Vale Of Whittingham

THE vale of Coquet can be left at Netherton by a road which goes to Screnwood, where once was a border tower, the home of the ancient Northumberland family of Horsley. The hamlet stands on the pleasant banks of the Rithe. Into the valley of the Aln the road descends where Alnham, locally called Yeldum, lies at the base of the outlying slopes of the Cheviots. Being only six miles from the Border it suffered severely from raids. In 1532 the Earl of Northumberland writes from Alnwick to Henry VHI that the Scots have ” brunte a towne of myne called Alenam with all the corne, hay and householde stuf in the said towne and also a woman.” The last inconsiderable item comes in with the suggestion of an afterthought, just to weigh down the scale of the Scots’ enormities. The next month he writes another ” forray did run, down ye watter of Bremysch and another corn to the watter of Aylle.” But in his indignation he has forgotten that in a raid organised on the English side previously he wrote that he will ” Lett slippe secretlie them of Tindaill and Riddisdaill for the annoyance of Scotland. God send them all good spede.” The conscienceless connivance of the Wardens on both sides of the Border in these raids is amusing. They seem to hold back the fierce borderers in a leash when it suits them, then with a great whoop start them galloping with the historic cries of “A Percy, a Percy ” ; “A Fennyke, a Fennyke ” ; “A Douglas, a Douglas.”

The foundations of a large tower are still visible on a green mound in Alnham opposite to the church, and in the vicarage is incorporated another tower. The beautiful little church is of the Transitional period. After being allowed to go nearly to ruin it was rather poorly restored in 1870. It has some quaint sepulchral stones. On the Castle Hill, where there is a British camp, a magnificent view is obtained by looking south to the Simonside Hills with the Cheviots on the north. West of this hill the Rithe rushes down on its journey to the Coquet past Hazelton Rig woods.

The False Alarm in 1804, when the fear of ” Boney ” was strong in rural Northumberland, has left in this district some happy anecdotes, of which the most amusing were collected by Mr. Dippie Dixon and printed in his book, ” The Vale of Whittingham.” The beacon was lit on Ros Castle in Chilling-ham Park, easily seen from the Castle Hill. Its conflagration signalled to the beacon hill watchers in Coquetdale and Alndale. The excuses given by those who did not yearn to go to the muster were hardly to be expected from the descendants of the bloodthirsty rieving Borderers. Tom Bolam ” had a pain in his breest ” and needed three glasses of whisky to cure it. Willie Middlemas was seized with violent pain, and Jack Dixon’s horse wanted shoeing. Curiously enough, when the alarm was proved false, they all had joined the troop and were ready for the dinner at Collingwood House. The Netherton miller was drying oats in the high kiln when the bugle sounded. He shouted to his wife : ” Come here, Mary, an’ kill thur yetts, an’ grind them an’ if the French dis land at the mill, we’ll let them see she’s no toom.” With which spirited if confused reasoning Tommy mounted his nag and hastened to Caisley Moor.

On the north of the Aln, two miles from Whittingham, is Eslington Hall, a seat of lord Ravensworth built on the site of an old Border tower. It was held originally by a family called Eslington, and afterwards by Hesilriggs, Herons and Collingwoods. The estate of George Collingwood was confiscated and he was executed for his share in the ’15.

Tradition says that like Lord Derwentwater he was urged by his wife to join the Jacobites. On an eminence at Thrunton Crag End, as he rode to the rendezvous, he pulled up his horse and gazed back wistfully over the fair lands of Eslington with a foreboding that never again would he see the ancient home of the Collingwoods.

And fare thee well, George Collingwood, Since fate has put us down If thou and I have lost our lives Our king has lost his crown.

So his unfortunate leader, Lord Derwentwater, laments. George Collingwood was described as a Papist, of a valuable estate and very quiet and unoffensive. His execution at Liverpool, he being unable to reach London through an attack of gout, was generally deplored. Sir Henry Liddell, the ancestor of Lord Ravenswonth, bought the confiscated estate and built the present mansion in 1720.

There are many members of the ancient family in the locality still. A rhyme about their crest, a stag at full gaze under an oak tree, is neat, though it possibly signifies nothing, indeed it seems only a variant on the Buccleugh rhyme.

The Collingwoods have borne the name Since in the bush the buck was ta’en, But when the bush shall hold the buck Then farewell faith, and farewell luck.

