THAT part of the English Border in which stands Chillingham Castle is the most romantic spot in the British Islands. Nature on the county has lavished her treasures, such as fertile fields, running streams, diversities of hill and plain, a coast well deserving Swinburne’s line : ” The lordly strand of Northumberland.” Romance dwells by its rivers and in its valleys and peers out from its fortress ruins, which fancy easily fills with the stern faces that must often have watched from the loopholes. Even its waste places, its moors and commons, hags and mountains, are delightful to the eye. But the past of this fair demesne was more favourable to the development of romantic ballads than fine building. In those days of ” ffra and foray,” which began nobody knows exactly when and lasted till the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Borderer had ever to look out for the reiving Scot who issued forth to burn and steal. Besides, he was kept in a state of poverty as a net result of these attacks and reprisals. Thus, if we except the great places built so strongly as to defy the marauders, there are few, if any, fine old houses in the neighbourhood. Castles and towers there were in abundance, as Sir Walter Scott was quick to notice when, as a young man, he sojourned in the Cheviots to breathe the mountain air and drink goats’ milk. The district was very much to his mind, because it teemed with places famous in legend and song.
As the Great North Road runs from Alnwick to the Scottish Border, a range of moor with craggy summits lies between it and the valley of the Till. From the top of the highest peak the view stretches from the Farne Islands and the sea far over the domed heads of the Cheviot Hills on the west. The summit of Roscastle looks down upon Chillingham across a wide stretch covered alternately with heather, woodland, high ferns, and grass. The castle stands on the bank of the Chillingham burn, a grey quadrangle, with towers of heavy masonry at the four corners. On the east is the burn, on the north the entrance gate, on the west an Italian garden covers the site of the jousting ground, on the south a lawn is banked up above the former. level of the ground floor. There was once a moat here, and the culvert which remains suggests that it circled the castle on all sides.
What the life at Chillingham was in the old days is best shown by Cadwallader Bates, historian, antiquary, good Northumbrian, who fished up an old document, the Proof of Age of Margaret, daughter of Sir Henry de Heton, a curious record of an ordinary day’s doings at Chillingham in the last days of the fourteenth century, which stirs the historic imagination. Margaret was born on January 14th, 1395, and on the day of her christening, which took place in Chillingham Church, Nicholas Heron was married, and John Sergeant at the same time wedded Alice de Wyndegaltes. At the castle, Sir Henry de Heton, the baby’s father, bought a white horse from William Cramlington, and sent Wyland Mauduit to Newcastle to buy wine. John Belsise rode to Âlnwick with a letter to the Duke of Northumberland, William Cotys killed a doe in the field of Chillingham. John Horsley was captured and carried off by the Scots, and John Wytton caught a Scot, Thomas Turnbull, and clapped him into Chillingham gaol. On the same day Robert Horne was captured by Sir Thomas Grey of Heton and thrust into Norham Castle. The day was no extraordinary one. Its events have been recorded and handed down by chance. Yet how vividly it calls up the life of a Northumbrian gentleman of those days. He slays venison and buys wine, adds to the horses which he kept ready for riding, has a follower captured and himself captures a prowling enemy, and is apparently engaged in a family feud. These were the commonplace occurrences of daily life ; what would it be like in really stirring times ? Besides formal invasions, such as the expedition to Flodden, when the army was encamped for a long space of time in the neighbourhood, the Scots kept the English Borderers perpetually on the alert by their raids. Watchers waited at the fords through the autumn nights and beacon fires were ready piled on the hills to warn men that the Scots were ” riding.” The habit of violence was ingrained in the Borderers. Blood feuds and private wars were carried on from one generation to another, and religious quarrels added to their bitterness. In the history of these embroilments the masters of Chillingham sometimes figure. Several of them held official posts ; one was Warden of the West March, another Deputy-Warden, a third a frequent correspondent of Robert Cecil and recommended by a Warden as ” the perfectest I knowe ” to be on the March Commission. They had no blood feuds with the Scots. Their name, at least, does not figure in a long list of Border feuds in 1595. But they had their troubles at home with the neighbouring families of Selby and Widdrington. Sir Ralph Grey the fifth was at feud with Henry Widdrington. He and his brother were involved in an affair with the Selby family, which epitomises a whole chapter of Border life. An old grudge was stirred to a blaze by a tenant of Ralph Grey bringing an accusation against a Selby. Challenges passed, and Edward Grey agreed to meet William Selby in Berwick churchyard. They met and adjourned their conference to the ” backside ” of the church, while the partisans hung in two small groups at the east and west ends. Grey’s friends came up ” offering no stroke to offend.” But somehow old William Selby had presently fallen down upon his back, the minister was out of the church, and women were screaming. Reinforcements came upon the scene, called by Selby ” certaine of my friends in the towne,” but, according to Grey, ” six or seven of the most notorious common fighters in Berwick.” Edward Grey was wounded and his man, Bryan Horsley, was run through with a rapier. Then, in a cloud of recriminations and letters to the Secretary of State in London, the story passes out of sight. Another picture is of a Sunday morning in March, when Queen Mary was reigning. The master of Chillingham is riding with a cavalcade over to Ford Castle. He is a Justice of the Peace and Deputy-Warden ; with him are the mayor and treasurer of Berwick. Suddenly an ambuscade sets on them. The treasurer dies with fifteen wounds in him, and the mayor ” after his stroke never spake a word.” More followers came up on Sunday afternoon and the fight went on. The quarrel. was over the possession of Ford Castle, which lay in dispute between the Herons and the Carrs. To fill up the picture we must add Chillingham, with watchmen on the towers and women looking down from the deep windows and waiting for news.
