The Liberty of Tynedale
Tynedale was not an ordinary barony. Instead it belonged to a class of lordship variously termed regalities, franchises or liberties, where the baron was responsible for performing the administrative and judicial tasks undertaken elsewhere by the sheriff and other royal officials. There were several of these in Northumberland, covering much of the county, including the Palatinate of Durham with its northern districts of Norhamshire, Islandshire and Bedlingtonshire, the Umfraville liberty of Redesdale, and the ecclesiastical liberties of Hexhamshire and Tynemouthshire (cf. Lomas 1996, 150-61).
This viceregal authority did not confer any right to alter or make laws, and its continuance was always conditional on the goodwill of the Crown, symbolised on the death of each baronial incumbant when the liberty automatically reverted to the state until a successor had been acknowledged. For the Crown this clearly represented a pragmatic and economical means of administering and policing the remote uplands of Northumberland. Tynedale was the largest of these liberties, covering more than 200,000 acres in total, and was retained by William's successors until the beginning of the Anglo-Scottish wars in 1296. (Moore 1915, 21-6; Lomas 1996, 155-8).
In the eyes of contemporaries, at least, it might appear that the liberty was part of Scotland. In the Northumberland Assize Roll of 1279, Tynedale is described as 'outside the kingdom of England in the kingdom of Scotland' (Northumb. Assize R., 365). However, despite being held by the King of Scotland, the Tynedale liberty remained English territory. The Scottish kings' powers there, particularly in the judicial field, were certainly greater than they possessed in their other English fiefs, such as the Honour of Huntingdon, but the royal justices dispatched annually from Scotland to hold the eyre at Wark-on-Tyne, the capital of the liberty, conducted those proceedings in accordance with English not Scottish law (Iter of Wark; cf. Lomas 1996, 155-7; RRS ii, 54; Hartshorne 1858, 253-65; Moore 1915, 57-8).
Moreover the English Crown reserved certain powers to itself, for example the right to grant markets and fairs and to establish boroughs, and the authority to licence individual feudal tenants to 'crenelate' (or fortify) their manor houses.
Territorially, the liberty embraced all of upper North Tynedale, above the confluence with the Rede, plus all the land on the west side of the North Tyne as far as its confluence with the South Tyne, as well as most of South Tynedale. The centre of the lordship was the manorial complex of Mote Hills at Wark on Tyne, originally probably a ringwork castle built of earth and timber. It was here that the royal justices dispensed law on their periodic visits, and those awaiting trial were held in the prison presumably situated within its circuit. There was also a bakehouse, brewery, and a forge, again perhaps located within the castle, as well as both a fulling mill and a corn mill, and a deer park.
The other manors in the liberty were in turn granted to subordinate lords belonging to the nobility of both kingdoms, a process known as subinfeudation. Upper North Tynedale seems to have been divided between three principal manors, Bellingham - where there was also a chapel and later a market - Tarset and Chirdon.
Chirdon manor seems to have embraced most of the south side of the valley above Bellingham and was centred on Dalley Castle beside the Chirdon Burn, where the ruins of a small 13th century hall-house can still be seen esconced on a natural mound. The manor of Tarset comprised the land on north side of the river from the limits of Bellingham manor right up to the head of the valley, where it also included the tributary valleys on the south side, notably Lewisburn (Lusburn). It thus incorporated Falstone, itself. The centre (or caput) of the manor was at Tarset Hall or Castle beside the confluence of the North Tyne and the Tarset Burn. The manor was held by the Comyns, one of the principal Scottish barronial lineages.