expert horsemen, led by Philip de Mowbray, made an attack on
the castle, rousing Sir Thomas and his garrison from their dinner. They
quickly mounted, and were about to sally forth when Sir Thomas caught
sight of Marmion, in rich armour, and on his head the helmet with the
golden crest; and halting his men, he cried out, "Sir knight, ye be come
hither as a knight-errant to fame your helm; and since deeds of chivalry
should rather be done on horseback than on foot, mount up on your horse,
and spur him like a valiant knight into the midst of your enemies here
at hand, and I forsake God if I rescue not thy body dead or alive, or I
myself will die for it." At this Marmion mounted and spurred towards the
Scots, by whom he was instantly set upon, wounded, and dragged from the
saddle. But before they had time to give him the final blow they were
scattered by the rapid charge of Sir Thomas and his men, who quickly
rescued Marmion and set him on his horse again; and using their lances
against the horses of the Scots, caused many of them to throw their
riders, while the rest galloped away. The women of the castle caught
fifty of the riderless horses, on which more of the garrison mounted and
joined in the pursuit of the flying Scots, whom they chased nearly to
The tables were sometimes turned, however; and on one of these occasions
the valiant Sir Thomas Gray and his son were enticed out of the castle
into an ambush laid for them by their foes, and both captured.
In 1513, just before the battle of Flodden, its walls were at length
laid low by James IV., but not until the famous cannon "Mons
Meg"--still, I believe, to be seen at Edinburgh Castle--had been brought
against it. One of the cannon-balls fired from "Mons Meg" was found,
and is still kept with others at the Castle. It is said that the Scots
were told of the weakest spot in the fortifications by a treacherous
inmate of the castle, who doubtless expected a rich reward for his
information. Indeed, the ballad of "Flodden" says he came for it; but
the valiant and chivalrous king would give him no reward but that which
he said every traitor deserved--a rope.
Afterwards the castle was restored once more, but its more stirring days
were over; and, to-day, it stands a shattered but dignified ruin,
overlooking the tranquil river and peaceful woodlands which once echoed
so continuously to the clash of arms and the shouts of besiegers and
The village of Norham was in Saxon days known as Ubbanford--the Upper
Ford of two that were available in those days on the Tweed. There was a
church here, too, in Saxon times, for Bishop Ecfrid built one about the
year 830, and in it was buried the Saxon king Ceolwulf who became a
monk: the present church has a good deal remaining of the one built on
the same site by Bishop Flambard, about the same time as the castle.
Earl Gospatric, whom William the Conqueror made Earl of Northumberland
in return for a considerable sum of money--doubtless thinking that to
give a Northumbrian the Earldom would reconcile the North to his
rule--is buried in the church porch. Gospatric joined in the resistance
of the North to William, but returned to his allegiance later. The
Market Cross of Norham stands on the original base.
From Norham to Tweedmouth the river sweeps forward between picturesque
ever-widening banks, and often hidden by a leafy screen, past the
village of Horncliffe, beneath the Union Suspension Bridge, one of the
first erected of its kind, until at length its bright waters lave the
historic walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and in the quiet harbour there
meet the inrushing tide from the North Sea.
DRUM AND TRUMPET.
"The history of Northumberland is essentially a drum and trumpet
history, from the time when the _buccina_ of the Batavian cohort first
rang out over the moors of Procolitia down to the proclamation of James
III. at Warkworth Cross"--_Cadwallader J Bates_.
This sentence of the historian of Northumberland sums up the story of
our northern county no less admirably than tersely, and it would be
difficult to find one which should more clearly bring before us the
whole atmosphere of north-country history and north-country doings for
Within the limits of this chapter it is impossible to go into the
details of every "foughten field" within the county; the most that can
be done is to indicate the many and treat in detail only the few. A
goodly number have already been alluded to in connection with the place
where each occurred.
After the Roman campaigns, from those of Agricola to those of Theodosius
the elder and Maximus, and the legion sent by Stilicho, the earliest
battle story is that of the one in Glendale fought by King Arthur. Then
the forming of the kingdom of Bernicia with the advent of Ida at
Bamburgh was the beginning of a long-protracted struggle between the
various little states, each fighting for its life, and surrounded by
others equally determined to take every advantage that offered against
it. The sons of Ida fought against the celebrated Urien, a Keltic
chief, who almost succeeded in dispossessing them of their kingdom of
Bernicia. Hussa, one of Ida's sons, ultimately vanquished Urien's son
Owen, "chief of the glittering West"; and after Hussa's death Ethelric
of Bernicia, as we have seen, overcame the neighbouring chieftain of
Deira, thus forming the kingdom of Northumbria. His successor,
Ethelfrith, in the year 603 gained a great victory over a large force of
northern Britons under a leader named Aedan at a place called
Daegsanstan, which is thought to be Dissington, near Newcastle. His
further victories were gained outside the limits of our present survey.
