Township and Parish, Barony and Manor
Before examining the medieval village community of Akeld in detail, it is necessary to outline the various different territorial units within which it was incorporated, and which provided the framework for the development of the village. Each of these units related to a different aspect of the settlement's communal relations, both internal and external.
Akeld Township and Kirknewton Parish
The 19th century township of Akeld, which forms the basic framework for the historical summary set out in volume XI of the Northumberland County History (NCH XI (1922), 229-40), was one of 15 townships incorporated in the huge, 38,000 acre parish of Kirknewton which embraced the bulk of the north Cheviot massif.
The township itself contained 2267 acres and embraces the valley of the Akeld Burn and the corresponding section of the flood plain of the Glen as far north as the river itself. The modern civil parish of Akeld covers a wider area, including the former township of Humbleton (in Chatton ecclesiastical Parish), also partly in the National Park.
The Barony of Wooler and Manor of Akeld
Akeld formed one of the constituent manors of the barony of Wooler which was held by the Muschamp lineage until the male line was extinguished with the death of Robert de Muschamp III in 1250. The lordship was established by Henry I (1100-35), in common with the great majority of Anglo-Norman baronies in Northumberland (Kapelle 1979, 199, 207; Lomas 1996, 22-5)
In the feudal survey of 1242, the barony was held by Robert de Muschamp (Liber Feodorum II, 1119-20). The manor of ‘Akeld was in turn subinfeudated, the lord of the manor being one William de Akeld who also held Coupland and Yeavering for the military service, or fee, of one knight. There is evidence to suggest that William’s family had held this estate for a considerable period. Thus Robert de Akeld (presumably William’s father) is mentioned in a series of early 13th century charters detailing the endowment of a chapel at Akeld, which are preserved in the Cartulary of Kirkham Priory.
An even earlier ancestor is most probably represented by one Elias son of Alured, who is recorded holding a single knight’s fee in the Wooler barony by a previous feudal survey in 1166 (Red Book). Unlike the more thorough 1242 survey, the 1166 return does not record the extent or location of each knight’s holding, but this Elias is probably to be identified with the Helias de Achelda whose name occurs in the Pipe Rolls for 1170 and 1171, and therefore with the same Akeld lineage of which Robert and William were later members (cf. Hedley 1970, 241).
Still more intriguingly, the name of Helias’ father indicates the family was of indigenous Northumbrian extraction rather than forming part of the Anglo-Norman settler class, just like another of the Wooler barony’s knights in 1166, Liulf son of Alwold.
Akeld : From Thane To Knight
Lomas (1996, 22-5), followed by O'Brien (2002, 64), has persuasively suggested that this holding of three contiguous townships represents an old pre-Conquest thanage. If this is suggestion is correct, Akeld would potentially represent the centre of a very old estate. Moreover it would also imply that the transition from Saxon to Norman administration in this part of Northumberland was less disruptive than elsewhere, involving little more than a change in title from thane to knight on the part of a leading member of the local elite.
William of Akeld was still living in 1255, but by the later 13th century (certainly by 1279) the manorial lordship seems to have become fragmented between four co-heiresses. In 1291 these four holdings were in the hands of John Prendergast, Thomas Haggerston, Robert of Bellingham and Thomas of Detchant.
The subsequent complex history of the manor is fully detailed in the County History (NCH XI (1922), 230-6). By the mid 14th century, however, manorial tenure was once again becoming much more straightforward with three quarters of Akeld being recorded in the hands of John Coupland in 1364.
By 1428 this holding had in turn come into the possession of the Greys of Chillingham (perhaps having been sold to them in 1408 - op. cit. 233-4), one of Northumberland's principal late-medieval baronial lineages, in whose hands it remained until the 18th century. A number of small freeholders are also recorded in legal documents and monastic cartularies, whilst Kirkham Priory held some land in the township, certainly from the early 13th century onwards if not earlier.