The Upper Rede Valley In The 20th Century
The progressive estate management policies, which characterised the work of Lawson and Hodgson on behalf of the Mitford family, were similarly pursued by the agents of the Dukes of Northumberland and other major landowners in upper Redesdale. Evidence suggests that their policies bore fruit as there is little evidence of bankruptcy among the farmers in the upper Rede valley.
However, apart from some attempts to increase the amount of leased shooting on the farms, there is much less evidence of successful diversification of enterprise by the landowners or farmers. Unlike some of the Yorkshire dales, where it was possible to introduce the production of milk and milk products, the absence of rail transport precluded this in the same way that it prevented the exploitation of mineral resources (Hallas 1999).
Consequently, the area attracted the development of other enterprises that could make use of marginal upland countryside. Such activities became features of life in Redesdale at the very end of the nineteenth century and continued throughout the twentieth.
The first of these new developments was the construction of the Catcleugh reservoir at the head of the valley in the period 1894 to 1905. The detailed story of this undertaking has been told elsewhere (Rennison 1979), but it is important to note that it brought considerable economic activity into the most northern part of the valley for a short time, including a large temporary increase in the population. By the end of the project a substantial reservoir had been constructed which occupied several hundred acres of land, but which only created a few jobs related to water supply and property maintenance at the dam.
The next development in the valley was one that continues to contribute significantly to the life of the valley in a number of ways. This was the purchase of over 17 000 acres of land for use as a military training area. Popularly believed to have been suggested for such purposes by Winston Churchill, the area was originally designated for artillery training for Territorial Army soldiers, but was later extended to include the Regular Army and, after the Second World War, NATO forces.
Additional purchases of land for the Training Area took place between 1940 and 1943, 1951 and 1954 and in 1987 so that the present Otterburn Training Area extends to 56 600 acres in the upper Rede and Coquet valleys. Within this area, two camps at Otterburn and Rochester (Redesdale Camp) have been created. The latter is within the area of the National Park and is due for demolition in 2004/2005.
Farming has continued within the Training area, although there has been some amalgamation of the holdings to produce fewer and larger farms. What has been of considerable significance has been the employment opportunities for civilian workers on the Training Area. These have been considerable and the Ministry of Defence has employed up to 100 people on the Training Area estate undertaking a wide variety of jobs. As a result of the nature of military training, businesses other than farming have been precluded from operating on the Training Area. Nevertheless, the Training Area has been perceived by local people as a considerable asset, providing a source of local employment that farming and tourism simply could not match.
The final change that has taken place in the upper Rede valley, is one which has also occurred in the neighbouring valleys of the North Tyne and the Coquet and one which has become a distinctive feature of the National Park. This is the work carried out in the valley by the Forestry Commission (Walton 1962). The Commission first began planting in rural Northumberland in the neighbouring North Tyne valley in the 1920s but extended its activities into Redesdale as land became available.
The second Lord Redesdale of the second creation (David Mitford 1878 - 1958) inherited the Redesdale family estate in 1916 shorn of the two and a half thousand acres purchased by the Army for the Otterburn range. In 1918, Lord Redesdale sold the outlying portions of the estate and over 8 000 acres around Byrness was purchased by a Teesside industrialist Sir James Marr. In 1930, following Marr’s death, the property was sold to the Forestry Commission who began planting shortly afterwards. The Marr property was to be the foundation of the 17,000 acre Redesdale Forest that was an extension of the Kielder and Wark Forests in North Tynedale.
The Redesdale Forest, which is within the National Park, brought some additional employment to the area and a substantial increase in the population of the village of Byrness. In recent years, this trend has been reversed as increasingly the routine work of forest planting, harvesting and some maintenance has been carried out by contractors whose workers often do not live in the Rede valley and whose labours have been substantially mechanised.
As a result of these three developments, the topography and economy of the parts of the Rede valley within the National Park have been changed considerably as has the way of life in the communities within this area.