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Guest speaker at the Border Archaeolgical Society's May meeting was Colm O'Brien, who has excavated extensively in Northumberland and taught at the universities of Newcastle and Sunderland.
His main interest is the early medieval period, especially the age of Bede, and his talk, Warkworth And Brinkburn: Finding A Lost Lindisfarne Estate, focused on ascertaining the extent and ownership of lands at this time.
Until 1844, three units of land, known as Islandshire, Norhamshire and Bedlingtonshire, were part of the patrimony of St Cuthbert, under the administration of the Prince Bishops of Durham, who were great landowners..
As the Cuthbert community moved from Lindisfarne to Chester-le-Street because of the Viking threat, they built up vast landholdings further south, but the records are scant.
The main source is a text from the 10th or 11th century, Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, which besides recounting the history of the community, gives sets of claims and land until 1031.
King Ceolwulf, who retired to Lindisfarne in 737, endowed the community with many lands. Bede dedicated his Ecclesiastical History to Coelwolf.
In the 860s, Osberht, King of Northumbria, stole the estates of Warkworth and Tillmouth from the community of St Cuthbert, but it is difficult to identify the extent of the land. Warkworth was a vill, a settlement with the land immediately surrounding it, and had appendici, or complex estate structures with hierarchies and dependencies.
There are three more sources from the 11th and 12th centuries which give the history of the Durham monastery, but all are written retrospectively.
The problem was how to map and determine the boundaries of the estates and what methods to use.
Historian F.W. Maitland’s book Domesday and Beyond, 1897, was helpful. Even though Northumberland was outside the range covered by the Domesday survey, the basic approach of working backwards through time could still be used.
J.E.A. Jolliffe’s 1926 study of Northumbrian institutions also could help as information on drainage, renders, taxation, services, etc, can piece together the puzzle.
The historian G.W.S. Barrow held that most baronies in Northumberland were created by Henry I out of land previously held in thanage, but evidence is rare. A charter of 1157 refers to Warkworth and its pertinants (dependencies) being granted by Henry II to Roger.
The Pipe Roll of 1186-7 lists thanage and drainage tenures of £6 8d to the Exchequer for the burgh of Warkworth, Acklington, High Buston and other areas pertaining to Warkworth. The Book of Fees, 1242, lists scutage fees – the payments a baron had to make to avoid military service in the war against France.
Estates became fragmented during this time. The King might break up an area to give grants, and areas became separated and sometimes distinguished by prefixes ‘upper’ and ‘lower’.
We can also look at documents concerning Alnwick before the Percys. It was a large barony and had been granted to the de Vesci family by William the Conqueror, but during the next couple of centuries was subinfeudated to various vassals to form a hierarchy, with the de Vescis at the top.
Amble and Hauxley were given to the Priory at Tynemouth and added to the holdings of the Cuthbert community. Various sources give piecemeal information, but we know little of what actually happened. However, Colm has made some interim conclusions.
It would seem that Warkworth did continue as a church centre after Lindisfarne and its shire became a medieval parish. Brinkburn could have been a Lindisfarne minster. In the 12th century Brinkburn charter, it is stated that the priory, founded by William Bertram, was recognised as a shire, meaning it should have parochial status. There are two post-dissolution references to Brinkburn, and in 1650 it was described as a parish, although it is now in Felton parish.
He showed maps, but admits it is difficult. Something was mentioned as the midpoint on the road between the rivers Coquet and Aln, but what road? The eastern boundary, the sea, was easy enough, but where was the western boundary?
Colm surmises the mid-point between the rivers is on the Devil’s Causeway, and that Feltonshire was a Lindisfarne landholding, therefore in the north could be Eglingham and Wittingham and the south could have stretched to Woodhorn. He sees Feltonshire as the link.
Fragments have survived of Ceolwulf’s grants, but the complicated legal system has not helped. His conclusion is that there is an ecclesiastical continuum, but he does not know exactly how or why. The detective story continues.
The society’s Lecture Series continues on Monday, June 4 when Jim Crow, Professor of Classical Archaeology at Edinburgh University, will talk on The Longest Roman Water Supply Line; Exploring The Water Supply Of Byzantine Constantinople. It starts at 7.30pm in the Parish Centre, The Parade, Berwick. Members free, visitors £2.