Redesdale Under The Lordship Of The Howards
The Howard ownership of the Lordship of Redesdale lasted from 1614 until 1750 and marks the transfer from a medieval government, society and economy in the Rede valley to a more modern one.
The Survey of Debateable and Border Lands carried out in 1604 shows clearly the disposition of property in Redesdale at that time, a situation that was likely to be little altered by 1614 when it was transferred to the ownership of Dunbar’s daughter and her husband. In the context of the area that now lies within the National Park, members of local families tenanted the land around the present villages of Elsdon and Otterburn and along the river valley.
Their small farms were located adjacent to the flat land in the bottom of the valley and extended up its sides for a short distance. This land was used for cultivation and for growing hay for winter feed for the farmers’ livestock, which consisted of herds of black cattle and small flocks of sheep.
The stock was pastured around the homesteads during the winter and then grazed during the summer on hill land either close to the farmsteads or in the upper parts of the valley, where there extensive “summer and shieldinge grounds” available to all who held farmland within the Manor. The arrangement of small farms continued up the valley to Woolaw, Bellshield and Birdhope, which are located approximately two miles north of the village of Rochester. At that point the land available for summer pastures began and continued to the head of the valley and the border with Scotland.
The tenants of the Lordship in the Rede valley, as shown in the 1604 Survey were either freeholders, who performed military service for their right to hold property, or customary tenants, who performed service and paid some rent for their holdings. The Howards inherited this situation from the Crown and, more recently, Dunbar. Undoubtedly the abolition of the military Border Tenure by King James brought about some changes, but the Howards effected a much greater transformation when they began to break up the real estate of the Lordship through sales commencing in 1640.
By 1747, as a result of a series of sales over the century after 1640, as one member of the family after another came into possession of the Lordship and required to repair their finances, the Howards were reduced to the ownership of a single farm, Overacres. At this point, the owner, William Howard, sold the farm together with the title to the Lordship and its remaining medieval seigniorial rights to the Duke of Northumberland.
The effect of the Howard sales had been to transform the agriculture and settlement of the Rede valley. In the townships of Troughend and Rochester, the seventeenth century farms had been enlarged to include areas of hill land that may have previously been grazed, but whose ownership had not been allocated to be within the boundaries of particular holdings.
At the same time, the areas which had previously been described as shieling grounds and were used solely for transhumance summer grazing had ceased to exist in that form. Instead they had been broken up into large farms. For example, at Catcleugh, just north of Byrness, in 1658, Sir Charles Howard and his trustees sold the summer pastures at Catcleugh and the neighbouring Spithope to Henry Widdrington of Black Heddon.
Widdrington, in turn, sold the property on and this land, together with other neighbouring property, ultimately came into the possession of Gabriel Hall. By his death in 1733, Hall had accumulated a substantial estate that mainly passed to his son Martin, but he also made some bequests to other children. The whole had been divided into farms and when subsequently some of the property was sold in the 1760s, the Duke of Northumberland bought Catcleugh, Spithope, Babswood and Chattlehope. Previously all of these four properties had been part of the commonly used summer grazing in upper Redesdale, which in total had exceeded 21,000 acres, but now they formed a single farm of 6,000 acres.
Picture: Ridge and Furrow near Elsdon