Byrness : Parish, Townships and Wards
Byrness never seems to have been a township in its own right. When Hodgson was writing in the early 19th century, Byrness formed part of Rochester township, one of seven townships which made up the parish of Elsdon, along with Elsdon itself, Otterburn, Monkridge, Troughend, Woodside and the small extra-parochial Ramshope (Hodgson 1827, 82-3). These arrangments are illustrated by the Elsdon Parish tithe map of 1840 (fig. 17). Each of the townships maintained its poor separately, according to the terms of the 1662 Poor Law Act, which designated 'every Township or Village' in northern England as the unit for poor-rate assessment and collection (cf. Winchester 1987, 27).
Six of the townships were labelled 'wards' and formed integral parts of the parish. However, the remaining one, Ramshope, was extra-parochial. This was a small township consisting of only a single house and seven inhabitants in 1821 (Hodgson 1827, 154-5). Anomalies of this kind can often provide useful clues regarding the development of local settlement and communities. In this case a possible explanation for the anomaly can be proposed which sheds some light on the colonisation of the upper end of the valley in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Elsdon, Otterburn, Monkridge, Troughend were long established communities which had probably formed townships since the medieval period (although they were perhaps not the only settlements in the lower part of the valley which functioned as townships in that period). Woodside too fell within the zone of medieval settlement, comprising the valley of the Grasslees Burn and its tributaries.
Rochester was probably settled in the first half of the 16th century and, along with neighbouring settlements like Birhopcraig, Woolaw and Burdhope, marked the limit of permanent occupation in the Redesdale at that stage. Ramshope, by contrast, was still just listed as a shielding ground or summer pasture in the early 17th century surveys (1604 Survey, 83, 104 (where it is labelled Ravenshoulme); 1618 Rental, 334). Ramshope itself was probably permanently settled in the mid-late 17th century.
As settlement colonisation gradually climbed up the valley in the 17th century the parochial authorities were presumably careful to ensure the new farmsteads fell under the expanding parochial townships, or wards of Rochester and Troughend. In 1727 Hugh Farrington, rector of Elsdon, sued Gabriel Hall and his son Martin, to recover the tithe on the oats and bigg (a variety of barley) they grew at Babswood, Chattlehope and other places adjoining.
These places all lie on the south side of the valley in the upper part of Troughend ward. The Halls contended in defence that no tithe had ever been claimed or paid on corn grown in the highlands above Burdhope and their crops were therefore exempt. The judgement eventually went in favour of the rector. The Halls may have been correct to say that no tithes had been paid on crops grown in this area, but that was perhaps because few if any crops had been grown there prior to the late 17th/early 18th-century settlement. Even in the high medieval period, when there may have been permanently occupied vaccaries (seigneurial cattle farms) and other stock farms in the hopes of the upper valley, the emphasis was probably on stock-rearing and dairy production, rather than arable cultivation.
In 1228 the then rector of Elsdon, Roger de Whitchester, appealed to Pope Gregory IX regarding the tithe of the foals which the Umfravilles had granted to Kelso Abbey from their Forest of Redesdale on the west side of Cottonshope (cf. Hodgson 1827, 15-18). Roger claimed this infringed the rights of his parish to the tithes from this area. The rector was unsuccessful in this instance with arbitration in the Archbishop of york's court going against him, the abbot and convent being adjudged to have good title to the tithes by long usage. Nevertheless this clearly demonstrates that the medieval occupants of Elsdon rectory were determined to secure recognition of their rights in the upper valley.
It is therefore unclear why Ramshope alone should have escaped this imposition of tithes and been treated as extra-parochial. Hodgson, however, suggests that the extra-parochial district was of longstanding and equated to that part of the rectory of Elsdon which was labelled 'the portion of Roger de Normand' in the ecclesiastical taxation of 1291 (Hodgson 1827, 154; cf. 1820, 351). Although the location of this portion is not given in the taxation register, its equation with Ramshope is not altogether implausible.
The Master of the hospital at Elishaw also held a portion of the Elsdon rectory, which is listed in the ecclesiastical tax valuation immediately after Roger de Normand's portion. In turn these Spital lands are listed along with Ramshope as being exempt from tithes in the Tithe Award of 1840. It is therefore tempting to infer that the portions of Roger de Normand and the Master of Elishaw in 1291 correspond to Ramshope township and the Spital Lands in 1840, in which case Roger de Normand's portion must equate to Ramshope.
The origins of this exemption from tithes may relate to a grant by the seigneurial owner of the rectory, the Umfravilles, of all the tithes from a particular area to an individual or institution, rather similar to but perhaps more comprehensive than the grant of the tithe of foals from Redesdale Forest to Kelso Abbey.