Surnames And Graynes : Reiver Society
In response to prolonged Anglo-Scottish conflict and weakened lordship, we see the emergence of kinship-based social groups in the valley, the North Tynedale 'surnames'. The use of surnames became much more common from the 14th century onwards, but they were to have a special significance in North Tynedale and Redesdale where they became associated with the border reiving clans, collectively known as the 'Tynedale thieves' in late 15th and 16th century documents. Indeed 'surname', rather than the Scottish Highland label 'clan', was the term used to refer to these groupings in contemporary sources.
Effectively these were kinship based, self protection groups, which emerged in the late medieval period as a result of the chronic insecurity due to prolonged Anglo-Scottish conflict and weakened lordship. Such groups provided some measure of security for the valley's inhabitants during these turbulent conditions through the threat of collective clan retaliation and feud.
They also provided the government with much needed military manpower along the Border, which was to prove especially important in the early 16th century. The four principal surnames in North Tynedale were the Charltons - the chief surname - the Robsons, Dodds and Milburns. The Dodds and Milburns tended too predominate in Tarsetdale and Tarretdale, whilst the Robsons were more prevalent towards the upper end of the valley and the Charltons lower down the dale, between Tarset Burn and Bellingham, but also in Tarsetdale itself.
Relatively little is known regarding the origins of this distinctive society and the dispersed settlements, comprising small hamlets and groups of farmsteads, which these kinship groups occupied. Most of the available documentation derives from the 16th and early 17th centuries, after the Crown had taken direct control of the area.
From this latter period there is super-abundance of material - correspondence between royal officers and officials in the border counties and ministers at court, surveys of the state of the frontier, maps and plans - all collated, calendered and published in works such as the collections of State Papers, the Calendar of Border Papers produced by the Public Record Office as well as Bowes and Ellerker's Border survey of 1541 (reproduced in Bates 1891), the Border Watch Schedule of 1552 (reproduced in the Leges Marchiarum edited by W. Nicolson) and the Survey of Debateable and Border Land, taken A D 1604, edited by R.P. Sanderson (1604 Survey), which provide useful information on contemporary settlement patterns in Upper North Tynedale.
Nevertheless it seems clear that it originated during the later medieval period. Documentary evidence shows the Dodds, later the predominant surname in Tarsetdale, were already established there by the end of the 14th century. In 1397 the Earl of Northumberland obtained pardons for three Dodds of Tarset (Cal Pat R 1396-99, 62, 72; cf. NCH XV (1940), 247). Similarly, the presence of several Robsons is attested at Falstone around the same time (1371) (see the Falstone Historic Village Atlas report for further discussion). The Robson surname was likewise to become especially prominent at Falstone and in the neighbouring part of the valley during later centuries. Together these and other pieces of evidence suggest the surnames were beginning to emerge in North Tynedale and Redesdale during the late 14th century.
By the 16th century the Robsons of Falstone seem to have become the senior lineage, or 'grayne' in 16th-century parlance, of their surname. Parallels for this kind of social structure have been recognised around the world by anthropologists and are termed segmentary tribal societies, the term 'segmentary' signifying that each larger unit, the 'surname', was composed of several smaller units, the lineage or 'grayne', itself composed of several cousinly families inhabiting a neighbourhood of dispersed farmsteads or hamlets.
Each set of the smaller social units is said, in anthropological terms, to be 'nested' within the larger level grouping to which it belonged. As is common in segmentary societies, this internal structure was not necessarily rigid or permanently fixed and the number of graynes within any particular surname could fluctuate over time. The leading member of the senior grayne, e.g. the Charlton of Hesleyside or Robson of Falstone, was the acknowledged figurehead of the surname, a kind of chieftain labelled the 'heidsman' or 'laird'.
This distinctive society probably maintained itself for perhaps c. 250 - 300 years. By the last decades of the 16th century, however, for a variety of reasons the surnames were coming under increasing pressure. These factors included economic recession in the late Elizabethan era, the probable steady reduction in the size of tenancies due to partible inheritance which meant tenants no longer had sufficient resources to properly equip themselves, the loss of powerful noble or gentry patrons, and supervision by royal officials more concerned to discipline the English surnames than to protect the upland dales from Scottish reiving, particularly as all concerned knew that the Scottish king would eventually become their monarch too.
Together they combined to place the Northumbrian surnames in a situation of much greater vulnerability than they had hitherto experienced. Indeed so weakened were the Redesdale and Tynedale surnames by the last decades of Elizabeth's reign that their Scottish counterparts could strike with virtual impunity. In the survey of 'decays' made in 1584 all nineteen tenants of Tarset were said to have been slain by the Scots (PRO SP15/28). In the early 17th century, the new Stuart regime of James VI and I made determined efforts to break the reiving clans, establish order and transform the English and Scottish border counties into 'the Middle Shires' of the new combined realm.
The royal manors of Wark and Harbottle were granted to new lords who were encouraged to transform the customary border tenancies, which paid low rents in return for performing military service on the border, into more normal copyhold tenancies which paid higher rents.