The rich, well-stocked pastures of Eslington were a great attraction to the Scots, and the Collingwoods were often besieged in their tower. In 1587 it was taken by the Duke of Buccleugh, and a glimpse of the uncertainty of life in those days, even within the security of a fortified dwelling, is given in a letter from Sir Thomas Fairfax.

My brother Bellasis has met with a misfortune which is a sorrow to us here. He was garrisoned at Eslington and had a hundred soldiers dispersed through four towns. The Scots ran a foray and before his people were assembled he was taken prisoner by the Lord of Buccleugh. His brother James has not been heard of since, and James Godson and his ensign, one Harte, and fifteen soldiers slain.” Weeping and dolour must have often followed these sudden raids, wounded men leftm reddening the moss with their blood and captives carried struggling and dazed over the border. The English ambassador wrote in 1586 to the Scottish ambassador : ” The complaints that we have against you are so many that seek redress from what time ye will, all the thieves in Scotland are not able to satisfy the losses of England. But what need I to babble or prate with you of this matter. You shall hear enough of them at your coming to London ; how many of our men have been murdered and slain, how many maimed and hurt, how many spoiled and burnt ; besides the goods and insight they have carried away.” An indictment not lacking sarcasm ! No wonder that the children in Northumberland still play ” Scotch and English ” with such gusto to this day. The feuds had left deep imprint on the racial memory. What sort of Borderer was left after feud and foray were over is delightfully shown in one or two salient anecdotes preserved by Mr. Dixon, who thoroughly understands the poor sports and ne’er-do-weels whose occupation was gone when thieving was no longer in fashion. The best are about Will Allan, who in the eighteenth century used to go to Eslington from Hepple with his dogs Charley, Phoebe and Peachem. They killed the otters for Lord Ravensworth which were too plentiful for the prosperity of the fish in the Aln. Will used to say : ” When my Peachem gies mouth, I durst always sell the otter’s skin.” Lord Ravensworth wanted to buy Charley, and told the agent to say that Will would get any price he liked for the dog, but his reply was : ” His hale estate canna buy Charley.”

This is the account Will, who was used to wrap himself in a plaid and sleep on settle or by hedgeside, gave of the comfortable bed at Eslington :

” When night cam on they put me amang some things they ca’ sheets ; I slid, and I slid, and I slid aboot, and rolled first on ane side and then on the other, just iv all the warld as tho’ I had been thrawn in to sleep amang salmon. At last I kicked out the things they ca’ sheets, and fell in amang the blankets, where I got foothad and slept till the mornin’.” Ignorance of what many regard as ordinary civilised usages lingered long in out-of-the-way districts. We remember well the astonishment of a village carter when he saw the new curate shaking hands with a parishioner in the street : “Go set,” he exclaimed, ” he worked Johnny’s airm up and down like a pump handle.”

Will died playing on the Northumbrian pipes his favourite tune, ” Dorrington Lads Yet.”

An’ sweetly wild were Allan’s strains, An’ mony a Jig an’ Reel he blew, Wi’ merry lilts he charmed the swains ; Wi’ barbed spear the otter slew. Nae mair he’ll scan wi’ anxious eye The sandy shores of winding Reed, Nae mair he’ll tempt the finny fry The king o’ tinklers – Allan’s deid.

The Lady’s Bridge at Eslington is the subject of one of Bewick’s woodcuts.

A mile south of Eslington is Callaly, where the remains of an ancient tower are incorporated in the seventeenth-century mansion. This was the home of the Claverings for centuries. It stands at the base of the characteristic hill called Callaly Castle Hill, on which are the remains of extensive foundations, probably British, followed by a Roman camp. They occupy two acres, and the ditch in places is deeply cut in the sandstone rock. In parts, the stones are squared and bedded with lime. The remains of building gave rise to a curious legend. Once a lord of Callaly started his castle here, but his lady objected to the position and bribed a servant to dress in a bearskin and pull it down nightly. This continual undoing of the day’s work by the next morning became terrifying to the superstitious lord, as the lady insisted that higher powers were on her side. A watch was kept and the bear was seen pulling down the walls and crying :

Callaly Castle built on the height Up in the day and down in the night, Builded down in the Shepherd’s Shaw It shall stand for aye and never fa’.

This settled the matter ; the wily lady had her way, and the tower rose on the lower ground. The Claverings were Cavaliers during the Civil War. In 1644 Sir John was taken prisoner by the Roundheads, and ” after being barbarously used in many prisons and common gaols dyed a prisoner in London in 1647.”

Even now the fate of the Northumbrian lords who gave up all then and later for “those who knew not to resign or reign ” seems piteous.

