Rochester : Conclusions
There is no explicit documentary reference to any settlement at Rochester during the medieval era. The following points can be made with regard to the site and its position within the overall framework of medieval Redesdale:
- The earliest mention of habitation at the site is dated to 1552.
- The limit of permanent settlement during the 13-14th centuries lay at Elishaw and Blakehope 4 km below Rochester.
- Exploitation of the higher valley during the 13-14th centuries took three forms:
- Hunting reserve for the Umfraville lords
- Vaccaries (cattle farms) and other stock rearing (e.g. horses in Cottonshope) held in demesne by the lordship
- Transhumant use of shieling grounds by the Umfraville tenantry
- After economic recession in the 14th century the spread of settlement further up valley recommenced in the 15th-early 16th centuries, perhaps aided rather than hindered by the anarchic conditions of the time. The establishment of a hamlet within High Rochester fort probably occurred during this period.
The possibility that the fort was used earlier as the site for a vaccary cannot be excluded, however.
Dere Street remained in use throughout the medieval period and right up to the end of the 18th century as a major cross-border throughfare. The gradual expansion of settlement up to the head of Redesdale in the post-medieval era may have influenced the choice of a road along the valley as the route of the Newcastle-Jedburgh turnpike in the early-19th century. Dere Street finally seems have fallen out of significant use in the early 19th century with the demise of cattle-droving.
The pattern of settlement at the beginning of the 17th century comprised a ring of farm-steadings (Nether Rochester, Dykehead and Hillock) dispersed around a small hamlet nestling within the fort itself.
A population total of a little over 20 individuals, for the settlement within the fort, and 40 - 50, for the community as a whole, can be estimated for the first half of the 17th century. These were almost exclusively members of a single surname, the Halls.
By the mid-18th century this population may have increased somewhat - to perhaps 45 - 60 for the entire community - but the focus was gradually shifting southward. This is marked by the appearance of the dual place-names High and Low Rochester in the 1770s suggesting that settlement no longer had a single focus but consisted of two roughly equal hamlets. By the early 19th century the main weight of settlement lay to the south alongside the newly opened turnpike. The increasing importance of this valley road in comparison to Dere Street was doubtless one of the key factors explaining this settlement drift.
Coal working in the immediate environs of High Rochester was centred on Hillock Colliery, to the north of site. The documentary sources show the 'colliery' was operating in the later-18th and first half of the 19th centuries. Other pits in the neighbourhood were in use at roughly the same time. The last, Bellshiel Colliery ceased operating in 1935.
Other extractive and processing structures can be identified from the documentary sources, notably the lime kilns near Dykehead (early-mid 19th century) and water corn mills at Stobbs and Birdhope Craig (18th-early 19th century).