THERE is no other ancient relic in Northumberland to compare with the Roman Wall. Yet imagination is needed to realise its full impressiveness. The remains have in many cases to be sought for diligently, and nowhere do they arrest attention by gigantic proportions or towering height. The Wall stretched from the mouth of the Tyne to the Solway, passing over a rich variety of scenery – rivers and rich meadows, wild craggy moor-land, farms and woods – with Roman directness and Roman disregard of obstacles,. dipping into the hollows and climbing heights of the rugged whinstone. But in the centuries elapsed since its building, so many changes, wars, movements have surged over the country that, in times of desperate fighting and amid revolutions that shook old faiths as well as governments, its origin and purpose have been forgotten. Camden, in his ” Britannia,” called it the Murus Picticus, and it used to be described as a defence against the inroads of the Picts and Scots who inhabited the northern part of the Kingdom. This view is no longer tenable, for reasons which have been stated with convincing force by Dr. Collingwood Bruce. They are that (I) every station and mile-castle along its course seems to have been provided with a wide portal opening towards the north ; (2) there are stations situated far to the north of the Wall on the line both of Watling Street and the Maiden Way which can be proved to have been garrisoned by Roman troops until near the end of the Roman occupation.
An ancient ” Hindenburg line ” may serve as a rough description. The reader will readily make a liberal allowance for the differences in fortification rendered necessary by the substitution of poisonous gas and high explosives for the arrows, catapults, balistae, and other engines employed by the Roman legions.
It may be regarded as a series of fortifications linked together so as to enable the occupants to assemble promptly at any given point either for attack or defence. Those wishing to explore it cannot do better than take Dr. Collingwood Bruce as a mentor. His famous Handbook has, since his death, been edited and kept up to date by a most competent successor, the well-known archeologist, Mr. Robert Blair, one of the secretaries of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries. Dr. Bruce was very far indeed from being a Dryasdust. He was a charming and versatile writer with many sympathies as well as great learning, who had the gift of explaining a difficult subject simply and lucidly. There are few more agreeable ways of spending a Northumbrian holiday than with his book as company, exploring the Wall from, start to finish. Between Wallsend on the Tyne and Bowness on the Solway is rather less than seventy-four miles, so that the pilgrimage along it presents no formidable task to a moderate pedestrian who is able to take his ease at his inn when fatigued with the rough going. He will see more than one interesting aspect of the country.
It is not easy for fancy to reconstruct the country round Wallsend as it must have appeared to the guardians of the Wall. The houses, wharves, offices, stores, must give place to moor and forest, and the dark, sombre Tyne bearing endless traffic on its bosom make way for a pellucid sparkling river so shallow as to to be no defence from attack. The reason why the building started at Wallsend – the Segedunum of the Romans – was probably because here the river widens to its mouth and forms a natural frontier. Little has been left of the Wall in the neighbourhood of Newcastle. The Venerable Bede, who lived at Jarrow, has left a record of what it was like in his day. He, the most accurate of ecclesiastical writers, gives the height as’ twelve feet and the breadth eight feet, but the dimensions probably varied with the locality, and Dr. Bruce reckons that the average height was about twenty feet and the breadth eight. Jarrow is almost opposite Wallsend, so we may assume that Bede measured the portion which daily met his eye. Newcastle-on-Tyne had not come into existence when the Wall was built. There was only the Pons Ælii Station, opposite the Pons Ælius, so called by Hadrian in commemoration of his family. Coal must have been known and used by the Romans, as cinders have been unearthed in the works, but its paramount value as fuel was not realised till the thirteenth century. There were no pits, so the town and the buildings and the tall chimneys of the mines must be wiped out in order to get a picture of the landscape as it appeared to Roman eyes or to those of the Venerable Bede.
There was a third station at Benwell, about two miles from Newcastle, but the development of the collieries has caused this also to be obliterated. Where the first three stations of the Wall were, you see to-day the busy industrious side of Northumbrian life. But the Wall has a long way to go, and presently there will be unfolded to the pilgrim who perseveres all the wild beauty of the Northumbrian moors. And the wilder the region the more complete and interesting become the remains of the Wall. Where the scenery is tame the Wall was an easily accessible quarry. Roman workers had hewn the stones at a time when the building art had undergone temporary oblivion in Great Britain. Few things are more startling in history than the completeness with which ancient civilisations have passed away. In what appears to have been a sun-temple at Avebury, and in the stone circles of which that at Stonehenge is the most important, we have evidence that building and means of transport had existed in Britain many centuries before the Roman invasion. Northumberland is rich in prehistoric forts that had been erected with skill and judgment by races inhabiting land that now is little better than desert. But there had been a great retrogression, and in troublous times old arts had been forgotten.
