Rothbury and Coquetdale Local History Society

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The audience at Rothbury and Coquetdale Local History Society’s latest meeting caught the infectious enthusiasm or architectural historian Peter Rider when he told us of his search for all the bastle houses in the north from those now incorporated into modern farmhouses to mere humps in the ground, so far he knows of about 200 in Northumberland.

Most of the Northumbrian bastles were built by tenants, roughly between 1600-1650, just as the border reiving period was coming to an end.

Built by a head man they were often part of a cluster of lesser buildings around a defensive walled area.

Although many are in ruins but generally they are recognisable as solid stone buildings with pitched stone slabbed roofs which were purpose built to house the valuable animals on the grounds floor, with one or two upper stories for the family and stores for then all.

The walls were 3-4ft thick, enough for many niches, and even internal staircases. Windows were small and often just lists.

Initially the upstairs entrance would be by ladder which could be pulled up.

The outside stone staircase entrance often seen today, would be built later in more peaceful times.

Some even had three heavy wooden barred doors, with the additional defensive weapon of a quenching hole, (in the thickness of the walls) for pouring water down onto an fire lit by raiders.

They had many ingenious and expedient building techniques and designs, depending on to available materials and the needs of the family and farm.

The surviving bastle houses were often added to, perhaps for other family members and farm buildings and can still be detected in an amongst general housing and farm steadings today.

Examples can easily be seen at Wood House (Holystone) Black Middens (Tarset) and a very well restored one, actually in situ, at Beamish Museum.

Think, when you go of the scary life that the families lived, for generations, in those lawless times, which led them to eventually build their solid defensive bastle houses.

The next meeting is on Friday, November 15, in the Jubilee Hall, Rothbury, £2, the speaker for the evening Robert Moon, on Nicholas and Alexander (of Russia).