After the long and glorious reign of Edwin, his successor, Ethelfrith's
sons came back to Bamburgh; the eldest, Eanfrid, was slain within a
year, and his brother Oswald carried on the struggle against Penda of
Mercia. We have seen how he fought against Penda and Cadwallon on the
Heavenfield near Chollerford, and gained a victory which obtained for
him many years of peace. Penda was finally slain by Oswald's successor
Oswy in a great battle which is supposed to have taken place on the
banks of the Tweed.
Many years afterwards, Sitric, grandson of that Prince Guthred who was
once a slave at Whittingham, married a sister of King Athelstan,
grandson of Alfred the Great. When Sitric died, Athelstan came northward
to claim Northumbria for himself. He captured Bamburgh--the first time
that stronghold of the Bernician kings had ever been taken--and arranged
for two earls to govern Northumbria for him. They attempted
unsuccessfully to oppose a force of Scots under Anlaf the Red, who was
joined by two earls of Bretland (Cumbria); and the whole force encamped
near a place called Weondune, supposed to be Wandon near Chatton.
Athelstan advanced against them and challenged them to a pitched battle
on this ground. They agreed, and with much deliberation the course was
staked out with hazel wands between a wood and a river (Chillingham
woods and the Till). The Scots greatly outnumbered Athelstan's men, who
set up their tents at the narrowest part of the plain, giving their king
time to reach a little "burg" (Old Bewick) in the neighbourhood. A
running fight followed, which was carried on the next day, and with the
help of two brothers, Egil and Thorold, who were Norsemen, it ended in a
complete victory for Athelstan. While in the north, King Athelstan gave
the well-known rhyming charter to a certain Paulan of Roddam;
"I kyng Adelstan
giffs hier to Paulan
Oddam and Roddam
als gud and als fair
als evyr thai myne war,
and thar to wytness
Mald my Wiffe."
Shortly after this, at the Battle of Brunanburh, Athelstan vanquished
Anlaf Sitricsson and Constantine, king of the Scots. The site of this
battle would seem to have been in Northumbria, as it was into the Humber
that Anlaf and Constantine sailed with their large fleet; but the
precise spot has never been determined.
In the reign of Knut the Dane, the Scots obtained the whole of Lothian
from the Saxon earl of Northumberland, and the vast possessions of St.
Cuthbert beyond the Tweed seemed about to be lost to the church of
Durham. Accordingly, the clergy called upon all the people of St.
Cuthbert from the Tees to the Tweed--all those, that is, who dwelt on
lands granted by various donors to the church of St. Cuthbert--to rise
and march northward to fight for their lands. This great company set
out, in the autumn of 1018, and reached Carham on the Tweed, where they
were met by Malcolm king of the Scots. A comet had been seen in the sky
for some weeks and the fears inspired by this dread visitant seem to
have had more effect upon the Northumbrians than upon the Scots. From
whatever cause it arose, when the two forces joined in battle a panic
spread among the followers of St. Cuthbert. They were utterly routed,
and most of the leading Northumbrians as well as eighteen priests were
slain--thus curiously repeating the experience of the earlier battle of
For the next three hundred years Northumberland was swept by successive
waves of raid and reprisal, in the course of which occurred the two
well-known events, the attack of William the Lion of Scotland on Alnwick
Castle, and the more famous affair still, the struggle between Percy and
Douglas known as the battle of Otterburn, which was fought in "Chevy
Chase" (Cheviot Forest). More important poetically than politically, it
stands out more vividly in the records of the time than many other
conflicts of larger import. The personal element in the fight, the deeds
of gallantry recorded, the sounding roll of the chief knights' names,
and the high renown of the two leaders, throw a glamour around this
particular contest which is kept alive by the ballads that chant the
praises of Percy or Douglas according as the singer was Scot or Saxon.