When wandering about the Wall during the World War and observing the myriad proofs it supplied of organised government and organised labour, o’ intelligence and enlightenment, it was impossible not to muse over the chance that human progress might possibly have reached its culminating point in the twentieth century and be followed by a Dark Age. I did not think it would come from the victory of one side or another, but from the break-up of nations into warring divisions. The worst law is better than anarchy, but it is at least imaginable that no fraction would remain united. Subdivision into groups would go on ever growing smaller like the family. The individual would become the unit. Then it would be ” wolf to wolf’s throat.” No longer would there be property, no longer education, every generation growing more ignorant than its predecessor till any ancient who told of a people who could navigate the air and travel under the sea, who could chain the lightning and converse a thousand miles apart, would be regarded as a dotard. A gloomy vision, but not altogether fantastic ! Some such process must have checked human progress more than once.
But the clouds have lifted and the sun is again shining. Whatever the future may hold, the Wall affords a light on the past. How many people have refrained from examining it, seeing little but a heap of stones here and there as the results of much excavation ? The reality will dissipate this illusion. Where the Wall has been preserved, its completeness is amazing. Where it has been practically destroyed it is strange to note to what a variety of uses the stones have been put. Here as elsewhere the imperturbable husbandman has been the greatest sinner. He has mended his roads, patched his dry stone dykes, built his farmhouse and mended his byre with stones from the Wall. Let him not be called Hun or Philistine on that account. He has only acted in the same way as those agriculturists and others (clergy included) who, further south, have built pigsties with materials torn from Tudor masonry, turned old stone coffins into cattle troughs, and laid paths through the farmyard with historical tombstones. Reverence for the past was not a striking characteristic of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
” Perhaps I am the first man who ever travelled the whole length of the Wall and probably the last who will ever attempt it,” wrote William Hutton, of Birmingham, in 1801, giving an eloquent testimony to the great difficulties of travel a hundred years ago. The journey is an easy one to-day, but those who wish to obtain some idea of the Wall and cannot spare time for a complete survey may learn much by confining themselves to the portion which lies between Chesters and Great Chesters. Headquarters can be established at Hexham or the George Inn at Humshaugh for Great Chesters, and the Railway Inn at Haltwhistle for the other end. In this way they will be able to obtain a definite notion of the original fortifications, which are (1) a stone wall carried directly over the county and only deflected when it seemed advisable to make use of any natural defence already in existence, such as the crest of a hill. This wall had a ditch on its northern side. (2) A turf wall, usually spoken of as the Valium. It was built to a great extent of the earth dug out in making the ditch. (3) Stations, castles, watch-towers and roads.
Lest he be puzzled to account for the Latin names of the camps, he who goes on a first pilgrimage should look them up in the ” Notitia,” of which there is a translation in the Handbook. The ” Notitia ” was a kind of gazette or directory compiled in the early half of the fifth century, before the Romans had evacuated Britain. Its object was co tell where the military and civil notabilities were stationed. From it we learn the nationality of the troops at each station.
When in a camp now called Housesteads many altars are found bearing the name of the first cohort of the Tungrians, a body of troops which the ” Notitia ” places at Borcovicus, the inference is natural that Housesteads is the Borcovicus of the Romans ; and this probability becomes a moral certainty when the stations on either side of it yield tablets inscribed with the names of the first cohort of the Batavians and the fourth cohort of the Gauls, the troops which the ” Notitia ” places in the stations immediately to the east and west of Borcovicus. – The Handbook.
