Recovery and Resettlement
A survey was undertaken in 1604 of the areas which were described as the “debatable and border lands” on the English side of the former Anglo-Scottish frontier. The survey report showed that family groups held tenancies that usually consisted of groups of small farms in the lower part of the North Tyne valley, that is in the section of the valley between the modern villages of Falstone and Bellingham. They held these in return for military service and on the death of the head of the family the property was usually divided up among the heirs.
King James and his ministers clearly felt that this was an antiquated system that was now unnecessary, as a result of there now being a single monarch over both kingdoms. There was also some evidence that the upper North Tyne valley was relatively overpopulated and that many of the inhabitants were driven to crime in order to have sufficient income to live. Thus changing the pattern of tenure and form of government in the Borders might not only restore peace and make the area more governable, but would also restore a degree of prosperity to the inhabitants.
A number of measures helped to sweep the old system away and to replace it with more clearly defined farms that were leased to individuals for a monetary rent rather than to groups of people in return for military service. At the same time, many of the manors in which these agricultural holdings were located passed from Crown ownership into the hands of major families living in the region such as the Percy Earls of Northumberland.
Over the next two centuries, as described below, these families began to reorganise their new landholdings so that by the early nineteenth century the pattern of farming in the North Tyne valley north of Bellingham had changed completely.
Farming in the seventeenth century was based on a pattern of small farmsteads located close to the valley floor where there were fields of flat land on which hay and corn crops could be grown. In general, the livestock owned by the farmer was a mixture of cattle and small flocks of sheep in which the former were the most valuable.
The livestock was wintered on the cultivatable land close to the farm, but in the spring the stock was taken out to pastures on the surrounding moorland. During the summer, the ground on which the stock had been overwintered was used to grow crops such as oats and hay. The animals returned to the farmstead in the late summer to graze on the aftermath of the harvest before spending the winter close to the farm once more. This transhumance type of farming was essentially an extension of the subsistence agriculture that had formed the basis of life in the valley in the late middle ages.
During the latter part of the seventeenth and the early part of the eighteenth century, local landowners encouraged the development of farms that were leased out to rent-paying tenants. The tenants were principally livestock farmers who cultivated some corn, usually oats, and some potatoes. Their main source of income was from the cattle that they raised and then sold on either for breeding or for slaughter.
On many of these farms, landlords added some enclosed hill pasture in order to create more viable holdings and to enable farmers to summer their stock on hill land closer to their homes. From the available evidence, it would seem likely that this type of farming was at its most extensive by the late eighteenth century, but then began to change.
The alterations usually took place at the instigation of landlords who wished to make their estates more efficient, profitable and socially useful. A growing population throughout Britain, but particularly in the urban areas, created an increased demand for woollen textiles and for sheep meat that persuaded landowners in the uplands to encourage their tenants to take up sheep farming.
Thus, in the North Tyne Valley, farms were amalgamated to create larger holdings, to which were attached substantial enclosed areas of hill land which provided the extensive grazing required by large flocks of sheep. At the same time, large farms were more easily controlled for the purposes of hunting and shooting by the landowners and their friends. These trends are demonstrated most clearly on the estate of the Duke of Northumberland.
By the early nineteenth century, at over 40,000 acres in extent, it was the largest estate in the valley and was divided into ten large farms ranging in size from Gowanburn (1208 acres) to West Kielder (8005 acres). One of the farms, Cranecleugh, with over 6000 acres, was an amalgam of two farms, Cranecleugh and Bull Crag, while another, The Belling (over 4300 acres) was made up of at least four earlier, smaller farms. The change in the type of farming is shown that, by 1850, Cranecleugh was stocked with 2000 sheep and only 20 cattle, while The Belling had 1700 sheep and 33 cattle.
While this process of farm amalgamation was going on, sporting interests on the estate were not neglected. Kielder Castle was built in 1775 as a base from which members of the Percy family and their friends could hunt and fish on their North Tyne estate. Originally a small shooting box, the castle was extended in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to accommodate larger parties for longer periods in pursuit of the grouse, pheasant and salmon to be found on the estate.