Sir Robert, his son, raised a regiment of troops for the King’s service who formed part of the Duke of Newcastle’s forces and were known as Newcastle’s Whitecoats, from the colour of their doublets. He had no scarlet cloth, but they swore to dye the white with the enemy’s blood. A brave boast, but fulfilled in another manner. At Marston Moor the Northumbrians, the men from the valleys and hills, stood like a wall when victory was no longer possible, and when the day was done and the armies melting away a long white line, streaked at close view with a darker colour, showed where they lay. Their doublets were dyed with true blood. Out of a troop of 1,000 only 30 survived.

The Claverings lost part of their estate and had to pay heavy fines. In 1715 they again came out, and the chief of the house, a nobleman of seventy, was taken a prisoner to London, where the mob terribly insulted the captured Jacobites who, on horse-back, with tied arms, were led through the streets. Strange it seems that the fierce foes on either side of the Border should have the same tragic loyalty to the Stuarts. South of Northumberland the deposed house was regarded with indifference, except among a few Catholic families of high estate.

From Callaly Crags is seen one of the most beautiful and diversified scenes in Northumberland, over Whittingham Vale and the Cheviots. The crags form part of a ridge which, after bounding the valleys of Till and Breamish, rise above Doddington, form Ros Castle at ChiIlingham, and sweep round by Beanley and Alnwick Moor to Thrunton. In one of the huge fantastic rocks among the heather is Macartney’s Cave, a little oratory hewn out of the sandstone by a former chaplain of Callaly Castle. Some curious boundary stones carved with a Maltese cross are near the summit of the crag. A precipitous watercourse goes down the crags where the pot hollows are known as Hob Thrush’s Mills, the haunt of a sprite or brownie, The ” mills ” are set going in a spate which brings down stones that rattle in the pot holes, like the grinding of a mill. He is generally coupled with Robin Goodfellow in folk-lore. He had a haunt in Hob Thrush Island at Holy Island, but St. Cuthbert frightened him away. He is an ancient brownie of the north. Near Oakenshaw Burn and Caplestone Edge there is a Hob’s Flow.

A majestic avenue of beeches leads along the Callaly estate towards Whittingham. Emerging from it can be seen the church and red roofs of the old village through which runs the Aln. Whittingham gives its name to the vale, not the river, and for centuries has been its principal town. It was an Anglo-Saxon village, as the church bears witness to this day, and it was part of the possessions of the see of Lindisfarne given to the monks by Ceolwulf. There is no notice of Whittingham till 1161, when Ughtred de Witingeham was lord of the manor. Whittingham had two towers, one that the parson lived in, and another which belonged to the Herons and Collingwoods, restored in 1845, and now used as an almshouse. It stands on the brow of a steep green knoll on the south bank of the Aln. The basement of the tower has walls eight feet thick, and an arched doorway is part of the original fourteenth-century work. In 1542 both the towers were ” in measurable good repar’ons.” The imagination is most stirred in Whittingham by the church which for a thousand years has seen the devout homage of the Vale. It was probably built in the eighth century, but a most disastrous renovation in 184o marred its antique features. The tower, the west end of the aisles, and an arch on the north side were early Saxon. The corners of the tower and the exterior angles of the aisle walls had that quoining which consisted of a long stone set at the corner and a short one lying on it, which is a characteristic of Saxon work. A very plain arch and a square pier remained of the old nave. This was all removed and the upper part of the tower pulled down and re-erected in sham Gothic. The window next the pulpit in the north transept has a fragment of early English architecture. An early English piscina is in the south transept, which had been a chantry dedicated to St. Peter, probably founded in the thirteenth century by the Eslingtons. Over the gable at the entrance, also early English, is a sundial, near one of the stiles which give access to the public footway. In the church-yard is an ancient cross, and hosts of the grim memorials which the rude forefathers of the hamlet found so pleasing to the eye and instructive to the mind. Skulls, crossbones, hour-glasses met the villager as he proceeded leisurely over the sward on Sabbath mornings. In youth, even at its most unreflecting stage, these, with the stiff consciousness of unfamiliar boots and clothes, were apt to cast a passing gloom over the spirit, which fell still further as the damp, musty air, thick with emanations from the bones of county families, met it at the church porch. The inscriptions at Whittingham are so dismal as to be humorous to the modern mind. The following is not particularly dismal, but is curious :

” In Memory of Ralph Rutledge who died at Barton Sept. 1st 1765 aged 60 years, also his son William Rutledge who died December 20th 1782 aged 45 years, also his wife Margret Rutledge who died October 1st 1790 aged 35 years. Also 9 small children.”