The works were evidently intended for security against the population of the conquered South as well as against the wild races of the unsubdued North. Many a thorny question has arisen about them. Did the Emperor Hadrian originate and conceive this fortification as a single plan, as the Hindenburg Line, as we may assume, was prepared and constructed ? Are they all of one period ? What previous defences existed, and if so were they utilised ? Matters these for historians and archæologists to argue about for ages. Here it will be better to confine ourselves to such things as carry us back to the building of the Wall. Roman soldiers in their leisure did things similar to those of our own troops. Anyone wandering over the Wilt-shire or other Downs on which soldiers were trained will discover that, emulating the artists to whom we owe the white horses, they have drawn on the turf the badges and names of their regiments that, if they are cleaned regularly as the white horse is cleaned, may be seen with interest a thousand years hence. Roman soldiers told off for fatigue duty at the quarries in like manner wrote on the rock at times who they were and what they were doing. It gives us a sense of human continuity to learn how, in the year of our Lord 207,a squad of the second legion were on quarry work, as is duly set down in the Written Rock of the Gelt near Brampton. On the face of one of the ancient quarries in Chollerford are the words (P)ETRA FLAVI(I) CARANTINI, ” the rock of Carantinus.” Similar writings have been found in other quarries. Thus we realise in a little way how operations went on. We may assume the skilled work to have been done by the regular soldiers, while the hard labour was allotted to enslaved natives answering to our prisoners of war. In the course of a visit to France during the war I was witness of a scene that seemed to recall the very spirit of antiquity. It was that of a very small soldier from the Far East, who with a switch in his hand and the most insolent smile on his lips was by gesture directing a great blonde barbarian to remove the last microscopic bit of ordure from the road. He was obeyed sullenly, after the captive’s eye had given a rebellious flicker that died down at sight of the loaded rifle. War does not change with the ages.
A most exquisite situation has been chosen for the camp at Cilurnum, or Chesters. It was garrisoned, as inscriptions prove, by the 2nd Ala of Asturians, and the Rev. John Hodgson said ” the Astures in exchanging the sunny valleys of Spain for the banks of tawny Tyne might find the climate in their new situation worse ; but a lovelier spot than Cilurnum all the Astures could not give them.” Green fields, woods and hills would justify him, even if the North Tyne did not flow past in its perfect beauty, singing as it sang to the Roman legions. To the late Mr. John Clayton, who owned the mansion and the estate, must be accorded the highest credit for adding to these natural attractions. He was a most liberal as well as enlightened archeologist and possessed of will-power equal to his enthusiasm. He and his collaborator, Dr. Collingwood Bruce, excavated the ruins, laid bare the famous camp, and gathered the relics which make the Museum the best of its kind in the country.
The station at Chesters is very nearly as large as that at Birdoswald in Cumberland, which the Romans called Amboglanna. Cilurnum covers an area of 5 1/4 acres, Amboglanna 5 1/2, so there is only a quarter of an acre difference. Lesser stations are, like Cilurnum, rectangular in shape, but whereas they have usually only four gateways, this has six. One great portal opened to the south, one to the north, but there are two, a greater and a lesser, on the west and also on the east. The little gates would have been called posterns had they been in a Norman castle. We are reminded by the worn stones, worn by war chariots and war horses, the trample of soldiers’ feet, the passing of civilian crowds, that the Roman occupation was not for a year or two but for centuries. If we date effective occupation from the defeat of Galgacus in 8 A.D., and the withdrawal from 418 A.D., the year in which according to the Saxon Chronicle the Romans collected their treasure and hid in the soil what they could not carry away, they lived with us for more than 300 years, and the Wall was held for more than two centuries. Even in that long period it is doubtful if they exercised the slightest influence on the race of Englishmen. The reasons are irresistible. First the Roman army was not Roman. That did not matter much in regard to their efficiency so long as the organisation, the discipline, and the command remained in Roman hands, but it was all-important as regards influence. Asturians, Thracians, Moors, Gauls, Frisians, could have had very little in common.
The Wall is not carried through the camp, but comes up to the eastern gateway on one side and to the corresponding western gateway on the other. To the north of the road connecting them are what appear to have been the sleeping apartments of the soldiers, and to the south is the Forum where justice was administered and business transacted. East of that is the Praetorium, the quarters of the C.O. as we should call him. It has an ingenious contrivance for heating the room by hot air. Out of the dry stones, with the aid of the altars, inscriptions, and miscellaneous remains collected in the excellent museum started by Mr. Clayton, it would be possible for the imagination to construct a living city, but though the materials are plentiful the piecing together of them would require long and patient effort. He who goes to see for himself will find plenty for his fancy to work upon. He might devote an entire day to the extraordinary remains of a Roman bridge across the Tyne. Dr. Bruce did not exaggerate when he called it ” the most remarkable feature on the whole line of the Wall.” If, as is supposed, Hadrian built it he must have had the assistance of first-class engineers, and these engineers would have done credit to any period.
