Redesdale In The Late 18th And 19th Centuries
As a result of the changes brought about during the period since 1600, by the late eighteenth century practically all the land in Redesdale was divided up into separate farms. Such a process had taken place throughout Britain, but the pattern of farm creation in Redesdale was significantly different from elsewhere.
Enclosure of farmland into separate holdings in other regions of the country had often begun by private agreements among landowners in the Tudor period and then been carried forward to the eighteenth century when the process was streamlined and extended through Parliamentary legislation.
In Redesdale, the first enclosures had come about as the result of the purchase of land from the Howards as they dismembered the Lordship they had acquired in 1614 and was then supplemented by Acts of Parliament in one or two places. This was most typically the case with the enclosure award at Elsdon in 1731which brought about the redistribution of over ten thousand acres of land surrounding the village. However, in the area of upper Redesdale within the boundary of the present National Park, this was not the case.
Historic reasons associated with settlement in the valley and the effects of Border warfare and civil unrest in the period 1300 to 1600 account for underlying differences in land holding between the townships and, as a result of this, the process of enclosure was also substantially different. Only a handful of Enclosure Acts applied to the northern part of the valley or affected this area.
The reason for this is that these particular Acts, such as the ones dealing with Troughend or Rattenraw, included some land which is now within the portion of the Rede valley which is within the present Park. However, the total area covered by such legislation was less than 2000 acres in a total area of nearly 50 000 acres. The Acts which applied particularly to the northern part of the valley were essentially ones which tidied up land boundaries and the ownership of small parcels of land, rather than dealing with any substantial enclosure which entailed the creation of new farms. Typical of these is the Rochester Enclosure Award of 1866, which dealt with 286 acres of land around and within the village of Rochester.
The bulk of the land in the northern part of the Rede valley was enclosed either by agreement among the landowners or by an individual landowner, who, having purchased a very large block of land from the Lordship, subsequently divided it into a number of farms. The arrangement of the property at Catcleugh, described above, is typical of this process.
One feature resulting from the application of this mechanism was that the average size of holdings in the three townships of Rochester, Troughend and Ramshope was much larger than in any of the other four townships in Elsdon parish. The northerly townships had an average farm size of in excess of 800 acres, while the average farm size in the remainder was less than 300 acres.
In addition, there were 20 farms in excess of 1000 acres in the three northern townships while the remainder contained only 5. At the same time, as a reflection of the way in which the lands of the Lordship were broken up, the majority of the farms were not owner-occupied. Instead, they were farmed by tenants on leases of up to twenty-one years in length from landlords who were likely to own several holdings in the valley. Initially, the tenants continued to employ the same mixed system of farming that they had in former times. However, during the latter part of the eighteenth century, a transformation took place in the Upper Rede Valley that considerably altered this state of affairs.
In response to population growth in other parts of the country creating new demands for meat and wool, the farmers of upper Redesdale began to abandon grain cultivation and reduced the numbers of black cattle reared on their holdings. In their place much larger flocks of sheep were kept and the farmers began to concentrate on the production of wool, wether lambs for the meat market and breeding ewes. One effect of these changes was that, by the early nineteenth century, only two of the thirteen mills which had been operated along the river to process the grain grown by local farmers had not ceased production.
By the 1830s, it is possible to give a much more precise picture of land owning and leasing in upper Redesdale. The Schedule of agricultural property attached to the Tithe Commutation map of Elsdon parish contains detailed lists of landed proprietors, their properties and the tenants broken down into townships. According to the Schedule, there were 34 properties in Rochester, 28 in Troughend and a single farm in Ramshope.
Of these, only eleven were in the hands of owner-occupiers, while the remaining farms were the property of landowners, most of whom were resident outside the township itself or the parish of Elsdon. The most important of these landlords was Lord Redesdale who owned 13 of the properties in Troughend and Rochester with a total area in excess of 11900 acres, over a quarter of the area of all three townships. During the remainder of the century, further properties were purchased from other landowners, until the estate extended to over 16000 acres and occupied approximately one third of the land in the three townships. It is also interesting to note that all of this part of the estate was located within the boundaries of the present National Park.
A brief study of the way in which this estate was managed reveals many of the basic features of all land ownership in the Rede valley during the nineteenth century. The foundations of the estate were laid in the 1790s when Sir John Mitford, then a noted lawyer and Member of Parliament for Beeralston, a pocket borough belonging to the Percy family.
For reasons which are not entirely clear, Sir John, who had lived most of his life in the South of England, decided to purchase property in Northumberland, not far from the families ancestral home at Mitford, near Morpeth. Sir John became Lord Chancellor for Ireland under William Pitt and assumed as his title Lord Redesdale. Although he inherited an additional estate in Gloucestershire, Lord Redesdale continued occasionally to visit his estate in Northumberland and also added to it from time to time.
From the extant evidence, it appears that, for much of the first Lord Redesdale’s lifetime, the estate was managed by local men, themselves farmers, who collected the rents and carried out simple managerial tasks on behalf of the owner. On the death of the first Baron in 1830 and with the accession of his son to the title, this practise changed. The new owner, John Thomas Freeman Mitford, second Baron Redesdale, introduced estate management methods that were similar to those being used on other large estates in England.
In 1834, an agent, Edward Lawson, was appointed to conduct the management of the estate. Lawson was resident in a property, Redesdale Cottage, located on the estate and also took over the tenancy of one of the farms, Stewartshields. The purpose of this latter act was not only to augment Lawson’s income, but also to allow him to develop modern farming methods on the holding. Thus, he would be able to familiarise himself with the problems faced by tenants and suggest ways of solving them and also be able to provide an example to them of sound agricultural practice.
At the same time, Lawson was able to advise his employer on reforming the leasehold system on the estate, carry out repairs and other necessary improvements to the farms generally supervise at first hand the day-to-day conduct of the tenants. Like many other land agents of the time, Lawson also involved himself closely in local affairs. He acted as a churchwarden in Elsdon, was road surveyor for two of the public roads in the area and canvassed on behalf of the Tory interest in elections.
When his employer acted as a major local benefactor and had built the Church of the Holy Trinity at Horsley, near Rochester, Lawson acted as the clerk of works superintending all building operations and, later, acted as one of the first churchwardens. He also made a significant contribution to the development of Rochester and took a major role in refurbishing Birdhopecraig Hall, his employer’s country house on the estate.
Lawson died in 1878, but he had already taken on as his assistant his nephew, William Hodgson. Hodgson succeeded his uncle as agent and was to continue in service until his own death in 1907. During this period, he maintained the high professional standards established by his uncle and continued to conduct affairs on the estate to the mutual benefit of owner and tenants.
When prices of sheep and wool fell in the 1880s and 1890s, Hodgson not only adjusted rents to reflect the significantly poorer returns to the farmers, but also introduced policies such as the construction of additional hay sheds on estate farms which would permit farmers to diversify their farming operations. In this way the farming community was supported and its welfare fostered until prosperity began to recover in the years immediately before the First World War.
The prosperity of farming in the Upper Rede Valley was essential to the well being of the whole population, not just to the farmers and their employees. There were coal measures in the valley and some of the stone was useful for building purposes, but there were only limited local markets for such commodities. The only railway line to enter the valley crossed it at West Woodburn, several miles from the upper valley and too far for minerals to be exported to lucrative urban markets. With this heavy dependence on upland pastoral farming, there was an underlying weakness in the economy of the Upper Rede Valley that was to cause considerable changes in the twentieth century.