Sir Philip Sidney, that "verray parfit gentil knight" and discriminating
_litterateur_, said "I never heard the old song of Percie and Douglas
that I found not my hart mooved more than with a trumpet: and yet it is
sung but by some blynd Crowder, with no rougher voyce than rude
stile! which beeing so evill apparelled in the dust and cobweb of that
uncivill age, what wolde it work trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of
Pindare!" [Footnote 11: Crowder = fiddler.]
In the endless warfare of the Borders the second of two short-lived
periods of truce had just expired, and an organised raid on a large
scale was arranged by the Scots. The main body was to ravage Cumberland;
and a smaller, but picked force led by Earls Douglas, Moray, and March
came southward by way of Northumberland. But Northumbrian towers and
towns knew nothing of their passing; they marched rapidly and by stealth
into Durham, having crossed the Tyne between Corbridge and Bywell, and
began to harry and lay waste the greener pastures and richer villages of
the southern county, the smoke of whose burning homesteads was the first
intimation to the unlucky English of the fact that a Scottish host was
in their midst.
The Earl of Northumberland remained at Alnwick in the hope that he might
be able to attack the Scots on their homeward journey; but he despatched
his sons Henry Hotspur and Ralph in all haste to defend Newcastle. The
Scots in due time appeared before the walls.
And he marched up to Newcastel
And rode it round about;
"O wha's the lord o' this castel?
Or wha's the lady o't?"
But up spake proud Lord Percy then,
And O but he spake hie!
"I am the lord o' this castel,
My wife's the lady gay."
Douglas challenged Percy to meet him in single combat, and Percy
promptly accepted. In the duel Percy was unhorsed, and Douglas captured
his pennon and his gauntlet gloves, embroidered with the Percy lion in
pearls. This trophy Douglas vowed he would carry off to Scotland with
him, and set it in the topmost tower of his castle of Dalkeith, that it
might be seen from afar. "By heaven! that you never shall," replied
Percy; "you shall not carry it out of Northumberland." "Come and take
it, then," was Douglas' answer; and Hotspur would have attempted its
recovery there and then, but he was restrained by his knights. Douglas,
however, said he would give Percy a chance to recover it, and agreed to
await him at Otterburn.
"Yet I will stay at Otterbourne,
Where you shall welcome be;
And if ye come not at three dayis end,
A fause lord I'll call thee"
Next day the Scots left Newcastle and marched northward. They took Sir
Aymer de Athol's castle of Ponte-land, and the good knight Sir Aymer
himself, and went on their way, harrying and burning as they went. At
Otterburn they halted, and rested all night, making huts for themselves
of boughs and branches. The spot they had chosen was a strong one, on
the site of a former British camp; and not only was it surrounded by
trees, but was near marshy ground as well. Next day they attempted to
take Otterburn tower, but without success.
Meanwhile word was brought to Hotspur that the Scots would spend the
night at Otterburn; and he, without waiting for Walter de Skirlaw,
Bishop of Durham, who was expected that evening with a strong force, at
once set off with 600 spearmen, and a force on foot which is variously
given as anything from 800 to 8,000. They covered the thirty-odd miles
by the time evening fell: and as the Scots were at supper in their
little huts, they were startled by a tumult amongst their grooms and
camp-followers, and cries of "a Percy! a Percy!" and the Englishmen were
among them. The Scottish leaders had placed their camp-followers and
servants at the outermost; part of their encampment, facing the
Newcastle road; and Hotspur's force, ignorant of this, mistook it for
the main camp. While they were thus engaged, the Scottish knights were
enabled to make a detour around the scene of the first attack, and take
the English in the rear. With loud shouts of "Douglas! Douglas!" they
fell upon them, and a fierce hand-to-hand struggle began. The moon rose
clear and bright, and the quiet evening air was filled with the din of
battle, the ring of steel on steel, the crash of axe on armour, the
groans of the wounded, and the battle-cries of the combatants on each
side. Sir Ralph Percy, pressing too rashly forward, was captured by a
newly-made Scottish knight, Sir John Maxwell. The battle was turning in
favour of Hotspur, when Douglas sent his silken banner to the front and
with renewed shouts of "Douglas!" the Scots pressed forward and overbore
their foes. According to Froissart, there was not a man there, knight,
squire, or groom, who played the coward. "This bataylle was one of the
sorest and best foughten without cowards or faynte hearts; for there was
neither knight nor I squire but that did his devoyre and foughte hande
to hande." Great deeds were done, and the fame of none amongst them is
greater than that of the gallant Widdrington;
"For Witherington my heart is woe,
That ever he slaine sholde be!