Borcovicus, the camp at Housesteads, occupies a situation very different from that at Cilurnum. Here the wall was carried along the desolate jagged hill-tops that rise above the only apology for a lake district that Northumberland possesses. There are many ways of reaching it. A sturdy, resolute pedestrian can do so on foot by following the line of the wall from Chesters. He would thus secure the advantage of seeing the best preserved part of the stone wall, the turf wall, and fosse, and would pass Carrawburgh, the ancient Procolitia where the Romans had a sacred well, a sort of Fons Blandusia of which a goddess named Coventina was presiding genius. There is at Chesters a carving of her with an inscribed dedication by the prefect of the first cohort of Batavians, and one of her three water-nymphs.
When the well was opened out by Mr. Clayton, hidden under huge stones was an amazing and miscellaneous assortment of treasure and coins, stones, altars, vases, Roman pearls, old shoes, fibulae, and so on. Mr. Clayton himself obtained sixteen thousand coins, four gold, the others silver and bronze, ranging from the time of Mark Antony to that of Gratian. Dr. Bruce counted 318 examples of the second brass coin of Antoninus Pius. He says :
This coin was struck in the fourth consulship of the Emperor A.D. 145 to commemorate the exploits of Lollius Urbicus in Britain, a period in which the country was reduced to its lowest state of depression. Britain personified as a disconsolate female sits upon a rock. She has no helmet upon her head, no sword or spear in her hand. Her head droops, her banner is lowered, her shield is idly cast away. The legend is Britannia.
Borcovicus occupies five acres, so that it is not much smaller than Cilurnum. The Roman masonry has stood the ravages of time wonderfully well.
The country over which the Wall passes is very wild. I cannot better give an idea of it than by quoting Mr. Abel Chapman’s ” Bird Life on the Border.” Mr. Chapman does not write as antiquary – indeed he ignores the existence of the Wall – but as a sportsman and naturalist. He is altogether against the drawing of imaginative pictures, but is content to be very thorough and exact. Of far more concern to him are the habits of wild-fowl than the look of forlorn and wistful beauty peeping out of the desolate scenery. Probably the Tungrian conscripts who kept watch and ward on the Wall were very much in sympathy with his point of view. Mr. Chapman says of the loughs :
Many lying high out on the hills have scarce a vestige of covert on their banks, not even a screen of rush or reed, nor any bush or shrub higher than heather or bog-myrtle. Others are simply open peat-holes, their surface not a foot below the general level of the dead-flat bogs and moss-bogs which surround them. Some occupy basins among the hills where the heather slopes down unbroken to the water’s edge ; the ` syke ‘ or gully at the outflow may, however, enable one to approach the water at that point. Their bottoms are usually firm—either peat or gravel, and deep to the edge. There is seldom any extent of foreshore where fowl can sit dry, though in some, as at St. Mary’s Loch —
” A fringe of silver sand Marks where the water meets the land.”
Where the peat-formation is exposed in section trunks and roots of ancient oaks, pine, and other trees – up to elevations of 5,200 feet or more – attest a period when these open moors were clad with forest.
Mr. Chapman’s remark about finding tree stems in the Lough is very suggestive, especially when taken in connection with the many other remains found on the land as well as under the water in the North of England. It makes it possible that the Wall through parts of its course ran through rough woodland, some of mere scrub, some consisting of high trees.
A lifetime might be spent in studying the Roman remains on the Wall, and after all it would be difficult to picture the life of the soldiery there. In some respects the men appear to have been very like our own – careless of danger and even death and always merry. It would be a great mistake to fancy that the foreign conscripts who composed the army of occupation spent all their time in drill or mourned their exile unduly. On the contrary, we have evidence that amusements of various kinds were carefully planned and the merriment was uproarious.
One of the most interesting relics on the Wall at Housesteads is the Temple of Mithras, a little to the west of Chapel Hill.
It affords one of many evidences that the Roman soldiers had carried the worship of their favourite god to this wild and far distant frontier of the Empire. Mithras is a god of eastern origin, the Sun God of Persia. It is believed that Mithras worship in Rome was started partly to counteract the teaching of the Christian faith and partly because its doctrine harmonised with the claim to absolute power put forward by the Roman Emperors.
