Term : Villages, Hamlets and Farmsteads
The other territorial labels discussed can all be defined with relative ease, despite the complexity caused by their changing role over time (which is especially marked in the case of the township), since they describe specific entities which figure in legislation and other formal records from the medieval period onwards. However it is a very different matter when it comes to precisely defining the terms used to describe different types of settlement, such as 'village' or 'hamlet'. As the foremost scholars of landscape and settlement studies have admitted (e.g. Roberts 1996, 14) it is extraordinarily difficult to define these terms with precision in such a way as to impose any absolute consistency of usage upon them.
For the purposes of this study the following definitions of settlement were used, all drawn from Brian Roberts' extensive work, in particular the succinct discussion provided in Landscapes of Settlement (1996, 15-19):
- VILLAGE: A clustered assembly of dwellings and farmsteads, larger than a hamlet, but smaller than a town and A rural settlement with sufficient dwellings to possess a recognisable form (Roberts 1976, 256)
- HAMLET: A small cluster of farmsteads
- FARMSTEAD: 'An assemblage of agricultural buildings from which the land is worked'
- TOWN: A relatively large concentration of people possessing rights and skills which separate them from direct food production.
The most substantial body of work on village morphology is that undertaken by Brian Roberts (e.g. 1972;, 1976; 1977; 1990). Roberts has identified a complex series of village types based on two main forms, termed 'rows' and 'agglomerations', multiplied by a series of variable factors:
- Regular or irregular
- The presence or absence of greens
- Complexity - e.g. multiple row villages
- Building density - infilling of toft areas
- Fragmentation - 'exploded' versions of row villages and village agglomerations
This provides a useful schema for classifying villages, but it is difficult to determine what these different morphological characteristics actually signify. Dixon (1985, I,) is sceptical of regularity or irregularity as a significant factor, noting that irregularity does not necessarily mean that a village was not laid out in a particular order at a particular time; that the regularity of a layout is a subjective judgement; and that an irregular row may simply be a consequence of local terrain or topography. He also points out that however irregular it might appear, by its very existence the row constitutes an element of regularity. He is especially dismissive of the presence or absence of a green as a significant factor in village morphology, arguing that a green is simply an intrusion of the common waste into the settlement; if such a space is broad it is called a green, if narrow it is a street or gate.
In the case of the Historic Village Atlas Project a still more substantial problem is posed by the lack of detailed mapping earlier than c. 1800 for many of the 17 villages considered. In other words, there is no reliable cartographic evidence which predates the late 18th-19th century transformation of populous village communities of the medieval and early modern era into 'farm hamlets', i.e. settlements focussed on one or two large integrated farm complexes.
In Northumberland, particularly in the northern half of the county, the 1st edition Ordnance Survey - so often the first resort in analysing settlement morphology – and even the relevant tithe map do not provide a reliable guide to the early modern or medieval form of any given village.
Moreover the documentary evidence assembled by Wrathmell and Dixon suggests there was often a marked reduction in the size of the village population in the later 17th and early 18th centuries, accompanying a gradual reduction in the number of tenancies. Thus, even where 18th - century mapping does survive for a particular village, it may actually under-represent the extent of the earlier, medieval and 16th -17th century phases of that settlement.
If Brian Roberts, using the methods of historical geography, has perhaps done more to shape current thinking on the overall pattern of medieval village settlement than any other scholar, at the micro level of the individual village and its components the seminal investigation in Northumberland has been Michael Jarrett's archaeological excavation of West Whelpington village. Conducted over a period of fifteen years from 1966 onwards this revealed a substantial proportion of a medieval village (Jarrett et al. 1987; 1988). Lomas (1996, 71-86) has recently emphasised the fundamental degree to which our understanding of life in a medieval Northumbrian village rests on the programme of research at West Whelpington.
Two major studies (both regrettably unpublished), which to some degree were able to draw on the work of Roberts and Jarrett, comprise Stuart Wrathmell's PhD thesis on medieval village settlement in south Northumberland (Wrathmell 1975) and Piers Dixon's equivalent doctoral research on the medieval villages of north Northumberland (Dixon 1985). Dixon's work, in particular is of fundamental importance for the Historic Village Atlas, as the citations in the text of the individual reports and the synthesis makes clear, since it covered many of the settlements in the northern half of the Northumberland National Park included in the Project. The villages in the central band of the county between the River Coquet and the North Tyne catchment remain as yet uncovered by any equivalent study, however.
This lacuna is particularly unfortunate because a similar level of coverage of the south side of the Coquet and Redesdale would have served to emphasise how similar the settlement pattern in these areas was to that prevailing in upper North Tynedale and how different from that encountered in north Northumberland, even in the Cheviot uplands and Glendale.
Lomas (1996, 86), has characterised the long Pennine dales in the eastern half of the county as areas of 'commons with settlements' rather than 'settlements with commons'. These areas - North Tynedale, Redesdale, and the south side of Coquetdale, along with South Tynedale, and East and West Allendale largely outside the National Park - were distinguished by a prevailing settlement pattern of dispersed farmsteads and hamlets.
In marked contrast, a more nucleated pattern predominated in the upland Cheviot valleys of north Northumberland, although the density of such settlements was inevitably reduced by comparison with the lowland districts in the northern part of the county. The excellent fertility of the Cheviot soils permitted intensive agricultural cultivation during optimal climatic phases, but only at locations within the massif where there was sufficient level ground - such as Hethpool - and even there substantial terracing of the adjacent hillsides was required to create enough ploughland to make the settlement viable.
To some extent the gap left by Wrathmell and Dixon in Redesdale and southern Coquetdale has been filled by the programme of investigation conducted by Beryl Charlton, John Day and others on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, which resulted in a series of synthetic discussions of various aspects of settlement in the two valleys (Charlton & Day 1978; 1979; 1982; Day & Charlton 1981; all summarised in Charlton & Day 1976 and Charlton 1996 and 2004).
These may be compared with the summary of the development of medieval and early modern settlement in upper North Tynedale provided by Harbottle and Newman (1973). However the former was restricted in scope by its emphasis for the most part on the Otterburn Training Area (although the authors did extend their scope beyond the confines of the military range where this obviously provided a more coherent analysis), whilst the principal focus of Harbottle and Newman's work was the rescue excavation of a series of early modern and later farmsteads threatened by the construction of Kielder Water, to which the settlement overview provided an invaluable but all too brief introduction.
Hence all three valleys still merit comprehensive syntheses of their medieval/early modern settlement patterns, combining analysis of the historic maps and documents - including what is known regarding the pattern of seigneurial and ecclesiastical landholding - with the evidence of the surviving physical remains and site layouts.