John Grundy loves the stories of architecture and its environment. He describes its history emerging out of the mists.
The oldest structure built in Northumberland, dated 7,000 BC, at Howick, was a very comfortable circular wigwam-style warm house. Lordenshaw had circular huts and ramparts, and there are signs of worship and burial cists on Simonside and Brough Law.
Coming forward a few hundred years there were small stone churches with apses. Then came the Normans in 1066.
The Northumbrians managed to beat off the Normans, and the Scots, until the Normans began to settle from 1120 AD and started a period of relative peace.
They built straight and strong church buildings from the beautiful and easily worked stone, and removed the curved apses. They upgraded or built all the defensive castles on the coast and against the Scots, like the motte and bailey at Elsdon and the castle at Kielder, “where the people are quite wild”.
Fortified houses – bastles – usually seen with outside steps, were built towards the end of the ‘wild west indiscipline’ of Reivers in the borders, with 3ft to 4ft walls. They can often be seen as farm buildings or village houses. John feels these are worthy of a study all of their own.
There were no farm buildings before the 1750s because of the wars, and feudalism had persisted.
With a dignified pattern established by the Georgians, estate farm buildings tended to be fairly substantial and quite architectural, of which there are many in the county made of high quality stone.
But John is equally interested in the poorer farm houses, generally built in a line with the small house, maybe a cottage, the cow byre and the pig sty, as at Linhope.
When visiting the grander houses remember to see them in their man-made environment, such as Capability Brown’s graded landscape at Wallington, with pleasurable details from lawns to the moorland.
See how Shaftoe Hall is in three linear parts – 13th, 17th and 13th centuries. Note the many follies, generally built to give work, such as The Rev Sharpe’s folly in Whitton/Rothbury. Observe Norman Shaw’s abstract architecture in Rothbury’s Addycombe Cottages.
Look at the alterations made in churches, and note the imaginative carvings and statues, some describing their perception of the world. Hartburn, especially, gives John a great deal of fun and pleasure.
From the outside look into the beautiful interior of Edlingham Castle, after you have been to the church, with some of its remaining defensive slit windows. At Elsdon look through history in the village with its houses, market green, church, big bastle/castle and its motte and bailey.
To get the most from finding the interesting architecture in Northumberland refer to the revised version of Pevsner’s Northumberland Architectural Guide: Buildings of England, with John Grundy a main contributor.
The next meeting is on Friday, March 17, with Dr Tony Barrow speaking on Smuggling on the North East Coast. It is at Rothbury Jubilee Hall, at 7.30pm. All welcome, visitors £2.