In Rome little caves had been made to imitate the secluded mountain caves in which Mithras worship was conducted in Persia and the rites were performed at night. They included such atrocities as the offering up of human sacrifices and other repulsive barbarities. Several altars inscribed to Mithras were found on the Roman Wall, and Mr. Kipling has ” A Song to Mithras ” in ” Puck.” He calls it a I-Hymn of the 30th Legion and dates it about A.D. 350. That would be at a time when Mithras worship was declining. We quote the first two verses :
Mithras, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall ! ” Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all ! ” Now as the names are answered and the guards are marched away, Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day !
Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat, Our helmets scorch our foreheads, our sandals burn our feet. Now in the ungirt hour – now ere we blink and drowse, Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows
HALTWHISTLE AND THE WALL
The Moor and the mines – History of Haltwhistle – Its pele towers and church – Two epitaphs – The old pronunciation preserved – A Haltwhistle poet – From Cumberland to Haltwhistle – Mumps Ha and Meg Merrilees – The Spa and Well worship – An ancient wrong – From Birdoswald to Thirlwall and the Nine Nicks – A Roman Wall at Walltown.
Ha’ ye heard how the Ridleys, and Thirlwalls, and a’, Ha’ set upon Albany Featherstonhaugh, And taken his life at the Deadmanshaugh ? There was Willimoteswick And Hard-riding Dick, And Hughie of Hawdon, and Will of the Wa’.
HALTWHISTLE stands so beautifully on the Tyne, here a broad, shallow river dancing and singing over a rough bed, with a great sweep of moors billowing round it, that not even the squalor attendant on coal mines has destroyed its charm.
Since the pits were opened the population has increased from fifteen hundred to three times that number. The mines do not disfigure the landscape as much as might be imagined. In the embrace of the huge moor they are reduced to insignificance.
Even the chimneys are inconspicuous and the smoke but wisps of cloud, neither as black nor as large as the trail of an ocean-going steamer. The ugliest feature of a mining locality is the row of pit houses. During a half-century of great prosperity the men themselves have improved immensely. I remember when the periodic outbreak among them was a thing to be dreaded. Literally and truly their attitude to the traveller was : ” Here’s a stranger, Bill ; let’s ‘cave a brick at ‘im.” Dark and true and tender is the North, but it never has been, probably never will be, polite. Yet a vast change for the better has taken place in the habits of the miners. They may still have a day out occasionally, and, if you think of the character of their work, that is not surprising. At Haltwhistle you see a vast number of greyhounds and lurchers, showing that the pitman does not neglect his ancient amusement. For all that, he has turned into a thrifty and provident citizen, and withal has become civil and obliging. But still he is content with that hideous row of cottages with not a scrap of garden in front or rear. Much may be forgiven the miners because they have scared away the tourist. There are practically no boarding-houses, the hotels are useful without being showy. Yet the place has almost every attraction but the sea. It has many lovely streams near – such as Tyne, the much fished ; Irthing, noted for the quality of its trout ; the well-stocked Haltwhistle Burn, and the Tipalt. They are all available for the angler.
In the town there are two buildings of interest – the church and a pele-tower, the latter a fine example of a Border fortress, now partially inhabited by peasants and still offering a grand opportunity for anyone interested in restoring and preserving. The following account of it is from a privately printed and circulated pamphlet by the Rev. C. E. Adamson, rector of Houghton-le-Spring, under the title of “A History of the Manor and the Church of Haltwhistle ” :
” The Tower of Hautwysel is first mentioned in the list of towers and castles that existed in Northumberland about the year 1416, and is probably the same as that described in 1542 as the inheritance of Sir William Musgrave and in measurable good reparation. It is (as it now stands) a plain building with a loop-holed turret built on corbels. The old roof, which was removed some twenty years ago, was formed of flags laid on heavy oaken beams and fastened thereto with sheep shank bones. The floor also consisted of flags laid on joists formed of the roughly squared trunks of oak trees. A winding stone stair-case leads to the upper part of the tower. As Haltwhistle cannot have had a resident lord during the tenure of the Musgraves, the tower was probably the official residence of the bailiffs who seem to have exercised considerable authority in the town. In 1279 Roger le Tailleur was bailiff. In 1473 Robert Stevenson, Vicar, is named as seneschal. In 1552 Nicholas Blenkinsopp was bailiff (Nicholson’s Leges Marchiarum 164). John Ridley, bailiff of Haltwhistle, by his will dated 1616 bequeaths his best ox as a herryate to Lord William Howard, and another John Ridley and Nicholas Ridley held the office in 1634. (Lord William Howard’s Household Book.)”