” In these parts,” said a sheriff, ” almost no person rideth unarmed, but as surely upon his guard as if he rode against the enemy of Scotland.” In England it was an age of splendour, in which luxury and civilised arts flourished, and Northumberland felt the new influence. The fifth Earl of Northumberland earned his title ” the Magnificent ” and was among the heroes of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. A mistress of Chillingham Castle in 1581 left her son silver bowls and spoons and a silver and gilt salt-cellar, and to a daughter gold bracelets, ” my best velvet gowne, and a kirtle of velvet embroidered.” Coal began to be burned in gentlemen’s fireplaces and glass was used in their windows. In the south, the days of the castle were over ; defensive precautions were no longer studied, and the mansion and manor house were built for domestic convenience. But within sight of the Scottish Border a home was still a strong-hold first. Strong walls, arms and horses formed the bases of civilised life, and the bowls and spoons and velvet but a veneer. So the Tudor builders who put Chillingham in measurable good reparacions ” added corridors and built larger state rooms, but left the castle a place of defence. Since that period alteration has taken the form of adapting rather than of rebuilding ; the result is that the old remains behind the new, and Chillingham is a house of secrets, some of which are only now yielding to patient research. Old stairways have been found, mounting the deep walls of the southern towers. The original floor of the solar has been traced behind the old hall on the east. The pigeon-post has been discovered in the north-eastern tower, and a large space between walls has been opened on this side. Elsewhere a fireplace and windows long obscured behind plaster have been retrieved. The coatings of intervening years are being stripped off and the life-history of the castle is being revealed in fuller detail.
THE WILD CATTLE
The famous wild cattle at Chillingham have been so often painted and described that little remains to be said about them. Yet they are of perennial interest, and the park itself is a noble one and well worthy of a visit. It extends over a thousand acres, of which a considerable part is woodland, and the whole is beautifully undulated. Sir Edward Landseer’s pictures and the well-known description by George Culley have made the appearance of the animals familiar. It would appear, however, that they have changed in some important points during the centuries. From a passage in the Account Book of William Taylor, steward of Chillingham, dated 1692, which is given in ” The Border Holds of Northumberland,” by Cadwallader Bates, there seems to have been a mixture in the herd. The passage is as follows : ” Beasts in ye Parke, my Lord’s – 16 white wilde beasts, 2 black steeres and a quy, 12 white read and black eard, 5 blacke oxen and browne one, 2 oxen from Wark June last.” The point to be particularly noticed is that there were white, red and black eared among them. On this point Mr. Lydekker says that ” whereas the ears of the Chillingham cattle are now red, in former days they were generally black.” He makes a reference to Thomas Bewick, who, in his ” General History of Quadrupeds,” of which the first edition was published in 1790, stated that in his time a few of these cattle had black ears, while in 1692, says Mr. Lydekker, black ears were in the ascendancy. George Culley, writing in 1786, describes the wild habits of the cattle in a manner that would apply at the present moment. Thus when the cows calve they hide their young just as such a wild animal as the hare does, and if the little beasts are taken by surprise they cower down on the ground to conceal themselves in the same way as rabbits do, or like hares in a forme. Another writer, Mr. Hindmarsh, writing in 1839, dwells on the same wild characteristics. He says : ” They hide their young, feed in the night, basking or sleeping during the day : they are fierce when pressed, but, generally speaking, very timorous, moving off on the approach of anyone, even at a great distance.” The late Lord Tankerville enlarged the same point. After dwelling on these traits to which we have alluded, he said : ” They are fierce when pressed, but, generally speaking, very timorous, moving off on the appearance of anyone even at a great distance ; yet this varies very much in different seasons of the year, and according to the manner in which they are approached. In summer I have been for several weeks at a time without getting a sight of them – they, on the slightest appearance of anyone, retiring into a wood which serves them as a sanctuary. On the other hand, in winter, when coming down for food into the inner park, and being in constant contact with people, they will let you almost come among them, particularly if on horseback. But then they have also a thousand peculiarities. They will be sometimes feeding quietly, when, if anyone appears suddenly near them, they will be struck with a sudden panic and gallop off, running one over the other, and never stopping till they get into their sanctuary. It is observable of them, as of red deer, that they have a peculiar faculty of taking advantage of the irregularities of the ground, so that on being disturbed they may traverse the whole park, and yet you hardly get a sight of them.