For when his legs were hewn in two
He knelt and fought on his knee"
Douglas rushed into the thickest of the fray, and Hotspur tried to find
him, but in the dim light that was difficult, especially as Douglas
had, in his haste, come to the fight without helmet or breastplate.
Presently he was borne to the ground by three English spears; and as he
lay guarded by his faithful chaplain, Sir John and Sir Walter Sinclair,
with Sir James Lindsay, came upon him. "How fare you, cousin?" asked Sir
John. "But poorly, I thank God," answered Douglas; "for few of my
ancestors died in bed or chamber. I count myself dead, for my heart
beats slow. Think now to avenge me. Raise my banner and shout 'Douglas!'
and let neither my friends nor my foes know of my state, lest the one
rejoice and the other be discomforted." His dying commands were obeyed;
and while his battle-cry was raised anew, his dead body was laid by a
"bracken bush," and the fact of his death concealed from friend and foe
alike. The furious onslaught of the Scots now carried all before them;
and Hotspur fell a captive to the sword of Sir Hugh Montgomery, a nephew
of Douglas, after a fierce hand-to-hand encounter. The two chief English
leaders being captured, the day, or rather the night, was with the
Scots, in fulfilment of an old prophesy that "a dead Douglas should win
"This deed was done at Otterbourne
At the breaking of the day;
Earl Douglas was buried at the braken bush,
And the Percy led captive away."
When the fray was over, the two sides treated their captives with
knightly courtesy, many being allowed to go to their homes until they
recovered from their wounds, on giving their word of honour to send the
amount of their ransom, or themselves return to their captors.
The Bishop of Durham, immediately after having had some refreshment at
Newcastle, had set out to join the Percies; but as he and his men
neared Otterburn, they met so many fugitives who gave them anything but
reassuring accounts of the fortunes of their friends, that half of his
force melted away, and the Bishop had perforce to return to Newcastle;
it was scarcely to be expected, indeed, that everyone should have that
thirst for hard blows which distinguished the knights and their
immediate followers. The Bishop, however, made one capture--Sir James
Lindsay, who had ridden so far in pursuit of Sir Matthew Redman that he
found himself amongst the force advancing under the leadership of the
When the Scots retired from their camp, they took the body of Douglas
from the "bracken bush" where it lay, and carried it away for burial in
Melrose Abbey; and Hotspur, as the price of his ransom, built a castle
for Sir Hugh Montgomery.
After this there was peace on the Borders for the next ten years or so,
when the game began again as merrily as ever. When Sir Thomas Gray was
absent from his castle of Wark-on-Tweed, attending Parliament, the Scots
came down upon it and carried off his children and servants. Sir Robert
Umfraville met and checked another company that were harrying
Coquetdale. In the year 1400, Henry Bolingbroke himself led an army to
Edinburgh; but a guerilla band of Scots, avoiding his line of march,
stole behind him and ravaged Bamburghshire.
Two years after this, a party of Scots under the next Douglas rode into
Northumberland, coming nearly as far south as Newcastle. Hotspur set off
from Bamburgh, of which castle he was Constable at the time, to
intercept them. He awaited them on the banks of the Glen, near Wooler;
and the archers of his force went out for forage meanwhile. When the
Scots arrived, they found themselves in the presence of an enemy whom
they had imagined to be behind them, and they immediately occupied
Homildon Hill. The archers, returning, saw the Scottish force on the
hill, and began the attack forthwith, letting fly their arrows upon the
foe with deadly precision. Flight after flight fell upon the Scots, who
were completely bewildered, and seemed incapable of action. A Scottish
knight, Sir John Swinton, implored the leaders to charge, passionately
exclaiming, "What madness has seized you, my brave countrymen, that you
stand here like deer to be shot down? Follow me, those who will! We will
either gain the victory, or die like men of courage."
On hearing these brave words, Adam de Gordon, Swinton's deadly foe, felt
his hatred turn to admiration, and kneeling before Swinton, begged that
he might receive the honour of knighthood from so valiant a hand. The
two gallant knights then charged the enemy, followed by a number of the
Scots; but the showers of arrows forced them to retreat towards the
river, and thither also moved the whole Scottish force, followed still
by that grim and deadly hail from the English bows. Hotspur would now
have charged, but the Earl of March, his former antagonist, now his
friend, restrained his impetuous leader, and persuaded him to let the
archers continue their effective work.