There was another pele-tower, but its remains are engulfed in the Red Lion Hotel.
In its way Mr. Adamson’s monograph is a model of its kind, tracing the history of the Manor of Haltwhistle – or Hautwysel, the watch on the mount, as it was originally called – from the time when it was given with Bellister and Plainmeller by William the Lion as a dowry to his natural daughter in 1191. The Kings of Scotland were Lords Seigneur during parts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It was granted by Edward I to William de Ros in 1307, and this charter was confirmed to Edward Musgrave in 1307. From him the present lord of the manor claims descent. The manor has been held among others by ” Belted Will Howard,” to whom it was sold by Anthony Featherstonhaugh in 1611 ; but in the time of his son, Sir Charles Howard, it was declared forfeit by the Common-wealth and passed through the hands of several owners before coming into possession of the ” eccentric Miss Cuthbertson,” who died intestate in 1836. Many tales and legends are still related about her in the neighbourhood. The Adamsons, to whom it passed as to one moiety by the bequest of the Misses Heron and as to the other by purchase, ” are descended (by a chain with several female links) from the original quarter ” – Sir Edward Musgrave.
The most historic building in Haltwhistle is the church. It is said that the chancel dates from the twelfth century ; but it stands in the heart of the moss troopers’ county, and they spared nothing they could plunder, either sacred or profane. Yet, in the words of Mr. Adamson, ” considering its proximity to the Border, it is wonderful that it has come down to us with so little serious injury.” For the care and thoroughness with which it has been put back to its original appearance, thanks are due to its late vicar, Canon Lowe, for nearly half a century beloved friend as well as priest to his parishioners.
In the church are several objects of interest – the gravestone of a Crusader, with beautifully flowered cross, a broken sword, a staff and wallet ; a font that may have been Saxon, though evidently tampered with in the time of Elizabeth ; and two epitaphs, one of which I copy for its beauty and the other for a reason to be stated.
The following is in the churchyard :
D. O. M. Post Vitam brevem Difficilem Inutilem Hic Quiescit in Domino Robertus Tweddell De Hazlacton Monac in’Com. Dunelm. Gen. AEtatis 32.
The other is on the tombstone of John Ridley, ” cousin of the martyr :
IHON REDLE THAT SUM TIM DID BE THEN LORD OF THE WALTON GON IS HE OUT OF THESE VAL OF MESERE HIS BONS LES UNDER THES STON WE MUST BELEVE BE GODSRSI-INTO THES WORLD GAVE HIS SON THEN FOR TO RÉDEM AL CHRESNTE SO CHRIST HAES HES SOUL WO”
AL FAETHFUL PEOPLE MAY BE FAEN WHEN DATH COMES THAT NON CAN FLE THE BODE KEPT THE SOUL IN PAEN THROUGH CHRIST IS SET AT LEBERTE AMONG BLESSED COMPANE TO REMAEN TO SLEP IN CHRIST NOWE IS HE GON VET STEL BELEVES TO HAVE AGAEN
THROUGH CHRIST A IOYEFUL RESURRFCCIOF AL FRENDES MAY BE GLAD TO HAER WHEN HES SOUL FROM PAEN DID GO OUT OF THES WORLD AS DOETH APPER IN THE PEER OF OUR LORD
It is the mis-spelling that interests here. Although there is only one dialect in Northumberland, it is spoken with accents and other peculiarities that belong to separate localities. The Western Northumbrian is much softer and sweeter in speech than the Eastern, where most commonly voices are harsh and loud. Canon Lowe expressed the opinion that the mistakes in spelling were most likely due to the ignorance of the village mason, but I cannot agree with him. Listen to a native when he says not gate, but ” gay-et ” ; not faith, but ” fay-eth ” ; not death, but ” dath ” ; not here, but ” hee-er ” ; not remain, but ” remay-en ” ; not misery and liberty, but ” meesery ” and ” leeberty,” and it becomes evident that the spelling, like nearly all the other spelling of the time, was phonetic.
It follows as a normal and indeed inevitable deduction that the manner of speaking prevalent today was also that of the generation which saw Bishop Ridley burnt at the stake.
Whether the spelling is due to the composer or the printer, it probably renders accurately the sound of the language as spoken at the time and as it is spoken by the illiterate of to-day.
