Members and guests of Glendale Local History Society started their New Year programme with a presentation by John Almond on Aspects of Border History.
His talk was a snapshot of our border region in the Middle Ages and the fortifications required during the border conflicts which raged between England and Scotland.
He highlighted battles such as Halidon Hill (1333), Otterburn (1388), Homildon Hill (1402) and Flodden Field (1513).
Many skirmishes took place between 1300 and 1600. These raids are referred to as the Border Reivers raids where bands of men would not only forage over the border but wage war against their own countrymen in order to profit by plundering for animals as well as property and goods. These conflicts required those living in the region to fortify their homes.
John added that the wealthiest in the region would fortify their castles and gave illustrations of Berwick, Norham, Dunstanburgh and Alnwick. Many had very thick walls, secure gates and bastions (protruding walls to gain line of sight) to effectively repel assailants.
Lindisfarne, Hermitage Castle, Preston Tower, Edlingham and Belsay castles were all examples given by John where their owners, the local gentry, had extended to create improved defences. The clergy provided defences to their homes and John gave as an example Ponteland Tower which is a notable pele tower house which was largely destroyed by the Scottish army under the Earl of Douglas the day before the Battle of Otterburn. The remains of this tower were incorporated into the building now occupied by the Blackbird Inn, which is thought to contain an old tunnel connecting it to St Mary’s Church. The tunnel is supposedly bricked up behind the fireplace in The Tunnel Room.
Bastle farmhouses were the third kind of building found along the border. These were characterised by thick stone walls with the ground floor devoted to stable space for the most valuable animals and usually a stone vault between it and the first floor. The family’s living quarters were on the floor above the ground. The windows were narrow arrow slits. The roofs were made of slate to improve the bastle’s fire resistance. Their name is said to derive from the French word bastille.
The next meeting is on Wednesday, February 13, with county archaeologist Dr Chris Burgess talking on Flodden: 500 Years On at the Tankerville Arms Hotel, Wooler, at 7.30pm. Visitors welcome.