Byrness : Medieval Settlement And Tenure
Byrness lay beyond or on the very edge of the zone of permanent settlement and cultivation during the medieval era. It was situated within the liberty of Redesdale which was held by the Umfraville lineage "by service of defending the said lands from wolves and robbers" (IPM V, 14, no.47, cf. Hodgson 1827, 109). Byrness itself does not feature in the various inquisitiones post mortem and legal documents relating to the Umfraville tenure of the liberty.
Settlement did steadily advance up the valley during the climatic optimum lasting up until c. 1300. Assart-men (cresmanni), associated with the clearance of new land for cultivation, are mentioned in the inquisition of Gilbert de Umfraville in 1245 (IPM I, 12, no.49, cf. Hodgson 1827, 108). Davyshiel and Garretshiels, which must have begun life as seasonal shieling sites, had clearly developed into permanent settlements by the end of the 13th century. They are mentioned in such terms in court cases in 1291 and 1293 (cf. Hodgson 1827, 24, 27, 129, & 134), but both lie a long way below Byrness.
The wide tracts beyond the zone of permanent settlement formed the Forest of Redesdale, embracing the entire northern half of Redesdale. The forest comprised a series of "waste" grounds, mostly based on the side valleys, or "hopes" (OE. hoppa), created by tributory burns. Redeshead, Earlside (the west side of the dale opposite Byrness), Ramshope, Spithope and Cottonshope are all mentioned in the detailed inquisitions post mortem of the 14th century, where they are variously described as moor, woods, waste and occasionally pasture (cf. Hodgson 1827, 31 - AD 1325; 1827, 109 - 1331; 1827: 110, 135 - 1363).
This upper dale area was under direct Umfraville control. Richard de Umfraville was granted by charter from King John, in 1199, the privilege that none might graze their cattle, or hunt or fell wood in his forests of Redesdale and Coquetdale unless they had common rights there (Hodgson 1827, 14; cf. NRO 3635/13 p. 7).
This was presumably an attempt to prevent or at least control assart enclosures and need not imply that the forests were solely hunting reserves. The inquisition valuations of pasture, wood, and moor etc., alone refute that notion, although hunting was of course one of the purposes for which the forests were used. Rather these tracts might better be envisaged as extensive upland demesne, exploited through pastoralism rather than agricultural cultivation.
Pastoralism was a prominent element in the manorial economy of Redesdale by the mid 13th century, and doubtless much earlier. In 1245 the Umfraville manors were testified to have pasture for 1140 sheep, pasture for mares worth £12, and 1400 acres of cattle pasture - or perhaps pasture for 1400 cattle - (CalDocScot I: 305, no.1667).