I cannot leave Haltwhistle without a little note about Ada Smith. She was born here and is buried at St. John Lee. She had lived much abroad, chiefly at Vienna, and returned to England with the hope of making a literary career. But it was not to be. She died in 1898, before attaining her twenty-second birthday, and left behind a memory of what she might have done and one or two poems instinct with love of nature and the charm of youth. I copy out one partly for the sake of her who wrote it, but still more for its delightful rendering of the very spirit of the moorland.
When she wrote it, says Mr. Garvin, who at the time wrote a very sympathetic ” In Memoriam ” notice for The Academy, ” she must have been thinking all the time of Blanchland Common and its wide, cool, purple silence.”
Yonder in the heather there’s a bed for sleeping, Drink for one athirst, ripe blackberries to eat ; Yonder in the sun the merry hares go leaping, And the pool is clear for travel-wearied feet.
Sorely throb my feet, a-tramping London highways, (Ah ! the springy moss upon a northern moor !) Through the endless streets, the gloomy squares and byways, Homeless in the City, poor among the poor !
London streets are gold – ah, give me leaves a-glinting ‘Midst grey dykes and hedges in the autumn sun ! London water’s wine, poured out for all unstinting God ! For the little brooks that tumble as they run !
Oh, my heart is fain to hear the soft wind blowing, Soughing through the fir-tops up on northern fells ! Oh, my eye’s an ache to see the brown burns flowing Through the peaty soil and tinkling heather-bells.
There is a very interesting walk from the western border of the county into Haltwhistle, mostly along the Wall. The Poltross Burn, as it runs into the Irthing, is the division between Northumberland and Cumberland. On the Cumbrian side is the famous or infamous hostelry Mumps Ha’ or Beggars’ Hotel, now much enlarged and changed since Scott described it and Meg Merrilees in ” Guy Mannering.” It had a very bad reputation in his time, and the Border farmers coming from fairs who stopped to refresh themselves were often waylaid by the robbers and highwaymen who were harboured there by the notorious Margaret Carrick. Those who came from Scotland had to traverse the evil-reputed and dangerous waste of Bewcastle. The background in Cumberland is the chain of mountains, the most prominent of which, Skiddaw and Saddle-back, can be seen from the wooded height above Irthing on a clear day. At Upper Denton, about one and a-half miles from Gilsland, is buried Margaret Carrick, the original of Meg Merrilees, who lived till she was a hundred. South of the railway station is the farmhouse called The Gap, where the Wall is said to have been broken down. The Wall can be seen in the Vicarage garden. There is also, to the west, a mile-castle which seems to have been very extensive. A local tradition gives it the name of the King’s Stables. The Poltross had a Roman bridge near here, mentioned by Camden as ” an arch over the rapid brook.” Gilsland Spa has long been a noted resort, and an account is given even within recent times of the yearly pilgrimage to the chalybeate and sulphur waters as a modern survival of well-worship. ” On the Sunday after old Midsummer Day, called the Head Sunday, and the Sunday after it, hundreds if not thousands used to assemble from all directions by rail when that was available, and by vehicles and on foot otherwise. From North Tynedale and the neighbourhood for many miles round these unconscious adherents of heathen rites visited the wells.” In the introduction to ” The Bridal of Triermain ” Sir Walter Scott describes the Popping Stone said to be the scene of bis own courtship and now a greatly-visited spot on the Cumberland side. The large hotel called ” The Shawes ” was a farm originally in the manor of Triermain. An ancient story of an ancient wrong is commemorated in the name of Gilsland. Robert de Vaux, the Norman lord, had ousted an earlier proprietor who had the Saxon name of Gilles Bueth. He naturally attempted to regain it, and was invited by the Norman to a friendly meeting where he was treacherously murdered. This tradition was corroborated in 1864 by the discovery of a Runic inscription some distance from Bewcastle Church thus translated :
” Baranr writes (these) to Cilles Bueth who was slan in truce by Rob de Vaulx at Feterlana now Lanercosta.” It is said that Lanercost Priory 1 was built by the Norman baron in expiation of his crime. His patronymic does not seem to have lived on locally, but it is from Gilles that Gilsland obtains its name, and Bewcastle commemorates Bueth, which would be his family name. In Lanercost Priory is a fifteenth-century brass reminding us of the old story, and it is touching enough to remember :
Sir Roland de Vaux that sometyme was ye Lord of Tryermayne Is dead, his body clad in lead, and ligs low under this stayne Even as we, even so was he, on earth a levand man Even as he, even so moun we, for all ye craft we can.
