Rochester : Romano-British Settlements
The local rural population have left abundant traces of their presence in the shape of the rectilinear enclosed sites, which were characteristic form of settlement in Redesdale and North Tynedale during this period (see Jobey 1960). These settlements typically comprise a roughly squarish, rectangular or slightly trapezoidal enclosure, defined by a stone wall or a ditch and bank, pierced by a single causewayed entrance in the middle of the front wall. Just inside the enclosure, on either side of the entrance, a couple of yards or pens, probably intended to hold livestock, can generally be found. Several round houses usually lay towards the rear of the enclosure.
Picture : Remains of longhouse near Rochester
Rescue excavation of a group of these sites in upper North Tynedale - at Tower Knowe, Belling Law, Kennel Hall Knowe near Plashetts, and Gowanburn Camp - directed by George Jobey in the 1970s, prior to the construction of Kielder Water, revealed that this type of settlement originated during the late Iron Age (Jobey 1973; 1977; 1978; 1983, 199ff; Higham 1986, 122-3, 134-7, 193-5). The original sites were built of wood, featuring timber roundhouses and palisaded enclosures, which were replaced several times over. Radiocarbon dates clustering in the last two centuries BC and 1st century AD were associated with these earlier phases, which were followed by a rebuilding in stone no earlier than the mid second century AD.
However, whilst the building material was different, the overall form of the original settlements was very similar to the later ones and the change in material was probably related to an increasing shortage of good building timber as settlement, cultivation and population expanded during the late Iron Age and the Romano-British period. Indeed, some of the settlements provide evidence for population growth with the single round house usually evident in the earlier timber phase being replaced by up to three roundhouses when the sites were rebuilt in stone, accompanied by a corresponding increase in the size of the enclosures.
In Redesdale itself a stone-built rectilinear settlement very similar in form to the North Tynedale examples was excavated at Woolaw (NY 815 985) only 1.65km north-west of Rochester and just outside the study area (Charlton & Mitcheson 1978, 61-72). This formed part of a wider programme of fieldwork in the valley and in the Otterburn Training Area to the north, undertaken in the mid-late 1970s by the Field Research Group of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne under the direction of Beryl Charlton and John Day.
Three structural phases were identified at Woolaw and the presence of a circular groove beneath one of the stone round houses of phase II implies that here too the earliest houses were constructed of timber. In the third and last phase, two smaller stone houses were added to the centrally-situated pair erected in phase II. This required the realignment of the north and south sides of the perimeter wall to accommodate the additions. Similar evidence for expansion which could not be contained within the established compound is apparent at other rectilinear settlement sites in the valley, notably Woolaw East, Rattenraw and Blakehope (op. cit., 77).
The rectilinear settlements of the 'North Tynedale type' were largely restricted to the south or west side of the river in Redesdale, in marked contrast to their almost universal distribution in North Tynedale itself (op. cit., 77, 85 fig. 17). On the north side of the river above Otterburn the form of these enclosed settlements changes from rectilinear to oval or circular in plan, a form more characteristic of settlements in the hills of north Northumberland, particularly in and around the Cheviot massif, and the Scottish Uplands.
These 'Cheviot type' settlements are also found in the uppermost reaches of North Tynedale, around and above Kielder. The adoption of this different settlement form was probably largely a response to topography rather than cultural differences. The narrower valleys and steeper slopes of the upper dales and the Cheviots perhaps caused the settlements to be terraced into the hillsides, giving rise to a different architectural tradition defining the proper form of a settlement. The boundary between these two vernacular building traditions clearly passed through Redesdale and displays remarkably little overlap between the two types. Nevertheless the basic components of all these settlements remain the same, i.e. walled enclosures, stockyards and roundhouses, and there is no reason to believe that the two settlement types mark the territories of distinct cultural groups.
Despite featuring stone-walled, ditched and embanked or palisaded compounds, these settlements were not fortified in the way that the earlier hillforts were. It would be better to see their enclosures as protective rather than defensive, i.e. they were designed to secure the livestock from predation by wild animals and perhaps keep out small groups of thieves and rustlers. The enclosure ditches would also have helped to create well-drained site platforms. Indeed a further variant form found on the north side of the Rede dispensed with the enclosure altogether.
Labelled 'unenclosed forecourt settlements' these comprised one or more unenclosed round houses which opened onto a large stone-walled forecourt. Their typological parallels again lie in the southern Scottish uplands and the Cheviots, and, like their rectilinear enclosed counterparts, some of these forecourt settlements show signs of expansion. The type is undated, as none have been excavated, but is generally assigned to the same overall late Iron Age/Romano-British period as the other two types. Finally, it is intriguing to note that none of these settlements, whatever their typological form, extend much higher up the valley than their much later counterparts the bastle farmsteads and small hamlets of the 16th and early 17th centuries. Thus Woolaw and Burdhope figure amongst the sites highest up the valley in both these dispersed settlement patterns.
We should imagine all the Romano-British settlements as housing individual family groups - extended families at the most - who were perhaps linked with the inhabitants of neighbouring homesteads by notional bonds of kinship to form lineages, clans and tribes. The sites were distributed relatively evenly along the valley to form a dispersed settlement pattern of farmsteads not dissimilar to that prevailing in more recent periods. It is likely there was a strong emphasis on pastoralism in their economy, based on the exploitation of the extensive moorland grazing which was available to these upland communities, enabling them to rear substantial herds of cattle and flocks of sheep.
Cattle may have been more important than sheep at this time, as was also the case in the medieval and early modern periods periods, with the latter vulnerable to foot-rot and liver fluke and less suited to the poorly-drained pastures prevalent before the agricultural improvements of the later 18th and 19th centuries. However sheep would still have been essential for their wool. In a largely unmonetized economy, livestock would have been the principal form of transferable wealth, and represented a family's savings to be drawn on in times of crisis, as is the case in pastoralist societies in the developing world today – a deposit account on the hoof.