Alnham : Later History
The later history of the Alnham village and township, covering its decay and dramatic transformation from the compact, populous settlement of the late-medieval/early modern era into its present form has been well summarised by Dixon (1985, II, 25-7).
A map of the township in 1726 (Aln Cas O XI 3) shows, somewhat schematically, that the village had contracted to just two rows on either side of the burn, the south and central rows of the earlier layout, whilst new farm steadings had also been established at Blackchesters and Northfieldhead to the south and north of the village respectively.
An undated map (but pre-1750) appears to show a further stage in this process with a dwindling number of cottages and no longer clear row structure (Aln Cas O XI 2). All the old toft rows were still evident, albeit mostly unoccupied, when the village plan was recorded on the Enclosure Award of 1776 (NRO QRA 7). By this stage there were just two farms at the east end of the village, Castle and Pennylaws Farms, and three cottages. In the wider township, the boundaries and overall arrangement of the demesne pastures, parcels of freehold and the common remained unchanged up to the Enclosure Award (cf. Aln Cas O XI 3 (1726), 4, 5, 12 (1775-77); NRO QRA 7).
By the mid 18th century what remained of the village was in a state of widespread decay. Seymour's Survey of c. 1756, commissioned by the first Smithson Duke of Northumberland, reveals that five cottages and Hall-house farm were in ruins. Only two cottages were 'in tolerable repair' and one farm had a proper 'tiled stone house'. Of the two steadings established outside the village in the 17th-early 18th centuries, only Blackchesters was habitable (Aln Cas A I 6).
Moreover the undated mid 18th century map (Aln Cas O XI 2) reveals that only a small proportion of the ingrounds of Northfieldhead and Blackchesters was cultivated and that lay close to the two steadings, whilst a survey of 1769 indicates the infirelds were divided between four farms - the Castles (freehold), Northfieldhead, Blackchesters and Alnham (later Pennylaws).
Dixon attributes this decay to the policy of leasing the tenement lands to a single tenant during the 17th and 18th centuries, which enabled the leasee to amalgamate the lands of former tenants-at-will to form larger farmholdings (1985 II, 26). Thus in 1702 the demesne was all leased to Robert and Thomas Alder of Prendwick, whilst the twelve tenements and cottages in the village were leased separately to Robert Clavering. In 1727 the entire township was leased to George Alder (NCH XIV (1935), 576; Aln Cas A VI I & A I 4). It was only with the advent of the Smithson Dukes of Northumberland in the mid-18th century that there was a change of policy.
The key measure in bringing about a transformation was the enclosure of the township's commons, which was finally effected by Act of Parliament in 1776 (NRO QRA 7; cf. Aln Cas O XI 4-5 & 12). Enclosure had been discussed from the beginning of the 18th century, following a survey of the common around that time (Aln Cas A VII 10), but had hitherto been obstructed by the failure of all the commoners to agree (NCH XIV (1935), 576-7).
In particular, whilst Robert and George Alder were said to be in agreement with the proposal, Mistress Anne Davison was reported to have refused 'to divide the common. Though she keeps 14 score of sheep, 30 head of beasts (cattle) and 6 horses in the common or moore'. In 1720, following renewed pressure, she complained that Alexander Collingwood, Robert Arthur (Alder?) and George Arthur (Alder?) proposed to enclose the moor and deprive of her share (Aln Cas J III 3e).
The map attached to the enclosure award demonstrates very clearly how extensive was the transformation wrought by this measure (NRO QRA 7; fig. 64). The infield grounds were divided into a series of coherent holdings along the east and southeast sides of the township. The largest of these parcels, at 1379 acres, remained in the hands of the Duke of Northumberland, comprising Castle Farm and all the land on the south side of the farm. The north part of the village was divided between the vicar's glebe land (7 acres) and Percivall Clennell's 52 acre farm. Alexander Collingwood's holding lay at the very SE extremity of the township, adjoining Unthank, whilst Charles Byne held the old parcels of demesne along the eastern edge of the township to the north of the village.