Their usual mode of retreat is to get up slowly, set off at a walk, then a trot, and seldom begin to gallop till they have put the ground between you and them in the manner that I have described.” Lord Tankerville gave a description of them which could scarcely be bettered. He said : ” They have short legs, straight backs, horns of a very fine texture, thin skin, so that some of the bulls appear of a cream colour ; and they have a peculiar cry, more like that of a wild beast than that of ordinary cattle. With all the marks of high breeding, they have also some of its defects ; they are bad breeders, and are much subject to the ` rash ‘ – a complaint common to animals bred in-and-in, which is unquestionably the case with these as long as we have any record of them. When they come down in to the lower part of the park, which they do at stated hours, they move like a regiment of cavalry, in single file, the bulls leading the van ; and when they are in retreat the bulls bring up the rear.”
Lord Ossulston was witness to a curious way in which they took possession, as it were, of some new pasture recently laid open to them. It was in the evening about sunset. They began by lining the front of a small wood, which seemed quite alive with them, when all of a sudden they made a dash forward all together in a line, and, charging close by him across the plain, they then spread out, and after a little time began feeding. It is generally said of other herds of wild cattle that they have suffered from in-breeding, but this does not seem to be the case at Chillingham. In the course of an article in Country Life of March 8th, 1913, it was said on authority that ” the decrease in size owing to in-breeding is not noticeable, but Lord Tankerville has a pair of cow’s horns of the sixteenth century which are somewhat larger and more curved back; but then the cows and steers have always had longer horns than the bulls.” This point was dwelt upon by Mr. Hindmarsh, who visited Chillingham in June, 1838. ” It is remarkable,” he wrote, ” that during the thirty-three years Mr. Cole has been keeper he has perceived no alteration in their size or habits from in-breeding, and that at the present time they are equal in every point to what they were when he first knew them. About half a dozen have had small brown or blue spots upon the cheeks and necks ; but these, with any defective ones, were always destroyed.”
In the course of a very full and accurate account of the cattle which Mr. Millais wrote for his ” Mammals of Great Britain and Ireland ” he makes the remark that ” there seems to be but little evidence of the continuous existence of this herd since its beginning.” Here is a point that might to great advantage be worked out. In State Papers and other document s it is not unusual to find references to the herd, and, probably, if an antiquarian like the late Mr. Bates had devoted his attention to it, he might possibly have been able to supply a series of references going through the centuries. Many of them were bound to be of an extremely casual character. Indeed, not till recent times has the very great importance of the breed been recognised. Nowadays, the most learned of the zoologists of Germany, Austria, and France have studied these cattle in every minute detail, and many able articles have been written about them in their scientific journals. Little, however, has been added to the data already collected and set out by the writers from whom we have quoted. The man who is no specialist but loves wild life of every kind will be delighted by a visit to Chillingham. It lies on the outside of the wild Cheviots, and the Park has been made a sanctuary of by many wild things in addition to the cattle. The owls hoot there all night, and thou-sands of birds frequent the rough woodlands by day. It is believed that the ground was imparked early in the thirteenth century, and it remains today probably very much the same as it was then.
