Alnwick and District Local History Society

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The Alnwick and District Local History Society welcomed John Almond, a member from many years ago.

He gave a talk entitled Bastions, Battles and Bastles, a whistle-stop tour of Border history from the time of Edward I, accompanied by a personal selection of photographs.

As is well-known, the first 400 years of this period, until the Union with England, were full of turmoil in the Borders, and the buildings reflect this.

The line of the border itself was influenced by geology.

In Devonian times, it was an area of volcanoes, which are now much reduced, forming a line of hills separating east and west.

Hadrian’s Wall became an effective border, which for a period was pushed back by the Romans to the Antonine Wall.

The present boundary was legally fixed in the 13th century, though there have been changes since. Forinstance, Berwick has changed between Scotland and England 13 times.

The earliest known settlers of the region were Mesolithic.

The recent excavations at Low Hauxley, a Bronze Age burial site, have shown that they were not nomadic. Fortified remains are much later.

There are the remains of a Scottish broch at Edin’s Hall near Duns, and a huge, early motte-and-bailey castle at Elsdon, whose extent is best seen from the air. Stone castles appeared a little later.

Norham, which guards a crossing point on the Tweed, is a fine example.

There are, of course, large numbers of castles in the Borders, though many are now in ruins.

Some have been incorporated into newer buildings: Belsay has a two-storey house attached, Chipchase a Jacobean mansion. Rock Hall, which was a youth hostel before becoming a private school, has a castle tower in the middle.

Down the scale, as some protection against the Border Reivers, there are the fortified pele towers, for vicars, and bastle houses. One of the best preserved of these is Black Middens Castle. To accommodate those men who were caught, Hexham Old Gaol was built, the earliest purpose-built prison in the country.

With changes in warfare, the bastion, an angular structure projecting from the curtain wall of an artillery fortification, was developed. The fine Elizabethan bastions at Berwick can still be seen.

With the Union of the Crowns, the authorities got to grips with the Border Reivers, and building styles changed, reflecting styles in other parts of the two countries.

The next meeting of the Alnwick and District Local History Society will be held at 7.30pm on Tuesday, April 22, when Alistair Sinton is giving a talk that is not the history of the Alnwick to Cornhill branch line.