The latter was also assigned 366 acres of the adjacent common. However the lion's share of the open moorland, (6590 acres) was allotted to the Duke of Northumberland, and as a result was left undivided. In the settlement itself, the remaining cottages with their associated toft enclosures were swept away. A new road was built through the site of the village, between the church and the two farms at the east end of the village. A further new road led towards Scrainwood, replacing an earlier meandering track (cf. Aln Cas O XI 1), and six cottages-holdings for the tenants of the Duke were laid out along this road at the beginning of the 19th century.
The enclosure award did not pass without dispute. Alexander Collingwood of Unthank failed to substantiate his freehold claim to the tract of land called Long Crag and Fridgemoor which had been enclosed or he claimed had been enclosed by his father. This lay in the SW corner of the township, to the north of Collingwood's parcel of land called Aldersfield. Fridgemoor is marked on Robert Norton's survey in 1619 (Aln Cas O XI 1) and Long Crag figures on several 18th century maps (now called Hazeltonrig Hill). The Commissioners appointed to enclose and divide the common decided this was all part of the common.
Collingwood's agent or lawyer James Murray commented in a letter to Collingwood 'Damm them all for a pack of rogues! They deserve to be transported to the top of Longcrag there to be imployed during the day perambulating the boundary and at night to be sent to the Old Tower (Alnham Castle? Or the vicar's tower?) there to remain in Dunny's hole haunted by his ghost'. The identity of the ghostly Dunny is unclear.
The disputed enclosure is actually shown, stretching from Aldersfield northward to Spartley Burn, on a couple of maps surveyed by Thomas Wilkin in 1775 and 1777 (O XI 4 & 5) before and after the enclosure award. The earlier of the two suggests that only a relatively small part of the enclosure boundary had been finished at that stage, although it appears complete on the second. Perhaps enclosure had only just begun or had been begun much earlier but abandoned. In his letter Murray mentions the stones collected by Alex Collingwood's father in terms which suggest they might still be collected rather than constructed.
The new form of the village and township is shown in maps surveyed by John Bell in 1809 (Aln Cas O XI 8-9; NRO ZAN Bell 58/13a (reduced copy of 1846). A new farm at Alnham House was established between 1797-1809 (cf. Aln Cas O XI 7, NRO ZAN 58/13a). Confusingly this initially appears to have been named Pennylaws (NRO ZAN 58/13a), which was subsequently applied to the long-established farm situated immediately to the north of Castle Farm, at the east end of the former village site. The map of the Duke's holding of infield grounds in 1797 (Aln Cas O XI 7) confirms that the field to the east of the former village, squeezed between the new road and the north side of the burn, was already labelled Pennylaws in 1797, before the new farm was established. The old farm subsequently given this name may have been labelled Alnham Farm at this stage. However the definitive pattern of farm names was in use by the time the tithe map was drawn up in 1845. Further additions to buildings of Alnham House are shown on later maps, in particular the tithe map (NRO DT 9L; see fig. 26) and 1st edition Ordnance Survey.
In 1825, after the completion of this reorganisation, Mackenzie summarised, somewhat brusquely, the impact on the village of nearly two hundred years/two centuries of decay, rationalisation and reconstruction, describing it thus (1825, II, 22):
'formerly a pretty large town, though now a place of no consequence'.
The 1762 Militia List, which lists 26 adult males (including two crossed out) in the Alnham Constabulary of Alnham Parish, demonstrates that the bulk of the population was employed in pastoralist farming, as might be expected. The most common occupation recorded was that of shepherd, whilst one farmer, two farmer's sons and a husbandman were also listed. The other trades mentioned included those of tailor, shoemaker, weaver and miller, all directly related to local agriculture or servicing the basic needs of the rural population.
More unexpectedly, a schoolmaster was also listed. If George Hugen taught locally, perhaps the church was used for the purpose. A Sunday school was certainly held there during the next century, although the north chapel had to be rebuilt and widened c. 1840, partly to accommodate that function. The most prevalent surname born by the listed men was Rutherford. Their number included the Petty Constable, John Rutherford, entered at the bottom of the roll.