Great Tosson : The 19th Century Village
Dixon (1903, 322-3) records that the village itself was much more extensive than it was in his day. During the first decade of the 19th century it contained, besides the farms, a schoolhouse, a blacksmith’s shop, a joiner’s shop, and a public house, ‘The Royal George’ nearly opposite the ruined tower. Whether there were significantly more buildings in the settlement is perhaps questionable, but a greater range of trades probably were sustained, with blacksmithing and joinery or carpentry being carried out at Great Tosson throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The village trades people may have benefited from the custom of the Scottish drovers using the trackways across the Simonside Hills in their journey southward (Hedley & Quartermaine 2004, 347). Long distance cattle droving of this kind became a common feature in the Border hills in these centuries following the end of chronic hostilities between England and Scotland in 1603. Whenever possible the drovers would cross unenclosed moorland, rather than negotiate awkward routes between enclosed fields, where the damage to crops by straying livestock was a constant risk and the where metalled roads wore down the cattle’s hooves, necessitating they be shod.
Parson and White’s Trade Directory, in 1827, gives the impression of a thriving local economy - ‘here is a woollen manufactory, a corn mill, and quarries of excellent limestone’. A blacksmith and cartwright again figure, but there is no mention of a schoolhouse or ‘The Royal George’ by this stage.
Since no innkeeper or victualler is mentioned in the 1762 Militia List either, it is possible that public house may have had a relatively short life, falling some time between 1762 and 1827, and had already found alternative use as a farmhouse by the second quarter of the 19th century. The building itself is clear a well-built house of around mid 18th century date (Grundy 1988, 371: TOS 13).
By the beginning of the 20th century, when Dixon was writing, Great Tosson had largely ceased to have a role as a centre of services for the surrounding district, doubtless supplanted by the growth of Rothbury. The village then consisted of three farms, each comprising a substantial farmhouse with labourer’s cottages, and ranges of farm buildings attached. Two of the farms - Tosson West Farm (now known as Great Tosson Farm) and the Tower Farm - were owned by Lord Armstrong; whilst the other (East Tosson Farm), at the east end of the village, belonged to the living of Ancroft Parish. The township’s arable land lay to the north, stretching down towards the Coquet, which formed the northern boundary of the township.
Picture : Cottages at Tosson