Gilles ill-used and hurried from the light of the sun might thus have spoken had be been a philosopher.
About two miles from Gilsland in Cumberland is Birdoswald, the largest station on the Roman Wall. It has an area of five and a half acres. A bridge similar in character to the remains on the North Tyne at Chollerford had evidently crossed the Irthing. From Birdoswald there is a view of exceptional beauty of the hill country and windings of the Irthing. From the north of the station proceeds the ancient track called the Maiden Way, which goes past Bewcastle into Scotland and can still be traced.
The weakest part of the Wall lies between the Gap at Gilsland and Thirlwall, where the northern tribes are supposed to have first broken it down. Carvoran, the next camp, occupied three and a-half acres and was the next station to Birdoswald. With stones from it was built the Castle of Thirlwall, the ruins of which stand on the steep bank above the pretty stream called the Tipalt, into which the stones quarried by Romans and afterwards used to build the castle are falling from the ancient stronghold. The castle, which has been unoccupied since the beginning of the seventeenth century, has been used to provide the building material for the cottages standing by the stream. The ancient family of Thirlwall probably built the castle in the fourteenth century, or they took their name from the manor. Edward I stayed at Thirlwall on one of his last vengeful visits to quiet the Borders. ” A Thirlwall ” was the slogan of the family, the last of whom, an heiress, married a Swinburne of Capheaton. From the castle can be seen the village of Glenwhelt, which has a very Celtic sound, and Blenkinsopp Castle, near Greenhead Station, built originally in 1339.
The plough has gone over Carvoran, which had been a very strong station built to command the valley of the Tipalt. The Stanegate, the direct Roman road, came in front of this station, the Magna of the Romans, and the Maiden Way coming up from Cumberland passed near. In the farmhouse and garden adjoining can be seen numerous memorials of the imperial race.
To follow the Wall here climb the steep hill above the Tipalt, now crossed by a bridge. Unfortunately a turret on the crags, which here start to form isolated peaks called the Nine Nicks of Thirlwall, to which we ascend, has been destroyed by quarrying operations that have spoiled the Wall in this part. The turret was only discovered in 1883, and on the north were nine courses of stone. Nowhere are the picturesque features of the basaltic Whin Sill more impressive than along the Roman Wall at the Nine Nicks. The Wall has been built along the margins of the cliffs. The Whin Sill at this point attains its maximum thickness of about 180 feet, and is loftier and more continuous and its outline grander and more broken than in any other part of the county. It is after Thirlwall and the disappearance of the basaltic heights which decline away towards Glenwhelt that the Wall became weak, although between Thirlwall and Birdoswald five camps existed at a distance of half a mile from each other. Near the pleasant little village of Greenhead one is easily traced where the Stanegate passes. The Wall, after clinging to the Nine Nicks, to which it has with great skill been adapted, now descends towards Walltown, where once was a village and a tower which belonged to John Ridley, a relative of the martyred Bishop. It adjoined the present farmhouse. A spring called The King’s, or King Arthur’s Well, where Paulinus is supposed to have performed one of his legendary baptisms, is near here, the convert being a Saxon King, either Egbert or Edwin. One strange and intimate touch of the Roman soldier’s predilections still springs here from the unconscious bosom of earth. In the crevices of the whinstone rock near Walltown House, chives grow in abundance. It is said that this pungent, savoury herb was planted by the Roman and has persisted, as one of its flavour would persist, ever since. All the earliest writers on the Wall have referred to its existence. Camden says that the country-people believed that medicinal herbs were planted all about here for the cure of wounds, and that from Scotland those who collected simples flocked in the beginning of the summer to gather them. The Wall here is much decayed, but it improves, and after passing Allalee farmhouse the distinctly-marked ruins of a mile-castle and the Wall may be seen. The Wall exhibits, on the north side, six or seven to nine courses of stone, although the south face is broken. It is worn away towards Cockmount Hill farmhouse, though all along this part the views are magnificent and it is but a short distance to Aesica, near Haltwhistle.
In the days of Border warfare Haltwhistle was a centre of strife, and one cannot take a walk in any direction without coming across places whose names have been made familiar by song or story. Bellister and Plenmellor are close at hand and Feather-stone Castle only three miles away. It was greatly admired by so good a judge as Mr. Bates, and the name is familiar to readers of Surtees’ clever imitation of a Scottish ballad which imposed upon Scott himself.