Poor Margret ! And her relationship remains obscure as her nameless children, as, dying at the age of 35 in 1790, she could not have been the relict of the Ralph who died in 1765. Perhaps she was the son’s wife.

Whittingham Fair was a great event long ago, when the countryside was more populated and fairs were the times of replenishing the household and all sorts of merchandise was on sale. To read of the games and merry-making at Whittingham Fair makes us believe that the happy, light-hearted age has gone for ever. The day of cinemas will never again permit the bailiff, leading a long cavalcade of the manor’s tenantry to the music of fiddlers, to enter the fair with the ancient cry,” Oyez ! Oyez ! Oyez ! ” After a long recital of the laws that governed the fair, the most necessary injunction in ” Northumberlonde hasty and hot ” followed : ” If any person or persons shall use any violence, by drawing any weepon, or shedding any blood shall forfeit to the Lord of the Manor 100 shillings.”

The ballad of Whittingham Fair is a localised version of an older one :

Are you going to Whittingham Fair, Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, Remember me to one who lives there For once she was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt, Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme Without any seam or needlework For once she was a true love of mine.

From Thrunton Crags, where the cliffs rise to a height of one hundred and two hundred feet, is a magnificent view. A dense plantation of firs clothes the hill. There is a cave called “Wedderburn’s Hole,” the hiding-place of a noted moss-trooper on the crag. Wonderful, wild scenery is found on this range of crags and moors, and in the recesses of the rocks are the retreats of badgers and foxes, and owls, hawks, peregrine falcons, and goatsuckers nest there. Blackberry bushes cover the ground. In a plantation called Blackcock, on the wild moor, grows the black crowberry, an acid fruit eaten by the moor fowl. The plant is unknown in the south of England. Blackcock Plantation is notorious for the number and size of its adders.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, in a hovel on Thrunton Moor, lived a besom-maker called Jamie Macfarlane, whose daughter called Peg travelled the countryside selling his wares. One afternoon she was asked where she was ” bound for that night,” and her answer originated the popular proverb addressed to those who ” swither,” ” ye’r like Meg Macfarlane who had a twenty hundred minds whether to go for the night to Whittingham or to Fishes-stead ” – places about twelve miles apart. It is curious that in Glendale there is a Fishes-Stead, about which a similar story is told.

Mr. Dixon has a very good story about Jamie Macfarlane. On the day following the False Alarm, when the whole district was seething with excitement, three Coquetdale Rangers, returning home in the February afternoon across Rimside Moor, saw Jamie, and thought it would be fine to make him believe they were French and take him prisoner. Putting spurs to their horses they galloped with drawn swords towards their victim. But the besom-maker was a match for any martial jesters. As they approached him he suddenly turned his back to the foe, stooped down and, with acrobatic skill, looked out between his legs and ran backwards towards them, shouting wildly. The horses, unaccustomed to such a spectacle, reared and plunged and would on no account face the onset of Jamie Macfarlane. The cavalry had therefore to retreat, with Jamie shouting triumphantly after them : ” Hey, three bonny sodgers canna tyek a buzzum-maker ! ”

The children of Whittingham used to shout after an old trooper of the Coquetdale Rangers – a troop of volunteer cavalry raised during the Napoleonic War :

Reed back’d brummeller, Cock-tailed tummeller, Fire-side soldier, Dama gan to war.

It was very expressive, and north country children sing many funny old rhymes.

The people returning from a Northumbrian fair such as Whittingham or St. Ninians, locally called Trunnion, would be greeted with :

Fair folk ! fair folks ! gies wor fair Yor pockets is ripe an’ wors is bare.

The miller going round the village with the flour he had ground for the hinds, who were paid in kind with corn and had to send it to the miller, would often hear :

Millery millery ! moonty poke ! Put in your hand an’ steal a loke.

The moonty is from the old custom, the mouter or multure, the miller’s wages, also taken in kind, and he was often credited with helping himself well. A ” poke ” is a bag (hence the miller’s common name of Poker) and ” loke ” a small quantity.

On the road leaving the village for Glanton is an old house, with a flight of outside stone stairs, which used to be an inn called ” The Hole in the Wall.” Two miles further on, Glanton stands on a ridge that divides the valleys of the Breamish and Aln and looks over the vale. Glanton Pyke rises above and used to be the beacon hill, but now a mansion stands on its summit. It is a pretty village and has many visitors.