The event proved his wisdom; the Scots were utterly routed by the
archers alone. The unfortunate Archibald Douglas added another to his
long list of reverses; he was taken prisoner, sorely wounded, as was
also Sir Hugh Montgomery, and over four-score others of importance. It
was in connection with these prisoners, whom Hotspur refused to deliver
up to Bolingbroke, that the quarrel took place which eventually led
Northumberland and his son Hotspur openly to throw off their allegiance
to Henry Bolingbroke and join in the rebellion of Owen Glendower. Not
only did Hotspur refuse to give up Douglas and the others to King Henry,
but he wished Henry to ransom his brother-in-law Mortimer.
_K. Henry_. But sirrah, henceforth
Let me not hear you speak of Mortimer.
Send me your prisoners with the speediest means,
Or you shall hear in such a kind from me
As will displease you.--My lord Northumberland,
We licence your departure with your son.--
Send us your prisoners, or you'll hear of it.
(_Exeunt_ K. Henry, Blunt, _and train_)
_Hotspur_. And if the devil come and roar for them
I will not send them:--I will after, straight,
And tell him so.
* * * * *
_Worcester_. These same noble Scots
That are your prisoners--
_Hotspur_. I'll keep them all;
By heaven, he shall not have a Scot of them;
No, if a Scot would save his soul, he shall not;
I'll keep them, by this hand.
_Worcester_. You start away,
And lend no ear unto my purposes.
Those prisoners you shall keep.--
_Hotspur_. Nay, I will, that's flat:--
He said he would not ransom Mortimer;
Forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer;
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I'll holla "Mortimer!"
Nay, I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but "Mortimer," and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion.
_The First Part of_ KING HENRY IV., _Act I., Scene 3_.
The fight at Homildon Hill took place on a Monday in August, 1402, and
the memory of it is kept alive by the name of the "Monday Clough" near
Wooler, where the archers commenced the fight.
More than a hundred years after this, the last, and in many respects the
greatest, battle ever fought on Northumbrian soil took place at Flodden.
King James IV. of Scotland had several grievances against England, which
had rankled in his mind for some time; he had not yet received the full
amount of the dowry which had been promised with his wife, Margaret
Tudor, sister of Henry VIII., although they had been married for many
years; a Scottish noble, Sir Robert Ker, had been killed in
Northumberland, and the slayer could not be found to be brought to
justice--he was outlawed, but that seemed to King James very
insufficient; a Border raid on a large scale, led by Lord Hume, had met
with disastrous defeat on Milfield Plain at the hands of Sir William
Bulmer; and Andrew Barton, a notable sea-captain, whom James was looking
forward to seeing as one of the best leaders of his new navy, had been
killed in a sea-fight by Thomas Howard, Lord Admiral of England. Added
to all this, France had appealed to him to invade England in order to
force Henry VIII. to abandon his French war; the English monarch was
just then conducting the siege of Terouenne, and the Queen of France
sent a romantic appeal to James (together with a large sum of money)
begging him to march "three feet on to English ground" for her sake.
No time could have been more favourable in James' eyes for the
enterprise; and in a very short space of time he had an army of 100,000
men collected, and marched from Edinburgh to the Tweed, which he crossed
near Coldstream. He laid siege to Norham, and captured it after a week's
investment; and thereafter Wark, Ford, Etal, Duddo and Chillingham fell
before him. He took up his quarters at Ford Castle, and on marching
later to meet Surrey, left it almost in ruins.
Surrey meantime had gathered a large force from the northern counties,
much to James' surprise, for he had taken it for granted that nearly
every English fighting man would be with Henry in Flanders. There were
bowmen and billmen from Cheshire and Lancashire under the Stanley
banner; and James Stanley, Bishop of Ely, brought the banner of St.
Etheldreda, the Northumbrian queen who founded the monastery of Ely.
Admiral Sir Thomas Howard brought a band of sailors to join his father
at Alnwick. Dacre came with a strong contingent from the western
Marches, men from Alston Moor, Gilsland, and Eskdale, and also some from
Tynemouth and Bamburgh; and Sir Brian Tunstall with Sir William Bulmer
led the men of the Bishopric under the banner of St. Cuthbert.
From Alnwick Surrey sent a letter pledging himself to meet James by
September 9th, and challenging him to battle, a challenge which was
promptly accepted by the Scottish king. Marching from Alnwick towards
the Scottish army, Surrey encamped on September 6th on Wooler Haughs.