About six or seven miles from Chillingham is Fallodon, which is likely to be remembered in history because it is the country home of Lord Grey of Fallodon, who, as Sir Edward Grey, was Minister for Foreign Affairs when the Great War broke out. The house, one of the few notable brick houses in Northumberland, was accidentally destroyed by fire while the war was going on, but is being rebuilt in the same style.
Lord Grey is very much attached to the place, where he spent his boyhood. It suited his taste for natural history. The estate consists of about two thousand acres of clay land situated between the sea-shore and the moor, and it has a little stream where the statesman in his boyhood learned to fish. Nowhere could he have obtained better facilities for acquiring his unique knowledge of the birds of the moorland and those of the sea.
A propos of the latter accomplishment, Lord Grey told me a story worth repeating. The previous owner, from whom his grandfather, General Grey, bought the property, was exceptionally keen on horticulture and had built the brick-walled garden which still remains. But Sir Edward Grey, as he was then, put it to a different use. It formed an aviary for his well-known collection of birds. These suffered greatly from the privations of war. Originally they were fed mostly on wheat, but when the food situation became critical the use of good grain was discontinued and the birds suffered from the low diet. Teal versicolor, one of the rarest of the teal family, showed the effect of this by breeding only male birds, and extinction was threatened. At only two other places, Hamburg and Kew, were they kept, and the former being of course impossible, the last of the race were sent to Kew in the hope that breeding would take place there. But, alas ! a bomb from Hun aircraft descended on Kew, and male and female alike were exterminated.
Fallodon was the birthplace of Earl Grey of the Reform Bill, but his name is more generally associated with Howick, where he lived with his large family during his mature years and until he passed away.
A mile and a half north of Chillingham on the Till is the pleasant agricultural village of Chatton, which had two old peles. In one of them Edward I stayed in 1291 and 1292. A writ issued from Chatton by him begins : ” To the Barons of the Exchequer, Health,” and arranges with minute accuracy payments for the annual dress for two Welshmen and a boy at Bamburgh Castle. The frequency with which Welshmen appear in the annals of Bamburgh is due to the political and military connection of the Percies with Wales and the Welsh border. In 1368 the manor was ruined, as appears from an Inquisition of Edward III, in which it mentions ” a park with wild animals called Kelsowe.” It may be that these animals are the same as the Chillingham wild cattle.
In 1634 the tenants of Chatton complained that Sir Ralph Grey was taking and enclosing land on Chatton Common into his park of Chillingham. Robin Hood’s bog, where the wild cattle resort when disturbed, is at the point of the park which projects into Chatton Moor. It is conjectured that this may have been the Kelsowe enclosed at that time. About the same date are entries recording the penalties imposed upon two offenders. Ralph Hebborne for stealing wheat was pronounced ” a thafe, amerced for his fault 3/4d. and his wife being a scold 3/4d.” As she was probably only volubly defending her husband she seems severely punished. Chatton must have been hard on its poor women, for in 1650 ” Jane Martin, the millar’s wif was executed for a wich.” How could the millar’s sonsy wife have fallen into the miserable web of rural superstition and calumny and cruelty ? She was dragged in a cart to Newcastle Assizes to answer their absurd charges, paying dearly for some fancied skill in illness or eccentricity of conduct.
Chatton had a poet called James Service, who at the beginning of the nineteenth century published several volumes. He had gone to sea, had been schoolmaster of Chatton, and his poems are mostly retrospective of his loved Northumbria.
No more I gaze upon my native Cheviot’s peaks Breaking the soft blue of the summer sky.
His achievement was not very great, and, like John Clare, he tasted to the dregs the bitterness of failure and poverty. One of his principal poems dealt with the legend of Dunstanburgh Castle, ” The Wandering Knight.” The last record of his life, written by an unimaginative pen, needs no added word of pathos. He was far from the sound of Till’s subdued murmur and the watching hills above the village he loved. ” From James Service I had a letter about a year ago wishing me to assist him. He was then in the poor-house at Sunderland, and sometimes attended the shop of a bookseller there. I called at the shop once, but could not see him, as he was at the workhouse. The bookseller told me he had a wooden leg and disliked extremely the confinement of the poor house. Very likely he is there still.”
Northumberland has few poets, and poor Service loved this land between the mountains and the sea where he passed his happy boyhood and, growing up a social soul, had many convivial hours with the rollicking farmers of the day. Some last lines to Northumberland we rescue :
O’er all thy wilds from Tweed’s remotest verge To where the Tyne rolls blithe to ocean’s surge No son of thine, how rude so e’er his heart, But feels it swell at what thou wast and art