James had formed his camp on Flodden Hill, and all Surrey's devices
could not induce him abandon this strong position. Many of his own
nobles advised him not to risk a battle, but to withdraw while there was
yet time; and some were ready to leave the camp and return home, which
thousands of the more undisciplined in his army had done already, being
more anxious to carry off their plunder safely than to stay and fight.
But James was eager for the contest, and felt himself bound in honour to
give battle to Surrey; he answered haughtily those who counselled
retreat, and scornfully told Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, that he
might go home if he were afraid. The old man sorrowfully left the field,
but his two sons remained with their rash but gallant king, and were
On the day before the battle took place, Surrey, that "auld crooked
carle," as James called him, marched his men northward across the Till
and encamped for the night near Barmoor Wood. To the Scots this looked
as though they had gone off towards Berwick, to repeat James' own
manoeuvre, and invade the country in the absence of its king; and they
must have thought that there would be little chance of the battle for
which James had punctiliously waited taking place on the morrow. But
Surrey's purpose proved to be quite otherwise. On the following morning
he sent the vanguard of his army, with the artillery, to make a detour
of several miles round by Twizell bridge, where they re-crossed to the
south bank of the Till; and coming south-eastward towards Flodden, they
were joined by the rest of the army, which had plunged through the
stream, swollen by continuous rains, at two points near Crookham. The
two divisions met at Branxton, after having waded through a marsh which
extended from Branxton nearly to the Till, and which the Scots had
Seeing that the English were about to occupy Branxton Hill, which would
entirely cut him off from communication with Scotland, James was forced
to abandon his advantageous position; he gave orders for the camp-refuse
to be fired, and under cover of the dense clouds of smoke marched down
to forestall Surrey and occupy Branxton ridge. The two armies suddenly
found themselves within a few spears' length of each other, and the
battle was begun by the artillery on both sides.
Sudden, as he spoke,
From the sharp ridges of the hill,
All downward to the banks of Till
Was wreathed in sable smoke.
Volumed, and vast, and rolling far,
The cloud enveloped Scotland's war
As down the hill they broke;
Nor martial shout, nor minstrel tone
Announced their march; their tread alone,
At times one warning trumpet blown,
At times a stifled hum.
Told England, from his mountain throne
King James did rushing come.
Scarce could they hear or see their foes
Until at weapon-point they close.
Many of the raw levies on the English side fled at the first sound of
the Scottish cannon; but the master of the ordnance, Lord Sinclair, was
killed, and his guns silenced. Then the battle joined, and the first
result was that the English right wing under Sir Edmund Howard was
scattered and broken before the impetuous charge of the Gordons and
Highlanders under the Earl of Huntley and Lord Home. Sir Edmund narrowly
escaped with his life; but Lord Dacre bringing up his reserve of
horsemen at that moment checked the further advance of the Scots. The
two central divisions of the armies engaged each other fiercely, the
Earl of Surrey, with his son Sir Thomas Howard commanding the English
centre, and King James, with the Earls of Crawford and Montrose that of
the Scots. Sir Thomas, after having been so hard pressed as to send the
_Agnus Dei_ he wore to his father as a signal for help, afterwards with
Sir Marmaduke Constable defeated the Earl of Crawford, whose division
was opposed to him. Dacre and Sir Thomas now charged Lord Home and
drove him some little way back, but could not dislodge his men entirely
from their position. The Earl of Bothwell, who commanded the Scottish
reserves, now came up to the help of the king, and the day seemed about
to be decided in favour of the Scots, when Lord Stanley, on the English
left, exactly reversed the fortunes of the right wing, and scattered and
routed the Highlanders led by the Earls of Lennox and Argyle. Then with
his Lancashire lads he attacked the rear of the Scottish position, as
did also Dacre and Sir Thomas Howard.
"They saw Lord Marmion's falcon fly,
And stainless Tunstall's banner white
And Edmund Howard's lion bright
All bear them bravely in the fight,
Although against them come
Of gallant Gordons many a one,
And many a stubborn Highlandman,
And many a rugged Border clan
With Huntly and with Home.
Far on the left, unseen the while,
Stanley broke Lennox and Argyle."
Nothing now remained for the Scottish centre, hemmed in on all sides,
but to make a stubborn last stand; and gallantly did they do it. The
flower of Scotland's chivalry surrounded their brave monarch, and in the
falling dusk fought desperately to guard their king.
"No thought was there of dastard flight;
Linked in that serried phalanx tight,
Groom fought like noble, squire like knight,
As fearlessly and well.
The stubborn spearmen still made good
Their dark impenetrable wood,
Each stepping where his comrade stood
The instant that he fell."
As night fell, the fierce struggle continued until the darkness made it
impossible to see friend or foe, but the fate of Scotland's bravest was
sealed. The king lay dead, covered with wounds, and around him a heap of
slain; those who were able made their way in haste from the field, while
the English host encamped where it stood. The more lawless in each army
plundered both sides impartially, and when the king's body was found
next day, it too was stripped like many others around it.
"Then did their loss his foemen know,
Their king, their lords, their mightiest low,
They melted from the field as snow
Dissolves in silent dew.
Tweed's echoes heard the ceaseless plash
While many a broken band,
Disordered, through its currents dash
To gain the Scottish land;
To town and tower, to down and dale,
To tell red Flodden's dismal tale,
And raise the universal wail."
The tragic effects of that terrible day were long felt in Scotland.
Every family of note in the land lost one or more of its members on the
fatal field, besides the thousands of humbler beings who fell at the
same time. Scotland did not recover from the crushing blow for more than
a hundred years; and for many a day the people could not believe that
their gallant king was really slain, but continued to hope that he had
escaped in the darkness, and would one day return.
There has recently been erected on Flodden Field a simple cross of stone
as a memorial of that tragic day. It was unveiled on September 27th,
1910, by Sir George Douglas, Bart. The inscription on the stone is "To
the Brave of both Nations."
THE FLOWERS OF THE FOREST.
A LAMENT FOR FLODDEN.
I've heard the liltin' at our ewe-milking,
Lasses a' liltin' before dawn o' day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning--
The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away.
At bughts, in the mornin', nae blythe lads are scornin',
Lasses are lonely and dowie and wae;
Nae daffin', nae jabbin', but sighin' and sabbin',
Ilk ane lifts her leglin  and hies her away.
In harst, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering,
Bandsters are lyart, and runkled, and gray;
At fair or at preaching, nae wooing, nae fleeching --
The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away.
At e'en, in the gloaming, nae younkers are roaming
'Bout stacks, with the lasses at "bogle" to play;
But ilk ane sits drearie, lamenting her dearie--
The Flowers of the Forest are weded away.
Dool and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border!
The English for ance by guile wan the day;
The Flowers of the Forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The prime of our land, are cauld in the clay.
We'll hear nae mair liltin' at our ewe-milkin';
Women and bairns are heartless and wae;
Sighing and moaning on ilka green loaning--
The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away.
[Footnote 12: Bughts = sheep-pens.]
[Footnote 13: Leglin = milk-pail.]
[Footnote 14 Lyart = grizzled.]
[Footnote 15: Fleeching = coaxing.]
TALES AND LEGENDS.
Northumberland, as might be guessed from its wild history, is rich in
tales of daring and stories of gallant deeds; there are true tales, as
well as legendary ones, which latter, after all, may be true in
substance though not in detail, in spirit and possibility though not in
a certain sequence of facts. Now-a-days we look upon dragons as fabulous
animals, and stories of the destruction they wrought, their fierceness
and their might are dismissed with a smile, and mentally relegated to a
place amongst the fairy tales that delighted our childhood's days, when
the idea of belief or disbelief simply did not enter the question. Yet
what are the dragon stories but faint memories of those gigantic and
fearsome beasts which roamed the earth in the "dim, red dawn of
man"--their names, as we read the labels on their skeletons in our
museums, being now the most fearsome things about them! No one can deny
that the ichthyosaurus, plesiosaurus, and all the rest of their tribe
did exist; and were they to be encountered in these days would spread
the same terror around, and find man almost as helpless before them as
did any fierce dragon of the fairy tales. That part of the legends,
therefore, has its foundation in fact; though from the nature of the
case, we certainly do not possess an authenticated account of any
particular contest between primitive man and one of these gigantic
creatures. That oldest Northumbrian poem, however, the "Beowulf,"
chants the praises of its hero's prowess in encounters of the kind; and
the north-country still has its legends of the Sockburn Worm, the
Lambton Worm, and the "Laidly" Worm of Spindleston Heugh, the two first
having their _venue_ in Durham, and the last in Northumberland. The